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Numerous websites exist to assist founders in their search for the right investors. Even so, no single website or tool is comprehensive, complete, or entirely reliable on its own. Private companies and individual investors are not required to disclose investments, so data is limited to those who have deliberately opted for transparency.
One thing you’ll inevitably run into is how poor online data is for classifying what companies actually do—information you’ll need when you’re trying to find investors who invest in your space. People with pocket protectors call this classification “industry taxonomy.” Government agencies use a rigid structure of organizing and labeling business called the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). But startups and venture capitalists tend to use more informal language when describing their companies, like “B2B” (business-to-business) and “media.”
The problem with this kind of linguistic elasticity is that a company selling software to nuclear power plants and a company selling CRM software can both be classified as B2B. Terms like “enterprise software” are used in different ways by different people.
Given the ambiguity, you would be wise to look skeptically at industry classifications of startups and investors’ areas of investment.
Each of these resources has strengths and weaknesses. Most overlap in some areas, but it’s helpful to get familiar with each one. No matter where you’re looking, there are a few standard research questions and tasks you can focus on:
Who has invested in companies in your industry?
Lists of investors sorted by industry.
Looking up companies you know for lists of their investors.
Once you’ve found investors who have invested in companies in your industry, look up their portfolios—on AngelList, Crunchbase, or their website if they have one—to see what other companies they’ve invested in; then look at those companies’ investor lists for investors you haven’t heard of.
Googling for “top [stage] investors in [industry].”
Free or Low-Cost
AngelList. AngelList started as a list of angel investors, but it’s much more than that today. In addition to listing investors, AngelList also offers a startup job board, and enables startups to indicate when they’re raising money. Founders can even complete an entire fundraising transaction with an investor online using AngelList. Some features on AngelList are paid, like their job board, but to access the other features you’ll just need to create a free account.
On AngelList you can find an investor search page where you can sort by syndicate lead, angel, seed fund, and vc. Through their syndicates product, investors can band together to invest in startups directly through the AngelList platform. (While syndicate usually refers to a group of investors investing together, the term on AngelList means something a bit more specific.) Many acceleratorsaccept applications via AngelList.
Crunchbase. One of the best free tools for researching investors’ portfolios of investments. They offer a searchable list with filters that costs a few hundred dollars a year. Crunchbase is great for looking up who has invested in companies you know or admire or that are similar in some way to yours.
Investor websites and blogs. Don’t forget about general searches to find investor portfolio pages, About pages, and blogs from the firm or the firm’s founders or partners.
Blogs are great. Some investors will write directly about what they’re interested in. They’re also a chance for you to get to know the investor. Some investors have sections of their websites that will literally tell founders what kind of companies they’re interested in beyond broad industry labels like “e-commerce.” A good example is Foundry Group’s “Themes.”
Nfx Signal. Nfx is particularly helpful for the second research task listed above, creating lists of investors by industry.
Linkedin. Investors often list board seats and may have robust Linkedin profiles with real information about how they invest.
Shai Goldman. A startup and venture community leader in New York City, Goldman keeps a running list in Google Sheets of venture capital funds below the $200M threshold. It’s a great resource for discovering relatively new funds you may not have heard about yet.
“Top investor” lists. Each year, several different companies publish lists of the “top investors.” Two that are updated annually are Forbes’ “The Midas List” and CB Insights’ “100 Top Venture Capitalists List.” Additionally, lists like the “VC 100,” based on data from 2014, from Entrepreneur.com and PitchBook can help you wrap your head around some of the major players in the industry. Here are a few more:
caution Take these lists with a grain of salt. While many profess to be based on data, their methodologies are always opaque, and industry insiders see them more as PR stunts to get clicks than canonical lists that represent true fund performance.
CB Insights. This resource costs between $4K and $20K a month.* But their primary customer is not founders who are looking to raise venture capital. Their customers are investors and companies who are looking for data on industry trends and harder-to-get data on companies they may be looking to invest in or buy.
PitchBook. PitchBook provides similar data to CB Insights and does not share their pricing publicly. It is rumored to be several thousand dollars a month.* That said, many who have used it or gotten access rave about how helpful it can be. If you can find a friend who has a login, buy them a cup of coffee and check out PitchBook to see if it might be worth the cost for you. They include data like fund size, dry powder (the amount of money in a fund that is uninvested), and what other companies in your space an investor has invested in.
contribute We plan to add more tools to this section—if you have any suggestions please let us know.
Firms like Kapor Capital and Backstage Capital focus their funding on underrepresented founders, and there are many more. Online resources exist to help connect founders to investors who work specifically with underrepresented teams:
The Founders for ChangeDiverse Investors List currently contains information on fund size, sector, stage, and diversity of 400 investment firms.
In 2015, The Information started tracking diversity and information on diverse founders in the top 71 VC firms. They summarized the 2015 data and keep the “Future List” in a consistently updated Google Sheet. If your company is interested in seeking investment from diverse firms, or learning why you might want to, these resources can be very helpful.
contribute Please help! We welcome suggestions from readers of great resources to add to this section.
Tools for Storing Your Data
You’re going to have to collect a significant amount of data on at least 50 people at the top of the funnel. If you’re collecting 5–10 data points per person, that’s 250–500 data points you need to keep track of. A paper record is not your best option for storing all of these data; that’s a lot to risk spilling coffee on. This is where the tools of relationship management can be really helpful.
Most CRM software is built for big organizations to help teams collaborate on deals or communicate sales numbers. The dominant CRM company, Salesforce, employs 30K people to build and sell its software.
For founders sourcing investors for an early-stage company, a tool like Salesforce would be overkill. To run a good fundraising process with relationship management, there are hundreds of possible tools you can use, and many are flexible—it’s just important that you have one. Whichever tool you use, you’ll want to add a column for “stage,” which should refer to your funnel. We recommend keeping your stages simple, like “getting introduced,” “holding meetings,” “negotiations,” and “deal won” or “deal lost.” If you have more stages than that, you’re likely to end up not using them because of how tedious it is to update the records all the time.
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