A couple of months ago, we raised at Claap a $3M pre-seed with Headline (Hello 👋), LocalGlobe (Heyy 👋🏽) and 30 business angels after having received around 20 term sheets in 3 weeks.
I’m often asked how we did it by new founders. So often that I finally decided to apply Matt Mochary’s advice in The Great CEO Within (I’m not sure to be a better CEO now, but the book is good!) which says: ‘If you say it twice, write it’.
So here it is, let’s write it 🙃
I’ll describe below the whole process, providing our deck & data rooms, listing practical advice that you can apply before, during and after the roadshow. May this help you in this draining journey!
Before the roadshow
You should prepare your round in advance. This advice looks straightforward. It is not. Everything you don’t do or decide before will be something that you’ll have on your plate later when you are at the middle of the storm. Pretty complex when you already have 10 calls a day.
👶 Be clear with your family that this gonna be hectic
I was a happy father of a 9 months old baby when we started the roadshow and I was not prepared to such an intensity. I didn’t inform my wife about what was coming. I was naive.
This put pressure on both of us. Be clear with your family that you are about to spend time in a washing machine. As always, it is better to set clear expectations.
🦉 Get to know how the VC market works
Unless you already know the VC market like your pocket, you should spend some time to understand how it works. What are the players out there? What is their focus and area of expertise? What are the specificities of the different rounds?
If you happen to know anyone to guide you through this mess, this is even better. You’ll need this knowledge to successfully kickstart discussions and pick the good VC for you.
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about VCs (my level was like: but who the hell are Accel?) and our preparation phase was key to give me confidence and guidance over the process.
🎯 Set up your objectives and decision criteria
Define your expectations for the round. People usually focus on the sole amount, but to be honest, when you are in pre-seed and seed rounds, the VCs themselves will mostly decide for the amount (more on it in the next section).
More important for you: what type of VC do you want? Do you even want VCs in your captable? Which structure of deal? How much dilution are you ready to accept? Do you want one or many funds? Some angels? Do you plan to apply for YC or another accelerator at one point?
For us for instance, the main conditions where that we wanted early stage VCs, with a strong international exposure, with 2 VCs co-leading the round and with a big community of angels to support our Product Led Growth strategy.
Secondary considerations: we were ready to have a fully priced round as it’s straightforward at this stage, even though a lot of founders prefer a convertible round.
Last but not least, we wanted to apply to Y Combinator at one point — which comes with a 7% dilution, so we were particularly picky regarding the dilution in this first round. In the end, we decided not to go to YC to skip this additional dilution, but this is another story.
All this might sound blurry for you. In that case, come back to the previous step and practice.
🏰 Master your presentation
You should now have a pretty good visibility on your expectations to close the round. It’s time to sharpen your pitch. At this early stage, you’ll usually have limited to no data room and the VCs will mostly focus on (i) your past experience and (ii) your pitch. Make them dream.
On (i), make sure to find a founder story that clearly streamlines why the problem you try to fix resonates with your background and why you are the most relevant person on earth to fix it. Repeat it, finetune it, cut it.
It should be no more than 3 to 5 minutes and shed light on your strengths (don’t be too humble). Test it with your grandma — if she doesn’t understand, simplify it. No one cares about your extensive CV tour. People need a great story, give them one.
On (ii), same advice apply. Make your pitch dead simple. Work on your narrative until perfection. It needs to be as sharp as a movie script.Name your enemy and position your category as the lightsaber that is going to help people beat this enemy. For us, the enemy was back-to-back meetings.
The solution is async meetings. Simple structure makes it easy for people to repeat your pitch and speak about your company. You can then show what you bring vs the old way with a Before/After structure. And don’t forget use cases and quotes.
You’ll have 10 versions of your pitch, this is normal. Iterate, test, cut, until you have a 10 to 15 slides sharp story.
You can then learn it by heart. It will help, really. And by the way, you grandma should also understand your pitch. Don’t forget that VCs must understand your vision in 10 minutes, and they are not expert in your industry. Here is our pitch for reference.
⚙️ Prepare a data room
When we raised our pre-seed round, we more or less had nothing to show because, well, we were pre-product. Wrong. We were pre-product, but we already had key market insights to back our vision.
