VCs invest in a tiny proportion of the opportunities they see and the majority of pitches don’t lead to a meeting. For example, in 2016 Forward Partners saw more than 2,600 leads of which 150 (6%) led to first meetings. As an entrepreneur, it makes sense to invest effort in getting to first meetings with VCs, particularly since until you actually start meeting VCs it can be difficult to get useful feedback on why they pass on an opportunity.
Find a way in.
While VCs typically invest in less than 1% of deals they see, the proportion varies widely with the source of the opportunity. Referrals from trusted connections are the best source of deal flow for VCs and opportunities that come through this channel are much more likely to be given a first meeting. It makes sense to put a good deal of effort into this approach to maximise your chances.
Picking the right targets
While finding a referral to a VC will improve your chances of having a meeting, it takes time and effort which is best spent with the investors who are a good fit for your company. It makes no sense to drum up a referral to a VC if you are too early for their stage focus. This is a particular problem for pre-revenue companies as many institutional investors will not invest pre-revenue. You should build a target list of the VCs that would be the best fit for your company based on their stage and sector focus, investment size, reputation & value add and then focus your time on the investors which are the best fit for you.
Referrals from portfolio company CEOs.
Arguably the best approach to an investor is to go through one of their existing portfolio companies. VCs respect the judgement of portfolio company CEOs (they wouldn’t invest in them otherwise) so their recommendations carry weight. Review the portfolio of target VCs for any companies that could provide a referral; potential customers or channel partners are a good fit, as are companies who are in your space but not competitive. Ultimately, you have to be able to convince the CEO that what you are doing is sufficiently interesting and differentiated that it is worth their while to pass you on the their investor (and risk their reputation doing so).
Referrals from other investors.
Investors routinely share deal flow with their network and a referral from another investor can improve your chances of getting a meeting with a VC. If you have previously raised money your existing investors should be the first point of call, although if they aren’t willing to invest their pro-rata a recommendation carries less weight. While it is unlikely to hurt, asking VCs for intros to other VCs at the end of pitches has a low success rate. VCs cherish their reputation for good judgement and if a VC doesn’t like an investment enough to invest they probably won’t like it enough to pass on to other VCs.
Referrals from other contacts.
VCs naturally build large networks which gives plenty of potential approaches to getting a referral. LinkedIn can be your friend but beware, a referral is only as good as the trust that backs it so make sure the connection represents a real relationship. Former colleagues, fellow board members and personal friends are good approaches, someone who once bumped into a VC at an event is not.
If you can’t find a way to get in touch with a VC through their network you can try to make the connection at events. Some funds will run events which can be a good place to meet members of the team. Other useful events are those with VC speakers or big tech conferences which VCs attend. Note, the goal of connecting with a VC at an event is to get a business card, catch their interest and make sure your follow up email is opened. Buttonholing a busy VC to give a full pitch in a noisy room is unlikely to build a good impression or lead to another meeting.
Some VCs are more receptive of cold inbound opportunities than others. In particular, early stage funds often have a process to deal with inbound and these can be a good approach where you can’t find another way in. For example our own Office Hours programme provides 15 minute slots for entrepreneurs with pre-seed businesses to get feedback from members of our investment team. We also run an annual programme called Funding Lab, a two-part event for founders preparing for their next raise. As with cold inbound, the volume of applications is high and taking the time to produce a well written application can pay dividends.
For early stage companies advisory services are rarely a good way of securing funding. While a good advisor will be able to point you towards the VCs that are a good fit for your company there is a definite signalling issue with early stage founders who rely on bankers to organise a funding round. Ability to hustle is a key trait for an early stage CEO and paying for an introduction doesn’t exactly demonstrate a scrappy, get things done attitude. For larger, later stage rounds investment banks can add a lot of value but steer clear for early stage funding rounds.