Startups often ask VCs for pre-pitch meetings. These requests usually are positioned along the lines of, “We aren’t looking for money yet, just advice.” Of course, we all know this is just a nice way of getting your foot in the door for a soft pitch. And that’s ok; these meetings enable both sides to get acquainted before the real ask.
However, when startups come unprepared to these meetings, they can make a bad first impression that is difficult to overcome down the line. Before scheduling pre-pitch “advice” meetings with VCs, make sure you follow these three rules of thumb.
VCs Invest In Lines, Not Dots. Savvy founders know they need to begin planning for their next round of fundraising before they’ve even closed their current round. This is because, assuming you are not yet cash-flow positive, the amount you ask for and the milestones you set need to be aligned with next-round investor expectations.
Use the meeting as a chance to get feedback on what product and traction milestones would be enough to stand out to next-stage investors. Then, when you come back for the real pitch, the VC knows not only where you are, but how it compares to what you had planned. This results in a better appreciation for the quality of the team, and lends more credibility to your next round of projections.
Follow Up With Value. VCs meet hundreds of entrepreneurs each year; having met you once pre-pitch doesn’t mean they’ll remember you when you’re back again months later. To avoid this, make sure you have something specific to follow up with post-meeting that adds value.
For example, after the meeting, if you can help out one of their portfolio entrepreneurs, the VC will definitely take more of an interest in you. Another way to add value may be to send them relevant deal flow, showing the strength of your network and generating the feeling of wanting to reciprocate. If this sounds like too much, at the very least send a few relevant articles and exciting updates every now and then.
Stagger Meetings Over Time. When you start your fundraising process, ideally you’ll set it up so you can meet multiple VCs in parallel in order to end up with multiple term sheets at the same time. However, when you are setting up pre-pitch meetings, you should limit the number of VCs you approach, and stagger your meetings over time.
Why? Because in your first meeting, you’ll likely get feedback on concerns you didn’t previously consider. Some of these may be about deep problems with your assumptions — problems that take time to iron out. You’ll want time to rework these before approaching others.
Soft-pitch meetings are a great way to test your pitch without facing the possibility of actual rejection. They also can be a great way to show VCs you want to build a relationship and you appreciate their input, which may help you to stand out when you are ready to raise money.
But don’t just ask to meet for the sake of meeting. Come prepared with clear goals in mind, ask for specific advice, and follow up by adding value. Otherwise, you may leave the VC with a negative impression that will be difficult to overcome.