If you poll founders on how long they think it takes to raise a round, most would say 6 months.
In truth, good deals can close in 2-4 weeks. That's what you should aspire to with your fundraising process. Speed is the secret to fundraising.
Now, you may hear people talking about fundraising taking six months. But that's because sometimes founders don't index for speed as much as they should, not because it's a best practice.
In practice, the faster you move, the easier your fundraising will be — and vice versa, the longer it takes you to fundraise, the harder it gets.
Putting it another way, if your fundraising process stretches out to 2, 3, or even 4 months, the amount of effort you have to expend won't increase linearly with time. It will increase at an accelerating rate.
Why? Because the longer you're out on the market fundraising, the more it can become a negative signal to prospective investors. This is why speed is so important.
That said, it may sound unrealistic to raise a round in 2-4 weeks. But I've seen it happen many times.
This is how a successfully timed fundraising might look:
Generally, there are two prerequisites:
- Make fundraising your full-time job. Someone at the company needs to be able to spend 80% of their time focused on fundraising when your company is in full fundraising mode. If you’re only spending half your time on it, it will take more than twice as long. Dedicating yourself fully to the fundraising process is a requirement for speed.
- Generate authentic competition for your round. This will give investors FOMO and a sense of urgency, and that will drive them to move quickly to sign the deal. This is really the key that drives the whole fundraising process.
There are no magic words that are going to instill investors with a sense of FOMO, which is why it needs to be authentic.
But that doesn't mean you can't deploy specific tactics to cultivate that FOMO and engineer authentic competition. This comes down to careful planning for speed by crafting a narrative, building a process, and cultivating relationships before you start officially fundraising.
Only when everything is in place do you officially start letting investors know that you're fundraising; this lets you maximize momentum and cultivate the critical FOMO you need to drive deals quickly and successfully fundraise. The last thing you want is to get in your own way and slow your fundraise down because you don't have the pieces in place.
Why Timing "Fundraising Mode" Is Key
A big point of leverage that founders don't commonly appreciate: you are in control of when you turn "fundraising mode" on.
The secret is that you may start working on your fundraising process well before you are telling investors that you're fundraising.
You want to be very judicious about when you do turn fundraising mode on, because it's one of the biggest pieces of leverage that you have.
Once you turn fundraising mode on, the clock starts ticking.
When you start talking to investors and telling them you're fundraising, the clock starts. As mentioned earlier, this means the race is on to fundraise as quickly as possible, before your momentum stalls and it becomes a negative signal.
Therefore, be very conscious of when you're starting to communicate to people that you're fundraising. You should only do it once you have high confidence that you’ll be able to raise quickly. This is one of the biggest secrets of founders who are able to fundraise with speed.
How To Prepare For Fundraising
You can use the time period before you're officially fundraising (but starting to prepare for it) to have discussions, build your network, craft your narrative, create a process, and fill your pipeline.
This is a critical period of preparation that will enable your speed when you actually begin — and many of these things are much harder to do once everyone knows that you're fundraising.
Step 1: Start Getting Introductions and Building Connections
Forestalling "fundraising mode" means you should freely say “we’re not fundraising” when you talk to investors and people in the ecosystem — until you’re ready.
As it turns out, the phrase“we’re not fundraising” is one of the best things you can possibly say to an investor in the long term.
Why? Because it's much easier to build connections and get introductions. If someone knows that you're fundraising, and you ask them for an introduction to an investor, you are basically asking them to endorse the investment — meaning they are putting their social capital and credibility on the line for you.
So when you're fundraising, asking for an intro can be a relatively big ask. They're being asked to introduce you to one of their friends knowing that you'll be asking for money, and it puts a lot on their shoulders.
But if you're not "fundraising", it's really easy to ask for introductions, because you're not putting that burden on anyone. That's why the period before you're fundraising is such a golden opportunity to get a lot of introductions and build out your network — one that could potentially speed the process greatly when you do start fundraising.
The general rule is to build your pipeline while "not fundraising". Once you turn it on, you need to move very quickly, and this will be enabled if you've already done the legwork.
Step 2: Create your fundraising narrative
The first thing you need to do before you even think about your full pitch or start building any slides is to create a fundraising narrative.
