A company that I’m involved with called me today to tell me the story of a disheartening meeting that he took with a venture capital firm. The venture capitalist had contacted him cold saying, “I heard about what you’re doing and I’d love to learn more. Can I come by for a meeting?”
The entrepreneur met with the VC and presented what he was doing in a very passionate way. He thought he delivered a magnificent pitch. At the end of the meeting, the venture capitalist said, “Well, it sounds like great stuff, but it’s just not for us.”
When the entrepreneur asked why, the venture capitalist said, “We only invest in businesses that are at a five million dollar revenue run rate and above. Also, because we have such a large fund, we can’t write checks that are smaller than 5 million dollars. And that’s at the low end of what we do.”
This entrepreneur runs a hot business that a lot of people are excited about. It’s at the earliest stages of revenue generation and is only looking to raise two million dollars. So why would the venture capitalist write to him cold and take a meeting? Surely he no knew how early stage the business was. Why then would the venture capitalist waste his time and the entrepreneur’s time?
The answer isn’t obvious. The venture capitalist could have arranged the meeting for one of many reasons. It might be because the venture capitalist wants to build relationships with startups, that over time build his pipeline of deals so in the event that one of the companies does well, he’s in a position to say, “Hey, I was with you all along. I’ve been following your progress and we’d love to jump in.”
But there are other reasons the VC might look to take an early meeting with an entrepreneur. It might be that the people running his fund have given him the directive to get smart in a certain space. A junior analyst at a firm might have been told: “You need to learn about every single startup in XYZ vertical because we’re thinking of making an investment in that space.”
Or maybe the junior venture capitalist received the following direction: “You need to learn about this space because we are investing in another company. The only way we’re going to get smart about the space is if you take meetings with their competitors.”
I don’t blame the venture capitalist for wanting to reach out to other companies if his motive is to learn about the space, or even if he wants to invest in another company. What is aggravating is when venture capitalists who have parameters that restrict their abilities to invest in early-stage businesses aren’t transparent about it. And frankly, entrepreneurs need to be smarter and more direct with venture capitalists before they take any meetings.
So if you want to take a meeting with a venture capitalist because you know that they’re interested in your vertical, go ahead. Build the relationship. But if you’re in a place where you’re only looking to take very targeted meetings that can convert to actual financings, there is nothing wrong with you saying to a venture capitalist, “I need to know more about you. I need to know the parameters under which you invest. I need to know the average deal size you’ve done for the last several deals. I need to know what type of revenue traction you’re looking for before you write a check. Because frankly, while I’d love to meet you, I have a limited amount of time.”
The venture capitalist should have been more transparent about why he wanted the meeting and the parameters under which he could invest. Good venture capitalists will do that.
But my advice for the entrepreneur? You need to protect your time. You need to say to yourself, “I have one asset that’s more valuable than anything else, and that’s my time. And when I take meetings with venture capitalists, I am going to screen them the same way they screen me.”