Whatever you have on your side, write a document to support your pitch that you’ll send to VCs at the end of the meetings. The ones who don’t care won’t read it. The ones who need more details will love it. Everyone is happy. Bonus: it helps you structure your thoughts and your pitch. Here is our data room.
💪 Train with secondary VCs
It’s now time to practice for real. After all, your grandma won’t give you money. But don’t rush too fast. Find some VCs that you don’t really target and go train with them. This step was key for us. Our first pitches were terrible. Honestly. We would have never raised without a couple of broken pitches beforehand.
👨👩👦👦 Build your tribe
VCs need some insights to believe in your project. They’ll focus on your background and on your pitch. Sure. But they’ll also be relieved if you are already backed with great people.
Find in your network some angels ready to follow you. Be bullish, ask intros, contact on Linkedin some influencers in your industry. It’s a flying wheel. You’ll need some fish to catch bigger fish, and the more you have, the more you get.
At Claap, we started with our very close network by convincing our former CEOs at Ogury, fifty-five and 360Learning to invest. Step-by-step, we leveraged them to get more angels, so that we already had secured 200k euros when we pitched our first VCs.
👀 Get visible
Invite all the VCs you’re interested in on Linkedin or Twitter in the previous couple of months. This will ensure that when you are about to start your round, all of them are informed from day 1. This is what we did at Claap. 1 hour after our Linkedin post, we’d been contacted by 3 or 4 VCs already. This is their job to find you so… help them! Here is the list we used, from gritt.io.
⚡ Polish the launch of your roadshow
This is it. You should be all prepared now. What you just need is to create momentum to launch your roadshow and make some noise. Can be the release of a website, a new product or… a simple Linkedin post announcing that you are working on something new.
At Claap, we had a 2 step lightning strike announcement to launch our round. We first released a meeting calculator to let people feel the pain and get some virality. We then wrote a simple Linkedin post with our new role. We had 30k+ views on the post and got hundreds of subscribers in 1 day, which certainly helped to get VCs’ attention. Yes, this is a marketing campaign 🙂
During the roadshow
Don’t ask for too much money. If VCs want you, they will put more money on the table. Better to succeed in the round even if it’s smaller than to announce a big objective and not reach it. At Claap, we expected to raise 300k at first. Competition did the rest: we got a first time sheet of around 1M and ended up with 3M.
⚡Put momentum & create FOMO
Probably the trickiest part. Meet as most VCs as possible that meet your criteria in the shortest amount of time. Never leave a call without clear next steps. Make them feel that they are not alone and that they need to move fast if they don’t want to miss the opportunity.
Easier said than done, especially when you don’t have option B. This is where your initial followers & training will help. And don’t forget, the hardest is to get the first term sheet. Others will follow. By the way, always send a follow up with your deck and data room right after the call.
💌 Choose the best offer… for you!
You know your criteria and received some offers. It’s now time to make the final decision. Don’t forget your initial objectives. Beyond theory, think about the fit with the investor more than the brand.
It’s gonna be a long journey and you want someone that will pump you along the way. Ask for references. It’s common practice and will help you build some network.
Again, don’t focus on money only. There are a lot of terms in a term sheet, you should not optimize only about amount and dilution. But there is enough material here for a whole new article.
And when you made your selection, just stop overthinking and come back on the execution (see next section). At Claap, we had a lot of term sheets and we received some offers you don’t refuse like Accel. We took way too much time to make our final decision and fully be back on track. We lost precious time on execution.
After the roadshow
You did it. Congrats. But don’t forget that this is just the beginning. As Daniel Nathan told me back then: everyone like you but you didn’t do anything yet. Everything remains to be done.
And people will forget you in a minute. He was true. Things really start only when you close the round. Get some fresh air, clean your objectives and your planning, and get back to work 🤓
Signing the term sheet doesn’t close the round. You’ll need to agree with your investors on the final shareholder agreement.
Make sure to get some legal advice. Always better to have a lawyer to help you and deal with the VC’s lawyers. Board members, ESOP, Bad leaver, Exits… There is plenty to deal with. So don’t be too greedy on lawyer fees, let the pros handle it and get back to work.
Take advantage of your round to communicate on your venture. After all, this is one of the main benefits when you raise these days. And an article in Sifted or Tech Crunch will never harm you.
Well… It’s time for me to wish you good luck!
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