In no moment is this more visible to me than in the approach I receive from entrepreneurs. I’ll take my experience to be representative of the other investors and try to elaborate on that.
Entrepreneurs have reached out to me through multiple channels and I’ll evaluate some of them to help illustrate.
Channel: choose the appropriate channel to reach the person you want to engage. Take into consideration how you will cut through the clutter. There are two channels an entrepreneur should consider when approaching a VC, e-mail and working events.
E-mail: In a normal week, I receive over 500 emails, 20 of which are pitches from several entrepreneurs who I might or not have previously met. So prioritization kicks into place and I like to divide the e-mails I get into prioritization groups.
GROUP 1: I’ll first read emails from people I know and regard professionally. If you can get those people to make an intro for you, you are already ahead of the game. This people, also know what I’m looking for, helping you decide if I’m the right investor for you and fine tune your pitch
GROUP 2: Then I move to people I have met (we do a lot of that in this business) and sift through what is Urgent, Important or just an Update and respond in that order.
Note that this is the stage where my day normally ends. So often, GROUP 2 emails are leftover for the following days.
GROUP 3:Then I’ll go through emails that come via our contacts@… Email address. These are easier to sort because I know what they are looking for.
GROUP 4: Emails directed to me from people I don’t know. These normally take a long while for me to get through them. Often It happens on Friday nights when I’m cleaning up my mailbox.
NO GROUP: Emails address to “ Dear Sirs”, “Prezados”, with my name on a large list on anything that seems like a mass email, it a big turn off. We are not in the auction business and getting an investors requires getting to know them personally, when you send SPAM, you are as far away from personal as possible.
As you see, clearly the most effective way to get attention is to get into the first group, through someone I know well. Yet, if you tried and have not been able to find a connection between us that is OK. We, investors, try to create opportunities to meet un-introduced people.
Meet ups and events: We regularly attend meet ups and events where you can approach us and introduce yourself and give a quick pitch. If we think that your business is something that might make sense for us, we will give you a card and ask you to send and email to schedule a full conversation.
Please be mindful that at these events, we are trying to meet as many startups as possible so keep the pitch short and sweet. 3 – 5 minutes should be a good target. If you are not able to engage an investor in such window of time, it is unlikely you will in a longer pitch.
In such events, too, if someone I know from the community introduces you, you will get more of my attention
Channels To Be Avoided: Avoid anything that seems intrusive – Brazilians are especially sensitive to this. Here are a few examples:
+Cold calling someone: While this might work in the US, sending an email and asking to schedule a call might take longer (specially depending on the GROUP your email falls into) but ensures that we know who we are talking to.
I spend ¾ of my days in meetings so when I take a call from someone who I don’t know who it is, my first instinct is to try to hang up as quickly as possible. While my cellphone number is on my card and email signature, it is meant for the case there is something urgent or we get to know each other. It is not the best channel for an initial conversation.
+ Non-work related events: When we are out having dinner with our wifes, we are there to have dinner and not waiting to be pitched. Same thing when I’m at a soccer match or the movies. I’m there to relax, not work and my mind will hardly focus on what you want me to. If we meet in such situations, give me a bit of context, take my card and shoot me an email to schedule a conversation later.
+Facebook: This, just as non-work related events, is not where we go when we want to work. Moreover, Facebook is a social network mainly used for personal affairs, rather than professional ones, and our personal life has very little to do with our investments.
+LinkedIn: The verdict is still pending on LinkedIn. While this is clearly a better medium of communication than Facebook (for work related stuff) I’m unsure how much I like to publicize to other investors my deal flow/entrepreneurs I’m talking to. In an ideal world, I’d only be invited to connect to someone on LinkedIn after we’ve met personally.
Timing: Best/quicker answers happen when the timing for your email is right. A lot of people write emails on weekends. When I get to the office I have an enormous backlog to go through. Additionally, most funds hold partners meetings on Mondays, further increasing the backlog. You don’t want to be caught in the backlog as one won’t devote all attention to every email.
Choose to send emails on Tuesday mornings, when the backlog has been cleared and your email will get more attention. Friday afternoon and nights are an invitation to fall on Monday’s backlog.
Same logic applies to in person meetings. Don’t grab and pitch when the investor is paying the bill at an event.
Relevance: Be aware that what is relevant for you is not necessarily relevant for the investor. Some entrepreneurs shoot me 5 emails and 2 phone calls in a week telling me that we have to schedule a meeting because he is going to close the round. That is not the right approach. If you are in a timeline as tight as that to close a round, we are likely not going to be able to join because our analysis period is far longer than that (3-4 weeks minimum). Focus on the investor you have at hand and cultivate me for future rounds.
Follow-ups: It’s definitely very important to follow-up on discussions with your potential investors, but you should never seem intrusive or let potential investors get the perception that you are desperate (remember you could never set up a date with I girl that realized you were desperate to do it). Thus, make sure your potential investors received your decks/e-mails and will provide you feedback on that, but give them time to digest it, discuss with the team and get back to you. Avoid 13 irrelevant contact trials within a week.
General Don’ts: There is not a magical recipe or the exact right way to approach a VC, and you will have to figure out the best way to do it case by case. But on top of all the tips I gave, there are things you should never do, in case you don’t want to be disregarded even before having the opportunity to present you company.
+Poor Quality Check: Never send an e-mail or a deck before checking and reviewing very carefully. Sending wrong versions, models, data or poorly written e-mail will give the impression that either (i) you don’t care for that e-mail or file or (ii) you are not capable of delivering top notch things. You don’t want to leave VCs with none of these perceptions.
+Lie: As obvious as this may sound, believe it or not, there are entrepreneurs that send e-mails saying that they achieved results they didn’t or that they know people they don’t. Truth will always emerge, VC world is small and word gets fast to the street. You will not only be automatically dropped from the deal flow, but you also find it very difficult to schedule another meeting with us or any other VC.
All that said, it is important to note that this is only for you to get, in a proper manner, the attention of the VCs you want to approach. This doesn’t at all diminish that need of having a killer pitch and a great company/project/team behind it. You will still need to present your project, engage the investor and have the metrics/proof to the key assumptions in your model.
I hope this helps you guys. And good luck when trying your next approach!
(special thanks to Luiz, who helped me write)