Tag Archives: series A

How to get on an venture investors “radar, then their “shortlist” and finally on the “spotlight”

If you are looking to raise your post seed round or series A, I would highly recommend you find a way for venture investors to seek you than you seek them. The process is much quicker and you get better terms. How do you do that?

First you have to understand how the venture process works – like most other processes, they go through stages. For the purposes of our discussion, I am going to define the process into 3 steps.

Venture investors have associates or principals, who are smart young folks whose job it is to do due diligence, source new deals and keep their eyes and ears on the ground to new opportunities. Many folks malign them, but they are good folks mostly and have their heart in the right place for most parts.

Many of them are from a Ivy league B school and most likely have been at a management consulting firm after that like Bain or McKinsey. They tend to think very much top down, but I have know a few folks to hustle and pound the pavement as well.

I spoke with 5 associates and principals over the last week to understand their role and the new changes so I thought I’d share some of their thinking to help you.

Venture principals have “categories” of companies on their radar or “spaces”. Given their background in management consulting, that’s to be expected. They think top down – what are the meg-trends, which are the big industries ripe for disruption and which sectors are ready for startups to innovate in. This is important to know. They may have a few companies, but many a sector is likely in their radar.

The associates then spend about 2-6 weeks doing a “deep-dive” on that sector – meeting entrepreneurs, talking to companies, reading research reports (not necessarily in that order) and forming an opinion. Most of them will pick a theme or category based on their experience and some level of “comfort”.

Then, they would present their findings to the “partnership” meetings on Monday. If all looks good, (and I am grossly simplifying), they get a “yellow” light to go ahead and source / look at companies. Not a “green light”, mind you, that’s only given if they have already a list of 3-5 companies identified on their “shortlist”.

After the partnership meeting, they will be assigned a “executive sponsor” partner – someone who can make decisions to write a check on behalf of the firm. The associate has to provide a weekly status update to the partner, who in turn will brief the rest of the folks if they find something “hot” to invest in.

With the yellow light, the associates then tap into their “network” to get proprietary deal flow – usually folks they went to college with, or folks they met at some conference or others they read about on blogs like Geekwire, TechCrunch, etc. In the last 2 years, many folks are also sourcing from angelList or other platforms.

That’s the opportunity for you. Meet with the associates and principals, because not many folks take them seriously. They cant write checks, so most folks ignore them. They are the most crucial part of the equation to get on the “shortlist of companies” within the radar. Typically 7-10 of the 30-50 companies the associates meet will make the “shortlist”.

The best way to make the shortlist is to get you other startup friends and CEO’s to recommend what you are doing to the investors.

The next step is the “spotlight” – the executive champion and your associate will usually meet the 7-10 companies for 2-3 meetings and finally pick 1-2 to bring to the entire partnership.

The process I explained above works “most of the time”. It may happen that the entire process is completed in days as well. I had a chance to speak to 3 partners at venture firms as well, and they attributed about 40% of the deals to this part of the process. The rest were the partner’s networks and recommendations from invested company CEO’s legal partners, etc.

To raise funds for your startup use a fishing pole not a fishing net: A #contrarian view

Most early stage find raising advice around fund raising is about casting a net as wide as possible to speak to 100’s of potential funding sources to land one investor.

Actually that’s pretty bad advice according to the data I gathered from Pitch Book.

New Investor Additions Each Year- CRM, SaaS and   Home Automation
New Investor Additions Each Year- CRM, SaaS and Home Automation

Within your category or market there are far fewer relevant and willing investors than you can imagine. So casting a wide net is a big waste of time for most entrepreneurs.

Of course the larger the market (e.g. SaaS or Consumer internet) the more are the number of investors in each stage but it is still a small, finite number.

Most venture investors will share broad themes of their investment thesis so they don’t “miss” out on deals, but that does more disservice than good. So, when an investor says we invest in “consumer internet” – that purposely broad so they don’t “miss out” on any hot deals. As an entrepreneur, you need to ask more pointed questions about the sub categories within that theme.

Investors should follow the same advice they give entrepreneurs. Be niche, narrow and focused. Here’s the thing though. They are following that advice but only they don’t message or position it that way.

So the best indicator of if an investor will fund your startup is to look at what they do not what they say. Talk is really cheap I guess.

To prove this I looked at 3 segments. One older theme, one middle aged and one relatively new theme. They were CRM, SaaS and home automation. These are themes I know better than others. For CRM I looked at data from 1996 to 2002, SaaS from 2006 in home automation from 2008. Data does not exist for home automation for 8 years obviously.

I looked at total dollars invested over time  and the number of investors over time as well. Then I plotted the graph over time to look at year over year growth as opposed to cumulative growth.

Here is what the data says. There are a about of 130+ unique investors in CRM over the 8 years, 47 in SaaS and about 15 in home automation. That’s is on the venture side.

