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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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VC Marketing 3: The Listeners

After a while the entrepreneurs seeking investment can get a pretty bizarre feeling. You are driving, yet you’re on auto-pilot, and you’re getting nowhere. Seriously, are we driving at all?

But then comes this surprise meeting when you realize that yes, there is a road, you’re on it, and you’re definitely driving. You lose the auto-pilot and you’re wide awake.

These people can either invest or not, but you will remember them and their names, and you will follow them in years to come, because they did this one bit of basic marketing right.

They lost the auto-pilot!! They listened, communicated. They wanted to understand your message. Weren’t afraid to ask the tough questions or make suggestions. Yes those questions were directed at you, and not at every entrepreneur that came into their offices.

If the VC or investment firm has done their homework, you will meet their person who is the most-knowledgeable-in-your-area that they have. And if this person has done his or her homework, they would have researched your business, your industry and each one of the company’s partners to better prepare. Their listening has started way before your first handshake.

After all, they wouldn’t want to miss on a great opportunity only because they forgot to listen.

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VC Marketing – They do it 2, Differently

Rise above the noise. Every marketer wants it. And yes, it’s true for VCs and angel investors too. Let’s be different. Let’s get noticed. Let us become entrepreneurs’ first choice.

One such investor, rising above the noise around me is Chris Sacca, with his fund “Lowercase Capital“. I love their web site. Or should I say his web site??

Unlike many VCs, made of a team of partners and professional employees proudly presented to potential investments and investors, Chris Sacca is, well, Chris Sacca. An accomplished venture investor and an entrepreneur. Lowercase is Chris and Chris is Lowercase.

If it wasn’t for the constant use of the word “we” on their web site Lowercase Capital could well seem to be a one-man-show. Its web site has a unique terminology and design. Somewhere between retro, old fashioned and good old westerns, this VC founder is featured under “proprietor” and the entrepreneurs wishing to get in touch are referred to as “prospecting”.

Their visual and verbal difference from the majority of venture capital investors and investment firms is not something they did because they just wanted seem different, or only to rise above the noise. Lowercase capital is stressing how apart it is from the stream under “creed” – their vision, a section opening with the words “Venture capital is broken”. Their appeal to entrepreneurs is coming from some point of empathy with the entrepreneurs’ deep pain and frustration which often accompanies the fund raising process. They are using good old fashioned sentimental motivation in marketing.

This is a web site entrepreneurs would want to read through and through. I am not sure anyone would bother to read all verbals on any VC web site. But here, you will. This web site gives you the feeling that it is indeed about compatibility and personal chemistry between you, the entrepreneur, and “the proprietor”. You would want to know what the other side is seeking and how to get them interested in your particular venture. So you will read every word there and make sure you can convince them that you are the entrepreneur who speaks the Lowercase Capital language. You and no other.

And to be sure you do – they offer you a guide, under “prospecting”. It is not a web form, but it is very much the format you are expected to use when applying. Use it smartly.

And last but not least – the call for action:
On “outfit”, the introduction section – “So take a look around this site and see if we are a fit. If so, we can’t wait to hear from you.”
On creed it is “We won’t be wearing a suit, and our lawyers won’t be in the meeting, but if you think we can help you, let us know.”
On prospecting it is “Now, send your pitch here and let’s get to it.”

Now, if that doesn’t get you on the move, what would?

Who will invest in startups in 2009?

While working on the script for a demo to present my startup venture, I am approaching the dreaded point where I will need to get other people’s money to advance my vision. In other words: fish for investors.

‘Investors’ are like a dirty word nowadays. When talking to other entrepreneurs the word “investors” or “investment” is whispered. As if by saying it out loud the dream will crumble and disappear.

The gloom projections for 2009, based on the sad financial events at the closure of 2008, add to a global pessimist atmosphere. The “realists” I meet say to me, nodding their heads, “well… a startup venture?? Now??? This is really not the time, you know??”

Well, what can I say, it’s now that I have this idea, and not later. True, I assume the competition will be fierce and the chances of landing that deserved funding are lesser this year. But that does not mean that by putting my project on hold for two years I will be able to promote the idea faster or safer then.

So I am back to my desk. Following the financial news and learning of the financial figures. I am trying to adopt my message to current times and events and see if I can find that path into some investors’ hearts.

money

*Click to Play Money by Pink Floyd

Camping for success

I am now beginning to write the script for my venture’s demo. I have been writing so many documents, presentations, scripts, plans and specification for the past two months, and yet, it feels like the business isn’t moving. Nothing grand has happened.

Except for the global financial crisis.

This leads me to wonder not only of my venture but also of startup companies all over. Obviously there are going to be fewer investments worldwide. Priorities will change. Bread and butter will always come first. Now I need to start thinking of my venture’s connection with bread and butter.

