What an Investor Needs to Feel to Say Yes to Your Startup
February 23, 2023
I started my career in the VC world - an amazing job where you get to meet hundreds of startup founders. When I was a young and ambitious venture capitalist in a French VC fund, my goal was to find a startup from the Nordic region that we could confidently invest in. The number and quality of those investments was the ultimate measure of my job performance.
Let me tell you a story of a particular startup...
At one point, we were working with a promising startup from Sweden, deciding if they were a good fit for us. One partner was convinced. We loved the team, liked the product, and wanted to be part of their journey!
We explained the case for the rest of the team, including the product, the market, and the team. They agreed to invite the startup to Paris for an investment committee because we saw the potential. This is the final step before the three partners can agree to invest or not.
We prepared a 15-page document for the rest of the team so they could be well prepared for the investment committee.
Three members of the startup team flew from Stockholm to Paris. Together, we sat down for an hour and a half in a 10 person committee to discuss the investment.
I was so excited, hoping this would be the crucial moment in my career…
In the end, the other members of the investment team voted not to invest. I was so disappointed, this was not what I expected…
But the most shocking part of the entire situation was the reason they saw for not investing… Suddenly, they didn’t think the market was big and exciting enough. Of course, this was something we had already discussed ahead of time! Nothing about the market had changed from when we first presented the startup...
This really bugged me. How is a startup supposed to land an investment when investors act completely irrational? It seemed like something else was at play under the surface that really had nothing to do with market opportunity, metrics, or future potential…
From that day, I started mapping out that unconscious part of the decision making and how a founder could get it to work in their favour. Today, I’ve seen both the VC perspective and the founders’ perspective as a startup coach.
Before I continue, I’d like to make a small disclaimer: I’m not here to blame anyone about the decision or say what is right or wrong. Investors are only human, and those are the rules of the game. In this guide, my goal is simply to help founders understand what goes into an investment decision.
What I came to realize was this: Investors don’t make decisions based on what founders initially think - it’s not about your pitch deck, the market, the metrics, or the product. It’s all about how you present that and the way you make the investor feel.
Seed investors make decisions based on emotion, but then justify that decision with logic. Sometimes it’s things that don’t actually seem very logical at all, as demonstrated above. Just like all humans, seed investors are emotional beings that follow basic human psychology (for more on this psychology concept, click here).
It’s very simple: They feel good about investing, so they do, or they feel bad about it, and don’t. And when they don’t, they’ll find a more or less random reason that seems legitimate to justify their decision.
So what exactly are the emotions that go into an investment decision?
There are four different things that the investor needs to feel in order to say yes. It’s your job as a founder to make the investor feel those feelings. If an investor says no or stops answering your emails (another way of saying no), it is because the investor doesn’t feel all of these four emotions.
Investors become part owners in your startup, and to own something you want to feel like you understand it and master the subject. When investors get what your startup is about, they feel confident.
Investors want to be sure that they know all there is to know in any given investment opportunity. This means that you have to be able to adapt the pitch based on the knowledge of the investor. It also means that you cannot leave any loose ends, because they signal uncertainty.
At the moment of investing, your investor should be able to pitch your startup with conviction to any other colleagues or future investors. That is the level of confidence that the investor needs to feel!
Investors need to feel like they can trust you with their investment. They will become part owners in something that they have very limited control of.
It also goes a long way if you can establish common ground with the investor, something that connects you on a personal level. Humans like to identify themselves by the group they belong to, so try and find a “group” that you’re both parts of.
Another way of building a trustful relationship is to prove that you’re a great entrepreneur. A great entrepreneur is one that is good at executing their plans and achieving their goals. If you can prove this to the investor with numbers or other achievements, you’ve come a long way in that relationship.
If you’re speaking to a potential lead investor, the chemistry will be even more important, because you will be spending a lot of time together. If you’re a person they want to spend that time with, so much better!
As a startup, you want investors to feel very optimistic about the opportunity you’ve presented them. They should be thinking “I don’t want to miss out on this journey!” This is easy after a first meeting, but as time passes by and they get time to think it becomes harder to sustain the feeling of excitement.
This is especially important for angel investors who are not primarily driven by money, but rather by the sense of adventure.
To keep the excitement up, you need to keep on presenting good arguments and new achievements. Don’t give investors any reason to doubt your startup, but if they do, turn that doubt into an exciting opportunity as soon as possible.
Investors never fully commit to a decision until they absolutely have to. They don’t pull the trigger until they feel the opportunity is going to pass them by, so instilling them with this sense of urgency is key to getting them to invest!
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into an investment. It’s a process with a lot of variables, and things can change rapidly from one day to the next. All the emotions mentioned are very subjective. What excites one investor might not excite another.
If you have any experience as a salesperson, you might recognize many of the emotions mentioned above… And you’re right! Many of the same rules apply when you raise funds.
I read elsewhere that people tell you to just be yourself to raise funds… I say that’s bullsh*t. You need to develop an act that makes the investor feel Confidence, Trust, Excitement, and Urgency, whether that comes naturally or not for you. Even if you had a bad day, you need to enter the role of the excited founder who knows all its best arguments by heart.
The investment process is about building a relationship that the investor is interested in continuing, which will inevitably lead to investment. And because everything is so subjective, it can obviously be a very frustrating process, but that’s just part of the game, and if you want to win, you have to learn how to play!
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