Raising money when you are a startup is for most people a time consuming, soul-destroying, and mostly futile exercise.
That was certainly my experience the first time, and judging by the amount of requests for help I get in this area, I’m not the only one.
There is plenty of advice out there, but let me share with you what worked for me when I stopped “knocking on doors” and started thinking about the process.
Trust, not funds
In my experience, knocking on doors and approaching angels and venture capitalists (VCs) is altogether the wrong approach. For a start it is what everyone else is doing, which means you are just one of many. Never a good place to be.
There are, of course, lots of moving parts between you having your genius idea and the money actually being deposited into the bank. You need to have a good business idea, a good team, a fair amount of luck, AND the investor needs to trust you.
Fundamentally, you can have all of the other things going for you, but if the investor doesn’t trust you, that money is staying in their bank account, not yours.
Conversely, if you do have a group of people that trusts you, how much easier do you think it would be to raise money? Would people willingly invest and tell their peers about the opportunity? Of course, because they trust you to deliver.
The trick then, in my experience, is not to go looking for funding, but to go looking for trust.
How do you build trust? The quickest and easiest way is to leverage on the trust people already have for others (there is a reason brands pay a fortune for celebrity endorsements!).
The equivalent for your business is to sign up with some industry superstars:
Identify half a dozen people that are respected in their industry (it doesn’t even have to be your industry). It might be the CEO of a company, a successful entrepreneur or it could just be a director of a mid or large sized company. You are looking for people that would be recognised in their industry, but who are not so famous that they are already receiving lots of requests like this.
Do your research and then reach out to them. Show that you know that they are busy, but offer to drop by their office for 20 minutes at their discretion to discuss the possibility of them joining an advisory board.
Pitch them on joining your advisory board in a way that they can’t say no to. Focus entirely on what they will get out of it: for example, they will meet the other advisors, it will not take more time than a coffee every quarter, they can put it on their Linkedin profile and, if the business is successful, you would be more then happy to throw some shares their way in the future.
Do not, under any circumstances ask them for investment! And if they ask for payment, they are the wrong people. Move on.
With your advisory board in place now, spend the next 2-3 months doing what you told them you would do – hiring team, signing up clients, finding partners etc. Make sure you drop them a brief email introducing the other Advisors and updating them regularly on your progress. Only ask one or two questions, make sure you are very specific and that you follow their advice – or at least explore the options around it.
You now have a solid advisory board that should have a growing amount of trust for you as someone that gets stuff done. At this point, it is worth getting them all together (never easy – they are all busy), and bouncing off them your plan for the next 12-36 months.
It will become apparent that in order to achieve your goals you need funding. At which point you turn to your advisors and ask them what they would do in your situation …
In my experience, one of two things will happen at this point. Either they will offer to put up some of the investment because they like you, trust you, believe in the project. Or they will recommend some people you can talk to.
It is important that they, not you, do the initial pitch to their contacts (remember, they have the trust). These people that you have chosen have not gotten to where they are today without being well connected and well trusted. Them pitching on your behalf is significantly more likely to generate the funding you need than you out there knocking on doors.
Whether you’re asking for US$10,000, US$100,000 or US$1 million, these are game changing amounts of money. People will not trust you with their money if they don’t trust you. And trust doesn’t happen at the end of a 1 hour presentation. It takes time and effort.
Sending cold emails, knocking on doors, pitching to VCs might seem easier, but I would rather do the work and get the results than follow the crowd.
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