Connecting with VCs, especially for founders who don’t have deep tech networks, can be extremely frustrating. If you’ve felt totally defeated because cold e-mailing, LinkedIn connecting, social media commenting, and IRL startup event stalking (yes they’re back), and other very direct tactics haven’t been working — don’t worry. The odds are stacked against you from the start when VCs receive hundreds of outreaches every day. It’s even harder when you don’t know some of the inner workings of investor psychology.
If you’re floundering for VC funding, searching in all the wrong places, or think you’ve extinguished all possibilities…Here are 5 hidden tactics to get investors indirectly interested in your startup and some of the underlying psychology.
Understanding the mindset of a VC
It’s valuable to take a step back and think about some of the psychology that affects what turns investors on and off and how they’re looking for deals.
When discussing powerful VC triggers, I often talk about the concept of “catching a deal.” VCs want to feel like they’re discovering a gem of a deal, either because of excellent deal flow or personal relationships, ideally before a founder has even started fundraising in earnest. A VC never wants to feel like they’re late to the game, following the herd, or picking up unwanted scraps. Instead, they’d rather see themselves as that remarkable investor who’s ahead of the trend with powerful networks carefully curated over time and influential connections sending them great deals. In fact, the opposite of that is a deal that came to them via a cold LinkedIn connection request or from a random founder who ran them down at the end of a startup event. With this in mind, consider these more indirect approaches to meeting VCs that will make them feel as if they are savvy investors who happened to catch you at just the right moment.
I) First connect with founders in the VC’s portfolio.
VCs value the recommendation of founders they have already invested in. You’ll find that founders are generally sympathetic to helping other founders, especially so if you can come to the table with an offer to be helpful first. In fact, this is how I recommend you approach networking in general - always think about how you can provide value before making any sort of ask. Trust me, people will be much more open to connecting with you.
With founders in a portfolio, it could be as simple as this short message:
“Hi Jordon, I’m a founder as well and I’ve been following your startup. I think it’s fascinating and I’d love to be helpful.
I worked in performance marketing for 7 years, I have a deep network of talented marketing professionals, and I have some thoughts about optimizing your lead generation. In case this is helpful to you or anyone on your team, let me know if you have 15 minutes to discuss- I know your time is valuable but it’d be great to expand my network and help your company at the same time!”
Once you’ve built rapport, the conversation will naturally flow to learning about their experience as a company within their investor’s portfolio. When you’re ready to raise funds, you can notify the founder and ask if they’re comfortable making an introduction to their investor. Having an investor learn about you through a trusted portfolio CEO will give them a very positive first impression of you and your company - much more so than if they found out about you from another random VC who already passed on your deal.
II) Produce and share valuable content.
Whether it be through blog posts on your company’s website, a podcast, or even a simple, minimally-produced Youtube channel, you have the tools at your disposal to demonstrate your depth of thought, how you view the world, your unique insights, and most importantly - how you and your company add value. This is an incredible exercise for any founder trying to connect with VC investors for two reasons:
1) It is fairly easy to get content pieces on a VCs radar. Content that is truly helpful or remarkable has a way of organically being viewed by the right people. You never know who it might reach. And, if you don’t want to rely on providence, you can pay for PR to distribute the content widely or explicitly ask someone connected to the VC to share it with them.
2) Creating valuable content (we’re talking something meaty that demonstrates your expertise and passion for the space, not a 250-word throwaway piece) arms you with an aura of credibility and allows you to present thoughts about your industry / company without the stigma of a pushy sales pitch. This can be extremely powerful. Would you rather a VC learn about you through someone saying:
Side note: make sure your content is easily shareable, optimized to the respective platforms (ex. Making sure you have a compelling image for Instagram), and if you really believe in it, don’t be shy about advocating for it and posting it widely wherever people can discover it.
III) Offer your help / expertise to media outlets.
You don’t need to hire a PR agency to get your name out there. It can be as simple as offering your help / expertise in a genuine way without an explicit quid pro quo. Journalists, podcast producers, bloggers, etc. for publications large and small must consistently produce content and secure quotes from subject matter experts just like you so it’s just a matter of finding the ones who would benefit the most from your input and making yourself available to them.
VCs, especially junior investors, monitor these outlets as a means of generating all-important deal flow. When they see your being quoted or your company featured in an article, they could be inspired to reach out and learn more.
The principles from the previous section also apply. If you are interviewed on a podcast or blog, that piece of media might then be listened to by VCs or forwarded to them without you having to dig and claw your way to them on your own.
Besides contacting blogs / podcasts you find interesting, try these sites to connect with journalists covering your industry:
IV) Ask VCs for advice not money
Before you’re under the gun to fundraise, you may be able to connect with VCs in a way that is both powerful and educational at the same time. First, think about very specific pieces of your company’s strategy that you have questions about. Connecting to a VC to get their take on this strategic question can be a thoughtful and very effective way way to be exposed to target VCs. For example, you could reach out to a mutual connection: “Do you know any investors who are experts in SMB sales? We’re killing right now but I need to improve one part of our GTM” The ask is now for thoughtful and actionable advice, NOT begging for money. Importantly, this signals that you are not just starving for funding- you’re actually putting in the hard work and hustle into building your strategy, activating partnerships, and collecting input from people who matter. THIS is when a VC wants to meet you- early on in your journey, when they believe they have the chance to “Catch a deal” before you’ve started fundraising.
V) Ask VCs for introductions not money
Let’s say your new startup provides a new way to save companies thousands of dollars on their AWS bill. You may have your heart set on talking to Mark Mullen at Bonfire Ventures for your next round. One great way to start that relationship is to get connected so you can ask him for introductions. Almost any type of intro works but a particularly powerful intro is to some of his portfolio companies who could be your customers. You could say to a mutual connection, “We’re helping so many SaaS startups like the ones in Bonfire’s portfolio. Do you know Mark well enough to connect us? He’s on the board of at least 3 companies I’d love to show our solution to.”
In this approach, you’re signaling that raising money isn’t at the top of your mind, that you’re not one of the hundreds of people only interested in the investor for their money. When they don’t feel like they have a target on their backs, VCs are more likely to be intrigued by how you can be helpful to their companies, what kinds of problems you’re solving, and whether or not they have an opportunity to “catch a deal.” You might even get some business out of this approach.
After considering these five hidden tactics, you should be better equipped to outreach to VCs and fundraise with confidence.