Given the enormity of the prompt – “What I Learned Building…” – I will break up my answer into multiple posts. First…
Part I: Fundraising
1. Screw Syndicates, Reward A Few Investors
I’ve never met an entrepreneur who is thrilled with the value added by more than a few of their investors. Most just don’t deliver on what they promise. It’s tough because most investors sound phenomenal on paper – having started famous companies or backed prominent ones – but, in reality, there are very few who will care enough to get deeply involved. Find them, and reward their dedication. You won’t have time to regularly keep up with more than a couple, anyways.
What do I mean exactly? Jason Goldman moved to New York to work out of our offices full-time, Ryan Freitas mentors my co-founder on a weekly-basis, and Jonah Peretti responds to my two-sentence questions with essay-like responses (at 11:30 pm, nonetheless). This sort of engagement is invaluable, and rare. But if you pay close enough attention I’m sure you’ll be able to figure out who will show up like this for you.
2. Introductions Are A Commodity
Sure, some introductions will prove to be very valuable (maybe even game changing). But never take money from someone simply because they make a lot of introductions for you. If you are passionate, humble, and building something interesting, you’ll be able to open doors for yourself. Plus, every great investor will know enough people to connect you to the right folks. And at the early stage of your company’s life, you shouldn’t be taking that many meetings, anyways.
To put it in perspective, we were introduced to Ev, Biz, and Jason by three people that I had met only the day before (Ryan Freitas, Kevin Cheng, and Josh Elman).
3. Don’t Try To Raise Money, Ask A Lot Of Questions Instead
I know, it sounds silly, but everything fell into place for Branch as soon as we stopped trying to raise money. As cheesy and overused as it is, the hot girl analogy really nails it on-the-head. If what you are building is truly going to change the world, why would you need to go around asking for money?
More importantly, go into every meeting with lots of questions! If the questions you ask are genuine and poignant it will impress (and engage) the folks you are meeting with. Be firm, and very vocal, about the beliefs that underly what you are building. Just remember, people love giving advice, and the most knowledgable individuals have very little patience for preaching.
Also, the questions you would ask a potential investor are different than the ones you would ask a potential mentor, but your tone should always be inquisitive, regardless.
If you’re curious, read about the people who are supporting Branch.