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When investors are evaluating early-stage companies, there is generally very little historical information on the company, so the entrepreneur building the company becomes a very large part in an investor’s decision making. Beyond just telling your personal and company story in a compelling way over email or in person, you need to ensure that all of the data points an investor collects on you and your company are professional and consistent, online and offline.
These data points come together to create a first impression of your personal and professional brands. Honing all aspects of your personal and corporate brands will help you package yourself and the way you’d like your company to be perceived. A big part of fundraising is optics. Strong brands can help establish credibility and show off your attention to detail, your ability to build connections and community, and your professionalism.
In this post, I will cover what investors look at when they get an email from you, and how you can ensure you’re making the best possible first impression.
Try to avoid using a personal email address when pitching, unless it’s to a personal friend. And never, ever use a hotmail address.
When you contact an investor for the first time, you can be sure that they will be looking at more than just the content of your email (your elevator pitch and pitch deck). Investors will also pay attention to the email address you are sending your message from and your signature. After reading your email, if they are intrigued, they are likely to visit your company website, your LinkedIn page, your AngelList profile, and your social media profiles. They may also Google you and/or your company, looking for videos or recent media.
Everything an investor encounters relating to you and your company come together to create their first impression of your personal and company brands. Not having a personal or corporate presence online is better than having a bad one, but it will not do you any favours in the fundraising process.
It is so easy to make sure you have a strong consistent online presence, and yet so many entrepreneurs completely forget to look at their online presence through an investor’s eyes before they get started. So, to make sure you don’t get burned by a bad online presence, let’s look at six ways to clean up your online brands, personally and professionally, before you set out on the fundraising trail.
Fully complete your LinkedIn profile. Collect references, get your number of connections over 500 (the highest number of connections LinkedIn will list), write a strong bio, list your current company as your current role, and include past experience. Note that a LinkedIn page that doesn’t show you or key members of your team working on the current company will be a red flag. In the past, I’ve been pitched by entrepreneurs whose Linkedin profiles showed them still working at another company or on another startup, with no mention of the company I was being pitched on. Particularly when the startup is out of stealth mode, that type of inconsistency can make an investor doubt an entrepreneur’s commitment to the company.
URL and email
There is nothing worse than a long, hard to pronounce URL, or one with a bad extension (like .net or .ca for a business trying to serve a global consumer market). Try to get a .com for your company. A strong URL will get investors to take you more seriously. Once you have a great domain, set up a company email address if you aren’t already using one, and add a professional signature to your emails including your phone number and role in the company.
Try to avoid using a personal email address when pitching, unless it’s to a personal friend. Your personal email address lacks the polish and professionalism of a corporate email address. And never, ever use a hotmail address.
Secure Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts for your company. Be active on your various social accounts, both personally and professionally. Investors will understand if a technical member of the team is not active on social media. But if your head of marketing or CEO have incomplete social profiles or little to no activity — or if a launch company has dead feeds — it will be a red flag.
Using something like Hootsuite to schedule tweets or Facebook posts for your company will help you stay on top of this if it’s not something that comes naturally to you.
If your company is launched, you should make sure that there is recent, credible media for interested investors. If your company isn’t launched, recent media of yourself, your team, and your past accomplishments can also lend to credibility. Investors want to back a rocketship, something everyone is talking about.
Make sure your company website is slick. If your company is launched, the quality of your site and its design will signal to investors the quality of your product. Design is incredibly important. Invest in design — from your logo to your website to the skinning of your social pages. Investors will be judging your design sense at every turn. A well-designed brand shows that you would likely design a strong product, whereas poor design or an inconsistent brand shows that you would likely have a poor product design as well.
Investors will be understanding of pre-launch companies that don’t have live websites, but even in that case, they should still have a super slick “coming soon” page. (GoDaddy coming soon pages are very amateur.)
Beyond just your company website, consider your personal website as well. In this day and age, a personal website can be a good way to instantly up your personal brand. Squarespace is an easy, beautiful site builder that can get you up and running in no time. In a time crunch, About.me can also work. Ensure your personal website includes your role at the company.
Finally, invest in a photoshoot of yourself and your team. It’s amazing what a few professionally-done photos can do for your online image. You can instantly go from looking like you don’t have a very put together online image, to looking like you have your stuff figured out. Take the half a day needed to do it right, hire a photographer, and give yourself and your company profile pic upgrades!
Editor’s Note: Part of this entry is an excerpt from Katherine Hague’s new book – Funded: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Your First Round. The book is now available through O’Reilly Media.
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Photo via Huffington Post