By Charlie O’Donnell
Since I launched my fund, I’ve gotten around 50 offers to work with me. For some reason, everyone wants to be a VC. Instead of responding, I decided to sit on them. The way I figure it, how someone approaches me is indicative of how they’d approach an entrepreneur. Since the best entrepreneurs are busy running their business and get pinged by VCs all the time, you’re not going to wind up getting a deal if all you do is e-mail once, give up, and walk away.
So what happened? The “applicants” (not that I’m hiring) went 0 for 50. Not a single one of them followed up with even so much as a nudge to see if I saw their note. They mostly just sent resumes and cover letters once and that’s it.
Think about it. I hand out money for a living and I, even more than most people, try to make contacting me easy. That combo is killer on my inbox. It’s not that I don’t want to respond. It’s just that if you add up all the minutes in the day, there is just never enough time to get through it all…ever. Want to understand it better? Read this.
So, yeah, a little nudge and some tempered persistance would go a long way.
Given that, the lack of creativity and ingenuity around reaching an investor really astounds me. Take this #notapitch event. I set up an event at NYIT that is essentially just free, open feedback on ideas, prototypes, startups, etc. It doesn’t have to count as an official pitch of any kind. It’s more just to understand the kinds of things VCs are going to ask and want to see when you are ready to pitch. So you’d think it would be sold out, right? Nope. Plenty of room. (RSVP here…)
In fact, more people e-mailed me boring powerpoints in the last week than signed up to actually pitch in person.
The other day, someone Tweeted at me politely to look for the e-mail they sent me. I immediately searched for it and responded right away. That’s an entrepreneur who is aware of who they are pitching. If you don’t realize that there are numerous channels to reach out to me, then you’re not paying attention. E-mail is still the best way to get a pitch through, but I’m surprised at how rarely people take advantage of the other channels to nudge. Hell, I even have a live chat up on the Brooklyn Bridge Ventures website.
There are a lot of ways to reach investors by being a little more creative–without being creepy. For example, there are a lot of investors that bike. I commute by bike, Fred Wilson bikes, as does Bryce Roberts. The most avid biker of them all (or at least the one with the most bikes) is probably Stu Ellman whose twitter handle is “bikenyc”. It would probably be a lot easier to organize a ride with a few entrepreneurs and invite us along than to just e-mail a pitch.
It’s all about paying attention. I remember this one time when I was working at my startup near the Shake Shack. Fred asked me and my co-founder if we wanted to get a burger with a few people. Then I hear my co-founder Alex groan “Oh, no… Fred just tweeted that he was headed to Shakeshack.” We figured it was going to be a mobscene–yet, no one showed up… not a single entrepreneur. If I was trying to raise money from Fred and I was anywhere within a 40 minute radius of the Shakeshack (which is basically the whole city) I would have showed up. Yet, nobody. The same thing happens when I tweet out that I’m doing a group lunch somewhere. It’s like all these entrepreneurs are two busy working on their powerpoints and pitches to just show up.
That’s not to say you should follow me home and stand outside my house, but being a little bit creative about how to reach someone goes a long way.
Here are a few other simple, not creepy ways to get a VCs attention:
1. Participate in conversations. Follow them on Twitter and comment intelligently and relevantly without being salesy. Make us want to click through and say “Wow, that was a smart comment, who is that?”
2. Write a blog post about why the space your playing in is interesting or, even better, why you’re doing it. Remember, it’s not what you do but why you do it. (Awesome Ted talk) @ the investors you think will really get it.
3. Be a leader in your community. I’ve gotten to know just about everybody who runs a Meetup in NYC b/c I attend a lot of them and have probably spoken at half of them. Community is a great platform (excuse) to engage people.
4. Ask smart questions at events we speak at (as opposed to just bumrushing us after the panel to squeeze a pitch in).
5. Lend a hand on things you believe in that we support. A really active anti-SOPA entrepreneur would have gotten Fred’s attention. Last year, a designer I know did some work for a non-profit–one run by Neeru Khosla. If that designer ever wanted to pitch Vinod on a startup, I’m pretty sure she’d have a good “in”.
Other tips for things that seem to work?
At the end of the day, keep in mind that this is a relationship business. People who take the time to build relationships can very easily get in front of VCs. Take Frank Denbow for example. I first met Frank through his responses to me on Twitter. Then he showed up to help out with the kayaking program I run. Then I played on a Zogsports football team I’m on. More just showing up to things I do, he’s a huge community contributor, organizing startup weekends, hackathons, etc. And, on top of that, he introduces me to good folks–not entreprenuers necessarily–but just good people I should know. He’s just an awesome guy being an awesome guy in close proximity. It’s not that hard. If he was ever raising money for something, I’d be all over it.
It’s really not that hard.
Charlie O’Donnell is a Partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, working on very early stage investments in the “Greater Brooklyn” area, which also includes Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City. He previously spent two plus years at First Round Capital, where he sourced the firm’s investments in GroupMe (sold to Skype), Backupify, chloe + isabel, Refinery29, Docracy, Singleplatform, and Salescrunch. He founded New York’s largest independent innovation community group, nextNY, and was voted one of the 100 Most Influential People in New York Technology three consecutive years by Alley Insider.
Charlie was the Co-Founder & CEO of Path 101, an innovative startup in the career guidance and recruiting space, which raised half a million dollars and was a Business Insider Startup 2009 Finalist.