Everywhere you look these days you read another article about a consumer startup raising capital. I’ve been on both sides of the boardroom table, as a VC looking for the next big deal to round out my portfolio and as a CEO/co-founder looking for the capital to execute on my product vision and business concept. Living in both of these worlds has provided some insightful perspectives.
As everyone who has worked on significant partnership deals knows, one of the key elements of success is understanding where the other party is coming from. The same is true for raising capital. To facilitate the right relationships with the appropriate people, startup founders need to understand what VCs are looking for and how they operate. To make an informed investment decision, VCs need to understand the core mechanics of your product and business model.
VCs see a million interesting ideas from charismatic founders. Ultimately, their investment decision sets at the intersection of execution risk, team strength, market opportunity and your product’s value proposition.
Before you sit down with anyone at a VC fund, you need to ask yourself, what problem is my product solving and who has this problem? Why now? What trends are making this problem grow rapidly? Does my product’s value proposition provide a “must have” solution, and does it have the potential to evolve into a platform?
Once you’ve done a deep dive to really answer those previous questions, these five points are imperative for a successful VC relationship.
1. VCs are partnerships, so getting one general partner excited enough to get others on board goes a long way. Raising capital is forging a new and critical partnership that should be entered into as a partnership discussion. Getting one partner excited about what you’re working on, and arming him or her with the answers to the hard questions, gives you an evangelist inside the VC. They will help you make the case for why your company is a great bet for the firm.
2. It matters how you get introduced and which partners are sponsoring the investment. As a startup founder, you want to maximize your chance of closing a round of capital with great terms that will fuel your product's growth.
I can’t say this enough: VCs are partnerships. Be sure that you’re talking to the right partner about your product. For example, since The Hunt app is a blend between e-commerce and a social network, to find the right match we needed to talk to the partners with expertise and interest in retail and contextual commerce.
3. You can’t change your market, so choose wisely. You can change your product, you can change your team, you can change a lot of things but your market is beyond your control. The demographic or market you’re in should be growing. It sounds simple but it’s a key proof to a VC that your product can achieve product market fit and meaningful scale.
4. It’s better to dominate a niche than to be all things to all people and dominant nowhere. VCs want to see focus in a startup. When you prove you have traction solving a real pain point for a specific demographic, you’re in a great position in the eyes of a VC.
5. Focus on (future) horizontal movement. While investors want to see a product with a single value proposition that solves a specific pain point, they also want to hear how your company will grow. You'll need to tell them how your product will expand to a horizontal platform that addresses multiple use cases across various segments and demographics.
It’s true, fundraising is a daunting and all-encompassing task. It’s one of the most important decisions that you’ll make. After all, these are the people who will form your board, give you business and product advice, and create a meaningful impact on your burgeoning business. It’s a matter having all your ducks in a row and following these steps to give you a leg up on the competition.