So if you have talked to one or more of these and they said no, you will be better of rethinking your business or do without going to other investors. Going to other investors who have not invested in a theme will very likely result in you wasting time. Note that the rate of addition of new investors to a theme is slow. Even in a large market such as CRM.

This also explains two other memes. One that there’s a herd mentality among us and second that venture investing also follows the Geoffrey Moore tech adoption curve.

Once one or two “innovative” VC’s finds a new space then the herd follows but slowly. This explains the fact that new VC additions to a theme rarely exceed 10% YoY even on “hot” themes.

After the innovators, the early adopters and then finally the majority follow.

I suspect, but don’t have the data yet, but a VC innovator in one theme rarely is an innovator in many other. They like to stick to their knitting. Unless they hire a new partner with expertise in a new theme. Which is rare.

So, bottom line for you as an entrepreneur is this.

There is a very short list of VC’s who will invest in your area.

Going after hundreds of potential investors is a big waste of time.

Setup a google alert for funding keyword within your category for 4-6 months before you are looking to raise money and also for “new fund” in your category. Those are your best bets.

If you have exhausted the list of potentials then you are highly unlikely to raise investment. Go back to your positioning and business model and see if you can change something to try again in 6 months with the same set of investors.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule of thumb but they are rare.

What does a series A funding strategy and plan look like?

This post is the first in a series that I am planning to do on fund raising. I have successfully raised money 3 times (to a total of $29 Million – series A, B and C) and failed twice (once trying to raise $2 Million series A and second time $3-$5 Million series B).

As a background please read Elizabeth’s great post on “Behind the scenes of a seed round”.

Fund raising is one of the most difficult parts of a founder’s job. Getting money from investors of any type is hard. Dont be fooled by stories of entrepreneurs talking to investors and getting checks in 10 minutes. Those are truly black swan events.

The first thing you have to realize is that you need to develop an comprehensive plan and strategy to raise your series A. Think of it as an effort that’s similar to the launch your product. For purposes of this discussion lets call series A, as your first institutional round. I am also making the assumption that you have a working product, paying customers and are targeting a very large market (>$1 B for US, >$250M in India). If any of those criteria are not met, dont bother trying to raise money in this environment.

What are the 3 most important elements of your funding plan?

1. The pitch deck – a 15 slide PowerPoint presentation which summarizes the market, problem, traction and investment requirements. This is needed only for the face-to-face meetings.

2. The target list of potential investors – a Excel spreadsheet which has investor’s firm, name of partner, list of 2-3 recent investments (in the same general space as yours), email addresses, phone numbers, admin assistant’s name & email address, investor connection (people who can give you warm introductions to the investors), status and notes fields. You could use a CRM tool like Zoho if you like, but its overkill for this purpose is what my experience tells me.

3. An email introduction (40 – 100 words) and a one page summary. A simple text file with no images or graphs (something that the investor can read on their mobile phone (most have blackberry, although that’s changing). This can be sent to your connections to introduce you to investors or directly to known investors.

What should your strategy be?

1. Who should you target by role?: Investment firms have partners (decision makers) and associate / principals (decision enablers). Partners make decisions so if you can, get a introduction to a partner. If you cant, its not all doom and gloom, since many partners rely on their associates and principals to source deals for them.

2. Who should you target by investment thesis: Every investment firm has an investment thesis (how they will deploy funds to get best returns for their investors). This should guide you as to whether you’d be a good fit for the firm. Example: An investment firm might say we believe India’s broadband access and huge number of consumers with high disposable incomes is a great target for Indian eCommerce companies. So, they will deploy a certain % of their funds in eCommerce companies. Similar theses exists for big data, SaaS, etc.

Example: if you are an education startup focusing on India, Lightspeed (thanks to their success with TutorVista) should be on the top of your list. If you are a SaaS firm targeting US, Accel (thanks to Freshdesk) should be on your list. If you are a travel technology startup, Helion & Saif (thanks to Make My Trip) should be obvious targets.

A word of caution: If a firm has invested in a company in your sector, they will very likely ask you to speak to the CEO of their portfolio company to perform cursory due diligence. You may decide that company might be competitive and likely to execute your idea better since they have more resources. So proceed with caution and dont reveal any thing during your due diligence that might hurt you later.

Many investors invest in a sector because they “need one of those in their portfolio”. Example: Every firm has a baby products eCommerce company. So, I also recommend the “herd rule”. Which means, you should talk to other investors if your competitor has been funded by your first choice investor.

3. Who should you target by investment stage: Although every Indian investor claims to be sector agnostic and stage agnostic, there are a few early adopter VC’s. If you are the “first” in a new space, then consider an early adopter investor, else any investor who has not made an investment in the sector will suffice.

In a next post I will outline what the series A funding process should look like. This post will include information about whether you should follow a “back-to-back” process, or do a “listen and tweak” process.

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