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8 Tips to Impress Early Stage Investors


8 Tips to Impress Early Stage Investors

So, you have a great idea, spent some time building it, and now it is time to take it to the next level and get some funding for it?
As part of Eleven, I have reviewed several thousand applications in the last two years, 83 of which made it to the end and received a total of over 5 million Euro investment from us. But along the way we maybe passed on some great ideas simply because these were poorly explained. So before you jump to F6S, locate the first open acceleration program and file your application, let me walk you through process so you can make the best out of your project.

Make your research

To begin with, make sure you do a bit of homework before you even consider an accelerator. Not all accelerators are made equal — some are specialized, and others (as us) are general (and even so, general does not mean they invest in everything — we will probably not invest in, let’s say, nanotechnology, since we don’t know much about it). Some programs attract early stage projects, and at others you compete with launched and/or revenue generative companies. Find out where you fit best, check when do they accept applications and go for it.

Evaluation process

Once you have chosen your program, make sure you have some understanding of what the application and evaluation process looks like. It usually goes through several stages. (Some accelerators skip some, others have a few more, but the processes are similar.) Here is how we do it.
1. We usually have an application window (that is, our online application form is accessible) open for about one month. You apply by filling-in a 30–40 questions questionnaire, where we ask you about your team, product, market, and traction. You could fill it in in an hour, but to do it right, along with video production and underlying research, allow yourself at least one or two full days.
2. Once the application window closes, each partner at Eleven reviews and evaluates all applications, and scores them (with a simple 1 to 5). This process usually takes about 4–5 days, and as we review 200–300 applications each time, yours will be one of about 60 each partner will go through that day. That averages about 6-8 minutes per application.
3. We will then take a day to discuss internally and boil down the list to the best 50–60 projects. Teams with high average scores, or ones with mixed (some high and some low) scores usually make it through.
4. Next, we send out invitations for Skype calls or meetings to these 50–60 teams (the rest will get an email saying something of the sort of “We just sent out interview invitations to the shortlisted candidates. If you did not receive one — sorry, you were not selected”).The interviews last 15-20 minutes each, and are scheduled over couple of days, with an extra backup date a day later. Following the interviews, some research and another discussion, 20–25 teams get an invitation to our Selection Days.
5. Selection Days are different for different programs — it may be just a 10 minute meeting (as in YC) or a four-day event (as Seedcamp’s Long Weekend). We do it over two days. Our first day is centered around mentoring and pitching and is designed to help us get a different angle and direct impression on both the project and the team.
During the second day, each team has a 20 minute interview with our extended investment panel, including a five-minute pitch and 15 minutes of Q&A. At the end of that day, we select and send out notices to the selected teams. Congratulations! You are in!

Writing a good application

A good idea is quite easy to explain face-to-face. But to get to a meeting, aceing up your application is critical. And if you do the math, you will figure we spend less than one full hour on each project from first contact to final investment decision, but it is those first 6–8 minutes that will determine if you get the chance to pitch your idea or not. So I will focus more on this first stage, and will cover the interview and Selection Days in another post.

1. Start your application early (as in, now)

Starting early will give you time to (i) formulate your answers, especially the ones where you have limited space; (ii) research some aspects of your project you may have not considered in detail, but we will want to hear about, and (iii) prepare your video (yes, it is important).

2. Get a referral

Check if you know someone in our network, grab them and pitch your idea. If they like it we will hear about it, and you may get an early meeting — yey! you just added another half an hour to your time before you even started writing!

3. Make sure you:

(i) are not single founder, (ii) are ready to commit 100% on your project; (iii) have all the talent your project requires in your core team; and (iv) provide a video. The first three are usually deal breakers, the last one — well, statistically, more than 80% of the teams we invite to Selection Days have one, so it is quite important too.

4. Be very clear in your answers

Be very concise, but comprehensive, in your answers. As I already said, we will have 8 minutes. If you answer to a questions vaguely, or we do not get a clear idea you know what you are talking about, we will quickly lose interest and move on.

5. Do not cheat

We are not mentalists, but we have seen hundreds of projects and we can quickly tell if someone is bullshitting us. And even if you make it through, you will be filtered out later in the process. So just don’t.

6. Be prepared

Make sure you understand your product, market and competition better than we do. Because when you tell us you have no competitors and we know about one — that’s the end of it.

7. Know your numbers

Be realistic but specific when talking markets, clients and potential. Do a bottom up, top-down or both approach to calculating revenues. Quote and provide links to research and analysis — it may come handy.

8. Do not repeat these common mistakes

(i) Do not password protect anything — demo, video, or presentation. We will have very short time for each application, so keep it simple — use obscure URLs for privacy.
(ii) Do not ask us to download things – if we have to wait 3 minutes for a 100 MB video, we may just as well proceed to the next application.
(iii) Make sure all your links work.
(iv) Try to fit everything in your application. Side emails, attachments or personal messages are hard to reconcile with a particular application, so avoid if possible.
(v) Submit it! Don’t just leave it filled-in, hitting the button at the end means you are confident you have it all covered. But just before you do that,print it out and give it to a few friends to proofread — you will find it much helpful.
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