There is plenty of tactical advice on how to fundraise: what channels to use, tactics to try, pitfalls to avoid. But often overlooked are the harrowing effects that fundraising can have on you personally, the human behind the startup founder who has to get up everyday to face the daunting task of raising capital.
As the person responsible for establishing the company vision, recruiting excellent talent, and lengthening runway, fundraising tends to narrow your vision. You feel like you have to put everything you have into the endeavor, and time spent elsewhere can foster an underlying sense of guilt. Fundraising should be your number one professional focus when you’re seeking capital, but it should not crowd out everything else in your life. Spending all of your time and effort on fundraising without necessary recovery works against you, leading to a negative energy spiral — increasing the probability that you will fail.
Focus on what you can control
You cannot control the fundraising landscape, or whether the tech bubble is going to burst, or if a particular VC you pitch turns out not to care about your space.
You can, however, control your deck, your pitch, and your metrics. Every piece of feedback, whether positive or negative, offers you the chance to incrementally improve your presentation if you keep an open mind and constantly make small changes. Even the most brutal of rejections will provide you with insight that can give you a better chance in the next conversation.
Get outside your own head
Don’t isolate yourself. You have a responsibility to shield your team from the roller coaster of fundraising so they can focus on execution (and continue building the business case for additional capital). Outside of your company, however, your friends and family can help you distinguish between self worth and fundraising success. Don’t shut them out by thinking they won’t understand. Instead, remember that they know you better than anyone and show up with no judgment (hopefully). I also highly recommend getting together with other CEOs who have been through the ringer before. They can relate to your specific experiences; a reminder that you’re not the only one jumping through these hoops.
Avoid negative outlets…
Fundraising applies an enormous amount of pressure and it’s easy to “escape” through alcohol, drugs, or other self destructive habits. Alcohol, as a natural depressant, reduces energy and keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep — the exact opposite of what you need to successfully raise capital. Fundraising requires maintaining authentic energy in the face of potential or repeated rejection. VCs can tell when you’re tired and they can tell when you’re faking it. Spend time recharging positive energy, rather than escaping.
… And build positive ones
Mental and emotional recovery is a very important aspect of fundraising. Get outside, get active, have fun. Exercise releases endorphins and is good for your brain, so put the effort into moving — whether you run, play tennis, or go to a regular workout class. Not only will exercise help you relieve stress and build positive energy, but the distance from fundraising can generate perspective. Physical distance is also helpful. You’re probably not getting away on real vacations, but get out of town for the weekend. Create some separation so you can recover and come back at it fresh and ready to rock. A wide lens is paramount in any situation where continual adaptation is a prerequisite for survival.
It may seem counterintuitive to forcibly remove yourself from your day-to-day task of raising capital. However, just like an elite athlete does not get better by simply running themselves into the ground every single day, neither can an entrepreneur achieve success without recovery and an eye toward overall emotional and physical health.
Take the time to build positive cycles in your life, a balance of fundraising and family and friends and fun. Do things that make you feel happy and fulfilled, and success will follow.