Eight years ago, getting calls from Venture Capital was exciting. They came in many flavors. The most distasteful wanted to bleed me for information. I was oblivious. Perhaps they funded a competitor to Broadlook and they wanted determine the competitive landscape. Good business sense, bad moral compass.
On the other hand I had some great conversations, where, very early in the conversation I was informed that Broadlook did not match their portfolio requirements. Even though this was the case, they freely spent time giving great advice for a fledgling company. Some of them are my clients today. Like every industry, VC has the good and the bad. A book every VC should read is Blue Ocean Strategy. Yes, sometimes you must bloody the competition and create the red ocean, however, more often than not, there is a blue ocean potential. The lack of seeing the Blue Ocean potential is due to lack of desire, creativity, or core philosophy.
To digress a bit, we once had a team member at Broadlook that stated there is no such thing as win-win negotiating and that there always a loser. Myopic Idiocy. He left. We are better for it. I now ask more philosophical interview questions when adding team members. One of my mantras when interviewing and coaching other team members to interview is this: First determine who someone is and then and only then what they know. Translation: no pricks allowed at Broadlook.
Fast forward to today. When a Venture Capitalist calls, I am still excited. When I say VC in this article, I’m lumping in Venture Capital, Private Equity and Investment Banks together. Each have their place and focus, but the outreach tends to be very similar. I guess I should set the stage. Today, Broadlook has steadily grown for 8 years, sometimes a modest 15-20% and sometimes 200-300% in a given year.
Broadlook started in 2002 and self funded without any outside investment. Our team members are proud of our accomplishments and we have fun doing our jobs. We have talented people in all areas and we are continuing our growth path. Broadlook has thousands of clients and is starting to be recognized as the defacto “high bar” (not standard) for company and contact data for sales and recruitment. (I don’t say “standard” because what is accepted as “standard” from traditional data vendors is Zombie Data*). Broadlook is not, and will not tie itself to any single CRM vendor (Jigsaw is now salesforce), we are agnostic to all systems that may hold the data our technology provides.
*Zombie Data is data that is dead, but still making walking around (D&B, InfoUSA, etc)
Over ninety five percent of Broadlook’s sales are from incoming calls, emails or client referrals. We just hired our person in Marketing. It’s a good place to be in. We are still very humble and realize that there is much more work to do. Broadlook is not actively looking for Venture Capital, but we receive many inquires, thus I wrote this article.
Why not take VC? I didn’t say we would never take it. The approach we take is this. We know that there will be a point that there will be a tremendous market opportunity with a limited window to execute; we must scale quickly if we want to capitalize. The age old question is how much of the company to give up in order to have the investment? The age old dilemma for the entrepreneur.
Over the last three years, as Broadlook was noticed in the market, we’ve had increased outreach from VC firms. Along the way, I learned; somewhere in that journey I realized that VC’s needed our technology for their internal due diligence process. I learned what research associates at VC firms did. It was an interesting turning point. It changed the nature of the conversation from a one way discovery call into a real conversation. Today, Broadlook powers VC firms with technology that fundamentally changes the due diligence research process.
They have been great clients. Some of the absolute smartest people coming out of the best Universities and go to work for these firms. Bright people early in their career who absolutely “get” what Broadlook does. I like people who get it.
Yes, this is a unique position to be in, but what was the *real* change in how I took those calls? How can someone else that is not in Broadlook’s position get the most out of an outreach from a VC? Read on. I am sharing my learning process and my stumbles.
The reality is that a more experienced executive (yes, I consider myself fledgling) would have entered the conversation with a greater level of equivalence. Venture Capitalists are typically very smart. They go right for the heart and will chew you up and spit you out to get the information they want. I’m basically a nice guy. I’m still a nice guy, but now, after many calls that ended up in one-way conversations, I’ve established a set of rules for talking with VC’s.
1. Quality outreach
The best outreaches by VC’s that I have seen have come through referrals. A mutual connection that can attest to the quality of an individual. An email that looks like a form letter should get ignored. This is my weak point… while I know I should ignore it, I usually write back and let them know how poor their outreach was. Since I teach classes on how to use the Internet to make a quality outreach, I can’t help myself.
When the conversation starts and they only want to know your revenue, remind them that they called you. Remind them they need to sell you first, and then there is no guarantee that you will be interested. If if gets to the point of sharing confidential information, if they won’t sign an NDA…stop. Think. If they don’t want to sign one because they are making investments in your space, ask them for specifics. This is all the more reason to sign an NDA. If they are really interested, they can customize and NDA with specificity to protect both parties. If they flatly refuse, remember, you are more unique than they are.
3. DWYSYWD; Do what you say you will do. To be a liar you need to have a perfect memory. If you slow down the process of discussion over several conversations, you have the chance to observe behavior. If the VC outreach is of the class “Drain you for information”, he will have plenty of rope to hang himself. The best VC’s will disqualify you openly if you do not meet their criteria. I have had my share of liars calling. Conversely, I regularly talk to VC’s that long ago disqualified Broadlook for not being a fit.
4. Revenge. In a fun way. Keep track of VC’s that were pricks. Watch which companies they invest in. When you have the chance, take extra pleasure in winning business from those companies. If the portfolio tanks, send a nice “thanks for the motivation” card. Recruit their analysts. Robin Hood!
Missing an analyst? Ever wonder why that analyst left? Does it seem like you keep losing them after they are trained?
Yeah that’s right… it was me *#&%!
(You should have been nicer.)
Will Broadlook take VC/Private Equity/Investment Capital? My answer: Absolutely! Some day. Will any potential investor run the other way when they read this? Hopefully not the ones with a sense of humor. Every industry knows the good and the bad within itself. I’m trying to kill 2 birds here. Share a bit, prepare a bit.
This is not a soliciation for capital. While I may chase away potential future investors, I won’t have to search through my email to send my engagement criteria to reply to the next canned outreach.
Broadlook’s Venture Capital Engagement Criteria
1. Do your homework. I guarantee I will talk to any VC that takes the time to at least review our website, bad as it is, there is a good deal of information there. Read this blog: 11 rules to sell to me
2. Don’t have a first year analyst call unless they are brilliant. Remember, I may recruit them. If they sound like they are going through a checklist when talking to me, they are not ready. That can be cured for $10,000 and a one day training session.
3. Demo. Take a demo of our technology. If you don’t get it or don’t like it. We are not a match. When Broadlook takes capital, there is a high likelyhood it will be from one of our clients. Include a decision maker on the presentation. If this is not acceptable, there is not reason for us to talk.
- You have no idea what Broadlook does (think iceberg)
- You have never seen anything like it
4. Portfolio. If you invest in grain elevators you probably don’t have the connections, expertise and potential adivsors to help a software company making the transition to SaaS. Show us high tech. Show us software that scaled from 5 to 8 to 50 million.
5. Enthusiasm. Money is easy. Thus far we are a lifestyle company where people love coming into work every day. Show us passion for building great companies.
6. Contribution. aka Smart money. People, people, people. Who can be brought to the table in stategic positions as well as an advisory capacity? While a marketing person that ran a billion $ division from IBM may sound like a great idea, it is not…not yet.
7. Ideas. What markets can Broadlook’s technology be leveraged…that we haven’t thought of yet?
8. I don’t work on Isaac Asimov’s Birthday
9. As long as I work at the company. The dog(s) stay.