Welcome to the first installment of “Ask a Seed VC,” Eniac’s new advice column all about startup fundraising and investing. We’re going to kick things off with a question from Matthew Perry, founder and chairman at The Traffic Channel:
How can I pitch my start-up to a VC if I do not have a warm introduction? Sending my pitch “blindly” via email is not working. How can I get my idea legitimately heard?
This, of course, is a question that many founders ask when they’re first trying to raise funding, and it can be particularly acute for those from underrepresented communities. As former startup founders ourselves, we know how painful this can be — how it can feel like you’re just sending one email after another into the void.
But to understand why you might be hitting a wall, imagine how this looks from the VC’s perspective: We’re getting inundated with countless pitches every day, through every possible channel, and in many cases, it’s obvious that we’re seeing the exact same email that’s being sent to hundreds of other investors. It would be impossible to devote serious attention to each pitch, so we try to find signals that indicate which startups we should be prioritizing and examining more closely.
In this context, a founder’s network is a crucial signal — and if you don’t have connections to potential investors, your first step should be to focus on building that network and creating those connections. Whatever industry you’re working in, whether it’s email marketing or headless commerce or robotics, try to find others online who are doing similar work that you respect. Once you find them, you can reach out and offer to compare notes.
Ideally, you’re not immediately pushing them for an introduction to each and every VC they know, but rather sharing knowledge and providing mutual support. Over time, hopefully, you’ll build up a “squad” of friends and peers, some of whom can make those crucial intros when needed.
Still, even after you’ve done all that, you may find yourself wanting to reach out to a VC who isn’t connected to your network.
We don’t want to minimize the challenge here. It’s tough for a cold email to break through, and it should really only be used as a last resort. In fact, you should consider first connecting with VCs on Twitter, Clubhouse, and other social media platforms. These public, online conversations aren’t as good as a real-life relationship, and they certainly don’t guarantee that you’ll get a positive response when you make your pitch. But it’s better to start there and then move to email.
When and if you do decide to make a blind/cold email pitch, there are ways to get a leg up. For one thing, do your research, and then use that research to personalize your message. Rather than sending a form email to every name you can find, try to make it clear that you know who you’re pitching, who they’ve invested in previously, and why they’d be a good fit for your startup. (Again, interacting via social media is one way to show that you’ve done the work.)
You should also try to include everything we might need in that initial email. If you’re cagey about your idea or fail to include your pitch deck, then it’s usually easier to just move on to the next pitch. (Related: Make sure the deck doesn’t skimp on information about the founders and the rest of the team.)
This is a problem we’ve been thinking about quite a bit at Eniac, and we’re hoping to present more solutions soon — at least for our own dealflow. But in the meantime: Good luck!
Have a question for “Ask a Seed VC”? Email us at email@example.com. (Requests for investment and pitch decks with no questions beyond “what could I do better?” will be ignored.) Please specify whether or not we should include your name and your company’s name if we publish an answer!