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At Infinite Ventures, we have more than 70 mentors and investors. During the founding batch of our accelerator, we realised that creating a system that connects 70 mentors to 5 startups can get pretty messy. We did a couple of things right, and many others wrong — but somehow it worked. A major factor that contributed to the system’s effectiveness was that we had a robust way to update the investors about our portfolio companies.
I am constantly amazed how many early stage companies fail to do this. You can do all the validation tests and marketing campaigns to acquire tonnes of users, but the most underrated skill of a startup CEO is knowing how to keep your investors engaged and excited.
Remember, as Dharmesh Shah puts it, ‘As a CEO, your first customers are your investors.’
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Why you should send your investors with regular updates than just meeting them a year once when you need to get your paperwork signed?
- Updates are a way for the founders to stay accountable to their investors and it acts as a tool for the founders to reflect on their progress (or the lack of). When you are busy managing the daily grind of your business, the macro perspective will often escape your mind. Hence, sitting down to create these updates will make you more diligent about taking a step back to evaluate your growth and future management strategies.
- You never know if your current startup might fail and you will end up doing another startup. It helps to show that you respect the investor’s contribution to your business as investors rarely re-invest in an entrepreneur that they don’t approve of.
- It saves you lots of time. Say, you have five investors, it can easily take more than 10 hours per month to update through a call. Most investors will go off tangent during these calls and end up talking at length. The email will take you 2 hours at most. (I’ll show you how to do it in less than 30 minutes below!)
- Investors understand that you are doing your best to build the next biggest startup. It’s obvious that they believe that you are fit for the job as they departed from their hard earned cash for your company. Hence, the least you can do is keep them in the loop and informed about what’s going on with their investment. They shouldn’t have to ask.
- Informed investors are generally happier investors who will be more than willing to invest more money if you need incremental cash provided that they acknowledge your progress and the request for cash doesn’t come as a shock. (pretty girl analogy in razd)
- Early stage investors are well aware 99 out of 100 companies they invest will fail. They primary goal behind investing is to be involved in the fun of building a startup, not for huge returns. Hence, many investors love doing all sorts of ‘favours’ for their portfolio companies. By including specific call to action in your updates, you might be able to get your investors to help you with some introduction to a potential customer or a future hire. I have seen startups who go as far as asking the investor to demo products, review slide decks and maybe even get the opinions on the resume of potential hires.
- It’s a huge pain to read a 10 pager document. Avoid them at all cost.
- It’s advised to use more charts and growth matrices than using words.
- In order to keep it relevant and short, I suggest to send these updates on a monthly basis.
- Create a gmail group and mail the whole group. Most investors will only reply you (and not cc others). If they do reply all, just keep it that way as it helps to answer everyone. The rationale is that if one of them as a doubt, the others might have the same doubt as well.
- Limit to the things that you feel important. Don’t bore them with unnecessary information.
- You need to have a constantly updated excel sheet that tracks the health of the startup. Any founder who doesn’t have this is not doing his/her job well. (what you measure, you improve.)
- Of course, sharing wins feels good. Share the good and the bad as both of these are facts and helps the investors to advise you better, don’t hide the ugly truths under the rug. Be pragmatic, transparent, and simple in your updates. Don’t sugar coat anything.
- Your updates can go out to more than just your investors. Include your advisors, mentors or whoever that will appreciate these updates.
How to make these updates in less than 30 minutes?
The key is to have a working template. It saves time and allows your investors to get used to your template, hence, making them more likely to read and reply.
This is the dashboard that we advise our startups to use. It forces you to make everything concise as you don’t have much space to work with and it’s a single page long.
The highlighted part will be included in the email with the rest of the dashboard included as an attachment in your email.
Let’s see an example of this dashboard made for an imaginary startup called Infinite Drive.
Notes on the template:
Most investors will have more than 20 companies in their portfolio, with some extreme ones (e.g. 500 startup) will have more than 1000+ in their portfolio. Hence, it helps to remind them of who are you and which funding/accelerator batch you belong to.
Most will not include this part, but it’s a huge help for investors to be able to have the number and email of the founders in your update. If they need more info, and it’s urgent, the will make a call directly to the relevant person.
It’s also important to make sure that you attach your picture next to your name to make sure they can attach a face to the name. Most investors are not good with names, but they are better with faces. Hence, it helps to remind them who is in the core team of your startup. In the case you have more than 4 founders, just include the ones that are relevant for the current update. You can change this as you go along.
