I've been in venture capital for the past decade, and it still amazes me the different approaches and behaviors I get when I meet founders. When I was asked to write this post, it didn't take long for the memories to come back on some of the bad behaviors I've observed from people asking for money.
To help you think about your approach as you think about your fundraising strategy, I pulled together a quick list of do's and don'ts when meeting with potential investors.
Ask for money in a first meeting.
There's an old adage: "If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money." I can't tell you the number of times an entrepreneur has talked about fundraising before fully explaining his or her business.
As an investor, I need time to digest your business plan and strategy. You can't expect an investor to fall in love with you as an entrepreneur and your business in just one meeting. It takes time to build a relationship. I often suggest to our portfolio companies that they meet with potential investors when they're not actually fundraising. By establishing this relationship -- one that's built on advice and feedback instead of a financial ask -- you're showing respect for the investor and conveying that you seek his or her skills or expertise, not just a check.
Lie about facts.
I'm amazed how often an entrepreneur's claims flat out fall apart in the diligence process. It's one thing to highlight certain aspects of the business (and maybe embellish certain features), but it's entirely different to outright lie about milestones, commitments, relationships, among other things. The truth will come out with any professional investor. Don't take this risk -- word travels fast in the small investor community.
Try to set terms, pricing or apply pressure.
Let the market speak for your company. You can give guidance to a potential investor subtly. For example you could say, "Our competitor with similar metrics recently got financed at a $20 million pre-money valuation, here is why I think we're better…" Setting terms to the investor by saying something like, "I won't take less than this valuation" is the surest way to turn off a potential investor.
Be confident, yet polite.
You should be confident about your business and your ability to execute. It's quite another to be arrogant. My advice would be to give off the vibe that you know something amazing that most people around you haven't figured out yet. That sort of quiet confidence is the way to go. Make claims but don't trumpet them. Show that you can be confident about your company without looking insecure.
Follow up and provide updates.
As I mentioned in the don'ts: Most investors don't invest in the first meeting. It's important to follow up with a thank you email and keep them updated as you progress. Indicate what you plan on doing and show the investor that you're doing it over time. When you continuously show them how you're evolving and building your track record, they'll be that much more likely to want to invest.
Learn when to close the door.
Even if the investor elects not to invest, don't be defensive or rage that the investor was ignorant. You never know when you'll run into the investor down the line and there's no upside in burning bridges -- no matter how wrong you may think the investor is. Keep things cordial, push forward, and if things go well, you'll be in the driver's seat the next time you meet.
Following the pointers above won't guarantee that you'll get funded, but they'll materially improve your odds of getting closer to you goal.
Any tips for meeting with investors? Let us know in the comments below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Paul Lee is a partner at Lightbank, a VC firm focused on see and early-stage tech startups. Prior to joining Lightbank, Lee was the managing director and group head of digital at Playboy Enterprises and the founding partner at Peacock Equity Fund, a joint venture between NBC Universal and GE Capital.