Startups
Investing / Venture capital

Before you seek venture dough, hear these 7 tips from a panel of investors

Here are some first-hand tips to get your company from pitch deck to term sheet.

From left to right: Laconia Capital's Jeffrey Silverstein, Red & Blue Ventures' Brett Topche and Ben Franklin's Margaret Bergen Bradley . (Photo by Roberto Torres)

Getting that first round of venture capital can be tough, but it’s far from the hardest thing you’ll do as a founder. It’s also (as we’ve heard before from Philly founders) not a business model but rather a strategy to push forward with your idea.

That was one key takeaway from last night’s Bunker Labs PHLs event, where a panel of investors shared lessons on raising capital before a group of veteran entrepreneurs.

Brett Topche, from Red and Blue Ventures; Margaret Berger Bradley from Ben Franklin Technology Partners; and Jeffrey Silverman from New York-based Laconia Capital answered some important questions from BunkerLabs PHL’s executive director Joe Witte.

And since access to investors is a constant clamor in the Philly tech scene, we’ve condensed seven lessons from the panel that, should you be considering the VC way, might just come in handy.

  • The company’s what matters. Yes, personal branding is important, but your primary focus should always be the advancement of the business, said Silverman. Per the investor, that starts by understanding and dominating its metrics.
  • Seek market feedback: For Topche, the ability to seek out market feedback on a product speaks to a founder’s ability to brave the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. “The company’s that succeed aren’t the ones that got it right from the beginning, but the ones went out to the market, heard feedback and are able to adjust course based on what they learned,” said Topche.
  • Polish up team dynamics: Time and time again we’ve heard from investors that venture firms need to trust a founding team. But what if two great minds don’t always think alike? Rocky team dynamics is a big no-no for the pitch room. “I’ve seen way too many companies undermined by founder issues,” Topche recounts. “I see cofounders sniping at each other in meetings. You gotta wonder, what is happening when I’m not in the room?”
  • Self-awareness matters: “We were talking with a young founder and he told us ‘never before has anyone…’ and it really didn’t matter what came next.” Founders need to have enough self awareness of how their company fits in a space to recognize who their competition is, what has been tried and what hasn’t.
  • Know who you’re pitching: For Ben Franklin’s Margaret Berger Bradley, another big no-no is a startup that doesn’t generate jobs, as the state-backed firm is looking for economic development in the region, not just get their money back and then some. Same purpose applies with other firms: be sure to target firms that share your interests.
  • Be prepared to supply answers: Is there any task, really, where preparation couldn’t help? “There’s a list of things you need to have prepared before you go raise capital,” said Silverman to the list of documents venture firms need from companies before investing. “You don’t do it as you’re going out there. You may adjust and tweak because they’re living documents,” said Silverman. What’s on the list? Due diligence documents, financial projections and business plans (which both Topche and Brock Weatherup say is likely wrong.)
  • Practice, practice, practice: There are lots of avenues for developing your pitch muscles before entering a board room with an investor: Mentors, colleagues and organizations like Bunker Labs can offer guidance to shape the deck before it’s go time.

And while this advice isn’t strictly for venture capital, there was one line from Topche that lots of entrepreneurs need to hear:

“Get away from your business from time to time,” Topche said. “You never fix a problem you’ve been staring at for three hours by staring at it for another hour.”

Companies: Ben Franklin Technology Partners / MentorTech Ventures

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