Is finding funding really all that different from finding love?
I recently had the opportunity to attend VC in the OC at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach. This one-day event featured a mix of panels and keynote speakers, culminating with an interesting concept that is gaining popularity in the startup community: VC Speed Dating.
The concept is pretty self-explanatory. A number of venture capitalists in attendance sit at tables lining the room, while the entrepreneurs line up behind the VC they’d like to speak with. At this particular event, each entrepreneur had less than three minutes to pitch the VC and answer any quick questions before moving on to the next person.
VC Speed Dating provides a great opportunity to receive some face time with multiple potential investors in a short period of time. It is fun, but can also be stressful, so here are some tips to help you maximize your experience:
Do your homework
The conference will most likely provide a list of the VCs attending the session. Before the session, take the time to research each firm and the VC representing it. Make sure you fit their investment criteria. If a firm only invests in healthcare and you’re a digital media company, don’t waste their time.
Review their portfolio for companies in your sector. If you find that they have invested in a company where there could be synergy with your starup, bring it up. You may even compare yourself to a company in which the firm had a great exit, but make sure you do not compare yourself to a company that crashed and burned — and DO NOT say you are the next Instagram for your industry (you would be surprised at how often this happens).
Finally, look for common ground between the VC and yourself that can help make you memorable. Review their LinkedIn and other online profiles to see where they went to college or graduate school, and see what other companies they have worked with. Read their tweets and their blog to find out their favorite sports team, a recent travel destination, or any other area where you may be able to relate.
Nail your elevator pitch
If you’re lucky enough to have two and a half minutes, like I was, be prepared to lay out all the most important parts of your venture in the first minute. VCs want to know the problem you’re solving for your customer, your competitive advantage, how you make money, any traction that you’ve gained in the marketplace and what you’re looking for (resources, capital, etc.), among other things. Be sure to give just enough information to make them want to hear more.
Be prepared for questions
The goal with your elevator pitch is to make the VC intrigued enough to want to learn more. They will most likely ask you questions during and after your pitch, so it’s imperative that you’re prepared. Before the pitch session, come up with a list of questions that you would expect a VC to ask and figure out your answers. If you present your pitch right, you will be able to lead the VC into asking questions about key points you touched upon.
Some popular topics that are likely to come up are barriers to entry, prototypes, burn rate and competition in the market.
Check out the competition
While waiting in line, listen to the pitches in front of you, gauge the facial reactions of the VC, and analyze the opportunity that the entrepreneur before you is presenting. Use your findings to strengthen your pitch, avoid mistakes, and appeal to the VC’s interests.
Always follow up
Once the session is over, politely ask for a business card and leave yours on the table as well. Write down any specific notes on the VC’s business card, which you will be able to touch upon in a later email or phone call. If there is a networking or cocktail reception following the session, stay for a bit, as there may be an opportunity to make a second contact.
Be sure to follow up with an email the next day, even if your venture wasn’t a fit — you never know what ventures you may have in the future. In your email, remind the VC who you are and what your startup is, thank them for their time and attach any information they may have requested. They are sure to be inundated with emails following the event, so don’t expect a prompt reply. If you have not received a reply after a few days, politely follow up with another email.
Never be rude or pushy, as the VC community is a small one — a single bad review from one VC may damage your chances of working with others.
Kevin Tighe II currently resides in Los Angeles where he serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at Verifico, the leading marketplace for consumers to securely connect and conduct transactions with verified independent financial professionals. He is also the co-founder of Inflite and is invested in a number of other tech/entertainment-related startups.