From approaching an investor for the first time to maintaining a financial relationship: Mirjam Niessen is the expert when it comes to raising investment. As Impact Investing Principal of DOEN Participaties, the VC arm of the DOEN foundation, she helps impact startups find what they are looking for. We asked her six pressing questions about investments you might have as a fast-growing start-up.
1. My start-up needs more money to enable further developments. What is the right time to raise investment?
‘Raising investment is all about building strong relationships and this does not happen overnight. Start talking to investors well before you are actually looking for an investment. This doesn’t have to be a period of years, just make sure there is enough time for the investor to judge your developments.'
2. What are the steps to get an investment?
‘Usually a logical start is to test a small investment to kickstart your business. This pre-funding can come from either your family or friends, or other people who believe in your concept. One step further are angel investors: individuals that are willing to support start-ups at initial moments and have quite an appetite for risk. If these steps have proved to be successful, it is easier to raise money from more institutionalised investors - which hopefully is the last step.’
3. What is the best way to reach out to an investor?
‘First: do your homework if the investor fits you/you fit with the investor. Check out their website, criteria and their other investments. Do you think it’s a potential match? Get in touch via email or LinkedIn. Send them a strong pitch deck and ask for feedback. Always be responsive and follow up, because this shows you are willing to work together and the investor will feel involved.’
4. As an entrepreneur, should I tell little lies to an investor to make my business look more appealing?
‘No, honesty is the best policy at all times. This means you can definitely be ambitious, but avoid lies! Even small lies can damage your relationship and trust me: the truth will come to light eventually. The relationship between an investor and founder is based on mutual trust, so let’s not put this at stake.’
5. I’m talking to an investor, but I have the feeling it might be a misfit. When should I withdraw?
‘Try to prevent this by asking the mission and terms of the investor early on. We always encourage investors to also do to their due diligence on the investor. Talk to them, their team and their investees or entrepreneurs that worked with them to form your opinion. And ask for references. If you already spot ideals that contradict your own, be honest about this and see if there is still common ground. Of course, red flags can still emerge further on in the investment process. Withdraw immediately if they do. It is a waste of both your time and theirs.
Some entrepreneurs keep their options open by staying in contact with different investors at the same time. This is okay as long as you are open about it. Otherwise it can damage your reliability towards the investors involved.
6. What are common misconceptions about raising investment?
‘One big misconception is that a deal can be made in a short period of time. I usually tell start-ups it will take three to nine months to raise investment. However, they always tell me that it felt like it took way longer. Thus, raising investment is not to be thought of lightly, it can take up a big chunk of your time.
Another common bias that needs to be dismantled is that investors are unapproachable and rude. Many people think they are only in it for the money. This is false: many investors want a fruitful relationship with someone who has a vision. Don’t be scared and just reach out to them.
And of course, DOEN is always willing to help to you expand your impact and connect you to people that support your ambitions.’