Launching a business is hard, but fundraising may be the most brutal part of the process. Investors are cutthroat-hard on the startups they evaluate. Like customers, they’re looking for you to solve their problems. But unlike customers, they’re on the hook for writing a massive check. And they’re skittish and beyond critical in their search for confidence in their investment.
To top it off, fundraising sucks up massive amounts of your time. It puts you in a spin cycle where you’re running from one meeting to the next. You’re putting in hours of grueling work and blowing through your workday—and when all is said and done, your efforts may lead you nowhere.
This web of challenges can quickly suck any entrepreneur into a black hole of doubt. Doubt, depression, exhaustion—these are the enemies of good work, and the fundraising process tends to be particularly good at bringing them to the surface. So, what’s a startup founder to do?
Get realistic (and tell your ego to take a hike)
Startup founders are optimistic, almost to a fault. This is one of your greatest strengths (you have faith you’ll succeed) and greatest disadvantages (disappointment can cut like a knife). It’s okay to be excited about the idea of fundraising, but swallow the odds before you dive in. In other words, you’re probably not going to get funded at first meeting.
So, what’s the solution? Be like Chris Fralic of First Round Capital and aim for the “zone of indifference.” In other words, prepare like hell. If (or when) you get turned down, you’ll know you did everything you possibly could have to succeed, so you have won’t have to beat yourself up or second-guess your readiness to fundraise.
Be confident (even if you must fake it)
That’s right, pretend you don’t even need ‘em. Not in a rude way, but in a confident, we’ll-be-okay-with-or-without-money kind of way. There’s nothing that makes investors salivate more than a conservatively run, scrappy startup, the kind that runs on rail-thin budgets and still gains traction. Plus, confidence can work in your favor when it comes to negotiations and gaining your first clients and many other scenarios. Giving off a desperate vibe is a good thing to avoid, period.
Get back to work
No, we’re not being sarcastic. Fundraising can knock your operation off its feet. So many startup founders become obsessive about it. You put the entire process on a pedestal. You prioritize investor meetings above all else. You stay up far too late—not working on your product but tweaking your pitch deck.
Don’t put fundraising first, put your business first. This works best if you have a team of three or more co-founders. One person deals with the investors and the others stay the course. Not only is it a wonderful distraction to keep your head down and work hard, but it says something about a startup that can still grow, close new deals and release shiny new product rollouts, even in the midst of fundraising. Potential investors won’t help but notice the way you run your business with such discipline and passion.
Take care of you
This one is a life lesson that most entrepreneurs learn the hard way. There will never be enough hours in the day and stress, well, it’s unavoidable. It’s a part of the process. Fundraising will take over your life, but it’s still important to carve out time for you—even if it’s a slow-paced 30-minute jog or a quick dinner with friends.
Try making a list of activities that make you happy—reading a book over breakfast, or going out to a new restaurant with your spouse—and schedule those activities in your calendar. Hold yourself to those appointments; don’t let fundraising consume your work life and your personal life.
Find your tribe
The startup community is larger and smaller than you’d ever imagine. Spread worldwide, it’s remarkable the way founders and startup employees gravitate toward one another in any market and across virtual communities. Embrace this natural support system. Talk (and vent) to other founders about how they’ve survived fundraising. Learn their impressions of the investors you’re speaking to; gather their feedback and learn from their wins and losses.
Throughout the fundraising process, you’ll lose track of how many proverbial doors you’ve knocked on, how many times you’ve been told “No” and how much “advice” you can handle. Fundraising is all-consuming, but you can’t let it break you. These strategies are just a handful of the ways in which you can avoid insanity and embrace the chaos.