Nov 1 2005

Treat capital raising like a sales process

I’m involved in a lot of capital raising conversations – companies looking for money. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how narrow minded many companies are in how they approach this process. Forget the obvious stuff about doing research on local VC firms and their investment focus to make sure you are a match before sending them your “next generation toaster oven/microwave” business plan (yes –  I actually received this plan) or targeting VCs that are particularly knowledgeable about your industry or have made money investing in businesses with similar characteristics – I’ll assume (wrongly) that most people already do that. I’m talking about treating interactions with potential funders as relationships – listening to what they have to say in response to your pitch, taking notes about what whatever it is that’s on their mind when you’re meeting with them and then creating some kind of database to capture this information and plan regular follow-up. Many entrepreneurs treat a VC pitch as a one shot opportunity rather than the potential start to a relationship. Since the typical result of these meetings is a turn-down the relationship starts and ends there – perhaps taken up again when its time for the next round of funding or if you happen to bump into each other somewhere. This is a huge mistake. David Beisel correctly points this out in his recent post on the things smart entrepreneurs do when interacting with VCs. The kind of periodic follow-up that David talks about in his post almost never happens in my experience. It’s a shame, too, because some of my fondest entrepreneur relationships have started with me turning down an investment in their company. Venture deals can take time to come together and someone who turns you down for round 1 may be in a position to invest in round 2 (or in round 1 itself if it takes a while to come together). Reaching out to VCs that showed interest in a way that is meaningful (and as David points out aren’t overly intrusive) can only lead to positive outcomes.

In talking with the VP of Sales of a company that I recently turned down for investment I told him that he should treat his interaction with me like he would that with a sales prospect. I was extremely explicit that I was not shutting the door and gave him specific reasons I wasn’t going to pursue an investment in his company right now. I pointed out that he wouldn’t stop pursuing a sale if the decision maker said ‘interesting but not now” and he shouldn’t make that mistake with me or with other VCs that he was taking to. Hopefully I’ll hear back from him one of these days . . .