“I hate raising capital.”
Tell us how you really feel, Mike! On April 5, 2016, CED hosted a “Raising the Dough” workshop for 70 North Carolina tech entrepreneurs. Featured speaker Mike Doernberg, CEO of Durham-based ReverbNation and successful serial entrepreneur, spoke to the audience of early-stage founders on his experience raising capital in a segment titled "Pitching to Investors: Entrepreneur Lessons Learned".
Mike warned the audience that fundraising is a “huge undertaking, completely distracting” and the process makes the entrepreneur “highly dependent on somebody else.” But the process of pitching to investors “makes you dig deep and see yourself through somebody else’s eyes.” It is tough. It is scary. Mike noted, “On its best day, it is uncomfortable. On its worst day, it will completely expose you.”
But by raising capital, Mike Doernberg has grown three venture-backed technology companies, and he has led companies to successful acquisitions. So, what advice does he have for fellow entrepreneurs? Mike shared 12 lessons learned about pitching to investors. Check out part of Mike’s brutally honest list:
- Don't expect to raise capital in a single meeting.
- Understand who you are talking to.
- You don't have to say everything.
Mike referenced one time when “I was giving people deep lessons about marketing and technology to the point they had no idea what I was talking about.” His business partner came out of the meeting and said to Mike, "You told him everything we've ever talked about ever." In short, keep it simple.
- Disarm everyone in the room.
“There's always someone who just read an article on Forbes about your industry and is now an expert,” said Mike. He warned that an entrepreneur may get asked a specific question that he or she doesn’t have the answer to, but when answering, focus on what you do know. For example, if a first-time entrepreneur is questioned on the ability to lead a startup, the best, honest answer is "I know I've never started a business before, but let me tell you what I do know.” In Mike’s words, “Don't try to pretend you are something you're not.”
- Be OK with dessert first.
In Mike’s experience, venture capitalists “will not let you stay on script.” Since VCs “hear pitches every day, all day long,” it is critical that entrepreneurs learn “how to tell your story from every angle, in every way.” Mike encouraged the room full of founders to dissect their pitch and be prepared to start off based on whichever direction the investor chooses to take. “If you cannot walk around in your story in every way, you will end up trapping yourself.”
Special thanks to Mike for sharing these words of wisdom! Want more? "7 Things We Learned at Raising the Dough"
And take a closer look at how CED supports entrepreneurs through Connections to Capital.