How to Contact a Mentor or Angel Investor …with Success
It took me a while to agree to meet with him.
His first contact was an email. Out of the blue, with no connection to any organization or anyone I know. And it didn't have anything in it about him or his company. I didn't even answer it.
Then another email. This time he referenced being a member of Atlanta Tech Village. In this email, he again asked for a meeting. This time I wrote back.
"Tell me a little bit about your professional background. And then tell me about your idea for this startup," I wrote.
I thought, "I bet I never hear from him again."
A few days later, he wrote back thoroughly, answering my request. His professional background and the idea seemed to be an interesting match.
So I responded, "Give me an overview of the company you envision building."
This time he wrote back within twenty-four hours. He wrote a three paragraph response. He included a bit of how he came to this idea and the three services he would offer to his identified market.
I wrote back, "In a startup, you have to choose one product to start with; which of the three services you listed is most needed by your market and you are most qualified to deliver?"
Within six hours, he wrote back to me. His answer was again three paragraphs long and well thought through. It impressed me that he was serious about starting this company and serving this market.
I wrote back and gave him a couple of times to meet. We met a week later.
The exchange I described above ended in a meeting. It ended in a meeting because the entrepreneur slowly built credibility with me while building a relationship. Here is what he did.
Cold call = no answer
I've been "cold called" by entrepreneurs asking for mentoring and potential investment for years. The majority of the time, I don't even answer the email. It is just too easy to send an email. The entrepreneur has done no research on me. They don't know my background, interests, past investments, connections, or affiliations. They have no hook, except they know I am an angel investor. So why would I respond to their cold call? I see this email as more of a cattle call than a qualified call for help.
The entrepreneur then referenced his affiliation with Atlanta Tech Village. He indicated he is a member. This first-time entrepreneur is spending his own money to be around other entrepreneurs. To learn from them and be inspired by them. To listen to their ideas and vet the quality of his idea against their idea. To understand the stages of idea development they've been through. To see first-hand the battle scars from pursuing product-market fit.
His professional background and the idea matched.
Startups must start generating revenue as soon as possible. To do this, the entrepreneur must have a nose for product-market fit. And the key to quickly getting to product-market fit is the entrepreneur's experience in the market they intend to serve. The less experience they have in their intended market, the longer it takes to get to a fit. The longer it takes to get to product-market fit, the more unlikely the startup will survive this process. After all, no product-market fit means no revenue, which means there is no business. And mentors and angels want to be involved with entrepreneurs working on a business.
He thought the idea through to a vision of something initially too big. But at least he was thinking about it in some detail.
First-time entrepreneurs sometimes propose an idea so broad-based that there is no one place to gain traction. They haven't yet built the first product, but they are already thinking about multiple products. They are, in effect, trying to boil the ocean.
Over the years, the successful entrepreneurs I worked with saw a problem in a market and aimed to solve it. They envisioned a very specific product. While doing this, a couple of things happened. First, they realized the problem they started to solve was not the real problem. The market was not willing to pay to solve the problem they discovered as it wasn't that big a deal to live with it. But during these meaningful conversations, they found the real problem. This is the first pivot. And this pivot is the first step to revenue. The pivot demonstrates that the entrepreneur has shifted from I know best to the market. And this is the beginning of a successful business.
He was patient enough to answer each request. And with each email, he built the foundation for a meaningful relationship.
Mentoring, primarily angel investing, must be grounded in a meaningful relationship. By meaningful, I mean mutually beneficial. The test for a meaningful relationship for me is this: Am I looking forward to our next meeting?
And mutually beneficial doesn't have to mean economically beneficial for the mentor or angel, although it often does. It could simply mean the mentor or angel sees the experienced advice he is giving is appreciated by the entrepreneur. The mentor walks away from the meeting feeling fulfilled. The entrepreneur walks away from the meeting with a clear next step. This is mutually beneficial.
Business is all about relationships. Mentoring is all about relationships. Angel investing done right, in my experience, is all about relationships. If you get these early on relationships right with your mentors and potential angel investors, there is a good chance you'll get your business relationships right, too.