Venture capital investor and this month’s New York City Meetup speaker touches on the tips to keep in mind when getting your business funded.
By Fran Hauser (Partner, Rothenberg Ventures)
Earlier this year, I left a career in digital media to join the world of venture capital—an exciting and sometimes unpredictable place that, at present, is dominated by male investors. While I’m technically new to VC, I’ve met with hundreds of female founders over the years through my work as an angel investor and as an executive at Time Inc. And let me tell you—while just ten percent of today’s venture-backed startups are founded by women, there is certainly no shortage of savvy female entrepreneurs building awesome tech businesses.
But no matter how brilliant your business is, getting the funding to grow it is exceptionally challenging, especially given how crowded the startup space has become.
Here are ten simple tips to keep in mind as you begin your fundraising process.
1. Content is king
When it comes to the pitch, focus on substance rather than form. Spend less time worrying about aesthetics and cutesy sales tactics and more time proving your case. Why this business, why you, and why now? Tell a story that is interesting and evocative. If you can make a compelling case, I don’t care what font or format you’re making it in. Also, always be prepared to give a 15-minute and 30-minute version of the presentation. You never know how much time the VC will have (even if an hour is blocked off for the meeting) and you don’t want to get caught off guard.
Being a CEO is hard work, and it requires unwavering conviction. When I meet with founders, I always assess whether they have a true north—a clear and authentic sense of where they are headed and why.
Be clear with your potential funders and your team about what success looks like. Ideally, you should identify a few key metrics that everyone can rally around (and be careful not to promise miracles). These metrics will likely shift over time and that’s fine, as long as you communicate changes with your stakeholders.
4. Perfect is the enemy of momentum
Don’t let your desire to make things perfect prevent you from missing an opportunity. I met with a founder once who was supposed to email me some follow-up materials. Instead of sending them to me the next day, she waited three weeks because she wanted to make sure she had it all “tied up in a bow.” The momentum had passed; I was already onto the next thing.
5. Signals are important
If you get the sense that funders aren’t “getting it” or there’s something off with your pitch, don’t ignore your intuition. That goes for product and consumer-related signals too. Don’t squash feelings of uneasiness—confront them so you can figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. This is the perfect time to reach out to trusted advisors to get a fresh perspective.
6. Make choices
Building a business while fundraising is a ton of work, and you’ll need to be selective about your priorities. Develop criteria that will help you decide which meetings to take and which events to attend. Also, be strategic about the order in which you do angel/VC meetings. I always encourage founders to meet with “friendlies” first so that they can hone their pitch.
7. Confidence and power
The basics are so important: great posture, eye contact and speaking up. To see what I mean, watch this TED Talk from Amy Cuddy about “power posing.” When I start doubting myself, I think about why I’m the best person to be doing what I’m doing. Claire Shipman and Katty Kay got it right in their recent Atlantic feature—there’s a confidence gap for women and I do think it impacts their ability to get funded.
Some consulting firms use a practice called the pre-mortem, which involves putting yourself in the future, assuming your venture has failed, and identifying the reasons why. While this may sound like a depressing exercise, it is actually a very effective way to understand your biggest risks so you can mitigate them as much as possible. Along with this, develop the answers to the five questions you hope VCs won’t ask. A great salesperson always tries to anticipate what the objections are going to be.
The one almost universal thing I see with female founders is that they are not taking enough care of themselves. Finding time to meditate, work out or even just go for a walk has a huge impact on your demeanor and how you see the world.
10. Let your mind wander
This is the best advice I’ve received in a while and it’s something that we Type-A personalities don’t do enough of. We are driven, focused and highly productive (sometimes to a fault). When I actually give my mind time to wander, I come up with my most creative ideas and solutions to complex problems.