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Ask HN: Meeting with VCs tomorrow, what tips should I know?
40 points by code177 on Dec 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments
Heading down to SF tomorrow for 3 days of VC meetings. Never done this before - what are some little known tips from seasoned entrepreneurs that I should know?



Since you're meeting VCs, I will assume you're raising money.

1.) Properly communicate how much money you are raising and why. Understand how much money they normally invest in a startup (don't ask for $5k from someone that normally invests $100k). Figure out how much money you need to operate for 12-18 months or more. This should be primarily based on expected team size & team growth. $10k per head per month is a good estimate (on the low end). A team of six needs approximately $750k for a year.

2.) Focus on the team if you're seed stage

3.) Have a prototype of what you're building

4.) Understand your market well


don't ask for $5k from someone that normally invests $100k

Are there VCs which go as small as $100k? (Honest question here -- all I typically see announced is the sizes of rounds and I don't know how large or small the individual funders in those rounds are.)


Of course. A lot of the rounds that get most attention are the larger ones - they attracted money, so they attract attention. But practically speaking, VC's will invest somewhere between the highest "safe" gamble and the lowest profitable investment.


Short answer - no. Some will participate in seed rounds if they intend to follow up in a series A. This is rare though, and $100k even at the seed stage is tiny for a VC.


Lots of large VCs will invest as little as $100K to both get in for the next round as well as provide the team with resources they may need that are non-monetary, some will even take on advisory roles.

Investing isn't about the amount at the seed stage. An investor at the seed stage gets a whole lot more equity for their buck earlier on, so they should provide value over that of what the money will get you.


"superangel" funds will do $100k-ish.


I could probably write a book on this. I've been pitched a few hundred times, invested as an angel ~50+ times, and raised twice (so far.)

If your product speaks for itself, none of the advice here matters. You'll get multiple offers to play off each other.

A great lawyer will help you navigate this. I can recommend several if needed.

Try to pitch the weaker fit and less interesting VCs first. This will let you get your patter down, make the strange questions unsurprising, etc.


Not seasoned, but, any time I ask someone for money, I try to...

1) Put myself in their shoes, and talk in their terms.

2) Understand their niche. (Seed? Early Stage? Late stage? Software? Hardware? Energy?)

3) Be authentic. The money comes with strings based on what you promise. If you lie about your project, product or person, you will have to keep it up indefinitely, and that's a recipe for failure.

4) Respect their time. Be assertive without being aggressive.

Break a leg!


Great advice, thanks!


Have you read the book "Venture Deals" [1] by Foundry Group VCs? If not, grab a copy now and read through the first few chapters.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Venture-Deals-Smarter-Lawyer-Capitalis...


I invest at a cross-stage VC fund with a several $B under management. I want to back someone who knows everything about his/her market. Those are the people who deliver brilliant product+market fit and continue to innovate. If you already have product+market fit, then highlight the traction (lord only knows how hard you worked to get it, show it off) and discuss scalability.

Talk in specifics. “we’ll grow by scaling campaigns that we ran which gave us a CAC of $X and which cohorts monetized at $Y per month” is obviously better than “we plan to get new users by advertising on [FB, Google, Flurry, Admob, retargeting…]”.

More important than VC funding is to be hell-bent on your company’s success. Do whatever you can (ethically of course) to make your company succeed. The entrepreneurs that can raise capital easily have already created wonderful things on few resources then find investors flocking to them to help them scale. Travis at Uber and Omar at Admob come to mind as some of the best.

Lastly, investors are walking rolodexes. Ask for names and connections to people who can help. If your business is not a fit for my firm, ask about which investors might be a good fit.


1. Believe that you DON'T need the funding to build a big business. The belief will help you ACT like you don't.

2. The wrong way to look at these meetings is as an opportunity for you to pitch for money to a VC.

3. The right way to look at these meetings is as an opportunity for a VC to pitch for a startup which will make him lots of money (see Rule no.1)

4. Almost all funding decisions will get made within the first 15 minutes of your meeting - this will be apparent in hindsight but you will get better at this over time. The trick is to say 'Next' when they so 'No' without wasting too much time.