Your pitch deck is going to support that higher-level fundraising narrative, so this is where you need to be very focused and clear. Some general rules for crafting your narrative:
- Keep your narrative crisp.
- Be opinionated and non-obvious.
- Make sure there's an "oh shit" moment, and that you convey that it will be a venture-scale business.
- Frame progress in terms of what you've figured out, don't jump to arbitrary KPIs.
You want your fundraising narrative to be a crisp, memorable explanation of what you're building, why you're fundraising, and why someone should invest. It should answer 5 questions:
- What are you building?
- Why will you win?
- How have you de-risked your business so far?
- How will you de-risk your business in the near future?
- What will the future look like if you're successful?
Each answer you come up with to these questions will form a component of your narrative. Let's take a closer look at what those answers might look like.
1. What are you building?
Here's what a bad answer to this question might look like (inspired by a real-life example):
"We provide data and analytics in a comprehensive project management suite, enabling audio content creators to glean insights that inform decisions throughout the production cycle."
You could read this 5 times and still not have a clear idea of what the company does.
Your fundraising narrative should say what your company does in simple terms — even if it's not the grand, detailed vision you may have of how you're going to do x, y, and z. Give the investors something they can easily understand at first, and then you can dive deeper later.
The reason for this is that if they can't understand the basics of what you do, they're just going to tune out everything else you say. It's crucial to be clear and simple in communicating this.
An example of a good answer to include in your narrative:
"We're an analytics tool for podcasters."
2. Why will you win?
In other words, what is the one reason that an investor should invest?
What is the thesis that they will write about in their inevitable Medium post about why they're going to invest in your company?
What is the surprising thing that will make an investor say, "holy shit, this startup is interesting"?
This is where you write that script for them. Consider your biggest strengths and what makes you most compelling.
Possible examples of what angles to take with this:
- Discuss the traction you unlocked
- Talk about having the ideal team to solve the problem you're working on
- Portray yourself as having a unique insight on distribution or workflow adoption
- Display a short case study proving incredible efficacy of your product
- Show glowing customer feedback indicating that you've built something people love.
For the "analytics tool for podcasters" hypothetical from above, for example, you could add a paragraph like
"and we're a team of former podcast producers who produced 5 of the 20 most downloaded podcasts of all time."
An investor hearing this will understand that if there's an ideal team to work on the problem of podcast analytics, it's your team.
3. How have you de-risked your business so far?
A big part of an investor's job is to assess risk. This is often the bulk of what they're thinking about when considering an investment.
Help them think through this on your terms by telling them what you've derisked. Frame the progress of your business in terms of this, not arbitrary KPIs.
In the early stages, all KPIs round down to zero.
Most early-stage startups aren't going to look very good if you're just looking at the raw metrics and numbers.
A bad example of early-stage KPIs that I see all the time:
"We have 20 customers and $5K MRR”
Numbers like this don't mean anything at the early stages. It does little to help an investor understand what the company has de-risked.
Instead, try to come up with something more like:
"We've found product-market fit on a small scale with 20 independent podcasters paying for our product and using it for all of their shows."
This tells investors so much more than the same information expressed differently above; and it is going to be infinitely more impressive.
Why? Because instead of just telling you a context-less revenue number, it says you've de-risked product-market fit on a small scale. Whereas it's not very hard to get a few paying users, early indications of product-market fit ("our users are using the product for all of their shows") can provide a valuable signal for investors.
4. How will you de-risk your business in the near future?
Along the same lines, the next part of your narrative should frame an upcoming milestone in terms of what you need to de-risk next.
It's important to be realistic about the major risks you think your business might face. If there were no big risks in starting a startup, you might be taking out a personally guaranteed bank loan instead of talking to a venture capitalist.
With early-stage startups, there are tons of risks. You should communicate what you think they are; since investors are looking for the big risks with your company, if you don't tell them, they'll come to their own conclusions. It benefits you to be proactive.
How? By helping them believe that when and if you de-risk your next milestone, you'll be de-risked enough to be appealing for Series A investors (or whoever will invest in your next round of funding). The milestone you pick should align with this.
