Monday, September 9, 2013

Preparing for a Silicon Valley Fundraising Trip

[This post is an excerpt from my presentation entitled Silicon Valley Fundraising Trip: Tips for the Non-U.S. Based Startup Founder.]

If you are traveling to the Silicon Valley to raise capital for your startup from abroad, you can save yourself a lot of time and make the trip more efficient by preparing thoroughly and doing your homework before the trip. Here are some things that should not be overlooked:

Research. Before your trip, sign up for startup networks, groups and mailing lists, to receive announcements about upcoming events. (This is covered in more detail in the full version of my presentation.) You should know which venture capital firms and super-angels are investing in your space. You should research and consider which strategic investors you should target, if any. Based on your research, prepare a list of 10 to 20 people that you’d like to meet while you are here. This list is aspirational, so if you do not get the opportunity to meet all of them, you have not failed.

LinkedIn. Create a LinkedIn profile, if you don’t already have one. If you have one, check to see if it's time to review and update it. This is your business resume. Most professionals rely on it!

Don’t be lazy – take the time to write-up prior projects and experience, your education, and anything else relevant to what you are doing and to who you are now. This is your chance to tell people what you want them to know about you!

Note that LinkedIn is also a great place to do your own “diligence” about the people you’ll meet while networking, through introductions, or otherwise.

Video Presentation. If you have the resources, create a short video teaser and post it on YouTube or Vimeo for easy sharing with new contacts. A few excellent examples are below. Notice how effective it is if the teaser can demo your product or service. A picture is worth a thousand words. And a video is worth at least a thousand pictures, charts and graphs.

  • MapsWithMe Teaser
  • Posse Teaser
  • Readymag Teaser
  • Robin Teaser

    Videos work well to get you a foot in the door (not seal the deal for you). Before an investor takes the time to read your executive summary, in fact, before he even makes the decision about whether it's worth his time to do so, it is helpful if you can get him excited (or at least curious) about your product or service. The way to do it is by offering information in an easy and fun format - video - that appeals to the viewer's emotions, not just his intellect.

    Executive Summary / Presentation. VCs don't read business plans. They just don't have enough hours in the day to screen companies based on their business plans, and, frankly, with business at an early stage, a business plan reads more like astrological predictions than fact.

    Still, if you are talking to an investor at a networking event, or have been introduced to an investor by email, he will want to see something in writing about your company. You will be expected to send an executive summary (a one-pager that introduces the investor to your company and piques his interest) or, more frequently these days, an investor slide deck (8-10 PowerPoint slides that serve the same purpose but are easier on the eyes).

    Instead of trying to work with your team back home when you are already here, faced with a time difference and time pressure, prepare this before you come. You may have to adjust it based on the feedback you receive from investors, but if you have a solid draft, it will make your life easier.

    A really well-made executive summary or deck can set apart your startup from the rest and give you a fighting chance at a more involved look from the investor.

    You can work with designers and advisors to help solidify your message in your materials. But do not hire someone to write them for you. You have to own your materials, and by that I don't mean the legal sense of ownership, but in the sense that you stand behind each word in that document and, if prompted, can expand in verbal or written format on any of the points made in it!

    U.S. Phone Number. With your Google account, you can get a free Google Voice number and set up call-forwarding from that number to your temporary U.S. number.

    Google Voice also offers voicemail functionality. Make it easy on your callers - record a greeting with your name and the name of your company, so that they know they reached the right number.

    Business Cards. Your business card should be in English and should contain (1) your company name (and if you have not registered the company, the name that you think you will use), (2) your name and title, (3) your corporate domain email address, (4) the address of your physical office (if any), and (5) your U.S. phone number.

    Note that you don’t have to spell your name on the card the way it is spelled in your passport. Feel free to spell it in a way that will make it easy for English speakers to read. This will save you time and annoyance, unless, of course, you like correcting people and having off-topic conversations about foreign names, the English language, pronunciation, etc.

    Credit Cards. The most common and convenient payment method for most things that you’ll need to buy on your trip will be a credit card. Every online purchase will require it and some merchants (like car rental places) will take your credit card number as a security deposit, even if you pay cash.

    When getting ready for your trip, make sure there is money in the account tied to the card that you are taking with you. To really play it safe, take several credit cards tied to accounts at different banks. It is best to call ahead, and let your bank know that you will be in the United States. Sometimes banks will suspect identity theft and block your card, if there is unexpected activity on your card in a foreign jurisdiction. Nothing quite makes travel so uncomfortable, as having your credit cards lock up, when you are relying on them as a primary payment method!

    Driver's License. While you are visiting California, you are permitted to drive with your valid foreign license. Make sure to take it with you, as you are packing for your trip, and that it does not expire during your trip (rendering it no longer valid).

    Happy company making!

    Inna


    White Summers  Inna Efimchik, a Partner at White Summers Caffee & James LLP, specializes in assisting emerging technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, providing incorporation, financing, and licensing services as well as general corporate counseling.
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