5. For the best results establish your credentials before meeting the VC - probably by having a strong reference vouch for you/your work before the meeting. (Note: Not all 'contacts' are 'references' and you will need to discriminate to make this work)


Ask for a definite yes or no. Many VCs will say "maybe" when they really mean no. Don't waste your time chasing maybes except perhaps to put them on an email list that you send investor updates to.


I've never heard an actual "no". No VC wants to be known as the guy who turned down Google (eg.)


This is true. Usually they will say "I'm interested" which means you can move to the next stage or "I think it's interesting" which probably means "no."


It's probably to late to learn how to cultivate it if you don't already have it, but VCs love rationally exuberant hypomania. See Bill Nguyen, as an example. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/160/bill-nguyen-startups

But with the caveat of mathattack's advice to be authentic -- but if authentic you is really excited about how your company is absolutely going to profoundly change the world and eventually IPO, then roll with it.


From pg's (using the sidebar[1], so that you can easily skim the contents): http://paulgrahamsidebar.heroku.com/investors.html

Venture hacks also made some nice points: http://www.slideshare.net/venturehacks/presentation-hacks

[1] https://github.com/danielribeiro/PaulGrahamSideBar


I do not mean to discourage you, but the fact that you are posting here a day before your trip means you are already at a disadvantage.

The key to maximizing your chances in these meetings is preparation. Your story, your pitch, your funding request, your specific hooks for THE specific firm/partner and your strategy for setting the stage for negotiating the deal you can live with (should they want it at all).

Since you are apparently going in less than 100% prepared, I highly recommend soft-pedaling the actual pitch. Last thing any investor wants is to be stalked by someone who they do not believe is ready for funding, but is asking for their money. If you do not have 100% bulletproof answers to all the questions raised in the comments here I would categorize you as "not ready" and recommend to use the following Plan B.

Instead of pitching and setting a hard marker (e.g. we are raising $X by month Y), say that you are simply focusing on your business (product development / sales) and is just starting to "explore the possibility" of raising funding and "open to advice" on the best way to approach it. This would put any VC at ease, you'll be able to present your story and if they feel it to be compelling enough, they would want to follow up, buying you more time to prepare. If they are not interested, nothing is lost because you have not been "pitching" but merely "asking for advice". You'll be able to re-approach them at a later time saying you are "finally ready".

Above all try to go in confident and relaxed. Be sure to look genuinely interested when "asking for feedback", because chances are you could put it to good use if they turn you down. Do not forget to ask for introductions too: "who do you think we should talk to about this".

If you do not get any real interest, remember nothing is lost. Just focus on your product / business and try funding when you have a stronger hand to play.


I worked for an Angel Investment Group for 2 years and went to VCIC internationals. I have never raised money myself at the VC level

The 3 things you absolutely need to do at a minimum are: 1) State the problem you are solving 2) State how you are going to solve it (If there are 2 sides of the market, say "I know there are two sides of this market, here is how we solve group A's problem, here is how we solve group B's problem, all by allowing them to interact in the following way) 3) Be very specific about the amount you are asking and have estimates on what things will cost. Be sure that the amount you are asking for is enough to execute. (dshankar sounds like he knows what he is talking about also).

* If it were me, I would spend the time getting comparable transactions that are close to your imagined exit so you can show how big your market really is (but I don't know if this is actually valid advice)


Not sure if you have enough time, but you may want to check this out -> http://hackersandfounders.tv/T7F/naval-ravikant-hack-your-fu... I saw this video a couple of days back and found it to be quite insightful.


In these situations I tend to remember the advice from the Dallas Cowboys old coach Tom Landry, I believe it went something like this: "When you score a touchdown, don't do a big celebration. Act like this is what you expected to happen, and you've been here before so it's no big deal".


