When I was in college, I applied for a highly competitive job. I was halfway through what I like to think was a pithy, self-aware response to the classic "Tell us about yourself" when my interviewer cut me off and said, "Look, we have a lot of applicants who look just like you. Why should we hire you?"
Somehow, I knew that my insistence that I am actually unique and very special wasn't going to get me the job. After all, my interviewer had data on her side: More than 60 other female freshman education students in sororities from the St. Louis area had also applied for the exact same position.
And you know what? There are countless other IoT-Uber-for-X-Cloud-SaaS startups that have tapped into the repurposing-kale-as-headphones industry, too. Even if you're pretty sure you're the first one to do whatever it is you're doing, investors have probably heard it all before — and they've grown understandably skeptical.
Duncan Davidson, an angel investor and general partner at Bullpen Capital, filled me in on another reason that skepticism has grown over the years: "The seed-to-A follow-on rate has been dropping over the past five years and is now below 10 percent, meaning that fewer than 10 percent of seed-stage startups get to the A round — at least not without some intervening financing."
Like my interviewer, investors have seemingly incriminating data on their sides. You have to do your due diligence to combat some initial concerns and prove you're worth investing in — and content can help.
Quality content can directly address initial questions or concerns an investor might have, and it can set you apart from (even above) others in the same space because it shows you’re serious about your company and industry, you've got expertise, and you're future-minded. Overall, content plays three major roles in your fundraising strategy:
By establishing yourself as a voice in your industry, you effectively pull up your own chair to the table. It's a proactive way to show potential investors you're thinking through your own viability, your business plan, your product development, and your industry as a whole.
Mature companies are embracing content marketing wholeheartedly, so investing time in it now indicates that you have a comprehensive understanding of how to position your company presently and that you're laying the groundwork with a scalable marketing form for the future.
Imagine how much more succinct and powerful your pitch would be if you could walk into an investor meeting knowing you had already armed him or her with articles, posts, papers, and infographics that explained who you are, what you're about, what your product or service does, and how you're going to change the game. By creating content and sharing your insights with others, you demonstrate your ability to educate and explain your company not only to investors, but to potential customers as well.
When you meet with investors, you're in the direct line of fire to have your company (and your hopes and dreams) picked apart. Informative content addressing and anticipating their exact concerns is like walking into your meetings with a bulletproof pantsuit (copyright: Hillary Clinton) and ammo of your own.
Every story arc has an apex and a resolution; show investors that you have a compelling prologue to a long-lasting series by communicating your passion and sharing the narrative that drives you.
Your story is sure to include some setbacks, victories, and pivots — share those experiences and communicate what you've learned. The more insight into those plot points you can provide, the easier it becomes to get investors excited to be part of continuing the plot.
VCs know you're new to the game. No matter how many years of experience you're bringing to the table, this is still your first time running this particular startup, and it should empower you to create and share content.
Davidson emphasized that while some funds might look for recognizable teams or CEOs with major background props, his experience shows that fresh faces (and the content they generate) can be a good thing. "Most [other funds] also focus on a team, and herd around star founders," he said, "but we have found that in this era of venture, more than half the successes have first-time CEOs."
Establishing yourself as a star founder (and your team as one worth investing in) requires these three kinds of content:
Guest-contributed content at the right online publications is the perfect fodder for your audience of future investors, clients, readers, and brand advocates.
By publishing in targeted publications, you're basically enlisting managing editors at these leading publications to put their stamp of approval on your insights. And seeing as editors' primary concerns are delivering their readers thoughtful, engaging content (not promoting you or your business), your byline in their publications is validation that your insights are just that — thoughtful and engaging.
Of course you believe in yourself, your company, and what you have to offer — but in a world of ever-changing technology and temperament, investors need to know that others believe in you, too. Off-site published content can help you show them exactly that.
I was "fortunate" enough to live out my angsty teenage years during the boom of Xanga and LiveJournal. Much like eye-rolling and distrusting authority, blogging was like a part-time job. My generation built dedicated readerships, linked to our friends' blogs, incorporated visuals, and dutifully commented and engaged with other disillusioned high schoolers.
My blog was a place to personally brand myself. It gave me the platform to decide how I wanted others to see me, to create and share content that projected that brand, and to connect personally with my readers and followers.
Companies going through the fundraising process can focus their blogs to do the same. Your blog and other media you own (like social profiles) give you space to produce and share a mix of promotional content (all about your company) and pieces that echo the narratives of the off-site content you publish (all about your industry thought leadership).
We process visuals 60,000 times faster than we process text, so when you need to quickly explain to investors the timeline of your product launch, your comprehensive business plan, or your products and services themselves in a succinct and memorable way, opt for an infographic or copy-light whitepaper.
Especially if you're operating in a relatively unexplored space or you need to quickly compare and contrast how you're different from others in the industry, visual content in the form of a whitepaper with minimal big blocks of text or a branded infographic is a great way to capture and maintain interest.
Knowing why and what kinds of content work best to fuel investor relationships isn't enough to secure funding, and neither is writing one or two articles here and there. Content needs its own place in your business plan, and to be successful in using it for fundraising, you have to commit to it. Here's how to integrate content into your fundraising strategy:
Don’t get ahead of yourself by focusing on what publications you want to target or by building out an editorial calendar of your favorite ideas. First, you need to consider what your message will be and how exactly you want to position yourself. Your message must be consistent, and your bylines need to make sense.
If you have a background in computer engineering, write about your expertise in that, and leverage your own knowledge to create content that shows you know your space as it relates to your company. What you don't want is a handful of one-off articles that don't seem to tie together or point to any one specific area of knowledge.
Just like you would with potential customers, you need to thoroughly understand what kind of investor you're trying to reach. Doing early research shows investors you value their time and understand the importance behind audience comprehension.
VCs have preferences and types of companies they want to invest in, and you should specifically cater your content to the type of VC you're looking to reach to speak directly to their wants, needs, and concerns. You might think you're limiting your scope, but investors have said a surefire way to guarantee a rejection is by reaching out to the wrong one.
Your work isn't done after you publish your content. Stay top of mind with investors by sharing your best pieces with them, and before meetings, send select pieces or excerpts to them ahead of time so they can brief themselves and their teams before your arrival.
Include links to your content in your email signature, share it via Twitter and LinkedIn, and use it to fuel your sales and marketing efforts. And take advantage of free platforms like LinkedIn Pulse and Medium to begin acting on your strategy right away and to ensure engagement on your pieces.
Your startup's answer to "Tell us about yourself," no matter how passionately you deliver it, isn't enough to earn your funding on its own. Investors are like any other segment of your audience, and they need content to better understand who you are, what you do, and why you're worth investing in. Integrate content into your fundraising strategy, and leverage it to combat the skepticism and prove you're worth it.
I like my coffee black, my whiskey straight, and travel when I can afford it. I think most people just want to feel heard, and I’m happy to comply. I've also taken a sworn oath to never eat sushi.