Go for the Gold
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Last month I told you what not to do if you're trying to get venture capital. Here are the top 10 things you should do.
1. Build a real business. This seems like a "duh"ism, but few entrepreneurs do it. Most focus on quick flips to an IPO or acquisition. But nothing is more seductive to venture capitalists than a company they can easily imagine having a big impact on the world.
2. Get an intro. Venture capitalists are lazy. We want things handed to us on a silver platter, like when someone we know and trust tells us about a good deal. The best introductions come from corporate finance attorneys, college professors and CEOs of companies in our portfolio.
3. Obey the 10/20/30 rule. Your PowerPoint presentation should have approximately 10 slides, you should be able to give this presentation in 20 minutes and the smallest font should be 30 points. And yes, this means you with the patent-pending, curve-jumping, open-source, Google AdWords-optimized way to sell dog food online.
4. Show traction. The easiest way to prove you have a real business is to be generating revenue. It's one thing to believe your bull-shiitake Power-Point presentation; it's another to see cash flowing into your company. Show traction, and most venture capitalists will be willing to suspend their disbelief.
5. Clean up your act. Remember, venture capitalists are lazy, so present a clean deal. Clean means no lawsuits challenging your ownership, no shifty stock deals, no disgruntled co-founders lurking in the background. The more crap a venture capitalist has to clean up, the less likely he'll be interested in your deal.
6. Disclose everything. If you have crap you can't clean up, then disclose it right away--not necessarily in the first meeting, but soon thereafter. The worst thing you can do to venture capitalists is surprise them with bad news.
7. Acknowledge, or create, an enemy. Venture capitalists like to see competition--it validates that a market exists.
8. Tell new lies. Please refer to last month's column. Every time you tell one of those lies, you decrease the likelihood of funding by 25 percent. Do the math: Tell four lies, and you won't get funding.
9. Don't fall for trick questions. Venture capitalists use two trick questions to assess your cluelessness: 1) Do you see yourself as the long-term CEO of this company? and 2) What is the liquidity path for your company? The right answer for the first one is, "My goal is to build a great company. If it means I need to step aside, I will gladly do so when the time is right." The right answer for the second one is, "Frankly, I haven't given a lot of thought to liquidity. My team and I are focusing on the product. If we build a great company, I'm confident liquidity will occur."
10. Underpromise and Overdeliver. In everything you say, ensure that your results exceed expectations. Deliver a prototype early. Deliver your list of references early. Close a partnership deal early. The only thing you shouldn't do earlier than expected is run out of money.