In my last post, I talked about how to write an email requesting an investor intro, but I didn’t talk about whom you should ask.
tl;dr – in order, the strongest referrals to investors come from:
- Portfolio founders who have raised recently from that investor (i.e. not enough bad stuff has happened at their company to make the investor disillusioned w/ the entrepreneur) OR past portfolio founders who have made the investor money
- Investors in your company
- Personal connections
- Other investors / founders / former colleagues of theirs (note: exercise caution here)
When I was raising money for LaunchBit and I wanted to reach investor John Doe, I used LinkedIn to see who knew him. Very often, I was a 2nd degree connection to John Doe through a number of people including:
- Investor Billy Bob – someone I’d just pitched; jury still out on whether he’d fund LaunchBit
- Entrepreneur Sarah Smith – someone I’d known for years who is really nice
- Entrepreneur Erlich Bachmann – a well-known entrepreneur whom I’d met once at a startup party
- Investor Christine Tsai – an investor in LaunchBit whom I’d known for years and even worked together with at Google
- Entrepreneur Jane Do – an entrepreneur whom I’d met a couple times before at various startup circles and had just raised money from John Doe
Who is best to ask for a referral?
Obviously, this situation wasn’t super ideal. In an ideal world, my best friend would be a super successful entrepreneur who would know John Doe and could make an intro, but when you’re asking for potentially hundreds of investor intros – yes hundreds (more on that later), this is not going to be the case a lot of the time.
The seemingly obvious person here is Christine Tsai because she’s known me for quite a while and also invested in LaunchBit. I could ask her. You certainly should leverage existing investors. So, I’d ask Christine.
But, Christine is also an investor and pings potential co-investors all the time about deals, so what is the weight of her recommendation? In fact, to a certain extent, it’s her job to sell her companies to downstream investors…so will LaunchBit stand out to John Doe amidst all her other referrals?
I should probably also get a second intro in parallel in case Christine takes a long time to do this intro AND as a way to stand out once her email hits John’s inbox. If he sees a couple of people mentioning my company, that would remind him about us.
Investor Billy Bob
I definitely shouldn’t pick Billy Bob. Even though I’ve talked with him most recently, I don’t know yet what he thinks about LaunchBit. I don’t know if he’d be an advocate, and I’m not sure if he’d recommend us. In fact, if he and John Doe were to discuss the deal, they could both end up talking each other out of it, as often happens when investors get together. Ideally, they should come to their own independent conclusions about my company.
I could ping Sarah, since she’s always been super helpful and nice to me. But, I should find out first how she knows John. Did she pitch John and did he say no to her company? Just because John and Sarah are connected via LinkedIn, I’m not sure what John thinks of Sarah, so a recommendation from her may or may not be a positive signal.
I haven’t talked with Erlich in years and only met him once at a party. Like Sarah, I don’t know what John thinks of Erlich and vice-versa. Since Erlich is successful, chances are that John respects him professionally on some level. However, I’ll need to pitch Erlich and sell Erlich first on LaunchBit before talking with John, and since it’s been years since I’ve spoken with him, that might be tough. Erlich is probably not my first go-to person after Christine if I have a choice, but he could be a last resort.
Finally, there’s Jane, who just raised money from John. Based on that signal alone, I know that John thinks highly of Jane and is still really excited about her business. Like Erlich, I would need to sell Jane first on LaunchBit so that she could sell John on meeting with me. Note: you are always selling – even if someone isn’t an investor! They can often help you sell your company to investors or other great contacts. Even though Jane isn’t famous, she’s a much better person to get a referral from over Erlich because I already know that John not only respects Jane for her work, he’s so committed that he invested in her work.
In this situation, I would ping Christine and in parallel, also ping Jane to discuss with her briefly about whether she thinks it makes sense for me to connect with John about LaunchBit and whether she can help me with that introduction.
Getting investor intros is a game of hustle that often takes a long time. Approach the best people who can help sell your company and whom an investor thinks highly of. Approach multiple people. And always be selling – even to people who are not investors.