By Rob Go.
I got this question on a panel last week, and coincidentally, I had a couple folks on Twitter tweet out the same question. Generically speaking, the question is “how do I get in touch with a potential investor about my company?”
I don’t know for sure if this is true, but I have the impression that early stage VC’s as a whole have gotten more accessible than probably any time in the past. Many investors I know (myself included) do read every email that is sent to them and make some mental decision about whether they want to engage or not.
Speaking for myself, I triage all my email. In most cases, I will respond with a pretty quick “no thank you” with little feedback on the specific opportunity. We invest in about 10 companies each year, out of the thousands that we screen, so it’s impractical to give substantive feedback for each one. In most cases, the companies that approach us are pursuing interesting opportunities and led by impressive folks, they just don’t hit the bar we set for ourselves for the level of passion we want to have about every opportunity we invest in.
I will admit that in some cases, I won’t respond or fail to respond right away. This occurs mainly when I just think the founder hasn’t tried at all to make a real connection. This is usually because of a very generic email, or a company that pings me that is very obviously outside of our scope of focus. I find that most savvy entrepreneurs do a little research on the investors they reach out to to figure out if it’s a fit and a mutually effective use of time. We are pretty explicit that we are a dedicated seed stage fund focused on internet-enabled businesses. I have a couple blog posts that also lay out some more specifics of our portfolio too, such as the fact that 80% of our investments are based in the US East Coast and the rest are opportunistic across the rest of the continental US. So I’ll often quickly scan and ignore emails pitching companies that are really far afield from our stated focus area, stage, or geography. I just presume that I am part of a scattershot email outreach approach. By the way, most of these emails tend to come from intermediaries of some sort, not the founders themselves.
I also explicitly don’t list my email address on our website, although it is findable if you simply go to my blog and click “about me”. Again, part of this is to create just a bit of friction so that I can spend as much time as possible with a) our portfolio companies b) the potential investments we are seriously considering and c) founders who are resourceful and are reaching out to us because they have done some research as to why we would be a good fit. Finally, I’m also pretty responsive on social media when folks engage with us. In fact, we have actually invested in a company that first connected with us through a comment in a blog post. Here was the text (edited for privacy):
I run a [edited] software company that has caught some fire. I don’t think I could have verbalized the way we want to continue to build our company better than how you did today. We have an amazing product, fantastic team members/advisors and the best stakeholders involved. We also have [edited blurb about customer traction]. A recent article about us that gives a good 10,000ft view (it’s short!): [edited out this link]
We have some VCs that we really like and have developed a relationship with – but I’d love to meet with you guys (I’m also a fan of Lee’s). Any chance we could make it happen at some point? In either case, thanks for the piece.
Finally, a couple final more generic suggestions on how to reach out to an investor:
-How you get connected matters quite a bit. The best way is usually an introduction through an entrepreneur or trusted advisor to the investor. Often, the most straightforward way to do this is through the founder of a portfolio company.
-Social media can be an effective way to build some rapport with someone before even having met them. I’ve gotten to know a number of investors by first interacting with them on social media months before we ever met in person. As with all things, how you interact is a signal of your personality, judgement, and EQ, all of which does have bearing in an investors impression of you.
-Many investors have forums where they are open to meeting folks in a completely open-ended, and unqualified manner. Take advantage of these! These take the form of office hours or other sorts of informal sessions. Again, I came very close to investing behind a founder who I first met during an open office hours session. What I was impressed by was that this founder left me a great impression as being someone who had a) deep domain expertise, b) a really earnest and effective leadership style and c) laid of what he was going to do next and promised to come based on that plan. He did come back in a few months with tons more learning, great insights, and a more fully formed team and product plan. It was really impressive.
I hope this doesn’t come off as conceited. We try to behave like invited guests at the entrepreneur’s table, for both our portfolio companies and prospective founders. This demands that we leverage our time efficiently, and that we are as transparent and responsive as we can be. But there are probably a lot of ways that we can improve, so as always, I’m open to suggestions if any readers think that the practices I describe above come off badly or short-change entrepreneurs.