When I first closed pre-seed funding for Vibely, a platform for positive and safe communities to accomplish their goals together, all of our investor meetings were in-person. When we decided to fundraise in the midst of a global pandemic in 2020, we embraced fundraising via Zoom. While I missed the magic of meeting someone in-person, Zoom fundraising has many benefits, and we ultimately raised over $2 million in an oversubscribed seed round in 2020 from Silicon Valley’s best, including the founders of YouTube, Meetup.com, Zenly, and Asana.
Here’s what I learned during my experience.
Video chats are required
When it comes down to it, fundraising is all about trust. You should get to know who you’re getting in bed with, as should the investor. Face-to-face interaction is essential for building strong relationships. Investors want to put their money towards people with high integrity and potentially spectacular outcomes and it’s simply too hard to establish that level of trust on the phone. The challenge is getting everyone on the video call. I’ve found it successful to send Zoom calendar invites with an accompanying note “Looking forward to our vid chat” to set upfront expectations.
Demonstrate strong body language
Simulate a Zoom meeting as if it were a meeting over coffee and pin the investor’s video. That way you can read their body language and respond accordingly while removing that video mirror which can be distracting from fully immersing yourself in a conversation. Imagine staring at a mirror of yourself during an in-person meeting!
As obvious as it is easily forgotten, it’s very important to sustain strong eye contact during the call. If you have notes, don’t look at them. Darting eyes are fatal since when reading, you’ll appear inauthentic or rehearsed. In addition, it’s important to have good posture throughout the Zoom call; good posture signals confidence and leadership. This is something that’s easy to forget since we’re all sitting in the same chair all day. And of course, no fidgeting!
Be thoughtful about your setting
Find a place with great lighting and stage your Zoom background. You don’t want to appear like you are in a dark closet; make sure your face is well lit. Background items can be great conversation starters (i.e. green plants, books on a library stand, picture frames that represent you). Virtual backgrounds are fine, though a real background may convey more authenticity.
A lot of these tips hold true for both Zoom and in-person pitches.
Insist on small talk
As with any in-person meeting, let the conversation flow naturally and start the meeting with break-the-ice topics. If you’re short on topics, no problem! COVID affects everybody and is a common enemy you both share. I ask questions like “Where are you living now? How have you been handling COVID? How have things been with your kids?” Never jump right into the investment conversation despite pressure from the other side. Take time to get to know each other before getting to business.
Assess if an investor will truly be the right partner
Once the conversation kicks off, be curious about the potential investor’s mental models, world views, and philosophies. Ask things like, “What themes are you excited about? Where does your fund usually invest in? How do you typically help startups?” Investors will often prematurely dive into business details. You may have to consciously backstep and redirect: “Happy to share all the details, though I’d love to learn more about you for 5-10 min. Do you mind sharing more about yourself?”
Chat, don’t pitch
Investor meetings are two-way conversations, not a pitch. When explaining your business narrative, stop frequently to ask “What do you think? How does this fit within your understanding of X? Does this resonate? How have you seen this in your own experience?”. Genuinely discuss your ideas and strategies with them, as it’s a fantastic opportunity to get feedback.
The biggest mistake is to put investors on a pedestal. They are counting on you to be experts in your field and educate them on the market and user trends, so step up to your role as the domain expert. Nobody knows more than you about your product, strategy, and industry. While a leader needs to be open and curious to feedback, don’t fawn over their opinions no matter who you’re talking to, especially if they’ve spent less than an hour with your business.
Now to close up. To align on action items, ask “What are typical next steps for your fund?” Then set expectations on your timeline and your parameters (need an answer by X date or we only have Y allocation available).
Subscribe to the BlogHer newsletter for more tactical advice, exclusive content, and timely event updates.