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This article was published on May 15, 2014

5 mistakes to avoid when approaching an investor

5 mistakes to avoid when approaching an investor
Andrej Kiska
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Andrej Kiska

Andrej Kiska is an associate at a Prague-based venture capital fund Credo Ventures. Prior to Credo, Andrej worked at an early growth fund Be Andrej Kiska is an associate at a Prague-based venture capital fund Credo Ventures. Prior to Credo, Andrej worked at an early growth fund Benson Oak, the first backer of AVG Technologies

Andrej Kiska is an Associate at Credo Ventures.

“All these investors claim that there are not enough opportunities out there to invest in, yet when I send them my business plan, I don’t even get a response.”

Considering that venture capital investors get tens of thousands of business plans, investor decks and other pitches annually, it is hardly surprising that not all of them get an investment. Based on reactions to one of my previous posts on investor feedback, it seems that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t even receive a response to their presentation.

At the end of the day, this is the investor’s fault. But there are certain mistakes that I have seen entrepreneurs approaching Credo commit over and over again, which significantly diminish the chance of any investor reacting to the pitch. Thankfully, they are pretty easy to fix.

Here are the top five which anyone can and should avoid:

1. Your startup doesn’t fit the investor’s criteria

If the website of the VC you’re pitching says it invests in IT, internet, mobile and health startups in the CEE region, it is not going to invest in your gold mine in Mongolia. If the site says it invests in seed or Series A stage, it is not going to make an angel investment.

It is imperative that you research the fund’s site and portfolio to find out what kind of investments it is looking for.

Some people say that if the fund has already invested in a startup in the same space as you, you shouldn’t bother asking for a meeting. While I agree that the chances of receiving an investment from a fund that has already invested in your space are pretty slim, definitely try to get a meeting, because you can gain access to a ton of market intelligence.

It is more efficient to learn from the mistakes of others than from your own.

2. You cold call potential investors

This may sound more difficult than it really is: don’t send your pitch unannounced, especially to generic email addresses such as [email protected] And no, mailing in a hard copy also doesn’t help.  

Try to get introduced to any member of the investment team before sending the pitch – the more senior, the better. Leverage your network; do your LinkedIn/Angel List research. If you come out empty-handed, attend a conference where these investors speak/participate in. On average, one of our team members is at least at one conference per month.

Follow the investors you are interested in on Twitter; many VCs announce all the conferences they are attending. I personally spend a significant portion of networking time at a conference talking to friends or people I already know, and I would not say no to hearing a pitch, since that’s one of my primary reasons for attending.

If for some reason you are not able to meet the investor, at least try asking someone affiliated with the fund to make the introduction: investors of the fund, CEOs of portfolio companies, etc.

3. Your introductory email doesn’t contain relevant information

I am still very surprised at how many startups don’t fundraise with a proper deck or are not able to write a clear executive summary in the body of their introductory email. Getting the investor deck right is an art, but anyone who follows the criteria outlined in this presentation passes the minimum acceptable quality bar for Credo. Even angel investor decks have their guidelines.

The accompanying email is equally important – make it short and make sure it includes at least:

  • Where I know you from
  • What your company does – in one sentence
  • What you are asking for
  • Anything to spark my interest: traction, committed investors, even something out of the box (“Andrej, I am a regular contributor to your favorite charity”)

4. You have hired an advisor

This is a big no for any startup below at least Series B level. If you, your team and existing investors are not able to raise an investment without an advisor, you can be pretty sure that the advisor is not going to help (unless you are willing to try the exotic route, such as a Dubai-based investment fund).

Advisors can be very useful at an exit, but not for taking an early stage investment.

The advisor might brag that he has a lot of connections – this might be true, but investors in general hate receiving pitches from advisors, so the quality of such introductions is very low. I recommend sticking to strategies laid out in the second point when it comes to connecting with investors.

The advisor might claim that he can prepare a better presentation and financial model than you can. This is definitely not true – stick to the guidelines from the third point when it comes to the investor deck. And when it comes to the financial model – you don’t need an overcomplicated Excel monster; as a matter of fact, most investors don’t have the time to study it anyway.

If you know your market well enough, you can create a basic model with important numbers without outside help. If the investor likes you and your company, he or she will help you prepare a more in-depth model, which you can then use as a budget.

Investors don’t like advisors much because, in their minds, advisors don’t add value to the startup yet get paid for it. Maybe some investors like using advisors; I’d personally be curious to learn why.

5. Your startup doesn’t make sense

At the end of the day, all of these tips will be worthless if your startup doesn’t make sense. Does it solve a real problem? Does it solve it 10x better than today’s solutions? Do you have the right team to pull it off? 

If you don’t have answers to all these questions (and a bunch more), even the best connections and most beautiful investor deck are not going to help you. Do your diligence and test the market and get some valuable feedback before attempting to raise funds.