In the startup ecosystem, there is a variety of resources available teaching founders how to fundraise. Some of these topics include the art of effective pitching and creating compelling investor decks. However, through my time at AngelCentral, I found there were behaviors that founders exhibited, which angel investors appreciated but not discussed as often. Of course, while the startup should still meet the fundamental assessment criteria, here are some uncommon things founders could do that angel investors (and presumably, VC firms as well) would appreciate.
1. Sending Targeted and Personalised Emails
Sending mass emails to a bunch of investors do not work as well anymore. Instead, you should send more targeted and personalised ones to capture their attention. Prominent angels generally receive pitch decks almost everyday. As they have limited time, it is difficult for them to respond to general subject lines and content. You could contact them via a warm contact’s referral instead.
Examples include one of the angel’s portfolio companies’ founder, close friend, or business associate. Additionally, besides sharing a quick overview of your company, you should explain how and why you think the investor would be a great fit to your business and why it would interest him/her. This can be because of the angel’s working experience, expertise, or networks.
Doing this helps increase the chances of a face-to-face meeting. This is because the angel would see that you have put in the effort to research more about his/her background or at least, spark his curiosity on what you are working on.
2. Being Upfront
It is definitely not easy being a founder when fundraising. When meeting many investors daily, you will have to answer a multitude of questions about the business. It includes anything from questioning the assumptions on your go-to-market strategy, digging deeply into your current and projected unit economics, how your solution is able to differentiate itself from large MNCs, etc.
From my experience, angels do not fault startups for not having the “perfect” answers. In addition, angels appreciate it when founders are upfront with their concerns and issues that the startup is facing. This shows that the founder is grounded, is aware of the challenges ahead, and would have likely make plans to overcome the upcoming issues.
In addition, angels will also have a better idea of how they could help the founder. They might even offer help to startups even though they are not investing in the company.
This idea is echoed by Adam Grant, an American psychologist and author currently a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In his New York Times best selling book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”, Grant recounts the story of the founders of Babble, where they decided to list the top 5 reasons not to invest in the startup when pitching to the VCs.
The founders’ decision to do this paid off and the startup received US$3.3 million in VC funding. Similarly, the founders used this approach when pitching to Disney in a M&A discussion 2 years later. One of the founders, Rufus Griscom, began his pitch by telling Disney “Why you should not buy Babble.”
Babble was acquired by Disney for US$40 million. Here is what Griscom shared about his approach:
Every time I would say something emphasizing the upside, I would get skeptical responses. Unbridled optimism comes across as salesmanship; it seems dishonest somehow … Everyone is allergic to the feeling, or suspicious of being sold.
By leading with weakness, you disarm the audience. When investors realise they aren’t being sold, they can let their guards down and listen from a place of endearment.
3. Sharing the Why
On one hand, while many angels invest for the potential ROI, many of them do so to “enjoy the ride” as well. As former founder of JobsCentral and prominent angel investor Lim Der Shing noted in a recent interview at MoneyFM last week, other reasons include angels living vicariously through the founders, or that they want to be part of something else outside of their corporate jobs.
Thus, it will be useful to share the broader impact your startup would make on society if it is successful. All the better if this impact links to the reason you did your startup in the first place.
As mentioned in one of the most watched TED Talks of all time, Simon Sinek shares that the most successful marketers and salespeople in every business focus on speaking about the “WHY” instead of just the “what” or “how”. Thus, instead of just sharing how or what your startup is doing, it is important to share the “why” to appeal to a greater audience of angel investors.
4. Being Teachable
Most angels plan to actively help the startups the invest in, such as providing mentorship and/or sharing of past experiences. It is true not all angels provide quality feedback. Yet, a founder who does not know how to express his/her teachability is a huge turnoff to investors. I have seen many meetings where founders, who are not necessarily showing disrespect to the investors, exhibit behaviours of being unteachable. They include interrupting investors’ questions too quickly, being defensive to every question and feedback, acting as if they have everything figured out, etc.
On the other hand, angels appreciate when the founders show they are able to listen and acknowledge feedback, recognise mistakes, and look to learn. This suggests the founder is open to adjusting his/her strategies and/or direction of the business (which is extremely common among startups). It also highlights the founder’s motivation to strive for constant and never-ending improvement, both for himself and the business.
5. Being Extra Prepared
As mentioned earlier, investors can ask you all kinds of questions. It is almost guaranteed you will be caught off-guard by at least one of them during your fundraising journey. While you might not have all the answers, it will be impressive if you have prepared (and memorised) a variety of data and facts that support your case.
For example, you might not have gathered enough data to make a confident estimation of the startup’s profit margins when it scales to $10m in revenue. However, you could share some of the profit margins of companies similar to your startup, even though they might be of a different size, in a different geographical region, etc.
Angels are also impressed by founders who understand their numbers inside and out, are able to justify their valuation confidently and effectively, posing an insightful understanding of the potential risks to the business, etc. While these are not information that all investors will need initially, being extra prepared with such knowledge at hand will do well in leaving a positive impression and increase the chances of getting an investment.
While some might feel what I mentioned should be considered as “common” instead, it does not seem to be as widely practiced, at least from personal experience. As the quality of increase and investors become more savvy, it is important to do what you can do to increase your chances of getting an investment.
As part of what we do in AngelCentral is to create a smooth fundraising process for startups when pitching to angels, do check us out if you are a founder looking to fundraise, or an individual who wants to find out more how to become an effective and competent angel investor.
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