Elliott Hauser is CEO of Trinket, an education technology startup in Durham helping instructors and teachers get their course materials online.
As a CEO, the three things you must do well are: set the overall strategy and vision of the company, hire the best team and make sure there’s enough money in the bank (according to Union Square Ventures investor Fred Wilson). This post is about building the relationships you’ll need to raise money when you need it.
To Build a Relationship, Give First
It’s easy to get caught up thinking you’re trying to get something from an investor. This is a trap. My test of a good investor is whether they add value in the first meeting though their questions, analysis or advice. So why not return the favor? Find out what, or who, investors are looking for when you meet them and then keep an ear out. It’s that easy.
I learned this partially through example: Local founders have been a huge source of intros to angels and VCs for us. Local CEOs like James Avery of Adzerk, Anil Chawla of ArchiveSocial, and Taylor Mingos of Shoeboxed have all opened up their networks to help me get meetings with investors they know. Now that my network is expanding, I’ve been able to help promising young CEOs I meet get meetings as well.
Give Investors What You Have but Can’t Use: Deal Flow
Founders sometimes underestimate the value of their networks, especially when they’re starting out. The reality is that any founder who’s participating in the local entrepreneurial community is probably building up a valuable network of other founders. It’s these connections that can be valuable to investors because they represent potential deals.
For instance, you may not have heard of Janice Smith of Mission 100% but you will soon. I’ve been able to introduce her to investors looking specifically for her kind of company and that’s helped her start those conversations earlier. I’ve met a lot of investors focused on the K-12 space and Janice’s company fits what they’re looking for. Win-win-win.
You’ve probably had an experience talking to another founder where you’re won over by that person’s passion, team or traction. You might even compare it to your own venture and your company suffers by comparison! Don’t get envious: This is exactly the time to be thinking of who you can introduce them to.
The feeling you get that this person just has to be successful is something investors will feel as well. Get them talking! Regardless of whether the investor invests, if the pair have a positive experience, it reflects well on you.
How To Be a Good Source of Deal Flow
Convinced that good deal flow is a good way to interact with investors? These three principles will save you from making rookie mistakes:
Never do blind intros. This is No. 1 for a reason. When you do an intro without first asking the investors whether they’re interested, you destroy your credibility, set the other founder up for failure and waste everyone’s time. Don’t make the intro unless the investors say they’ll take a meeting, period.
Get a blurb or a deck. Ask the founder you’re introing for a short, easily-consumable summary in a paragraph of text or in a pitch deck. Send this along to the investors to help gauge their interest in meeting the founder.
Get feedback from both parties afterwards. You need to know whether the intro provided mutual value so you can recalibrate your suggestions for next time. If you don’t do this, you’re in danger of providing irrelevant intros, which erodes your credibility with all involved.
For more on making and asking for introductions in the startup world, see this recent blog post by Aron Solomon.
That’s it—pretty simple! Got other ideas? Tweet @hauspoor with your thoughts.