Non-obvious fundraising tips from a Silicon Valley outsider

When it comes to workplace productivity and communication apps, it can often feel like Slack, Trello and Asana have the market cornered.

But Aydin Mirzaee saw past the crowded space. In his previous work, Aydin often found himself wishing for a better feedback and productivity tool — and one that catered specifically to people managing a team. In 2017, he and his co-founders began working on Fellow, based in Ottawa.

“Account managers have Salesforce,” Aydin says. “We didn’t see the equivalent tool for managers of people, so we decided to build Fellow.”

The idea clearly resonated: in June, Fellow landed Shopify as one of its first customers and closed $6.5 million in seed funding. Aydin offered a lot of great tips for fundraising during our interview. Below, I’ve gathered four pieces of actionable feedback from this Canadian founder.

1. Dig the well before you’re thirsty 

Before working on Fellow, Aydin had already started and sold his first software company, Fluidware. But there was one major difference between Aydin’s first startup and Fellow: Fluidware was entirely bootstrapped.
“Once we sold our first company, I knew that at some point there would be another one,” Aydin says. “So I had to build up my network from scratch, knowing that someday it was going to be useful.”
With the possibility of creating a venture-backed startup on the horizon, Aydin attended VC events and messaged venture firms, introducing himself and asking if they were open to meetings or if they were hosting any events in the near future.

It’s like that proverb: dig the well before you’re thirsty.

“Start now,” he says. “Go to VC-sponsored events, build up that network, and offer to advise companies in their portfolios.”
The key is to create those relationships and offer value long before you’re making any asks of them. Not only will VCs get to know you and value your expertise, but you’ll also get a sense of which partners you really enjoy spending time with — which is even more important in the long run.

2. Use the ‘caller ID test’

Inovia Capital led Fellow’s seed round. The company also got investments from Felicis Ventures, Garage Capital and several angels. How did Aydin choose his seed investors? He chose the partners who he aligned with best.

“It’s not the firm that matters,” Aydin says. “What really matters is who the partner is.”

And when it comes to picking a VC partner, Aydin recommends asking yourself a really simple question to figure out if you’re working with the right one: “Are you excited when your phone rings and you see that person’s name on the caller ID?”

If so, great. If you feel anxiety or dread, however, you may be better off with a different investor. For Aydin, choosing Inovia as a lead investor was a natural fit since he’d known Karamdeep Nijjar for nearly four years after they first met in the startup space (turns out there really is something to the ‘dig the well before you’re thirsty’ thing).

“I always had so much fun talking and working with Karam that it was just like, ‘Oh, this is just another excuse for me to talk to you all the time,’” Aydin says.