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New business ventures require funding, and quite often, that funding comes from external sources like early stage investors or private equity (PE) firms. It’s crucial to be well-prepared for meetings with potential investors. Savvy investors look for more than just a polished pitch deck; they look for passion and knowledge. They look for clarity of purpose, with a well-developed plan to achieve it. As an entrepreneur and now head of my own investment firm, I’ve been on both sides of the table. Here are the five key questions you’ll need to prepare for.
1. What is your product or service?
Your product is more than just a product. It represents your quest to change your industry. Investors appreciate that entrepreneurs are on a mission to make changes. Yet, all too often, entrepreneurs allow themselves to be distracted. They discuss every conceivable facet of their product or service. Yes, you should have all of that information at your fingertips.
However, the investor also wants you to be able to succinctly share the story of your company in under five minutes. If you’re unable to offer a concise elevator pitch, then you’re likely overthinking your ideas. Ensure that your elevator pitch explains why your product is better than similar offerings already on the market. Your pitch should reflect your clarity of purpose as well as your plan and process to build your vision.
2. Who is on your team?
As an entrepreneur who has navigated numerous investor meetings in search of funding for my dreams, my team was certainly important to me. However, I wished I’d known how important it was for potential investors as well. Quite often, entrepreneurs preparing for these meetings spend too much of their prep time thinking about the market potential of their product and not nearly enough time reflecting upon their team.
Investors need to know that the management team behind the product is skilled, knowledgeable and competent. Investors also want to know that the management team is cohesive. Every investor can tell you stories about in-fighting among founders, which inevitably portends difficulties for the company. Prepare to talk about how long the management team has worked together and how the team handles disagreements. When I meet with entrepreneurs, I want to see a team that is deeply and authentically committed to their vision.
Related: 6 Steps to Build a Strong Team
3. What are your obstacles?
This is one question entrepreneurs sometimes neglect to prepare for. Investors don’t only want to hear about your initial successes. They also want to hear about your obstacles and early setbacks. Prepare to discuss the strategies you used to overcome these obstacles. After an early failure, did you dust yourself off, stand back up and tackle the problem head-on?
As an investor, I like to see that entrepreneurs are flexible enough to navigate the obstacles that all early stage and growth companies face. However, I also want to know that entrepreneurs won’t obsess over these obstacles. The most successful entrepreneurs maintain a laser focus on their goals, and they’ll do what it takes to continually drive the team and the business toward those objectives.
4. Who are your competitors?
One of the things I wished I’d known as an entrepreneur was the importance of showing command of your business and market by thoroughly understanding your competitors. Investors love unicorns — those business ventures that are truly disruptive. Yet, no matter how disruptive your company is, you will have competitors. If you lack in-depth knowledge of your competitors, as well as your markets and opportunities, your credibility may be called into question. You should be prepared to explain how your company and product are different from and better than each competitor. Give concrete details, because investors look for specifics rather than vague claims. Offer the investors a roadmap that explains how your company will pull ahead of the competition.
Related: 5 Tips for Navigating the Entrepreneur/Investor Relationship
5. What are your financials and how is your business model structured?
Before heading into a meeting with potential investors, you must remind yourself of the investors’ goals. Each time an investor funds a new business venture, they expect a healthy return on investment. Because of that, you should be prepared to discuss your business model and financial information at length. Bring your monthly financial plan for the first 18 months, as well as your strategic plan that forecasts your quarterly financial model for at least the next three years. Be mindful of the points on every investor’s checklist: business potential, market size, uniqueness of the product suite and potential returns.
Research each investor meticulously
One other thing I wished I’d known as an entrepreneur was that it’s equally as important for entrepreneurs to assess investment partners as it is for investors to assess entrepreneurs and their vision. New entrepreneurs, in particular, tend to be blinded to this, as securing funding is so crucial for forward momentum. Yet, finding the wrong investment partner can be worse than not finding one at all. You need an investment partner who is inspired by your dream, who will be supportive and collaborative and who will share your belief in the possibilities.
To that end, do your due diligence. You should research potential investors carefully to determine whether they could be a good fit before scheduling a meeting. This will also help you make a good impression. It’s beneficial to tie in some aspect of the pitch to an investor’s background, if possible. For instance, if the investor has a history of backing eco-friendly business ventures, you could explain how your own business fits that mold, if applicable.
Related: 5 Things Investors Look for in Your Pitch
It takes a lot of work to prepare adequately for meetings with potential investors. While you’re hammering out the details of your business model, financials and competitors, don’t forget about the intangibles that investors look for: passion, vision and clarity of purpose with an actionable plan to achieve your mission.