No matter how many rounds you raise, fundraising is always nerve-wracking for early founders. Perfecting your narrative, researching investors, strategically scheduling meetings, and building a compelling pitch deck all require significant time, commitment, and creativity.
We recently went through all this again at Decent during our latest round of fundraising. After raising a seed round of $8M in 2018, we successfully raised our Series A in September 2020—in the thick of Covid-19. Here are some of the lessons I learned during our Series A raise, and how we looked to DocSend to help us perfect our pitch.
Check your ego and leverage those that support you
It can be extremely tempting to treat fundraising like a big performance—you’re on stage and the investors are your audience. But founders need to recognize that this is a faulty premise. Don’t let the excitement and anxiety get the best of you – don’t silo yourself during this process. Your community and peers are your biggest allies.
Make it easy on yourself. Don’t hesitate to get help and have open, transparent conversations with your family and friends about what to expect during the process.
Take the time you need to truly make your pitch materials sing before you take meetings with new investors. Pick a handful of people you trust, family, friends and founder peers alike, and workshop your deck and story until it shines.
“Spend money on your pitch deck design and editing. This is your startup resume—don’t lose out because you missed a typo.”
Don’t only ask for help but make it easy for people to help you. If you’re looking for a warm intro, draft the email you want people to send on your behalf. People have good intentions but are super busy. Here’s what I did:
“Hey John, my friend Nick isn’t raising yet, but his startup, Decent, is getting traction and you may want an early look. A blurb on their business is below. Want an intro?”
Above all, set clear expectations with your team and the people you love. Fundraising is hard. It is, and should be, all-consuming. You’re not going to be as accessible or have much time for anything else. Have those honest conversations with the people close to you so they understand what you’re working on and how it’s going to impact your time and relationships.
Investors want to see more than numbers
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about fundraising is one I learned quickly during this last round: investors want to see more than good numbers. Compared to a seed round, investors are looking for more documents, proof of traction, and a compelling pitch deck in a Series A.
When we started our initial conversations with investors this past year, Covid-19 just started to take hold and I was anxious to get our fundraising wrapped up. Yet while our numbers were great—we exceeded our seed targets—my pitch deck and supporting materials were pretty rough during the initial conversations.
Looking back, I should have paused the process to workshop my pitch materials for two weeks. Fortunately, the people I met with early on remained interested, but it made parts of the process feel more challenging than it should have been. Dialing in our story and materials would have compressed our timeline even more.
Not only did we need to elevate our pitch deck, but we needed to evolve our story between rounds. We led with a blockchain story when we raised our seed, but it was largely met with indifferent feedback for the A. So, while blockchain continues to be part of our long-term vision, in our Series A we had to gradually move those slides into the appendix…and then out of the deck entirely.
Using DocSend to tell a better story
To dig deeper into how to perfect your narrative — DocSend was a godsend for us during our Series A raise. As I mentioned, a lot of our pitch materials were in flux throughout the process. I used DocSend to dig deeper into data to understand what was working, and more importantly, what wasn’t. For example, I sent individual DocSend links to every interested investor. If they didn’t visit or even skim the materials, I knew I should focus my attention somewhere else.
I also pored over the slide-specific metrics. One of the key breakthroughs for me was realizing that the investors who were reading for five minutes or more were spending half of their time on four specific slides. I used this insight to rebuild my pitch around those four slides and tucked the majority of the rest into the appendix.
The insights from DocSend helped me stop iterating on slides that didn’t garner much attention and continue to tinker with the ones people actually cared about in order to tell our story better. And through all these iterations, I was able to ensure that investors always had the best version of my deck without interrupting them with a new link or attachment — allowing me to look more buttoned up.
Fundraising is about finding your people
Raising a Series A is notoriously difficult and a lot of founders never reach this milestone. At Decent, we were able to raise our seed round in 2018 and then a Series A just two years later. It’s an accomplishment I’m both extremely proud of and grateful for. It takes an immense amount of work and no matter how many times I do it, I know I can continue to get even better at it.
If I can close with a final piece of fundraising advice, it’s this: At the end of the day, fundraising is about finding your people. Remember that an investor is a long-term commitment — like a marriage. You can never be over-prepared for this experience, so make sure you’re going into it as the very best version of yourself—and be human while you’re doing it. This will allow you to naturally click with the right investor at the right time so that this relationship is strong off the bat.
About: Nick Soman is the founder and CEO of Decent, which offers the most affordable comprehensive health insurance plans for small businesses, starting in Texas. Decent plans are 40% cheaper than market rates and feature unlimited free primary care with your personal direct primary care doctor. Prior to Decent, Nick was the first Growth lead at Gusto.