An investor meeting can sometimes make or break a young startup. That’s why entrepreneurs should do everything they can to prepare for those valuable moments and avoid making crucial mistakes that could cost them a chance at a big check.
Speaking on a panel at Seattle Startup Week, five early-stage local investors shared tips for entrepreneurs looking to raise cash for their fledgling companies. The advice can serve as a checklist for founders before they pitch an investor. Here’s a recap of their tips:
‘Being unprepared is a huge mistake’
Gillian Muessig is a longtime tech entrepreneur and investor and founder of the Sybilla Masters Fund, a new venture fund to back women-led startups. She said she’ll cut a meeting short if she can sense that an entrepreneur isn’t prepared. At the least, Muessig expects some kind of pitch deck that shows sufficient research. “Don’t come without anything, without having done your own homework,” she said.
Study up on the investor
Think about ways to stand out, said Andy Liu, a serial entrepreneur and investor who just launched Seattle-based Unlock Venture Partners. One way to do that is studying up on an investor before the meeting.
“I can tell if the person I’m speaking with actually did their homework on me,” Liu said.
Another tip from Liu: Try to get a recommendation from someone in the investor’s network, or have one of your customers reach out to the investor and talk about the product or service.
Understand the math
Along the lines of doing your homework, Geoff Harris, managing partner at Flying Fish Partners, said founders should know how much they want to raise and how much an investor typically puts into a company.
“If that’s a total mismatch, it’s hard to get anywhere,” he said.
Harris added that entrepreneurs should also know what the valuation math looks like for a potential exit. “It’s understanding what the journey looks like and helping me do the math,” he said.
Have business knowledge
Martina Welkhoff is a two-time founder who last year launched Women in XR, a firm that invests in VR/AR startups committed to equal gender representation. Welkhoff said she’s surprised by meetings when an entrepreneur has a lack of business knowledge.
“At the early stage, it’s expected that you don’t necessarily have a business model entirely figured out, but I do expect some level of market understanding and competitive landscape [knowledge],” she said. “I often see pitches that are really focused on a cool product but don’t necessarily have the customer and market data and the numbers that I need to see to get excited.”
Don’t ask for permission
Chris Devore, general partner at Founders Co-op, said it’s a “huge turnoff” when founders are waiting to raise money before they execute plans. “You need to be making forward progress without the permission of an investor to figure out what you’re going to go do,” Devore said.
Be open to feedback
It’s important to be self-aware, said Dave Parker, venture partner at Bend, Ore.-based Seven Peaks Ventures. He said investors want to know that they can help founders become better, particularly when they’re committing to a long-term investor-founder relationship.
“If you won’t listen, it’s big challenge,” Parker said. “If you aren’t self-aware to what’s going on, it’s a huge challenge.”