For us, raising funds was like being a hitchhiker on the side of the road, knowing where we wanted to go and being prepared to jump in any vehicle that would take us in the right direction.
As an Australian entrepreneur looking to launch a global company, it meant learning kite surfing in the freezing cold San Francisco bay, preparing a speech for a roomful of the most influential people we had ever met in just a few hours, and sleeping on the floor of my brother’s San Francisco apartment for three months while I networked with every investor and tech person I could find.
Every founder has their own journey and ends up with their own story to tell, but one thing’s sure — you need to be ready for the adventure and be prepared to seize every opportunity.
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As a startup founder, your job is to be the continuous advocate, visionary and ultimately, a company storyteller. You need to capture the excitement or energy surrounding what you’re doing and amplify it. Investors don’t want to miss out on something that could be big. Lot of people will say that they like your idea, but far fewer will sign on the dotted line. Your job is to convince investors that there is a huge problem which needs to be fixed and that you have the best solution with a team to deliver it.
For us, the MaiTai kiteboarding and entrepreneur conference provided a wonderful opportunity to introduce our idea to a roomful of influential investors, media and entrepreneurs. You need to generate buzz about what you’re doing, so that investors want to get in on the opportunity. Within a period of three months, we went from an unfunded and unknown startup to one of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley, trending number one on AngelList.
The hardest part was closing the deal. My co-founder Cliff Obrecht and I spent three whole months with phones in one hand and a giant spreadsheet in front of us. We kept a track of every investor we meet, whether they were interested, what they liked about us and what their hesitations were.
When we did get an investor on-board, we got them to help generate further momentum for us. One of the best things we did was ask all our investors to post a recommendation for Canva on AngelList. And it created a sense of social proof for other potential investors and helped us create enough buzz to become the number one trending startup in July 2012. We pulled some really long days during this time and were absolutely unrelenting in our efforts.
Continuously Revise Your Pitch Deck
Our pitch deck constantly evolved. Following each pitch, we took note of every question an investor asked and worked out solid answers. Sometimes it was just a matter of articulating the strategy we had already developed, other times it required days of brainstorming. Each time we pitched we were able to communicate our vision more clearly and the tough questions started to dwindle.
When we first started trying to raise money, our pitch deck was a five page document, which took 10 minutes to present. At the end of each pitch we were bombarded with questions from investors, and for many of them we didn’t have compelling answers. However, each time we got a tough question from an investor we would incorporate the question back into our pitch deck. In fact, we ended up revising our pitch deck more than 100 times. We went from a five page pitch deck which took 10 minutes to present, to a 25 page pitch which took 40 minutes. By the end, investors had very few questions as we had given solid answers to all their questions before the end of our deck.
In the early days, our pitch deck was more of a utility, following a standard pitch structure: the vision, the problem, our solution, the size of our market, the strength of our team and so on. However, when we described our product and vision to people without our pitch deck, we were successfully able to communicate our passion, innovation of our product and our teams excitement and competence. Whenever we were pitching an investor with our actual slide deck, it felt like we were selling a generic product. We lost the excitement and communicated our product vision poorly.
After a while we captured the vision, the excitement and the problems into a cohesive story and were able to capture this story in our pitch deck. A mentor advised us that it was important to capture the emotion of the story; not just what you say, but also how you say it. Inevitably, all the investors want to know the same things. They’ll ask: ‘How big is the opportunity? How talented is the team? Why are you the right people to solve this problem?’ Making sure that we satisfy their questions was so important, this is something you can only improve with practice and continuous revision.
Build Strong Relationships with Potential Investors and Business Partners
When we first started (use whatever is you want started or start) pitching investors we would pull out our pitch deck as soon as we got into a meeting. We soon realised that this was quite a naive approach. It is so important to build rapport and credibility before you start talking through your pitch deck. Start building relationships with investors as early on as possible.
It’s your job to convince people to work with you, to invest in your company. Most potential investors will want to spend time getting to know you and the way you work prior to committing. We met Bill Tai, who introduced us to many of our other investors, more than two years ago. Yet we only recently closed our round.
Raising money takes a long time. My first trip to San Francisco was only supposed to be for a two week holiday. I’d planned two meetings; one with Bill Tai and the other with Facebook’s Lars Rasmussen. I very quickly realised that I needed to spend more time on the ground getting to know the technology scene and building my network.
My two weeks holiday ended up turning into a three months trip. I barely slept and when I did, it was on my brother’s apartment floor. I went to an event every single night of the week, trying to meet engineers and find people who could give me an open door to the startup scene.
During this time, we met and spoke with many other investors who we kept in the loop with our efforts. If you’re raising money, you need to build strong relationships with potential investors and advisors and we were continuously this by communication(or in touch) with them.
We could have never predicted the adventures we’d or the people we met on our way. We’re now lucky to have a great team of more than 70 people and a product used by more than 4 million people, but we are still just at the beginning of our journey!