A bad example of what to put in your narrative:
"We're raising $2M so we can invest in sales and product so that we can hit $1M ARR"
This is a bad example because it explains that you’re making revenue and hitting an arbitrary KPI without the more valuable context of what the company will have figured out once you hit the target.
A good example:
"We're raising $2M to find a repeatable customer acquisition strategy with a 3:1 LTV:CAC ratio so we can start dominating the independent podcaster market."
This is a better example because the context of what you’re trying to figure out — how to dominate the “independent podcaster market” — is evident.
5. What will the future look like if you're successful?
In this part of your fundraising narrative, you want to paint a picture that will align your vision with investors who see the future in a similar way.
The goal is to filter out bad fits, so be opinionated about your vision of what the future looks like.
At the same time, you should show how you think that the business could be big and help the investor see the potential of venture-scale returns for your company.
If you're right about what the future looks like and you win, is this a $1B business? That's what investors are going to be thinking about.
A good example of this, continuing with our hypothetical narrative of the podcast analytics company from above:
"With all of the independent podcasters using our platform, we'll be able to wedge into larger podcast studios. We'll have the most complete podcast dataset and companies will build ad networks and other products on top of our API."
A narrative like this paints a clear, compelling vision of what you're trying to accomplish and how you have the potential to become a billion dollar company.
Step 3: Build your pipeline of prospective investors
Before you turn fundraising mode on, you want to have your pipeline already in place. This means building a pipeline of investors you want to target (some of whom you should already be building relationships with, as discussed earlier).
There are 3 key things to understand to build out your pipeline strategically:
- Fundraising isn't "fundraising" per se — it's recruiting.
- Not all investors are alike, and you'll need different kinds to fill your round
- Work backward from your cap table using the 3:1 rule to build your pipeline
Fundraising isn't fundraising, it's recruiting
We've discussed how the key to cultivating authentic competition while fundraising is to create scarcity. But to do this, it's important that you reframe your own mindset about what fundraising fundamentally is.
Instead of thinking about fundraising as going out and asking people for capital, it's better instead to conceive of it like hiring investors for the limited spots available on your cap table — just like you recruit the best talent for the limited positions available in your company.
Cap table positions are the scarce asset; money is the commodity.
The truth is there are many places to raise money, but only so many spots available on your cap table. There is inherent scarcity created by this fact; and that scarcity gives you leverage.
This is the mindset you need when you're thinking about fundraising. Think about who you want to bring onto your cap table and why. There are a lot of investors out there — among them, who do you see as a potential fit for a long-term partnership, and what value are they going to bring over and above the funding?
You need to be having many conversations with many investors at the same time.
Another parallel between fundraising and hiring is that you should be talking to multiple "candidates" for a spot on your capital at once, not sequentially.
When you're hiring, you're talking to a bunch of candidates and trying to get them down the pipeline — the same practice should be used here. You don't to be waiting on an answer from one investor before going to the next, as this will slow you down and minimize your leverage and ability to create FOMO.
Not all investors are the same
Before you draft your round composition, you should understand the different types of investors you'll be recruiting.
Broadly speaking, there are 2 buckets of investors who you'll be talking to at the early stages:
Each type of investor thinks slightly differently. They all write different check sizes and they all have different motivations.
You really need to think about who you want in your round and why. To figure this out, make sure you understand what drives the different types of investors and how they align with your startup's goals — just as you would think about the skills, motivations, and fit of different types of employees when hiring.
The 3:1 Rule: How to work backwards to build your pipeline
The 3:1 Rule is that you should have 3 investors who are in final diligence for every spot available on your cap table.
That's how you get to the bottom of your funnel while still maintaining inherent competition: when you have three interested investors competing for each of the spots on your cap table, you're in a position of leverage.
The goal is to get to the 3:1 rule at the bottom of the funnel and to build your pipeline by working backwards from there. But how do you translate the amount of fundraising you're targeting to what your ideal cap table composition should look like?
An example: Let's say you're going to raise a $2 million seed round, or something in the same ballpark using a SAFE or convertible note, at a pre-money valuation of $10 million.
$2 million can feel like a daunting figure. But if you think about your cap table at the end of the round, it gets a lot easier. For example, your $2M round might break down like this:
- 1 lead VC contributing $800k
- 2 follow on VCs taking up another $600k
- 8 angels taking up the remaining $600k.
