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How to raise venture capital for your startup regardless of market conditions

June 15, 2022, 10:56 AM UTC
Founders with sustainable business models and strategic advantages need to embrace perpetual turbulence as they plan for funding rounds in 2022 and beyond.
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There’s no way around it: We’re in a bear market, and layoffs are hitting startups across sectors. Even though many investors are sitting on freshly raised funds, VC purse strings have tightened.

At Canvas, we take an optimistic but measured view that capital will continue funneling to startups and founding teams that have what it takes to enter, then lead in the market that power the global economy like marketplaces, fintech, and healthcare. 

For early-stage startups, we see VC continuing to be accessible and approachable–especially if you know the right people, do your homework, and can prove product-market fit. For Series C and beyond, we see the impending economic situation making fundraising more difficult–but not impossible. 

Regardless of whether or not a recession emerges or another tech bubble bursts, there are questions that every startup should ask and answer prior to approaching any VC firm as fundraising kicks off. 

What kind of company are we?

In addition to developing elevator pitches and pitch decks with authentic metrics, founders need to spend significant time defining what kind of company they are or want to become. It’s a key–and commonly underappreciated–part of the prospecting process: surveying the VC landscape and pinpointing investors who might be interested in what a startup is selling or innovating. 

While outside advisors and other VCs can help shape the market view, founders hold the keys to conveying how their companies are unique, different, or simply better than any others. Then, they can begin charting strategic advantages, main competitors, product roadmaps, and market dynamics.

When should I start talking to VCs?

In short, the earlier the better. If founders wait until the fundraising process to begin connecting with VCs, they’re far behind the curve. But the expectation that a VC will participate in a round or sign a term sheet shouldn’t arise until the formal process kicks off. In other words, founders need to be intentional but play it cool until the time comes to approach potential investors for real money.

Months and years before that, founders should look for opportunities to seek advice from, not pitch, a handful of investors. They should take opportunities to chat with investors informally–whether this takes the form of coffee, drinks or a chance meeting at a friend’s house or conference. Building relationships with VCs can lead to helpful advice, actual investments, and connections to more relevant (or, frankly, more interested) VCs. 

Who will be my champion? 

A big lesson from my own pre-VC days as a co-founder and operator at Stitcher: Even though you develop a relationship with a VC, a fellow founder, or a seasoned advisor respected by the VC community, you shouldn’t take too much stock in your own perception of whether or not they like you. The best way to solve that challenge in the pre-active fundraising phase is to continuously prove your vision and keep expectations off the table for as long as possible. 

Once a founder has developed a strong bond and the VC, fellow founder, or seasoned advisor is ready to help them network, it’s time for the real work to begin. As the fundraising process starts, ask this champion who believes in you and your startup to connect you with VCs that are vetted and have confirmed their interest in your startup’s market. The next best thing to securing a meeting with a VC on your own is leveraging a champion who will provide a glowing testimony to potential investors. 

Whether or not it’s clear who that might be isn’t important. Securing a champion and getting to a place where they feel comfortable participating in the networking process ahead of an intro VC meeting is what counts. 

If a clear champion isn’t possible, look for fellow founders in your broader network who have secured funding from the ideal VC or, at the very least, have worked with them in some capacity in the past. If that is not an option, move on to asking a respected VC or founder from outside of the ideal VCs circle to help you cold email them. This should be a last resort– but it beats solo cold emailing or waiting months, if not years, until that person who could help get VC meetings emerges.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to fundraising

With unpredictable market fluctuations, VC investment receding, and inflation soaring, there’s never been a better time to put your best foot forward as a funding-hungry startup. 

Powerful companies such as Airbnb, Uber, WhatsApp, Slack, and others were forged during market downturns. Founders with similarly sustainable business models and strategic advantage(s) need to accept perpetual turbulence as they plan for funding rounds in 2022 and beyond.

Regardless of your fundraising approach, it’s vital to ask and answer the above questions to secure investments and a future for your company.

Mike Ghaffary is a general partner at Canvas Ventures, where he invests in innovation for consumers and software. Previously, he was a partner at Social Capital, co-founder and VP of business development of Stitcher, VP of business and corporate development at Yelp, and director of business development at TrialPay.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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