Behavioural psychologists have argued that it is more common for job interviewers to consider whether candidates are impressive than to judge whether they can do the job. This, they suggest, is because it is an easier question to answer. But for entrepreneurs hoping to attract venture capital investors (VCs), it is much better to demonstrate how they will deliver success – rather than just seeking to impress.
Wasps are attracted to honeypots by the prospect of sweetness. So it is with VCs. Often, they are looking for the potential for a big pay-out. They will therefore be seeking businesses targeting a substantial, growing market and the ability to scale the business.
Others, however – particularly limited-life venture capital trusts (VCTs) – are looking for different characteristics. They seek lower risk investments where the entrepreneur gives up little or no equity, but can offer some security for a loan and can demonstrate a robust business. Scalability will be less important than reliability.
For this reason, it is important for an entrepreneur seeking investment to identify where their business lies on this risk/reward continuum.
If the business is high risk/high return, it is not going to attract a limited-life VCT investor and may suit a business angel or an early-stage fund. If it is robust, but less scaleable, then a VCT or enterprise investment scheme (EIS) fund may be the better choice.
Most professional investors are capable of sorting “sheep” from “goats” – so presenting your business as one thing when it is another is a waste of everyone’s time.
It is highly frustrating to read investment propositions that do not answer basic questions about how long the business has been going, what its sales and profits (or losses) have been, and who its customers are.
Telling a prospective investor what your sales and profits will be in future is all very well, but most take a jaundiced view of projections. Hiding what you have done up to now will not make your projections credible.
In the VC world, the best way to demonstrate your ability to deliver is: a) to show how you have delivered in the past, perhaps in another job or in your private life; or b) to outline your plans and the credible steps you will take to fulfil them. This will not only impress, but help show that you can do the job.
As a business seeking investment, you also need to research a prospective investor before making an approach. You need to understand what they are looking for. This is easy, as most will tell you on their websites and give examples of their past investments.
Approach the investor with a proposition that meets its criteria and put this across succinctly in a summary.
My particular bugbear is a long-winded business plan in a tiny typeface that does not tell me quickly why I should be interested!
If you can set out a cogent story, and have it put across on your behalf by someone the investor already knows and respects, you are halfway there.
If you can do all of this, you should be able to receive offers – and be in the healthy position of choosing who you want as your partner in growing your business. If you have such a choice, ask for references from previous investee companies before tying yourself to the investor. Remember: the object is not only the investment, but also a good supportive relationship to help build the business.
Graham Shore is a director of the Puma Venture Capital Trusts (limited-life VCTs), St Peter Port Capital (a pre-IPO fund) and their manager Shore Capital Limited. He has been involved in venture capital for over 25 years
Get alerts on Entrepreneurship when a new story is published