The folks at Atrium were kind enough to host me on a panel alongside Justin Kan (Atrium), Zach Perret (Plaid), and Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst) moderated by Lisa Han (Atrium) last night. The topic was about raising Series A, and the audience was primarily seed stage entrepreneurs that would be gearing up for a raise soon.
I was impressed by the contributions of my co-panelists. My favorite moments were:
- After Niko and I waxed on too long about the need for authenticity in pitches from founders and the process of “falling in love” during a pitch, Justin did a great job of deconstructing our words and turning them into practical advice. He advised constantly practicing your story, especially how you communicate your vision. All entrepreneurs have an authentic passion for what they are building, that’s why they endure the masochistic process of building a company in the early years. But, not all entrepreneurs are good at communication, and finding any excuse to practice telling your vision to a friend, colleague, or mentor means that it will come across more cleanly when you tell it to an investor. A pessimist might interpret the advice of aggressive practice as leading to INauthenticity because it will make your pitch too rehearsed, but this is precisely Justin’s (great) point: you can’t be authentic if you aren’t clearly communicating and that will only come with practice, work, and honing.
- I really enjoyed hearing Zach describe the challenges and rejections he had to overcome in raising his seed round for Plaid before getting across the finish line with Spark. From my view at Spark, it was one of the easiest full partnership decisions we have ever made, and I was unaware of what was required from him to give us such a positive impression. It wasn’t until he had really solid, marquee, reference-able customers that he was able to generate enough interest in the company to get the round done, and the perseverance required to get that far on a shoe string budget was very trying.
- The advice from all panelists on the mechanics of running a tight Series A process fit well with my empirical experience with the best run process. Aggressively “product manage” the process. Target specific investors, not just firms. Have you conversations in batch of 4–6 folks at a time so you can get feedback on how the story is resonating and then iterate on the pitch for the next batch. Run through your spreadsheet (or CRM) of investors with a peer or mentor at least weekly to cover all progress updates and next touch points in order to really hold yourself accountable to managing the process. Don’t expect a VC to do something they have not done in the past (so, if you’re raising Series A, don’t pitch a partner that hasn’t led a Series A deal before).
- Lastly, the Q&A was well run. All questions were actually questions and concise. They were challenges real founders were facing at the moment (How does having an international HQ get interpreted by US-based VCs? How should I position or frame paid-pilots in my pitch with regards to revenue traction?), and I felt like we were solving real issues rather than just spitting out platitudes.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to join these smart folks on stage, so a big thank you to Atrium and Lisa Han for organizing and thinking to include myself and Spark.