It was August 2019, and the fundraising process was not going well.
My co-founder and I had left our product management jobs at New Relic several months prior, deciding to finally plunge into building Reclaim after nearly a year of late nights and weekends spent prototyping and iterating on ideas. We had bits and pieces of a product, but the majority of it was what we might call “slideware.”
When you can’t raise big on the vision, you need to raise big on the proof. And the proof comes from building, learning, iterating and getting traction with your first few hundred users.
When we spoke to many other founders, they all told us the same thing: Go raise, raise big, and raise now. So we did that, even though we were puzzled as to why anyone would give us money with little more than a slide deck to our names. We spent nearly three months pitching dozens of VCs, hoping to raise $3 million to $4 million in a seed round to hire our founding team and build the product out.
Initially, we were excited. There was lots of inbound interest, and we were starting to hear a lot of crazy numbers getting thrown around by a lot of Important People. We thought for sure we were maybe a week away from term sheets. We celebrated preemptively. How could it possibly be this easy?
Then in July, almost in an instant, everything started to dry up. The verbal offers for term sheets didn’t materialize into real offers. We had term sheets, but they were from investors that didn’t seem to care much about what we were building or what problems we wanted to solve. We quickly realized that we hadn’t really built momentum around the product or the vision, but were instead caught up in what we later learned to be “deal flow.”
Basically, investors were interested because other investors were interested. And once enough of them weren’t, nobody was.
Fortunately, as I write this today, Reclaim has raised a total of $6.3 million on great terms across a group of incredible investors and partners. But it wasn’t easy, and it required us to embrace our failure and learn three important lessons that I believe every founder should consider before they decide to go out and pitch investors.
Lesson 1: Build big before you raise big
In 2019, we were hunting for what some referred to as a “mango seed” — that is, a seed round that was large enough that it was perceptibly closer to a light Series A financing. Being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.
When we did get offers, they involved swallowing some pretty bitter pills: We would be forced to take bad terms that were overly dilutive (at least from our perspective), work with an investor who we didn’t think had high conviction in our product strategy, or relinquish control in the company from an extremely early stage. None of these seemed like good options.