I often talk about the idea that fundraising is a team sport. No one gets to the end of a successful fundraise on their own. No one. Not even the fanciest names with the most impressive investors did it by themselves. I promise.
And on these teams that propel founders to success, there are key players who rarely get recognized despite all the help they provide. Their names never make it into those ego boosting TechCrunch articles.
These are the people who make the intro that turns into the intro to the lead investor. They are the ones who give you feedback on the 17th iteration of your pitch deck when everyone else is too annoyed to do so. And they’re the ones that hear you bitch (or cry) after a particularly draining pitch meeting.
Without these unsung heroes, being a founder would be unbearable and fundraises would all be wasted efforts. But luckily, they do exist and I’m here to sing their praises.
Keep an eye out for these 8 unsung heroes so you can give them a hug the next time you see them…
The lead investor often gets the spotlight, but no one really talks about the first believer, who oftentimes isn’t the lead investor. Instead, they're what I like to call the “lead domino,” often an initial angel investor or someone who writes a smaller check. They don't need conviction from others or big names involved to make a commitment to your venture.
Securing that first believer, be it an angel or another supporter, can make a huge difference in your fundraising. With their commitment, you can approach the next potential investor and share that someone is already on board and investing regardless of who leads the deal. This creates a sense of excitement and momentum, even though the first believer may never receive public recognition for their role.
This initial support is vital for building momentum towards attracting a larger lead or a big check writer to take down most of the round. Don't overlook the importance of finding funds or individuals who are genuinely excited about your venture - give them the attention they deserve and nurture those relationships.
There will be countless moments during the rollercoaster journey of fundraising when you'll need the support of your loved ones – partners, family, and friends. They'll be there for you during the toughest times, like when you encounter the most obnoxious VC or when you need a break after getting a series of rejections. These are the people who will cook you dinner, offer a shoulder to cry on, and plan a night of fun to help you recharge.
It's important to remember that these unsung heroes often don't get the recognition they deserve. When you're juggling the full-time job of fundraising alongside running a startup, something's got to give. Unfortunately, this often means your personal relationships take a hit. So, while these amazing people are providing you with support, they're also dealing with the fallout of your limited time and energy and they certainly deserve recognition,
If you're in a relationship or have close friends and family, lean on them for emotional support during the grueling fundraising process. It can be absolutely brutal on your ego, happiness, spirit, and confidence, as you constantly face rejection – which can feel like a personal attack on you and your "baby." In your head, it might seem like the world is telling you that you're not good enough and your idea is terrible.
Having someone in your corner, separate from the noise, who can remind you of your worth and that you're more than just your company is crucial. These supportive individuals will be the ones to help you remember why you'll succeed, providing you with the strength and motivation to keep pushing forward.
In addition to the emotional support from your loved ones outside the startup world, it's essential to have founder friends who can truly understand your journey. While your non-founder support system may be empathetic to your struggles, they don’t fully grasp the challenges and pressures of fundraising, facing constant rejection, and keeping your business alive.
There is a very small fraternity of people that understands what it’s like to fundraise, and even less who have succeeded. Building relationships with fellow founders can provide you with a network of people who understand the struggle firsthand. They can be your go-to group for texting, meeting up for breakfasts, lunches, or drinks, and exchanging valuable feedback. The opportunity to unload and share experiences with those who can genuinely relate to your situation can be incredibly helpful.
These founder friends who get recognition are usually formal advisors with some advisor shares. But they aren’t the only ones that provide moral support and helpful tips. The support and understanding of someone who truly “gets it” can be instrumental in helping you navigate the ups and downs.
These individuals invest time in your development and possess deep expertise and perspective on the challenges you face. Their guidance is invaluable, and while you may receive emotional support and occasional feedback from fellow founders, a trusted mentor with expert knowledge can significantly impact your journey.
A mentor can help you navigate both tactical and emotional aspects of your experience. They can quickly address your concerns and emotions, providing you with a clear understanding of the reality you face. Their expertise allows them to offer targeted advice, helping you make informed decisions.
When you're unsure about your next steps, you could spend time researching and surveying others for advice. However, a trusted mentor, coach, or advisor with a strong understanding of your situation can quickly provide you with actionable guidance. This can save you time and help you stay focused on your goals.
One often overlooked hero in the fundraising process is the "10 intro connector" – someone who goes out of their way to make numerous introductions. Many people don't realize the amount of effort and time it takes to make a quality introduction. It involves multiple emails and the use of one's hard-earned social capital. If you can find someone willing to make one or even two to three introductions, that's fantastic. However, if you come across a super connector with a great network who believes in you and is willing to go above and beyond with introductions, they are truly a godsend.
This super connector may not make headlines, but their impact on your fundraising process is invaluable. Even if none of their introductions lead to your main investor, they contribute to the overall momentum and pressure, which is crucial for your fundraise.
Another key player in the fundraising journey is the person who makes that one huge introduction. This introduction might either lead to your lead investor or set you on the path towards securing a significant investment. You'll know who this person is when it happens, and their contribution can’t be underestimated.
The practice partner is someone who plays a vital role in the lead-up to your actual fundraising process. They help you get great feedback on your pitch and presentation, and they assist you in practicing everything from your pitch to how you show up in meetings. This support is crucial for crafting the right story and focus.
To be an effective practice partner, they need to have context about startups and fundraising. Additionally, they should understand who you are and what your business is about. These individuals can take on the roles of practice partner or feedback sounding board, both of which are incredibly valuable in the fundraising process.
Finding someone who can fulfill this role isn't easy, but it’s essential.
Early customers help demonstrate your business's potential to people who might invest.
By using your product or service, they are taking a chance and believing in your idea. Their involvement can be an important part of your fundraising story, showing that there is real interest and demand for what you offer.
Don't forget how important it is to build relationships with these early users and experts. Their help and knowledge can be the key to convincing investors about your company's value and success.
Legal counsel is often overlooked, and people may have a negative perception of lawyers. However, having the right legal counsel – one that won't take advantage of your time and can provide both strategic advice and letter of the law guidance – is an invaluable asset. When searching for the ideal law firm or legal counsel, it's crucial to take reference checks seriously and conduct interviews to make sure you have a good vibe with them.
Understanding how your chosen legal counsel wants to work with you can significantly impact your fundraising process. A strong, supportive legal team can help you navigate the complexities of fundraising, ensuring that you're well-prepared and legally protected throughout the journey.
If you’re not practicing gratitude in your daily life, let’s at least start with your fundraising life. And might as well start with these unsung heroes because not everyone is lucky enough to have them.
These unsung heroes are special. Remember, to be a hero in your fundraising process, they have to have a number of unique qualities. By definition, this means they are incredibly busy individuals who are not only playing a crucial role in your fundraising journey but also maintaining their own demanding lives.
For them to commit to being an integral part of your fundraise is a testament to their dedication to you (wow!). Appreciate and nurture these relationships with these people who contribute to your success. Their support and guidance can make all the difference in hitting your goals in fundraising… and in life.