Female Founder Office Hours: A guide to getting what you want
On Thursday June 4th, Playfair Capital and Tech Nation are bringing together 30 of the UK’s leading VC investors and 100 female founders, across more than 300 remote office hours meetings. Whether it’s your first time attending office hours, or whether you’re a seasoned fundraiser, below is some advice from our team on making the most out of each call.
Know what you want
Just as you set goals for every other aspect of your business, you should decide beforehand what outcomes you desire from each call. If you’re in fundraising mode, go in looking for a proper (30–60 minute) follow up pitch with the investor or a member of their team. If it’s specific advice you’re after, lead with that immediately to ensure you get a full answer and have time for follow up questions. Whether you pitch, go in with specific questions or have a broader discussion is entirely your call, but having a plan for which it will be will help gain the most out of each meeting.
Get to the point
Fifteen minutes — minus the inevitable time spent fixing your malfunctioning bluetooth headphones or broadband connection yet again — is not a lot of time to discuss your startup with an investor. Keep introductions to a minimum and get to the task at hand. This will also demonstrate your focus and urgency, two essential characteristics of a startup founder.
Some of you will be coming to Female Founder Office Hours (FFOH) seeking only advice, but most will also be looking for funding. You are therefore, by definition, a salesperson. And confidence is one of the most important characteristics of a salesperson. If you aren’t a naturally confident person, do your best to act like you are.
The thought of ‘pretending’ can be daunting, but getting into the right frame of mind can, by itself, actually make you more successful — and so in this case, more likely to receive funding. This goes from your thoughts (e.g., “I am a successful entrepreneur and I have an amazing business that this person would be lucky to invest into.”) to your non-verbal communication. “Fake it til you make it” — in this context — isn’t some trite, unproven aphorism but very real and very relevant.
Even if you are naturally confident, imposter syndrome may hit. Though this is a phenomenon that is extremely common amongst female founders, do remember that VCs are people too and many will also experience its effects whether they show it or not. More importantly, be prepared. More on this below, but at a high level, even being aware of difficulties traditionally faced by female founders raising will give you power.
Know the economics of VC
Most VC firms will use portfolio theory to optimise — and maximise — their expected returns. In venture, significant weight is given to the level of market risk in the startup asset class; the power law in VC is well-documented, and shows that the upside for each fund will come from very few outliers.
A common benchmark at the pre-seed / seed stage is 50x, or ‘returning the fund’. So, if you’re asking a VC to invest into your startup at a pre-money valuation of £2m, you need to convince them that you can sell the business down the road for at least £100m. In reality, better you shoot for £200m+, since early-stage investors know that their initial shareholding is likely to be diluted through multiple subsequent equity funding rounds.
Know your audience
A key driver behind Female Founder Office Hours is to facilitate connections between early-stage female founders and investors. You can be anywhere in the UK, your business can be at the idea stage, and no more warm intros needed; that’s what FFOH is all about.
Some of the investors you will be paired with may not seem a perfect match in terms of stage or sector. However, every investor attending is part of a leading early-stage VC, with extensive experience building and scaling successful startups, and you will have access to invaluable advice if you ask the right questions.
Research the investors you will be speaking to beforehand to see what they can help with. Did they lead a deal in a similar sector? Might they have connections that could be of help? Do they have expertise in sales or hiring?
Know your stuff
This is the most important factor when fundraising and applies to any interaction you have with an investor, whether at FFOH or elsewhere. As Haley Leibson says in one of the articles linked above,
“The biggest antidote [to a lack of confidence] is being super prepared. The simplest and most effective way to keep your imposter syndrome in-check is to know what you’re talking about.”
Knowing your “stuff” really boils down to the things that venture investors care about the most, which is actually pretty basic:
- Your market: underserved markets with high growth
- You & your vision: founders with superior execution abilities, who they believe have the best chance of winning in those markets
Know your market
This is so important that it deserves its own section. Thoroughly understanding the market you are targeting is fundamental to your success, and, as such, will be fundamental to convincing investors to join you on your journey towards that success.
Here are few questions a VC is likely to ask you on this topic:
- How big is your market (TAM)?
- How much of the market can you realistically obtain (SOM)?
- Can you articulate the problem that has created this market?
- What competitors exist in the market?
- What is the nature of the rivalry among existing competitors?
- What differentiates you from the competition?
- What are the barriers to entry and how will you overcome them?
- What defensibility are you building in that will allow you to defend your market share in future?
Get what you want
If it’s introductions you’re after, give the investor a few minutes at the end of the call to write the intro email.
If you are going into a meeting looking for a specific outcome, fight to achieve that outcome. Besides, this is the most risk-free VC environment you will encounter in your fundraising journey, so make the most of it.
VC and founders alike are extremely busy, always. As a result, they may be less likely to suggest a follow up meeting, even if they like what they hear on your call. If an investor tells you they like the sound of what you’re building, follow up with: ‘Great, I’d love to tell you more next week. If you can check your calendar and let me know your availability for a 30 min follow-up call, I will send over an invite.’
The points listed above are all important, and there are many. However, the aim in setting them out is not to make the process seem daunting, but to break down what investors will fundamentally be looking for, and to serve as a starting point for your approach.
Whether you have pitched / raised before, are fundraising at the moment, or this is your first time speaking to investors, these meetings can be seen as a rare low risk, high return testing ground. This is an opportunity to discuss your business with the right audience, but with very low stakes. If an investor likes something about you and your business, absolutely take it to the next level: follow up, ask them for introductions. If they have concerns, really understand why, in which part of the business, and use the meeting as a framework for going and answering them.
All articles linked above and some additional ones can be found below;
- A guide to founders pitching us, by Playfair Managing Partner, Chris Smith
- A guide for first-time founders, by Playfair Partner, Joe Thornton
- Our blogpost outlining our reasons for holding nationwide Female Founder Office Hours
- Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on non-verbal communication & confidence
- Haley Leibson‘s article on Imposter Syndrome and raising $5M as a female founder
- Article outlining VCs and Imposter Syndrome
- Article outlining Power Law in VC
- Blogpost further explaining VC economics and what this means for founders
- Harvard Business Review paper on unconscious biases towards female investors during pitches
A shortlist of some initiatives and groups we would highly recommend, with great resources for female founders at all stages of their journey;
You can follow the Playfair team on LinkedIn, Twitter, Vimeo and here on Medium. If you’re a male founder and would still like to pitch us, please submit your application on our open-to-anyone pitch page.