So all of a sudden you've gone from "I've got to raise $2 million" to "I have 11 spots on the cap table".
After doing this exercise, whenever you're having conversations with an investor who likes to lead, you realize that there's only one spot available.
Whenever you're talking to follow-on VCs that give you the classic "I'll invest if you have a lead investor", you can tell them "cool, but we've got only 2 spots, the rest are reserved for angels or a lead". This is how you create scarcity.
Even with the "8 angel spots", you can get way more specific to create scarcity: you can say you want 3 angels who are former founders that have built a startup in the same space, 3 angels who are VP level executives at companies that are going to be part of your distribution, etc.
Think of these spots as open roles with job descriptions. Not that you have to write job descriptions, but that is the mentality you should have.
When coming up with your ideal cap table composition, consider the constraints of investors in terms of check sizes they right or their ownership targets.
Also, keep in mind that this is just a "draft"— be prepared to adjust your draft composition (you probably will) as you go through your raise. Maybe you meet some investor who has 5 angels who you really want to get in, so you make more spots available than you thought. But although it can evolve, it's good to start with a plan and a rough understanding of the "open positions" you're looking to fill.
Once you have your "bottom of funnel" cap table target, you can work backwards to see how many prospects you need in your pipeline.
When you work backwards from the 3:1 rule where you have three investors in final diligence for every one you want to close., you see how many prospects you actually need, which is a lot. This is why, as mentioned before, fundraising done correctly is a full-time job.
The key takeaway is from the funnel diagram above that you'll need about 20 "prospects" for every cap table position you're looking to fill.
You're probably having 10 initial meetings for every investor you're closing.
So in the example we've been working with where you're looking to raise a $2M seed, we're talking about 220 investor prospects at the start of this process. So the next question becomes, how do you find that many qualified prospects to put in your pipeline?
Finding & Choosing Prospects
Two broadly effective tactics to find investors to fill your pipeline are online research and using other founders in your network. Of the two, other founders are usually going to provide higher-quality leads.
Prospecting Tactic #1: Online Research
There are a lot of valuable tools to get you started in building your initial prospect list through pure research like Crunchbase Pro, Signal, and AngelList.
The benefit of online tools like these are that you can search for investors who went to the same school as you, people who work for a similar employer, people who are in your city — and in general can get pretty specific looking for investors with qualities that are a good fit for you to "hire".
Prospect Tactic #2: Other Founders
In general, this is the best prospecting tactic. Here, you're not primarily going to rely on other founders who are peers, but rather founders who are ahead of you in their startup lifecycle.
Having founders you've built relationships with that are ahead of you has in their startup life cycle benefits way beyond fundraising, but can also help you with building your prospect list.
Why? Because other founders who are slightly ahead of you just went through the same process. They're likely to have the most up-to-date information on investors, share a similar point of view, and their lists can therefore serve as a good starting point when you're building your own.
Building Relationships Pre-Fundraise
As discussed before, building relationships before you start fundraising is a smart way to seed your pipeline.
For this, the best tactic is to build relationships with people who can help your business today. This ensures that the pre-fundraise relationship building doesn't become a time suck on your current priority of building the business (before entering "fundraising mode").
Also, it makes it more likely that the people you're building relationships with are actually going to be good investors because they can help you. It lets you vet and evaluate prospective investors.
So as a result you want to genuinely seek help from those who can help with specific challenges. A lot of times founders will reach out to investors saying something like "I'd love to get your advice on my pitch deck/ business". But this ask is way too generic, and it's pretty obvious that it's just a pretext to ask for money.
Instead of going that route, have some really specific challenges that you think a prospective investor can help with — it will result in stronger relationships.
The last tactic in building relationships before you fundraise is that when you get help from people, show them the ROI of their time, advice, or network. If someone helps you, go back to them and show them how it helped.
This will get them much more emotionally invested in what you're building; it will strengthen the relationship. It will also make them think: "hey, if I'm investing my mind into this company, might as well throw some cash in and have some financial upside."
Target People, Not Firms
The final thing to bear in mind as you build your pipeline is that people are more important than firms in terms of who you put in your list to target. Focus on the people.