This is something that I learned from my time at Barclays London. If you are making a report/update/dashboard, you must be able to capture the most vital parts of it in a 2 by 1 box.
The first box here will be used to update on your startup’s most important number that you track. It should be your startup’s true north and if you have no idea what number is this and the whole company is not updated with the progress of this number, you are probably way off track.
Most investors will opt to read this part and your ask (later — see below).
I lead with the worst (i.e. the elephant) in the room, instead of starting with something delightful. When you report something that’s a problem, it’s advised to follow this format
(problem)+(possible cause + your assumptions if any)+ (steps being taken to handle it) + (request for any advice if needed)
On the flip side, if you are talking about something that’s good, report it in this way:
(progress) + (impact on the bottomline)
The budget update is very important for an early stage startup as investors are more concern of misspending and running out of cash. So, start with your runway, then report you revenue (if you are pre revenue, you can talk about the results of the monitization methods that you are testing out) and your fundraising timeline.
The ask is the most important part of your report. Most startups will fail to do this, and then, say that their investors are passive. (On a side note: don’t bitch about your investors. sooner or later, they will come to know about it and it will end up bad for you!)
When you do an ask, make it as specific as possible and provide all the info needed for them to help you with it. Don’t expect your (busy) investors to do the work of figuring out how to help you, instead tell them specifically how best to help you e.g. give them the specific link to share, the specific PDF intro deck to use for replies, etc.
The leaderboard is a way to gamify and motivate those who are helping you. Behaviourally, when an investor is named in the leaderboard, they will be more keen to help next time as it positions them as the ‘helpful one’ within their peer circle. This is awesome as most investors wouldn’t like losing to the other investors.
Your updates are a great way to introduce any of your new hires. Most investor will send a welcome note to the new staff and will introduce themselves.
The operational matrices will not be included in your email (see below for an example)
It will only be included in the attachment. Investors will only look at this if they believe that there is an issue with your startup or they are into details. You can list anything that you would like to report here. Just make sure that it’s still concise and you are not including any vanity matrices.
This is an ask masked as a report. Here you can highlight any trend that you would like to get more insights from the investors. More of than not, most investors would advise on the strategies that you can employ. If you notice, I have included some clear asks here for advice. This is interesting for the investors as it makes them more involved in your startup.
Please include this to make sure that you are protected if it gets circulated.
You can also include the tag FYEO (for your eyes only) in the title of your email to remind the investors.
Subject: (FYEO) July 2015 Investor Update
We have some exciting updates about Infinite Drive here:
July 2015 Progress Update
Total Paying Customer: 23.1k (increase by 7% m-o-m) Cash Left: RM0.8mil (runway till Dec 2015)
- The paying customer growth has slowed down to a single digit (7%). This was due to poor communication and work from our marketing head. Hence, we have hired a new marketing head that will be increasing our marketing efforts through social media and SEO.
- We got multiple mentions from popular media such as TechCrunch, Mashable and TechinAsia. (brought in 73k visits within the last one week).
- We closed a new deal with Company X that allows us to become their preferred cloud storage management partner (increasing paid customers by 2k in the next 2 months)
- Our enterprise platform is on track for completion by end of August and we are running test runs with 2 partners now.
- We have lost our startup promotion deal with Paypal since our total users number has gone beyond the 100k tier of the promotion. (increasing our monthly expenses by RM2k).
- Cash situation: We have RM 0.8 million cash in hand, which translates to a runway till end of this year.
- Breakeven/Revenue growth: Revenue has been growing steadily month on month. With our recent update of pricing, we have seen a higher conversion from trial accounts to paid accounts (RM1.2mil revenue till year-to-date)
- Fundraising timeline: We are a month away from raising a RM2.5mil series A round. The round should last us for another year and we are looking at US venture capitals for the funding.
The Asks (Thank You!) Our monthly requests, do let us know if you need more information to better help us.
- Please tweet/share our press articles (link, link, link)
- Connect us to investors from Benchmark Capital as we be starting our fundraising round in August.
- Anyone has any connections within Paypal that we can get in touch with to lower our merchant fees? Would you like to test run our enterprise platform?
Acknowledgements/leaderboard from last month: Thank you for Mark Cuban for introducing us to company Y (hence, owning the leaderboard!)
More detailed dashboard is available here: Link
Don’t hesitate to reply if you need more clarification on anything. Thanks!
CEO of Infinite Drive
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