Launch a Community Campaign to Attract Venture Capital

If you plan to get noticed by venture capitalists (VCs) by simply contacting the VC, you’re missing a bunch of other important channels. Think about fundraising as a presidential campaign: You have to get the word out to as many people as possible — a feat that’s especially challenging because of laws preventing companies from advertising investment opportunities publicly in newspapers and online. (Caveat: Laws change, so check current laws.)

How can you get the word out without publicly advertising? By spreading information about your investment through word of mouth channels. In other words, you have to shake a lot of hands and meet a lot of people.

You can get 30 minutes of time with almost anyone if you can secure the right introduction. When you begin your campaign of being seen, you’re not vying to talk directly to a VC.

Instead, you’re introducing yourself to all the people who can connect you with investors, advisors, and potential teammates. You’re building your reputation as a committed founder and a savvy businessperson. By following this approach, when you do get in front of the VC, he already knows your name.

Attract venture capitalist attention with face to face time

There’s nothing like face time to get connected with someone new. An unspoken rule in start-up communities says that anyone will have coffee with an entrepreneur if asked. Sometimes you may have to wait three months and be very persistent, especially if the target is very busy, but the rule holds.

During this coffee meeting, don’t pitch your company. Ask questions to find out more about the VC’s perspective, his network, and his expertise. Make mental — and real — notes about who this person is and how he fits into the community as a whole. Keep these points in mind:

  • Use your time wisely. Don’t just sit down for a chat about the weather. Make a list of goals that you want to accomplish during the meeting. Busy people appreciate your preparation and focus when meeting.

  • Don’t feel shy about asking if someone is an angel investor. You’d be surprised how many people in start-up communities are investing in the companies around them. If the person is an investor, don’t pitch to him immediately. Instead, ask which companies he’s invested in recently and put that information in your notes.

  • Feel free to ask for an introduction. You can ask for introductions to specific people, although your meeting partner may not feel comfortable introducing you to people they don’t know well. Take this tack: In the general course of conversation, ask whether there is anyone you should meet. Then ask for an introduction to the person whose name they provide. Chances are they’re close to the person they suggest. If not, you can add the suggested person to your list of new targets to meet anyway.

When you leave the coffee meeting, at minimum, you should know two things: how this person can help you and how you can help him.

Absolutely send a thank you e-mail to the person you met with. Even better, send a handwritten thank you. No one gets postal mail anymore, but everyone gets between 4 and 400 e-mails every day. A handwritten note will be remembered.

Attract venture capitalist attention by going to networking events

The best way to meet people is to get out and mingle. Networking events often target a specific topic or field. They generally provide some educational content, showcase an interview with someone interesting, or provide some entertainment. Occasionally, the networking event is nothing more than a time and place designated to allow participants to talk to people in the community.

So many networking events are scheduled in some cities that you could attend one every morning, lunch, and evening. Choose wisely. These events often last a few hours and can absorb a lot of your time. It is wise to attend a particular group’s meeting two or three times to see who the regulars are, to develop some relationships, and to truly understand what is going on behind the scenes.

Meetup.com is the go-to website for everything networking. Most events on Meetup.com are free or come with a small charge to cover food and beverages. Some are formal, and others are haphazard: you never know what to expect until you attend!

Attract venture capitalist attention by giving presentations

During a fundraising campaign, one of your big goals is to get a chance to pitch to investors. But don’t assume that an official pitch presentation is your only opportunity to sell yourself. You can get exposure through other kinds of presentations as well. Consider these possibilities:

  • Universities are often looking for folks in the community to speak with students or faculty. These opportunities may or may not present themselves to you. If no one approaches you, don’t feel shy about offering to give a talk. Find the person in charge of booking speakers and offer a topic you feel comfortable presenting. In general, program planners will be so happy to have an available speaker that they’ll try to book you at some point during the semester.

  • Entrepreneur groups are always looking for speakers. No matter what your experiences have been so far, chances are you have something to offer.

  • Community groups such as Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions Club, and others love to connect with the people in their communities. If you have local experience that you’d like to share, you’ll almost always be invited to provide their members with an interesting tale.

Some of these potential speaking venues may seem to be off the beaten path when you’re looking for investment. After all, do VCs really go to business school talks?

Actually, sometimes they do. Moreover, they’ve likely spoken at the business school themselves and now have a soft spot in their hearts for the program. When the VC sees the e-mail from the business school advertising your talk, he’ll feel a subconscious connection with your name.

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