You might hear founders say "I really want to raise from First Round or Sequoia or Lightspeed or Greycroft." They target these firms in their head because of the perceived prestige of the firm.
But targeting people (i.e. individual investors) is fundamentally more effective, because fundraising is about relationships. You're going to need people to really advocate for you, to bang their fists on the table and say "we need to make this investment".
It's the people, not the firm, who you will be working with over a 5-10 year relationship. You can build relationships with people prior to turning on fundraising mode; but you can't do that with firms.
If you're not fundraising, you can meet an investor, find common ground, and get to know them a little more as a human being. But it's hard to go to a VC firm like Sequoia and say "I'm not fundraising, but I'd like to build a relationship with Sequoia."
As you choose the people you're targeting, remember that individual investors have different roles and investment focuses.
To name a few common roles someone might have at their firm: there are analysts, associates, principles, and general partners. These are all different; they have different responsibilities and abilities to make investing decisions and deploy capital on behalf of their firms.
So, for example, it may not make a lot of sense to put a ton of associates or analysts in your target pipeline. For the people on your list, be very granular about what their role is and what type of investments they do.
Step 4: Turn On Fundraising Mode
As you get ready to start reaching out to investors, there are a few important tactics you should be aware of.
Prepare materials so there's no friction
Once you start reaching out, you don't know when an investor will want to sign on. Remember, the objective is speed. Get all your materials together up front so that you'll be ready to move immediately the opportunity arises to "hire" someone you want onto your cap table.
Your materials can be broken up into two categories that you can think about like a glacier:
- Above the surface material: Everything you need to use to get the first meeting or get an introduction, including your email blurb, teaser deck, and one-pager.
- Below the surface materials: Everything you need to get money in the bank: the full pitch deck (for both presentation and for email, if they are different), financial model, SAFE or Convertible Note
You want to have all of these together before you start raising on the off chance that someone says "yes, where can I wire the money" and you need to be able to tell them exactly where to get money in the bank.
Start on second base
Having the pipeline built out so you're starting with strong momentum is going to enable you to execute your fundraising much more quickly.
But you can create even more momentum by signing up smaller investors to your cap table before you start talking to larger investors and turn "fundraising mode" on fully. This lets you start on "second base" when you start talking to lead investors.
Seed your cap table by getting smaller investors on board first.
It's a common misconception that you have to get a lead investor first for your round. While it's great if you get a lead investor first because in theory it makes everything easier and everyone else is going to line up to write checks if you get a big name VC to lead first, that's rarely how it happens in practice.
Usually, you get some angels to commit, then you work your way up to some smaller VC checks, and then you get a bigger check.
So staggering between these phases is key. You can say "I'm just going to spend the first two weeks of my raise focused on angels" and build momentum that way.
Starting with small investors helps you build momentum. Waiting on a lead investor to write the first check is the opposite of indexing for momentum, and risks slowing down your fundraise. Investors are more likely to want to engage or invest if there’s social proof.
Warm intros are ideal, but good cold outreach can work also
When you start reaching out, warm intros are always going to have the highest odds of success, so it's best to get as many warm intros as possible. Some investors simply won't engage cold outreach, they're just against it.
However, cold outreach can work. More VCs are beginning to publicly welcome it on Twitter, etc. Cold outreach is definitely becoming more of a thing.
So if you have a high conviction around investor fit but can't find a warm intro path, then cold outreach is your best option.
Cold outreach that takes <30 minutes per investor is not personalized enough.
To work, though, cold outreach has to be good. It should take at least 30 minutes to write a personalized email to an investor — that's the litmus test for a good cold outreach email. Without meeting this threshold, you risk coming off as spammy and it won't be very effective.
Make sure to get an answer quickly
Know that good investors can typically get you a "yes" quickly if a deal is moving fast.
But don't count on hearing a no. Investors have very little incentive to say no. Their incentive is to hang around, retain optionality, and wait and see if something really good happens with the business or a big-name lead investor writes a check so that they can stay in the game. If they say no, they eliminate themselves — so they often won't do it even if they don't plan to invest.
