By Beth Cox
If your e-commerce company has reached the stage at which there’s an appointment with a venture capital firm or two on the corporate calendar, you might want to know what the money folks really don’t want to hear.
Sure, you know what you want to say. But it turns out there are some things you could say in your written proposals or oral presentations that are almost guaranteed to shoot your request down in flames.
“Fatal errors” they are called in a new brochure entitled “The Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Asking VCs For Money.” The brochure was put together by BeaconVentureCapital.com (BVC), a Web-based private equity firm, and the National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (NCEC), a non-profit organization representing more than 60 entrepreneurship centers at leading business schools in the U.S.
“It amazes me how many people we meet today who have not thought through what they are going to say when asking for funds,” said BeaconVentureCapital.com Managing Director John Groth. “With most VCs now proceeding in an extremely cautious manner with their money, it is increasingly important to avoid these easily correctable pitfalls.”
So herewith, what NOT to do or say:
1. Dissing the Competition — Perhaps the most frequently heard of ill-advised statements is that the entrepreneur faces “little or no competition.” Since there is very little that is truly new, VCs begin with the premise that you have competition and the only question is whether or not you have some kind of competitive advantage that gives you a good shot at making it. In short, failing to show respect for your competition is a serious mistake when wooing a VC.
2. Invoking the 1 percent Non-Solution — Way too many entrepreneurs try to point out that “all we have to do is capture 1 percent of the market” in order to be a success. The problem is that too many entrepreneurs foolishly assume that such a small milestone is easy to achieve. In truth, the vast majority of companies never gain 1 percent or more of their total marketplace.
3. Bragging About a Vapor Team — So, you’re planning to bring Colin Powell and Chuck Yeager on board in the next six months? Don’t bother telling that to a venture capitalist. Your current team is your team for the purposes of lining up financial backing.
4. It’s the Questions, Dummy — The rule of thumb for making presentations to VCs is to stay focused and be ready to cover all the bases. Operate on the following assumption: If you can anticipate the question from the VC, then you should have a concise answer prepared beforehand. You should come to the table with all relevant details about financials, the management team, definition of the product or service, the market, the perceived need and how you will meet it.
5. The Gee-Whiz Mistake — Too many entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech world, get caught up in the “gee whiz” aspect of their product or service and fail to clearly define the nature and size of their market. Too often, a VC will find that almost all of the entrepreneur’s brainpower has been concentrated on producing his or her new widget, while the marketing side of the equation goes wanting. Weak targeting is a sure-fire way to get rejected by a venture capitalist.
6. Like, Don’t Tell Lies — Misleading a VC is not only an error … it is one that is likely to be exposed very quickly. A venture capitalist is like a professional poker player in that he or she develops a highly tuned ability to detect when someone is bluffing. Always disclose your current status. Prospective investors never like to find out during the due-diligence process that a company has two times more accounts payables than cash.
7. Claiming a Patent Lock — Perhaps more so than most investors, venture capitalists know that there are few, if any, “sure thing” investments in life. That is why claims of invincibility or inevitable success as the result of an existing or pending patent are unlikely to carry any weight with a VC. Even the best patented process or product is no guarantee of the success of an enterprise, which hinges on dozens of individual factors.
8. Mom Was Right, Neatness Counts — All too often business plans reach the desks of decision makers with no attention to grammar, spelling and just plain, old-fashioned neatness. Your written proposal is the first impression you make on a VC. Do everyone a favor and get someone to proofread the final proposal.
9. Talk Until You’re Blue in the Face — Too many entrepreneurs making presentations to VC spend way too much time talking and virtually no time listening to the VC’s questions. This frequently fatal error arises most often when the venture capitalist asks a question and the responding entrepreneur concentrates on trying to head off what he or she thinks is the next question, rather than simply answering the one at hand.
10. Tout Your “Conservative” Numbers — Make sure that what you are projecting is realistic and based on some kind of defendable data. Don’t try and reassure the VC by claiming that your estimates and projections are “conservative.” It is safe to assume that the venture capitalist has heard this hollow reassurance dozens of times and stopped listening some time ago.
Bonus Tip — After the presentation, don’t try to hurry along the decision of a VC. The rules here are a little like dating: If you call every five minutes, you’ll end up leaving a bad impression.
“Perhaps the biggest mistake that a growing business can make is to put forth a poorly constructed presentation to a VC,” said Donald F. Kuratko, Stoops Distinguished Professor of Business and founding director of the Entrepreneurship Program at the College of Business, Ball State University. “Though VCs may be able to spot a diamond in the rough when it comes to a proposal for funds, it’s never a good idea to make the person who you are asking for money wade through typos, stammering, upside-down slides and other troubling signs of inattention to detail.”
Bethesda, MD-based BeaconVentureCapital.com serves the professional investor community by using the Internet to bring them the private equity offerings of developing companies.
The National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers is a non-profit organization representing more than 60 entrepreneurship centers at college and university business schools in the United States. It has financial support from the Kauffman Foundation, Nasdaq and BeaconVentureCapital.com.