The Secrets of Connecting with Venture Capitalists (…& Literary Agents)
One of the most common questions I get asked is…”How can I connect and engage a VC if I don’t know any?”
And please forgive the tangent – but I will answer this (I promise) but a little know fact (until now…) is that I write stories and novels to relax…somehow being in the heads of multiple characters is more relaxing than 24 or CNN – go figure! Now, after nearly five years I’ve probably written about five, maybe six novels in the 70 – 110K range. Now despite that – I’ve never tried to have them published – but about six months ago, I had one near final draft I was really enthusiastic, nay…passionate, about, so much so that I thought it deserved to see the light of day on the shelf of my local Barnes and Borders. So now what?
Well – people in the know suggested I needed to find a literary agent – a person that would vet, bless and promote the manuscript to the market.
Now finding a literary agent is not easy – (oh is THAT an understatement…) and as I started to go through that process, I started to see some strong parallels with Venture Capitalists and their relationship with entrepreneurs…huge Déjà vu!
How so Andrew?
So imagine this – Literary agents get manuscripts…piles and piles of manuscripts…on a daily basis.
The get them from all kinds of sources…they get manuscripts through the post, they get faxes, people accost them at dinner parties, in the street, in bagel stores, on elevators, in public toilets (ughh!) – well, you get the picture right? They get LOTS of manuscripts – to the point where, if you walked into their office, you would probably wonder where to sit down for the mini-towers of 12 pt courier and times roman fonted documents held together by thick elastic bands (not – God help us – clips or staples…an absolute no no!). They call this collection of massacred trees – The ‘Slush Pile’.
Now from what I hear from Venture Capitalists – they too have their own slush pile of PowerPoint slides, business plans, emails and more that piles up in their offices too on a daily basis.
So – if you are an entrepreneur or author – how do you cut through the slush pile, how do you get to that treasured term sheet or book contract?
And here – the parallels just continue…and here too is a secret for optimizing your chances of engaging a Venture Capitalist – and it’s not really that much of a secret (but admit it…you continued reading right?)…
Most VCs I talk with tell me that somewhere around 80% of the businesses they are seriously looking at, come from….
And according to pretty much every literary agent you talk with will tell you the same thing – sure – they go through their slush pile but just because occasionally, they’ll find a diamond amongst the rough – and let’s face it, that’s quite exciting right? A bit like treasure hunting without a map…
But most VCs and most literary agents tend to really look into those candidates that are recommended by people they know and trust.
Damn! You may be thinking…I don’t hang out with VCs or literary agents – so how do I get referred?
Well, that’s actually quite easy – you need to plug into their network and there are a few tried and tested ways of doing that…
1) The Entrepreneurial Law Firm or Lawyer:
In most entrepreneurial hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, Austin, Boston and the like) there are certain law firms which like to work with entrepreneurs and young, growing companies. Example – In Silicon Valley, they would be firms like ‘Fenwick and West’, ‘Wilson Sonsini’ and ‘Cooley Godward Kronish’. If you become a client of a firm like this – they will occasionally have mixers for clients and also your assigned lawyer may help connect you with VCs they know. It happened to me when I was a client of a company called The Venture Law Group.
So – one way of getting that referral is to become a client of one of those startup-centric law firms and have them join the dots for you with some of the VCs within their network.
2) Other Entrepreneurs (or Authors):
Now if you like in one of those entrepreneurial hubs I mentioned above, you’ll probably trip over other entrepreneurs of varying degrees of experience and success when you go out for milk in your sweats and sandals. Finding a successful or aspiring Startup CEO in San Francisco is about as tough as catching a cold in the subway…but if you don’t happen to live in SF, or NY or Boston – how do you connect with other entrepreneurs who can refer you to a VC?
Go where the entrepreneurs and VCs are – for example, find the annual conference or tradeshow for your space – just like authors go to Thrillerfest or Comic-con and hook up with other authors and literary agents. Go online – find the best tradeshow for your space, buy a ticket then go schmooze – making sure you rehearse your elevator (60 second) pitch so if you are lucky enough to connect with the VC or entrepreneur of your dreams – then you can engage and start a dialogue. Most VCs and entrepreneurs will recognize an aspiring entrepreneur and will cut you a break and listen…unless you’re harassing them at 3am in their hotel room, anyway.
3) The Open House:
Some of the more innovative VCs are hosting open houses, just like they were trying to sell a property in a buyer’s market. An open house is when they throw open the doors and let hopeful entrepreneurs come pitch. The challenge is that sometimes these spots are rationed according to…yup, you guessed it…referrals. But sometimes not.
4) Twitter and other Social Media channels like Linked In: (My Twitter Handle is /TheFundingGuru)
Believe it or not – many of these target VCs /Literary agents are on twitter – so why not follow them, find out what they are into, and find out which conferences etc they’ll be attending – they often tweet with this kind of info and hey, if you engage them in a conversation then maybe you can bridge the gap yourself. Warning Will Robinson – engaged them…don’t stalk them! Being creepy will not get you that VC term sheet or book contract. The other advantage of this form of forum is it will help you determine if they are right and interested in what you have to offer. One thing I hear quite a bit from VCs and Literary Agents, is that they get pitched by people who have no real clue what they tend to invest in – it’s just a complete mismatch that wastes everyone’s time and could have been avoided with a little more background work.
There are a multitude of other ideas that would help you connect and engage but I’m starting to bore myself – so I’ll cover those later. Until then, if you try the ideas I’ve laid out – I think your chances of connecting and engaging with a VC are much higher – and if they still don’t work….
…just post your Executive Summary with a cover – because – after all, there’s always the slush pile and hey…they may get to those – eventually…
I have a couple of questions for you guys:
1) Which are the main entrepreneurial law firms in your town, city, area? That would help other readers…post in comments please.
2) What other ways have you tried to connect with VCs (or literary agents) and what has worked or not worked?…again, help others with you comments (thx)
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