Our Checklist for Early Stage VC Meetings
- First, begin meeting with investors about 6 to 8 months before you actually open up your fundraising round. Use the first meeting to start building the relationship so that you can easily secure a meeting when you are actually raising capital. This way, you won't be scrambling to set meetings when you are actively fundraising (or in a cash crunch).
- Plan to meet the investor face-to-face. Investors, like most people, are much more engaged when they are meeting you in person. Meeting in person will allow you to form a strong bond, which will make it more difficult for them to refuse or delay scheduling future meetings. Meeting in person also ensures you have their undivided attention throughout the meeting.
- Send over your investor deck or a 1-pager if you plan to get a meeting. Investors receive dozens of meeting requests each week, and they often vet which startups they are going to meet. Unlike in the dating world, withholding information does not make you more mysterious and alluring to an investor. They will just ignore you.
- Don't make a fuss about being in stealth mode or suggest that the investor sign a non-disclosure form. Admittedly, there are cases where this might be necessary (if you are a serial founder with a number of exits, if you have a patent-pending algorithm or line of code, if you are Elon Musk). But if you're raising seed funding for a SaaS product, you should not be hiding your idea.
- Don't become fixated on one number for your total addressable market (TAM). The most successful companies completely change the markets they are disrupting (EG UBER is now more valuable than the entire black car market that investors initially used to benchmark its growth potential). You can really impress investors by being able to engage in a conversation about credible adjacencies, nascent market potential, and frequency of use for your product.
- Bring key members of your team (but not too many!). If you are meeting with an institutional seed fund in their offices and plan on walking through a slide deck, you should have your cofounder present. And while every team has a more outgoing cofounder, you should make sure that all team members present in the meeting can contribute and deliver at least part of the pitch.
- Don't underestimate the importance of talking about the team. For early-stage investors, you are selling a vision, and your primary job is to convince an investor that your team is the best in the world at solving that particular problem. Make sure you are going deeper than just discussing the logos of the impressive employers on your team. No investor cares if a founder graduated from Harvard, but they care if that founder spent their time at Harvard doing lab work for the globally recognized leader in materials research, for instance.
- Bring anecdotes pertaining to your customers. With the proliferation of startups and capital in the seed funding market, it's more important than ever to show traction. The best way to show traction and to show the stickiness of your product is to tell VCs exactly how customers are using it and why they became hooked. What did your product replace? How much money does it save? Etc.
- Prepare the right questions. VCs are not just there to provide capital. Increasingly, VCs have fully built out platform teams to help you with hiring, HR, customer acquisition, and introductions to other investors. Venture investors want to see that you are asking the right questions during the initial interview because it shows them a key trait that almost all entrepreneurs possess: an ability to spot where others can provide value and then a willingness to ask for help.
- Make a list of the questions that came up and figure out how you can address those earlier in your pitch to other investors. This will allow you to spot trends in the what investors might be concerned about for your specific type of business. In subsequent presentations, you can head off this question so that the investor can focus on the positive.
- Offer to make intros to other founders. Providing something of value is a great strategy for staying in touch with investors. One way to do this is by making intros to other potential investment opportunities for the investors you pitch. Do not think of venture dollars as a zero-sum game; the number of venture dollars being invested increases by billions each year. Making intros will keep you top of mind for investors and will make it easier for you to get meetings when you have news for the investor.
- Know what you'll be expected to provide and do not delay in sending over any materials that have been requested. A few common things that VCs might request include detailed resumes for team members, lists of references, a detailed competitive landscape slide, lists of reference customers and their contact information, industry experts, and advisory board contact information.