How to Refer a Startup to a VC

Semyon Dukach
One Way Ventures
Published in
3 min readJun 25, 2020


Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

As a VC, a big part of our daily routine is fielding referrals. Such referrals usually ask that we take a look at Company X’s deck, or that we set up a meeting with X founder.

These types of referrals are great–and we always review the companies sent our way. However, we do not always have the capacity to respond to every email with detailed feedback (We are also simultaneously balancing meetings with companies in our pipeline, check-ins with our current portfolio founders, and the daily operations of a small firm).

We know it can be frustrating to receive a short “it’s not a fit for us” response to these referrals, so we wanted to provide some transparency on how we decide whether or not to take an intro/first meeting. More importantly, we want to map out how you can effectively get our attention via email.

What are we thinking when we get a referral?

  • How credible is the person making the referral?
  • How active is this person as an investor?
  • How often does this person refer startups to us?

Generally, if someone tends to send us a lot of referrals (which means they are not doing much filtering themselves), then we end up saying no very frequently. If someone hardly ever sends any referrals, and we know they’re an active investor, we will take it very seriously and are much more likely to set up a meeting.

How can you write a referral that gets our (and any VC’s) attention?

  • State the reason you think we should meet with the founder (if it is not immediately obvious). Is it because you think he/she could benefit from our mentorship, or is it because you think we should invest?
  • For potential investments, provide concise context for why the founder and his/her business is superior to the average companies we look at. Ranking them in some way is very helpful. For example: Is this the best company in your accelerator’s cohort this year? Have you personally invested in this company? Is this the strongest founder you’ve seen all year? The strongest company you’ve seen so far in this space?
  • Explain why the company is a good fit for our fund specifically. At a high level, we look for immigrant founders starting tech-enabled companies in North America at and around the seed stage. You can see more about what we look for here (Tip: for leverage, have the founders write this out for you).

Example Referral Email:

Hi [Investor Name],

There’s a fintech company that graduated from the 2020 Boston Techstars cohort that I think you might be interested in investing in. They were by far the strongest in the class, and I’m considering personally investing as well. The founders have deep expertise in the space and stand out amongst all the teams I’ve met in the past year.

[Insert blurb that company writes here — high-level explanation of what the company does, milestones they’ve completed, why they are a good fit for our fund specifically]

This example hits all the primary bullets:

  • It is clear that the person referring the company is reaching out because he/she thinks we should invest.
  • There is context around why the company is superior to the average company we see.
  • There is a short blurb about the company and why it’s a good fit for our fund.

As long as the purpose or intent of the referral is clear, and the email is thoughtfully written, we will take the time to write a thoughtful response/give thoughtful feedback.

We hope this explains some of our reasoning behind how we treat referrals. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the job to have to say “no” a great deal. But, we appreciate anyone who thinks of us and passes along an opportunity to meet a new company.

Thank you to those who have sent a startup our way in recent years–we are grateful for your time and consideration. Please keep sending more our way!



Semyon Dukach
One Way Ventures

Managing Partner of One Way Ventures, the tech VC fund backing exceptional immigrant founders, and co-founder of CashForRefugees.