And yet, among these worries, I got a Facebook message last night from “the co ils“, announcing that Seedcamp is coming to Israel for a mini-seedcamp event, to fish for the most promising technological startups here. Those 5 happy entrepreneurs who win the final European competition get seed investment and very valuable mentoring.

The Seedcamp program is similar to the Ycombinator and to the recently established TechAviv .
They offer a great opportunity for early seed companies who get, not only a small amount of money but also active mentoring. The active ingredient is the problematic one. All three require that the winning entrepreneurs will move for a period of 3 months to another location for that seed stage, in which they are to be guided and connected with relevant sources. Seedcamp require a move to London, UK. Ycombinator offer either the bay area in the winter or Cambridge (US) in the summer and TechAviv talk about NYC.

All three seed investment bodies assume that a startup entrepreneur can do it. Detach from everything, family, home, friends, office, and move for a period of 3 months and all in the name of the business’ success.

If I am not willing to ditch my kids and husband for 3 months, does that mean that I am not a devoted enough entrepreneur? Or does it mean that I am both a mother and an entrepreneur?

I think it means I’ll have to work harder by myself and it will probably take longer.

Invest in the life of a deserving entrepreneur

“…anybody in the world can invest in the life of a deserving entrepreneur…”.
This quote belongs to kiva.org, third place winner of the “membersproject“. That’s the “American Express” project, offering an initial investment of up to $1.5 million, in a world changing project, chosen by visitors’ votes. My favorite was this 3rd place. The idea is so simple and so beautiful it simply brought up a smile.

Entrepreneurship occupies me a lot so I visited kiva.org web site. When I looked at the entrepreneurship categories I couldn’t find any mention of hi-tech. But then, there is also no mention of Israel… The rate of entrepreneurships per capita in Israel is extremely high. We look at entrepreneurs differently here. But it’s not like all we have here are hi-tech entrepreneurs. We also have the grocery shops, the farmers, craftsmanship and more. But hi-tech entrepreneurship occupies so much interest, offers so many jobs and rolls so much money, that it tends to over-shadow all other entrepreneurships.

Kiva.org is not interested in hi-tech entrepreneurships. There are plenty of angels, funds and organizations that are more than willing to invest in hi-tech. The idea of kiva.org is to offer struggling entrepreneurs, mostly from developing countries, who want to establish or expand their businesses, a loan to help them achieve their goal. In some cases “struggling” is an understatement and the loan could well turn into a donation that may help a family survive a few more weeks or months. The cleverness of their idea is that the loans, or donations, are small sums, made by private people, who want to make a difference. The risk is 25$ per lender, per loan. If the business does succeed, the loan can become profitable for the lender. Kiva promises to check the proposed businesses and also to offer training or mentoring to the entrepreneurs.

This idea is really exciting and I can understand their focus. But if we are talking about private people making a change with small sums, there are several more deserving territories of investments. Bear in mind that entrepreneurs, where ever they are, whatever the entrepreneurship, are struggling. Take a look at the dictionary definition: “the owner of a business who attempts to make money by risk and initiative”. Stress “risk”.

The first territory I would embark on is women entrepreneurship.
I don’t want to seem that chauvinist. In an ideal world there shouldn’t be a female category. I don’t particularly enjoy women-only events, for example. I find them too limiting. But then again, this is not an ideal world, and women do deserve the special attention and unique opportunities.

Just recently I heard about the beautiful TechAviv program, from the founder, Yaron Samid. The plan offers fresh Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs the chance to learn from the veterans and get a substantial support. The plan requires, however, that you leave Israel, your home, friends and family, and travel to the US for several months. Interesting idea. Certainly not for mothers or married women. Women, as a complete gender, are underestimated as entrepreneurs. That’s in spite of the fact that they are not less inventive or capable of men and excel at multi tasking and passion. To be fair, I must make a distinction between married or mothers and unmarried, non mothers. The latter, being free from family obligations, are more flexible. However, comparing a single woman entrepreneur and a single man entrepreneur, at the same age, nobody can claim they are looked at with the same respect, trust or appreciation.

So I found myself looking for women entrepreneurs at kiva.org. Most of the projects I have seen seem strange to me, an Israeli entrepreneur, especially as I was looking for women entrepreneurship. One example is an entrepreneurship of a woman who is asking for a loan so she could buy scraps for her husband’s scrap yard. Another entrepreneur was looking for a loan to finance her kids’ school fee and the building of her house. Great idea, not exactly a business, though. If Kiva.org really intends to make a difference and claim to send mentors and guides to these countries, they should begin by explaining the idea of making a profitable business. The idea of asking for baksheesh, schnorr, scrounge seems clear enough by now.

“Isn’t it?”, I asked Liat Vardi, a woman entrepreneur of women entrepreneurship. Liat has established, some 5 months ago, the f5-Refreshing Women Venture, and its goal is to inspire women, help get professional advice and support, as well as networking. The f5 is a group that meets once a month for lectures and networking. “Kiva, in a way, was an inspiration of mine,” she agreed, and I filled with hope.

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