A lot of people suggest building relationships with investors before you start raising, but while this can certainly help in the long run, it can also be a massive waste of time.
There's a good reason for this: investors who want to invest are looking for deals. Even investors who are not looking to invest (like me!) can be tempted. (It goes without saying that none of us wants to miss out on the next Amazon.)
So building a relationship, although nice, is unnecessary. If your business is exciting enough, you can probably raise from the right investors* regardless of whether or not you've previously built a relationship.
* By "right investors" I mean those who fit your stage, sector, and location.
In the last two months, despite telling dozens of founders that I'm not currently investing, I've done two small deals. I put $10,000 into Singapore startup, 1 Billion Stories, and I invested $5,000 into Aya Therapy (via an Angel List syndicate) in the USA.
Also, just 10 minutes before writing this, Sam Matanle sent me a deck for his new sustainable fashion business, BatchLDN, which I love. I also know of one of Sam's existing investors, which gives me some comfort on the DD side of things. The timing is bad, otherwise I'd probably invest in that too.
Remember: investors are short on time.
Try to think what's best for the investor. If you respect their time, they'll probably be more likely to take your call when it matters. Is building a relationship with you important? Maybe - investors definitely like to get in early on the best deals. But it's not essential. They're busy people.
My advice would generally be to build a connection with investors, but don't expect them to give you too much time, because that's generally something they're short of.
If you're raising capital, just come out and say it. Provide the key facts about your startup in your intro message and attach your deck. Most investors will probably be able to tell you if they're interested without even opening the attachment. If they can give you a quick yes or no, that saves you time, not just them.
As an investor, I'm happy to connect with founders. I love startups, and I love the enthusiasm, creativity, and optimism you find in most startup people. Feel free to connect with me! But if we don't know each other, please don't ask me for a quick call, expect free advice, or send me a stream of one liners like we've just started dating ("how was your morning...?").
That's not to say you shouldn't be polite to investors, just be succinct too. (Note: you should be polite to everyone, in my view, but especially to those from whom you're asking for something... They should also be polite back, by the way, which isn't always the case, either!).
Don't ask for something. Offer something.
If you ask an investor for “a quick call”, or help, or advice, without providing context, you’re not "building a relationship", you’re simply asking for something without offering anything in return. Who wants that?
Do you have time for that yourself? I suspect not.
Raising money is the ultimate form of sales. You need to sell the benefits.
I've written before on how to pitch your idea to investors, so I won't revisit that here. I'll just say that you need to give an investor a reason to engage, even if that reason is as simple as you wanting to connect without costing them any time.
If you want to build a relationship with an investor, I would suggest one of the following, all of which cost the investor very little time or effort:
- Comment on their posts;
- Ask to connect and include a message. Tell them what your agenda is (ideally it's to listen, learn, and engage with their content);
- Ask if you can add them to your quarterly investor update emails.
Otherwise, don't bother. Just build a business they (and anyone in their right mind) would want to own a piece of.
Go get em!
– Featured image by Everton Vila.