There are thousands of resources that give advice to entrepreneurs on how to successfully pitch to investors. This breadth of material, encompassing everything from Medium blogs to thousand-dollar conferences, reflects one of the most deeply-held beliefs in the startup community that ‘entrepreneurs should pursue investors’.
The idea that entrepreneurs can get investors to approach them is still so foreign that most founders look at me in disbelief when I tell them that it is possible, but it is indeed true: you can have investors — even the top ones — lining up on your proverbial doorstep, eager for a meeting.
In much the same way that tech startups can generate inbound leads for clients, so, too, can they achieve the same with investors. Just as you set up an infrastructure for capturing client leads, such as by pairing an SEO-optimised blog with an inquiry form, you must also build the right channels to attract investors. Developing these channels will ensure that your startup has a steady pipeline of investors interested in joining your next round.
1- Speaking engagements
Many founders tend to ignore invitations to speaking engagements, assuming they are a distraction from the overall business. Committing to these, after all, would require many hours of preparation for what may be a fifteen or thirty minute talk at the most. But a talk is never just a talk.
For every reputable speaking engagement, there are marketing collaterals made to promote the guest speakers on social media. There are also journalists who will cover the event and will likely quote and refer to the presentations. There will most likely be a recording of your talk captured for YouTube, too.
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All of these will add up to what you are trying to build: a digital footprint. You want investors to not only be able to find you online, but to also like what the narrative they see: your startup is gaining traction as a market leader in this particular space. You should thus strive to make your presentation stand out from your peers: An effective strategy is to check what they’ll be presenting in advance, so you can ensure the content of your talk captivates.
Speaking engagements are also useful for the in-person connections you’ll make. On occasions, some investors will approach you after your talk. Use this opportunity to set up a time to chat in greater depth, hopefully this time with their entire investment committee.
2- Thought leadership
Too many founders rely on traditional media relations to get the word out about their company. This approach leaves them at the mercy of journalists — if no writer is interested in featuring their startup, then they will not get any coverage. This fate is a corporate death: no one will know your company exists.
A far more sustainable media strategy is thought leadership: rather than praying that journalists are captivated by your company, you as the founder will actively contribute your thoughts on the business landscape, your space, and even entrepreneurship in general to top tech and business publications.
Some founders are wary of writing from their own perspective, but they must realise they are in good company. Nearly all of the top tech founders in the world, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who just released a book called Hit Refresh, have a thought leadership strategy. This channel is even more important for smaller companies, who can use it as a means of getting into the publications that investors read.
According to a LinkedIn report about thought leadership, over 75 per cent of buyers short-listed a brand for a contract due to their thought leadership. If business leaders are influenced by thought leadership for enterprise purchases, just imagine how important it becomes as a reference point when investors are thinking of putting money into your company. You must strive to do what you’ve always done: make an impression.
3- Data providers
When announcing their fundraising, some founders choose not to disclose exactly how much they raised. While I understand where they are coming from — most are paranoid about tipping their hat to the company’s valuation, even though no reader would ever know how much equity was given in exchange for the capital — this approach is misguided.
Founders should strive for transparency, particularly with data providers like Crunchbase Insights, PitchBook, or DealRoom. Since your startup’s key performance indicators — such as number of users, revenue — will be private, investors must use a proxy for gauging whether you are gaining traction.
So if investors search your company online and find that you have already raised money from other top venture capitalists, tripled or quadrupled your headcount over the last year, and earned positive reviews from customers, they’ll correctly surmise that your company is doing well and reach out to you. That’s why it’s important for every founder to develop these positive signals that excite investors.
And the investors are there in droves. Over 1.5 million visitors come to Crunchbase alone per month, many of whom are the venture capitalists and angel investors that every entrepreneur would be eager to pitch to. If you maintain an active, attractive profile on these sites, in other words, the investors will come calling.
The impact of building a digital footprint
As a founder, you do not have the luxury of choosing to be behind-the-scenes. You must sing your company’s praises at events, in the press, and on data providers. While creating and maintaining this kind of visibility can be tiring, the results will be well worth it.
I’ve seen many founders in the Asia Pacific who managed to attract a ton of investor interest in large part because of how aggressive they were in pursuing publicity, making it easier to fundraise and giving them a selection of their preferred venture capitalists. From this view, the term ‘digital footprint’ may be especially appropriate: You’ve shown that you’ve already come a long way, and that together you can scale to even greater heights.
The author Akarsh Dhaiya is a venture capitalist who works with VentureBuilders.nl and serves as Managing Partner at Rocket Equities, an M&A advisory firm based in the Philippines.
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