Fundraising isn't always fun. It can be a long, agonizing, and often emotional process. Emails go unanswered; pitches fall on deaf ears; and many times investors just don't get it. This constant feedback loop (or lack thereof) can be taxing on even the most seasoned pro and can push founders to believe that they have to change and become more aggressive, tougher, and do anything possible to get to that yes. Don't fall into this trap. Here's how to remain true to yourself and feel confident in your own story and pitch.
Don't "play the part" of a founder.
Founders come in all shapes and sizes, so be the real you during the process. It's very uncomfortable to pretend to be something you're not, and it becomes nearly impossible to live up to your potential because you're so focused on keeping up with the facade. It all goes back to trust. If you're inauthentic, people won't trust you. And without trust, there is no relationship. I know I always invest in people first, businesses second. Research shows that our instincts tell us to ask ourselves two questions when we first meet someone, "Can I trust this person?" and "can I respect this person?" We look to a person's warmth and competence to answer these two questions. And a big part of earning someone's trust is doing what you say you are going to do. If you walk away from an investor meeting with action items, make sure to follow up quickly.
Set a communication schedule.
The back and forth, uncertainty, and just plain silence can prey on your nerves, and it can be easy to let your annoyance seep into email communication. Take emotion out of the process by creating a follow-up checklist and communication schedule. For example, Day of meeting/coffee: Send a thank you email with actionable next steps. If no response one week later: Reiterate next steps. If still no response, wait one more week and write confidently something to the effect of, "I wanted to give you a brief fundraising update. We have great investors who have come on board (name them) and I am looking to close the round in xx days/weeks. I would love to have you be a part of this round. Please let me know if there is any additional information you need to make a decision." If they don't respond to this email, mark them as a NO on your investor tracking sheet and move on. Use simple, strong language to keep your irritation at bay.
Look for the small wins.
We know what big wins are after a pitch meeting, but it's just as essential to look for small wins to help you get ready to refine and try again. Sometimes an ah-ha phrase will emerge from the meeting, and your small win is that you picked up on a new way to communicate your message that will be more impactful. Other small wins: get an intro to an investor that may be a better fit or to a potential customer, or it may turn into an advising relationship. These are all parts of the process and appreciating the small wins will help keep you on track. If you go into fundraising with a growth mindset, it will make the whole process so much more enjoyable. Also have your eyes wide open that there are going to be a lot of no's, but look at every single no as a learning moment or an opportunity to gain a small win. Also, listen to what they're saying: What's holding them back from saying Yes?
Be confident in your value.
Remind yourself that you are offering investors the chance to be part of this amazing company—you're not begging for money. Build your confidence by paying close attention to your successes in life and how you accomplished them—you can't argue with facts. In my book, The Myth of the Nice Girl, I share the story of how I developed my own evidence-based confidence. Not too long ago, I was giving a big speech to three hundred managers and was really nervous. A close friend told me to think back to a time when I gave a good speech. I visualized that speech and recalled how I prepared for it, what I said and how I said it and it made me feel far more confident. To develop your own evidence-based confidence, start to write down moments when you've created value or earned a big or small win. Ask yourself these questions: 1) When have I done something difficult and survived? 2) When have I made a solid pitch? 3) What process have I used when making successful decisions?
Focus on the interests of both parties.
Spend time learning about the investor ahead of the meeting so that you can make a personal connection. I appreciate when a founder starts the meeting by referencing something about me personally. It's a basic human need to be acknowledged and it works in fundraising too. Experts also agree that using empathy is the best way to get a win-win outcome—and improves the relationship between the participants. To do this, focus on the interests of both parties—the things you are each trying to change or create. What does the investor stand to gain from funding your company? A big payoff, maybe. But what about the factors beyond the specifics of your business plan? Are you bringing them exposure to a new demographic? A new geographic area? Are there other investors already on board that this investor wants to do business with?
When they go low, stay high.
The sad reality is, there are [insert negative word] investors. When the person on the other side of the table isn't playing nice, your first instinct may be to mirror that behavior. Don't. Instead of becoming defensive, ask yourself: Is this someone I want on my team anyway? Yes, fundraising is about products and money and financial returns, but there is also a human factor—you're letting people into your world that you are hopefully going to be in a long-term relationship with. A big part of being successful at fundraising is partnering with people that have the same values and goals as you. Do your due diligence on the investor—check with past founders. You're giving up ownership and control in your company, and you want to make sure that your investors' goals, values, reputation and track record match up with your own. Do they have a good track record in my industry? Do they have a great reputation for the way they treat founders and partners? Ask yourself how you feel after meeting with the investor? Is this someone you will feel comfortable asking for advice? Never compromise your values for a check.
Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.
I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…
From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"
I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.
I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.
While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.
There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.
I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:
So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.
This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...