I moved to San Francisco in April of 2012. Born and raised in Colombia I obviously had ZERO contacts in Silicon Valley . So as most international entrepreneurs I only had my startup, the desire to succeed and some savings to survive a few months while I raised capital for Tareasplus. Countless “NO’s” and the desire to keep going on have helped create a list of the most productive hacks to get in front of investors. Some of them require time, others will break the bank and many will test the limits of your patience and endurance. If you are not an ex-Yahoo, Facebook, Google you most likely will have to resort to some of these methods. Let me tell you in advance, that if you believe it would take just 5 or 10 tries you will be in for a quick deception. Plan to go at it for at least 100 times -yes 100 times, or more- it is a numbers game so the more you play the game the better you will become. Be sure to do your research prior to executing each hack, know everything you can about your investor. Try each method at least 10 or 20 times and figure out which is the one that really works out for you. Eventually we were able to raise $850,000 in our first round after many “NO’s” and a combination of several of the hacks proposed here.
#1. Clarity.fm this is one is so obvious I’m amazed it isn’t used or “abused” more by entrepreneurs. In essence Clarity serves as a Q&A service where you can find professionals and pay to have calls by the minute. An ample selection of both angel and venture investors are here. But there is a caveat to it, if you call an investor with the subject of pitching them your startup they might not take the call. So you have to work an angle, where they feel like they can contribute to a specific doubt you may have but yet its not a pitch. I have called them to ask if they believe my pre-money valuation is too high, advantages of convertible notes vs small equity rounds, advice about other potential investors, marketplace dynamics, etc. Once they feel “acquainted” I will later shoot for the -hey, you think you would like to meet to get to know more about our startup?-, which actually has worked about 3 times of the many that I have done. In occassions it can get awkward or they might just reply, that they are super busy.
#2. I use Twitter to mainly follow investors and angels that Im interested. It actually serves 2 purposes. If you are constantly reading or RT what they post it will help them bring up your name in a future encounter or at least be an excuse to talk or engage from any of their tweets. Timing is of the essence and although very difficult to catch, even big whales might take a bite.
#3. Read their blogs and watch their videos. Sometimes you will be able to match-up you startup needs with what they write or with any of the points they made on an interview. I’ts not about “stroking” their ego’s its about how you and your startup share the same point of view about a particular subject. This gives you again an angle to which they might open and probably engage in future discussions. Here is a perfect example with Hunter Walk from Homebrew -by the way a very cool dude- (this is his blog hunterwalk.com)
#4. Eventbrite and Meetup, this was a savior for me specially when I had no idea of where to start. So in the beginning I went to almost every single free event there was just to get a sense of who is who in the valley and where they go to. After a little bit of trial an error I figured out the filters and methods of which tech events I should attend.
a. Have at least one angel or vc investor as a speaker, I focused on getting to meet this person more than anyone else
b. Only paid events but within a budget of no more than $100, this way the competition to get to the “desired” panelist was not as hard as on free events.
c. Be 30 mins earlier than the proposed time. My single purpose was to connect with the desired panelist or expositor and since they are the ones presenting they need to get there earlier. At this point they are easy targets and actually very open for chit-chat. After the event you will be competing with all the rest of entrepreneurs, they will be tired or most likely suffer from ADD and not pay attention to anything you have to say.
#5. Always ask for for a referral. I met Howard Hartenbaum at an Eventbrite and was able to schedule a meeting later on that week to pitch our startup. He very quickly said NO but that didn’t stop him from referring us to at least 4 other VC firms like Google Ventures amongst others. Even if they say NO, remember to ask if there is someone they think might be interested in your startup there. Most likely there is a 80% chance they will have a referral.
#6. Write or blog about your startup like there is no tomorrow. So if you are not on stealth mode you should be blogging and sharing about your progress and experiences. There are many tools via API’s that can help an investor gather some raw data from your startup like similarweb.com, appannie.com, and mattermark.com, etc but nothing provides them with more profund views that when you blog. Remember, you are the expert in the field and as such you must look like one by constantly exposing your ideas so that others may follow or comment. Personally I’m not such a good blogger, specially when I’m writting in my second language but It has helped us land meetings with prominent VC firms such as USV.
#7. Press Releases, although they are a hastle to get nothing triggers more the “FOMO” fear of missing out factor to an investor than the launch or announcement of an investment round of a startup. Unfortunately too much of the game is perception and while you should not focus your energy in trying to get covered by Techcrunch you can always expect some sort of result. We got a lot of international investor interest when we were featured in GigaOM
#8. Cold emails work but sometimes getting a VC’s email might prove somewhat difficult. You can outright guess them, but then you wont be able to know if that was their real email or did simply chosed not to respond to you. Rapportive is a great tool that allows you to guess and be “certain” that the email you are aiming to is the right one. Hey! I was even able to figure out Mark Cuban’s email and get him to respond using rapportive.
#9. Not being on Angel List is really stupid. Before you start raising money be sure to have a full profile on Angel List, not having one is just missing out on easy to get introductions. Even if you are an international startup you should use Angel List to help get your “stuff” organized. It definetely worked for us with at least 5 intro’s to investors. Remember to constantly keep it updated.
#10. InMails via Linked, trying to get someone from your Linkedin network to refer you to the target person you want is hard. Mainly because people just “collect” connections and more than often they really are not that acquainted to that person you want to connect to. So the only option is to use the paid Inmail service Linkedin offers. Not that I can say it produces tremendous success, but there is always a mathematical chance to get a conversion.
#11. Coworking places. Yes you can work from home or a school dorm but your network will only grow when you meet people and preferably other entrepreneurs. When I moved to San Francisco I was absolutely certain I needed to work from a co-working space. My choice after vising 3 or 4 spots in downtown San Francisco ended up being The Hatchery. It was here that I was introduced to our first investor and ended up raising $850K. My original plan was to stay for 3 months here and move to a different coworking every 3 months if I wasn’t able to find funding.
So there you have it 11 hacks that will definitely get you in front of an investor or at least a call. As of today we probably have met with more than 65 investors and continue in the process of raising our second round