Pitching venture capitalists can be a fraught enterprise, particularly for entrepreneurs who have never done it before. With that in mind, we’ve asked leading venture capitalists at firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners and GE Ventures to share their best advice for startup founders seeking capital.
From specific tips on hiring to more general strategies on maintaining focus, this is your shot to learn from the pros.
1. Ask for feedback from a wide range of sources.
“Innovation is hard, especially when you try to do it alone. When building your core team and board, look for people with a range of experiences and backgrounds. Seeking counsel from a mix of personalities and expertise will help ensure you’re thinking of everything, leaving no stone unturned.” — Sue Siegel, CEO, GE Ventures
2. Invest in quality salespeople.
“In addition to bringing the actual bacon — in the form of paying customers that make everything work — salespeople are the one group constantly in front of the very people you’re selling to. They can visualize the market like no one else, help build the go-to-market strategy, and give you intimate customer and competitive insights for the overall company strategy.” — Lars Dalgaard, General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz
3. Become a master at telling your own story.
“Whether you are interacting with customers, fundraising or recruiting, you are always selling and, and the best salespeople are master storytellers. Craft a compelling and genuine company story that resonates with your audience not just intellectually, but also emotionally. Hone it with every new interaction. Learn to deliver it with the same level of energy and enthusiasm every single time." — Matt Turck, Managing Director, FirstMark Capital
4. Don’t overlook the value of corporate investors.
“Beyond capital, corporate investors bring vast networks, robust resources and experts in technology and business operations that will help you reach your goals across your business – from product creation, to hiring, to commercialization.” — Karen Kerr, Senior Managing Director, GE Ventures
5. Maintain focus.
“Avoid paralysis by analysis. Pick three to four key drivers of your business, not 10. Sales wants to sell what you don't have; engineering wants to build the perfect product, managing this tension key to killer sales growth. Remember to ‘hire slow, fire fast’ instead of the other way around. Don’t rush your hiring decisions as it can be costly to bring in the wrong people and then readjust three months later.” — Ed Sim, Managing Partner, BoldStart Ventures
6. Release products early and often.
“Whether it's software application or another product, getting it out into the wild (aka the market) provides the best substance to discuss with investors. Also, releasing often, teams updating your product to reflect how it's being used and measured by how much more customers use that product before and after the update. — Eliot Durbin, General Partner, BoldStart Ventures
7. Develop an integrated marketing strategy.
“When building a new company, entrepreneurs are hyper-focused on the development of their product or service. Marketing and communications tends to be an afterthought and often a pain point. I try to remind startups that their marketing needs to reflect their chosen strategy, not just their technology, and at the end of the day, whether their company is B2B or B2C, they’re still marketing to people.” — Neal Sandy, Chief Marketing Officer, GE Ventures
8. Focus on patterns, not benchmarks.
“Pretty much every new app has the following problem: lots of people sign up but don’t stick around. I frequently get asked what are benchmarks for retention after one day or one week. Ignore the benchmarks. You need to find the patterns in the stories of people who do get your product. Figure out what converted them and got them so excited to keep using your product. At first, your main focus should be to attract and create more and more of those “core users.” Over time you can try to increase averages, but first, you just need a core and strong base. Most people look too much at the “big data” and try to draw conclusions. In the early days of a product you have to talk to people. You need anecdotes much more than data.” — Josh Elman, Partner, Greylock Partners
9. Know your numbers (or bring on someone who does).
“When I started my second company, I brought in a good friend as a cofounder and CFO. There were only three of us at the company – we certainly didn’t need a CFO at the time. But I knew from my first startup experience that having a firm grasp of key financials, cash flow, receivables, etc. would be critical to us scaling the company and working with our investors. As an investor now at a large VC firm, I meet many founders who don’t have a great handle on their numbers. It doesn’t usually hurt the company early, but it can be a major weak point when raising capital and sometimes even kill a company down the road.” — Jeff Richards, Partner, GGVC Capital