Monday Jun 16, 2014 by Jeff Bussgang - General Partner, Flybridge Capital Partners
My friend, Ed Zimmerman, wrote a terrific post for his WSJ blog - "Help Me Help You" - on soliciting him (and others like him) for investor introductions.
I wanted to add to Ed's post and observe that not all introductions are created equal. The source of the introduction matters a lot. As a result, when the introduction comes in to the investor, judgment is applied based on the source. Most investors apply a simple ranking algorithm against introductions which determines how they react to them in terms of prioritizing their time and the seriousness with which they approach the opportunity. Here’s how it works in my experience:
Entrepreneurs in their personal portfolio. VC investors may have 8-12 actives investments at any time. Each of those portfolio companies may have 6-8 executives that are senior enough to have board visibility. These 50-100 executive represent the next rung in the ranking ladder. Active angels might have twice this number. Investors will take these introductions seriously, although may be more judicious depending on what they think of the executive making the introduction, how their company is performing and what their assessment is of the opportunity (all factors in the ranking algorithm).
Entrepreneurs they respect. Generall, accomplished entrepreneurs are like soothsayers - if they're a part of a successful company, then it is assumed that they have great insight into how to build other successful companies. Thus, if an entrepreneur I respect sends me something, I always take a close look.
Service providers they respect (lawyers, bankers, accountants, headhunters). Some service providers have very close relationships with investors and when an introduction is made, a rapid response and close look is taken. Other service providers claim to have close investor relationships, but in truth merely are "friendly" with some VCs who may not think much of their investment judgment and sourcing suggestions. Be careful with this category. It can be gold (e.g., one of our best deals came from an introduction from a banker whom we respect greatly) and others are disregarded (e.g., the radom investment banker / broker semi-cold emails).
Cold emails / LinkedIn messages. Seriously? This is the worst way to approach an investor. In today's transparent, super-connected era, if you can't find a way to get to an investor through one of the methods above, you have failed a basic test. This will result is a low ranking, for sure.
Other investors who are not investing. After turning down an opportunity, I sometimes hear back from an entrepreneur a request to make an introduction to another investor. Here's why that's a bad idea. Imagine the conversation...VC1 to VC2: "Can I intro you to this great entrepreneur raising money?"
VC2 to VC1: "Sure! Are you investing?"
VC1 to VC2: "No."
VC2 to VC1: "Oh. Well have you worked with the entrepreneur before in another setting?"
VC1 to VC2: "No."
VC2 to VC1: "Well if it's not good enough for you to invest and you've never worked with the entrepreneur, why should I bother spending time with them?"
I'm sure there are plenty of other permutations of the ranking algorithm, but you get the picture. Think carefully not only about how you approach the introduction (as Ed recommends) but who you approach to affect it.
Jeff Bussgang is a General Partner with Flybridge Capital Partners. You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog called: Seeing Both Sides. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter (@bussgang) by clicking here.