Is this a first meeting? The partner meeting? It seems to me that your interaction with the VC's will vary based on how far along you are in your relationship.


Don't pretend you know everything.

Get your pitch down and be concise.


I will tell you like it really is.

1. Say what your product does and why its going to be major in a single sentence within the first 10 seconds of your presentation. With VCs you need to pitch the problem or the opportunity, they do not give a crap about your secret sauce until they understand they are dealing with a big opportunity. Secret sauce is a second order problem. You have exactly 20 seconds to get their attention before you meet he most arrogant, inattentive, distracted person you have ever encountered.

2. If 20 seconds have elapsed, take a look at your VC. If they are sitting up straight, or leaning on the table attentive, you have them - now GO. Your presentation should be no more than 10 slides, but preferably less than that. Your slides should be pictorial with as few words as possible. Words are your worst enemy, they remind the VC of competitors, portfolio companies, analyst reports, VC gossip, and other factors. Words turn into questions that interrupt the flow of your pitch. If your VC is distracted, looking at their phone, typing away on their iPad, move along quickly because this probably is not going to pan out. If someone in the room is still not paying attention, walk over and stand behind them while you continue to talk. That one works every time.

3. Never, ever, yield control of the pitch, you must maintain the flow of the conversation at all times. YOU are giving the presentation and THEY are your audience. Let a VC start talking and they will never fucking stop, and 20 minutes later you will be out of time and they will forget who you were and what you were talking about. Do not let your VC start telling you how it is, YOU tell THEM how it fucking is, get them to shut their mouth for 2 fucking seconds. This does not mean be rude, this means come fully prepared to ambush your VC when they mean to abush you. Know your competitors, know their products, know their customers, know their strengths, know their weaknesses. Be able to explain quickly and succinctly why your product or solution is going to own a particular market segment. Know your segment, love your segment, explain your segment at length.

4. Never, ever follow up. Its a complete waste of your time, and it makes you seem like you really need them. If a VC is interested you will know when they call you with next steps. Do not send them an email, do not call them, do not singing telegram them. Nothing. Go completely link dead. If your VC wants your slides, its up to you, but you don't have to give them anything. Speaking from experience, VCs share these slides with their portfolio companies in addition to their partners, and if its helping their portfolio its probably hurting you. Either way you are giving away your property for free, so I suggest you do not do that. If they want your property, they can cut you a term sheet and the check to go with it.

5. Meet with exactly 3 VCs a week. If you have not heard from a VC in 2 days, drop them and add a fresh VC. Never tell a VC the name of another VC you have met with, its none of their business, and its a HUGE disadvantage for you. VCs all know each other, and if they think someone smarter than them passed on your deal, they are going to pass too. Similarly, if they think someone smarter than them is interested, they are going to call that someone and try to do talk their way into the deal. If and when your VC hands you a term sheet, THEN you can disclose who else you are willing to bring to the table. Use your judgement to gauge VC seriousness.

And that is the way it really is. My advice to you is this: If there is a way, any remote way, that you can build and launch your product or service without raising venture capital, do it. Work a job if you have to, work two jobs if you have to. The VC equation is highly skewed to favor the investor, but you are the person that has to do all of the work, you are the person that is really invested in the business. To make matters worse, once you accept that term sheet, your investment in your own business becomes subject to the whim of your investors. You may not understand this now, but you will understand it when you go to raise Series B, Series C, Series D, and find yourself with just 3% of your own company because it took more money than you ever dreamed. VCs want, no, demand, that you spend their money. Try telling a VC that you are going to take $3.5M in Series A and stretch it over 3 years as you iterate. Hell, try telling a VC these days that you want just $3.5M instead of $10M.

Good luck.


series As are typically smaller than that these days...

#5 doesn't sound exactly right; you want to generate heat around your deal and this means bringing multiple parties to the table at the same time.


How did it go?




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