The title sounds awkward, doesn’t it? Look up the Internet, and you will find hundreds of articles (including some by yours truly) about elevator pitches, how to reach out to VCs, how to trace them in events, most effective ways to get introductions to VCs etc. And you can’t blame authors for writing on these topics – early stage risk capital is scarce and with a handful of top-tier global VCs controlling most of it, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs end up doing most of the chasing.
The truth, however, is that VCs need quality deals as much as quality entrepreneurs need venture money. And that’s exactly the reason why VC investment professionals meet 2-3 entrepreneurs a day, attend event after event, and spend majority of their non-sleeping hours networking. With VC-backable startups being few and far between, they want to ensure that when the next Facebook or Google comes along, their fund gets to have the first look at the deal.
Keeping this in perspective, instead of spending numerous hours (and marketing dollars, in some cases) on conventional channels such as TiE events, NASSCOM Awards etc., ventures should consider establishing presence in the following key mediums quality VCs use to source deals.
- Industry-specific offline events – most top-tier VCs develop industry specific theses based on comprehensive research, brain-storming and analysis. The Investment Professionals then go out into the market, trying to source deals that fit these theses. More often than not, the best VCs would be found prowling in specialized events dedicated to specific industries such as cloud, mobile, healthcare, medical devices, clean technology etc. A venture can gain real quality time and mindshare of a VC in these events as these platforms tend to be less crowded, and usually have a relevant and focused group of attendees.
- Quality publications such as Economic Times, Business Standard, Forbes and Fortune – with several media houses of varying qualities mushrooming all over India, VCs are very careful about what they read and what information they trust while evaluating deals and sectors. Getting quality coverage in reputed, well-established platforms such as Economic Times, Business Standard, Forbes, Fortune etc. ensures that any VC reading them will take your venture seriously, and an in-bound query from them is almost certain. This is also because these media houses have a reputation at stake and generally follow high standards of curation for ventures covered by them.
- Innovation-driven and technology-focused media platforms such as MIT Technology Review, TED etc. – Again, not because VCs read the MIT-TR regularly or attend all TED sessions across the world. But, visibility on these platforms assures you of ripple coverage in reputed publications and digital media across the world. These would then be referred to by VCs for deal sourcing. Why VCs would give more importance to this nature of coverage over others is because platforms such as MIT-TR and TED champion game-changing technologies and innovators, and will never compromise on this spirit.
- International research and commercialization grants – VCs routinely scan the list of international research grant recipients, especially those given by reputed entities such as DST-Lockheed Martin, governments of various developed countries, technology majors such as Google, Microsoft etc. More often than not, the recipients would start receiving multiple VC inbounds just after the grant announcement in the media. These grants and awards give multiple positive signals to VCs – disruption, innovation, intellectual property creation, externally validated quality etc.
- Industry-specific recognitions/ awards given by credible entities – there has been mammoth degradation in the quality of entrepreneurship awards in India. It’s routine to find award winners shutting shop one year after winning the award (talk about sustainable growth as a criteria!). Having said that, there are still a bunch of awards/ recognitions which are credible and mostly industry-specific. VCs tend to respect these awards and also the award winners, with winning ventures usually becoming the target of active VC interest. The question is – how to judge the credibility of these awards? Some criteria that entrepreneurs could look at include post-award operating and financing track-records of past winners, reputation of awarding entity and jury, whether the event scale is national or international etc. As a rule of thumb, industry-specific recognitions given by either a corporate entity that is a market leader in the space (and therefore, understands the business and technology) or reputed global foundations, academic institutions, governments and international media houses would generally be more credible than others.
- Credible social media coverage (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs) – All VCs are active on social media, especially Twitter and LinkedIn for professional reasons. The best and most credible way to catch a VC’s attention is to have some-one from his trusted network (preferably another VC!) blog, tweet or post an update about your venture. Even better if an ‘influencer’ in the eco system, such as a serial entrepreneur, a large tech company CEO or a rock-star angel investor, can spread the word about your venture in the digital world.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a special mention for grassroots entrepreneurship platforms such as YourStory, Sankalp etc., which help uncover hidden pan-India entrepreneurial gems at an early stage, and provide them with much needed visibility. These would typically be an entrepreneur’s starting point when access to the earlier mentioned channels looks difficult. So, don’t forget to engage with them.
To conclude, VCs have limited bandwidth, and therefore focus on select deal sourcing channels that provide maximum bang-for-the-buck for them, and help them routinely discover ventures that can be potentially funded. Instead of schmoozing with disinterested VCs at large TiE events or wasting time in filling out applications for non-credible awards, entrepreneurs would do well to consciously create a presence in critical VC deal sourcing channels. And then, watch the in-bound interest flow in!