So to move quickly, you have to understand when a "maybe" or a lack of an answer is actually an effective "no". Don't burn your energy on "maybes" — if an investor is not getting to a "yes" quickly, then just move on and continue to work the top of the funnel looking for one who will.
This is what the typical VC process looks like:
- Screening - looking at your website, teaser deck
- 1:1 Pitch - the initial meeting
- Group Meeting - internal group meeting where they talk about the deal.
- Customer/founder reference checks - doing diligence on the startup.
- Partner meeting - typically it's after this when a term sheet would come.
You can use this roadmap to help you judge whether a VC is taking a while to get back to you because of real constraints, or if they're just stringing you along.
Too often, founders spend way too many cycles following up with investors that are in that "maybe" purgatory and are really never going to get to a yes. Speed is your leverage. Don't slow down chasing long shots.
Step 5: Nail The Meeting & Close The Deal
You should have the following goals for the first meeting with an investor. These are the things you want to leave every meeting having accomplished:
- Discover if there's goal alignment. If there's not, be prepared to move on.
- Learn about their decision-making process. If you can learn this up front, it'll tell you how quickly they can make a decision and whether or not you're getting strung along. For example, if you learn there's a natural constraint like they have to have a partner meeting once a month before they can write a check, then you can use that to figure out what it means if you don't get a quick response.
- Get them excited about the opportunity. If you don't do this successfully, then the process is obviously not going to go anywhere.
Start the meeting by asking questions before pitching
Assume that once you start talking about the business in the meeting, you'll spend the rest of the time pitching. So if you don't ask your questions first, you may never get to ask your questions.
Starting with questions also balances out the power dynamic — it makes the investor feel a little like you're interviewing them and also lets you settle in and gain some confidence before that dynamic reverses during the pitch.
There's also an important practical reason to do this related to your goals: you need to ask about their decision-making process because it is crucial to know this later on when you're trying to quickly determine whether they are a possible "yes" or a "maybe/no" who is playing for time.
How to convey momentum in your first meeting
When pitching, it's important that you don't overplay your hand; assume that all investors know and talk to each other.
So what you don't want to do in a first meeting is say "we're talking to firm A and firm B" if you've only had first meetings with firm A and firm B, because if the investor you're talking to goes and talks to them, they're going to say "yeah we just had a first meeting, but we're not deep in the process", and it'll make you look bad and erode the investor's trust in you.
So you only want to name names if the investor is deep in the process or has agreed to sign on with your cap table; otherwise use funnel metrics.
If you want to convey momentum, rather than saying "First Round is investing" or "We're in diligence with Andreessen" you can say "we have 3 partner meetings next week."
This is more effective than naming names because it conveys that your process is moving quickly without you needing to name names.
Also, while it's important to convey that things could move quickly with the deal, be careful that you don't state deadlines that could become negative signals if missed.
Closing the deal
Recall the VC process from earlier — after the initial meeting, the investor you meet with typically has a group meeting, has their team do research and diligence, and then finally brings it to the partner meeting.
This process can move very quickly if you convey that you have a lot of momentum and interest from other VCs in your deal. The 3:1 rule means you should be going into this part of the process with at least 3 investors competing for each spot on your cap table.
That’s why it’s so important to have the “below the surface” materials discussed earlier prepared — if you nail the meeting, it’s very possible that the investor will agree to sign a term sheet quickly. Having everything set up on your end to get money in the bank is critical so that you don’t hold up the process and cause you to think twice.
At this stage in the process, it comes down to answering questions as efficiently as possible and getting investors to a “yes”. Don’t burn energy on the “maybes”, focus all your efforts on moving forward with the investors that are showing demonstrable interest.
Tactical Seed Fundraising Is A Mindset
To summarize, being tactical about fundraising means embracing a mindset with 5 big components:
- You're recruiting for scarce spots on the team, not asking for money.
- Speed is everything, commit yourself fully to the process.
- Create a sense of urgency by cultivating authentic competition.
- Build relationships before you need to fundraise.
- Be intentional about when you flip the "fundraising mode" switch on.
This mindset will let you avoid long, drawn-out fundraising rounds that become increasingly difficult. Being tactical and fully committed means you have to ultimately spend the least amount of time fundraising to do it successfully, and spend more of your time doing what you became a founder to do — building the actual business.