How to Network to Startup Investors

Tonight I hosted an impromptu AMA on Twitter, and I was surprised by how many people asked about how to network to startup investors. The question itself isn’t surprising, but when I responded with “get introductions via their current portfolio founders, or do some good old fashioned networking to get there” the reply was “on what platform?”

Oh boy.

Platforms have adverse selection. They say, “I am too lazy to actually network!”

AngelList and LinkedIn have this problem, and when investors are looking for the top 1% you better believe they don’t have fleshed out profiles on these platform a lot of time. And so what if they are there, they’re already picked over. Is this true? No. But it is how investors think.

If you are a founder who wants to get in touch with investors I would take two approaches, and do them simulatenously.

1. Just cold email / call them. I mean, why not? You’re going to have to sell something to someone, someday. Why not start here? And if you are seriously thinking the lack of contact information is the barrier you are one lazy motherfucker and should not be funded.

2. Network your way there. Draw a map on a piece of paper of each person you want to get to, and identify with your email, alumni network, friends and family, facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc. how to get to them. It might not be just 1 degree of separation. I have people several degrees away from me that I have been working on for 5 years. This is the game, and if you are a founder (and particularly CEOs) get ready to play. At each meeting, your goal is to sell why you should meet with the next person in the chain. Along the way, you need to be charming, interesting, add value for the person you are currently talking to, and maintain that relationship so that when you finally do get to the person who was your target your reputation is impeccable.

TRUTH: Fundraising is hard because 99% of people are not willing to do #2. This is how we got connected to Brad Feld, who lead our Series A. A warm introduction via Rand Fishkin of Moz. I had tried the cold angle on Brad and kept following up for 6 months until we finally got the warm connection. Remember, do #1 and #2 simultaneously.

DARE: Drink a whisky right now and email that investor you admire most and have up on some pedestal with the best one liner of your life. That’s what I did when we had just $150K left in the bank, and he came through.

 

 

Monica for CEO

A fictional scene from the hours leading up to the emergency board meeting held by Raviga Capital that we weren’t allowed to see, during the HBO Silicon Valley finale.


Season 3; Episode 1: “Monica for CEO” — with a new look and new found confidence, there are going to be leadership changes at Pied Piper.

“But how can you do this to Richard? Especially after all he’s just been through!” Monica exploded, leaning back against the jagged brick and taking a long drag from her cigarette.

“Monica, the choices you are making don’t make sense to me. I propose we go inside and my assistant will get you a bottle of VOSS, and we can talk this through rationally,” sighed Laurie, as she internally categorized and ranked the damage she was doing to her home life and personal sanity by having a conversation like this in such an ugly setting, so late at night.

Grinding out the half-finished Davidoff under the heel of her flats, Monica ducked her head deferentially and headed inside. As she entered the office again she stopped suddenly, so suddenly that Laurie collided into her back. “Monica!” she gasped.

“I know what we need to do to make this work,” the associate turned to her boss, eyes determined and a bit glassy with ambition. “I’ll take over as interim CEO and make sure we don’t lose the team. They trust me, and Richard trusts me… we can get through this.”

The two women stood for a moment in the silence of the empty office, looking at each other without really seeing. Another minute, Laurie mused, and she would have broken the agreement she made with Peter for the first time in 10 years. Well it was too late now she thought, looking her young rival up and down with a mix of disdain and admiration.

“Okay. We’ll try it for a period of 90 days, during which I will actively recruit a permanent replacement for Richard Hendricks. His leadership is veritably non-existant and I simply can not tolerate his presence, so please keep him out of my sight during the transition.”

Monica held her tongue, it would be easier to just let things lie for now until she could sneak back into Erlich’s house and do some damage control.

“Thanks Mom.”

What I’d Like to Stop Doing in 2015

I really do love New Years. Reflecting on life and setting goals to make it better definitely feels like a process worth celebrating, and since my professional life began 10 years ago I’ve really enjoyed spending some of my time off in December preparing for the year ahead. I’d layered in a lot of goals over the years like getting up early, prioritizing self-care (nails, hair, skin etc.), and writing a TON more. This year, I will continue on the journey for self control and my focus will be on stripping away things that aren’t working for me anymore. I’ve chosen three things I will do a lot less of in 2015.

 

Public Speaking — unless it is in panel or Q&A format. It stresses me out, I don’t think I’m really good at it, and I feel guilty about the amount of time it takes to prepare and write a talk (which usually means I just don’t do it, which brings the stress).

Drinking Alcohol — it’s pretty amazing that I’ve gained 40 pounds since I started running my own company 3 years ago. It’s time to turn this around, and the first thing that has to go is alcohol. Drinking socially, or to cope with stress (e.g. “I need a glass of wine to wind down”) has to be replaced with walks, yoga, reading etc. if I want to get back my normal weight.

Traveling for Business — messing up my sleep schedule for business travel is the biggest productivity and health killer in my life, and often I find that the trips I book aren’t nearly valuable enough to justify it. In 2015 I will spend a lot of time in New York and Boulder, but when I do travel I will go for 1+ week at a time whenever possible, stay in an apartment with a real bed so I can feel like I actually live there, and make sure to set aside some time to actual walk around and enjoy the place I’m visiting.

 

Obviously my work won’t make it possible for me to completely stop public speaking or business travel, but any activity along those lines will be highly intentional and I will prioritize long term health and happiness over the short-term sparkle of opportunity. I am also hiring people on my team who can share these burdens with me, who will enjoy them and use them to build their own careers.

My online persona makes it sound like I don’t have much of a personal life, and that’s not exactly true — I just am pickier about the personal things I share as my inner life has become more developed. I look forward to sharing the New Year with my husband Kevin, my family and closest friends. In 2015 I’m sure I will travel somewhere warm and exotic, cook tons of amazing food, read a bunch of historical fiction and science fiction novels, finally furnish my roof deck and garden, celebrate as two of my favorite couples tie the knot, find a good reason to pop the bottle of Dom Perignon I’ve been saving, purge even more of my clothes and other clutter, and invent new things I haven’t even thought of yet.

Becoming a better CEO, learning how to work with my new board of directors, adding 50 people to the Mattermark team, continuing on my quest for a sustainable business model for high quality data journalism (I always wanted to be a writer, it just never seemed to pay very well)… these are adventures I’m already in the middle of and they’ll consume most of my creative output in 2015.

For the first time in 3 years I won’t be focused on fundraising! It’s to fully explain how wonderful that is, as my cofounder Andy puts, “for the first time in many years I’m working for a company where I’m confident it can’t go out of business this year”. A-fucking-men to that.

So cheers to 2014, a wonderful year, and onward!