By Aihui Ong (Founder & CEO, Love With Food)
Love With Food graduated from 500 Startups accelerator program about a year ago and we raised $650,000 in June of 2012. It was 3 painful months of fundraising. If you think fundraising is a piece of cake just because we were a 500 alum, think again! When I first began fundraising, all I heard was discouragement. Most would tell me the food space is hard, and that being a solo founder makes it even harder.
Fundraising is one of the most painful things I’ve done in my life. It’s physically exhausting and worst of all, it was mentally torturing. My mind started to play games with me, and every waking moment, I had to fight thoughts of being a failure and was at the brink of giving up countless times.
Not only I had to endure the heartaches of rejections, I had to defend myself against cynicism that I didn’t have an Ivy league education hence I wasn’t qualified to run a startup. There are many reasons not to fund Love With Food, but me not having a MIT/Stanford education is definitely not a legit and fair one. I remembered walking out of that meeting and said “Watch me BITCH, I’ll prove you wrong.”
Prove her wrong, I did. In three months, I pitched to 75 investors and raised more money than we needed. People often ask me how I met 75 investors.
Looking back, here are the 10 different things I did:
#1 – Wear your Company T-shirt
If you know me, you know that I’m always in my Love With Food t-shirt, jeans and a black blazer. In the usual fashion, I wore my Love With Food t-shirt to the Women 2.0 conference last year. During lunch, this dude holler, “Hey, Love With Food. I read about your company. I’m intrigued. Tell me more!” It so happened that this dude is the partner at Blue Run Venture. After the conference, we met up again and he wrote me a check within a week.
#2 – Angel List
Be on Angel List. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have your company profile on Angel List. After we started to trend on Angel List, we had many inbound interest. In the end, three investors on Angel List invested and one of them eventually became our lead. If it wasn’t for Angel List, I wouldn’t have met these three investors.
#3 – Be Flexible
Be ready to fly or drive to meetings at a moment’s notice. There are days where I’ll have five meetings back to back, starting in Palo Alto, to San Francisco, to Mountain View and then back to San Francisco. Yes, it’s lots of driving and super out of the way, but being flexible helped me get investor meetings.
#4 – Reach Out to your Network
I’m very lucky to have many friends in the startup community. I reached out to my network of entrepreneur friends and asked for intros to their investors. Everyone I reached out to was so generous. My dear friend Amra Tareen, founder of AllVoices.com single-handedly got me 10 meetings. Those days volunteering at Women 2.0 as the Pitch Director helped too. I got to know many investors over those three years of volunteering and it made it easier to reach out for help.
#5 – Don’t Be Lazy. Follow Up with Updates
After every meeting, I’ll write a thank you email and in the following weeks, I would continue to provide updates and progress to potential investors. This is of paramount important in fundraising. It’s the only way to show persistence. For an early stage startup, there’s really no good data to show other than persistence. You want your potential investors to see that!
#6 – Email Potential Investors Once a Week
Investors get pitched all the time. You want to be on their radar constantly so that they’ll not forget about you. I kept a spreadsheet with their names and dates like when we first met, first progress email sent date, second progress email sent date. After sending three update emails and I don’t hear back, that’s usually a sign that they are not interested. It’s also a great way to sieve out those that are really interested vs maybes.
#7 – Pimp Your Ethnicity. Be Shameless.
I met an investor at an event and found out he invested in another subscription commerce company. In our brief conversation, I found out that he used to live in Singapore (where I’m from) and he speaks Mandarin. I really wanted him to invest! One thing Singaporeans love to talk about is FOOD and I made sure our conversation was filled with that. In the following six weeks, I would write him emails, leave voice mails in both English and Mandarin. You get the picture? He finally invested and I seriously think he wrote us a check so that I’ll stop harassing him :)
#8 – Harass the Press
Love With Food received some press mentions on TechCrunch and Mashable before Demo Day. However the most impactful press coverage was the one written by Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch. She wrote about how I kidnapped her in the ladies room to get her to pick Love With Food as one of the Top 7 Startups on Demo Day. Two investors reached out after that article because they liked my tenacity, aka shamelessness!
#9 – Get Current Investors to Make Intros
Warm intros are the best intros. You current investors want to see you reach the finish line. Get them to pimp you to their other investor friends.
#10 – PitchCrawl
My friend, Tracy Lee runs DishCrawl and PitchCrawl, which is like speed dating for investors and entrepreneurs. I didn’t know what to expect but we had three follow up meetings and two investors ended up investing.
There is no cookie cutter formula to fundraising but I believe the common denominator in fundraising is perseverance.
This post was originally posted at Aihui Ong’s blog.
About the guest blogger: Aihui Ong is the Founder and CEO of Love With Food, a subscription service that delivers a box of gourmet samples to your door for $10 a month. For every box sent, a meal is donated to feed hungry children in America. She started her first business in her dorm room while pursuing her undergraduate computer science degree in Singapore and now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. Follow her on Twitter at @aihui and her startup at @LoveWithFood.