The call usually starts like this. “I was told by <name> that you could help me with <funding my startup, improving my startup idea, a financial model, finding a co-founder or a good developer , blah, blah, blah.>
______________, can I buy you a coffee?”
I love helping startups! I think I overcompensate for not having found very many mentors when I started my first startup, and I wish I had asked more questions before launching my first company. To state it better, I wish I would have known which questions I should have been asking before launching my first startup. So, living in Seattle and working with startups, I drink a lot of coffee. My favorite is simply two shots of espresso with whipped cream – a doppio con panna.
There are three types of people you will engage in these meetings.
- Mentors/Advisors/Entrepreneurs – these are the “been there, done that” crowd. They can best help you by providing advice on the lessons they’ve learned. Though not typically investors, they might invest, and they’re usually good for a meeting or two of advice. After that, if you found value, you may want to engage them with stock incentives.
- Investors – these can be Angel or VC. Both have different investment profiles, industries and stages. These are usually good for a meeting or two. They will want you to show progress between meeting.
- Promoters/sales people – those that see what you’re doing as cool and want to promote your deal for a fee or want to sell you something. More on them here.
I’m in the first category. Working with the UP Global (Startup Weekend) allows me to do some of this activity in a group setting vs. 1:1 meetings.
You’ll usually have between 30-60 minutes for the meeting so come prepared. Pleasantries are fine, but we know you have an “ask” so get to it. You’ll benefit more from 30 minutes of their ideas more than hearing yourself talk for the full 60 minutes. Here’s a checklist of what to do and not to do in that meeting:
What to do:
- Tell them your idea – with clarity and passion. You don’t have to use slides, but if you do, make sure it’s <10.
- Tell them the problem you’re solving and the uniqueness of the solutions.
- Tell them why you and your team are the people who will win.
- Tell them about your market traction or if it’s early – why you think you’re going to have market traction.
- Ask what they think – then shut-up and listen.
- Ask what resources they would recommend for you (Startup Weekend, Startup NEXT, TechStars, classes, Meetups, etc.)
- Ask if there is an area where they would be interested in helping you.
- If you have a specific request, ask (with the below exceptions).
What not to Do:
- Don’t ask them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement – your idea isn’t that good and professionals won’t sign it. They’ll just talk about your rookie move after coffee.
- Don’t expect them to do the work for you. When you send a follow-up email with your executive summary, make sure it’s simple enough for them to forward along, not something that they need to edit to make relevant or is so long they’d be embarrassed to forward.
- Don’t ask for Investor referrals – you just met them and you’re going to need to do the work to prove that both you and your idea are credible. By the way, if they are excited about investing in your idea – they will tell you and they will be happy to make introductions.
“The best way to raise money is to ask for advice and the best way to get advice is to ask for money.” Fred Wilson
By the way… before you ask for the second meeting, go and do the things the person asked you do at the first meeting: read the book, do the research, meet with prospects, ship a product… you get the point.