Tl;dr: Confidential feedback from a venture capital investor after a startup met her so you can learn how investors think about startups and the feedback they would give to friends privately.
I had a call with a VC friend about a startup. Over an hour (We chatted shite too) she gave me her honest, unfiltered feedback about a startup I introduced to her. She is my friend so she said whatever she thought. I made notes from the call for the founder.
I gave the anonymized feedback to the founder (Who has met a lot of VCs I introduced her to) and it was honestly a game changer for her. How she performed in meetings changed dramatically. She also took the feedback on the chin and internalized it (which is critical). She loved actual unfiltered feedback (via me) from an investor.
I randomly shared the even more anonymized feedback with a client in the UK who was struggling with pitching (Mainly confidence having done the mom thing for years and forgetting she is a badass mother of dragons when she was in banking) and she learned from reading it. I asked her if I should write a blog on it to help you and she said absolutely. So here you go.
These are my actual notes from a real VC feedback call and what I sent the founder. You need to grok that this stuff is NEVER shared! You are highly unlikely to ever see a blog like it again. I might actually get in trouble if they read it, but I’ve anonymized this a lot so you won’t ever know who it is. I think there need to be more learning resources and making the esoteric stuff is my specialty (If you have the ovaries/balls to share sensitive topics to help other founders, please email me).
Some background is needed here. I introduced the founder to the VC for a friendly feedback chat. It was not set up as a pitch meeting. Only, turns out it was actually a pitch meeting. You always need to be selling! I am not kidding. Always be on A game when you meet an investor as you never know.
When I mention the ‘girl’ it’s the founder. The feedback is about her.
VC feedback notes
Feedback from a VC call just now, pretty much word for word. Obv conf. There are a lot of really important takeaways you need to implement urgently to help. Happy to help you.
- Super nice girl
- Good background story
- Tech time to market is not too long, they spent [t] years on it, as the product sounds complicated
- Do better at explaining the product and how it works in an easier way. Had to ask a lot of questions to understand how it works
- Better job at selling vision and product. More tag lines to be like “make everyone like [Uber]” so talk more in the American founder way to make things simple
- Took a while to understand what the actual problem is, the different parts. One thing didn’t touch on was [feature] with [features].
- Overall thinks cool idea
- Sell bigger and in an easier way so people understand it. Declare the problem more. Make example of a company, so like a client. Make it more concrete so they can get it. Many VCs will be like me and think there are tools for each use case and so it is a solved problem by now. Most people don’t work in [sector] and so think it is a soft problem. You need to help me understand why there is an op and the problem
- If you want a big level of efficiency, do you really need to be like [Uber]? Do you really need to be as complex as [Uber], with [feature] and stuff? Target clients are prob already quite large so they would have systems right? What would they be replacing? Help me understand what systems people actually use and how much friction is there really for your targeted customer group. Is this only relevant to extremely large companies, so this is more like an enterprise tool?
- Problem, value proposition needs to be more clear
- Explaining investors was good. Good job at overselling [investor] (though they don’t come on board unless have a lead investor)
- Use an example of a business when you launched [product] and how you saw them improve their [financial thing]. They prob struggle, so how you helped them? How big is the efficiency improvement really?
- Not exactly sure what it is they are doing beyond figuring out what place is best to [something] from a [something] benefit perspective. [VC] mentioned this [something] thing a few times, so be careful that’s what you want investors to think the key benefit is!. Talking about [Uber] makes people think about enterprise type clients.
- Idea is a bit abstract. Not CONCRETE about these are the problems, this is how you solve them. Yeah, not easy to understand.
- Maybe accent, but found the way she speaks a bit hard to follow sometimes (I am xxx so I can’t talk!). Maybe she mumbles a bit sometimes. In general not super clear. Needs to talk more clear. Some founders you meet and everything is crystal clear with the problem and solving. You do good on back story but not concrete on what building, this is the roadmap, here is what the round is for
- More concrete understanding problem. Not complex deep, but concrete. Give me an example the [client] has. Give me example of what is good about product. Not just [feature]. Give more example of what tech does.
- Explain the tool what it does, why better, how it works really simple, really clearly
- Sell vision more. Talk about the market. How many people really have problem, how many are there of each client?
- What’s the secret you found to go to market. Is it partnering with the [big player]?
- Talk about traction more. She mentioned [#] clients, but talk about how the client really uses it. What improvement they got. How they got better. Do they make referrals to you? Do they stay on the platform? Do they churn? Go deeper into actual traction
- I could have asked all those questions. But is really her job to get it out. As a founder, it’s your responsibility to cover all these things. I could, maybe I forget things to ask and I am thinking about them now, but when she meets me as a potential investor actually, it’s her job to get this all out
- The excitement and passion, it needs to feel holy shite this is awesome! E.g. friend started xxx. He was always like an excited puppy. You could see the excitement in his eyes. Why was he able to raise [x hundred]m? It’s his personality. He gets people excited. He has a sense of urgency in his eyes. I can kind of see it in [founder], but she was slightly sleepy, didn’t come across as someone out there to win, excited and just fecking loves it!
- If I make a scale 1-100 with Oli and xxx 100, she is maybe 60.
- Would you fund her? That is a good question. I prob wouldn’t at this stage. It’s too abstract. Don’t fully understand the problem. She didn’t come across as a Rockstar. At a EU fund, maybe. At this fund I want Rockstar. I just not sure she can build a 500-1000m company. I would have seen the hunger and excitement. I do trust her for sure. Not I don’t trust her, but do I think she can get the Google engineer to quit $200k salary to leave? I don’t think she will great people excited enough. She didn’t pitch in a way that gets me super excited. Even if boring [xxx] play you still need the passion. I am just not comfortable to make a call now. It could be an amazing tool, I just didn’t get the problem and how solving. Her job was to pitch in 90 minutes. If it was there she would have pitched it to me – we increased by x% and we really helped them out. Didn’t get that feeling.
- She came across a bit burnt out.
- Now, after you explained she is a bit tired I can totally see it
- [Something I don’t want to write publicly as there are nancy little bitchez, but was a game changer… Will tell you privately if I like you]
- Show hunger and urgency that you need to achieve something. Super confident, intense, slightly a dick (she is taking about Oli Samwer). [Famous founder] is a tiny bit of an asshole too, and it’s not bad in a way. Be 10% of an asshole. You want to back an outlier to make big money. You can’t be a nice guy all the time.
- It’s really all about the founder. Recommends doing actor method training as you learn how to present yourself. How to communicate. I have done some of these courses and found them useful, especially if you tend to be a bit shy. People love dogs as they are so in the present. You need that and it comes from deep confidence.
- I should have left the meeting knowing the problem, understanding it, why she is awesome. Left me wanting to do the deal. I mean I have cash to spend and am hungry to do deals. I didn’t have that feeling.
- Send [someone] deck. She said you haven’t yet. Said happy to look at it or get a friend to (DO THIS! You have huge learning op)
- Internalise these key missteps in communication and do better now. Huge personal learnings
- Redo pitch. Get more focused on communicating problem. Giving real examples. Explain the problem!!!
- Have more fun to not be burnt out
- Don’t do a meeting if you don’t bring the boo ya bitchez
- Etc read this fecking memo…
Conclusion on the VC feedback
I’m going on a limb sharing this… I’m all about helping founders achieve their dreams through education, so I’m sharing. Don’t be a dick and try dig into who this is as you are against the spirit of my blog. I’m sharing this as I know that there is a lot of feedback you can learn from as you are doing the same things wrong. I want to help you do more of the right things.
If you have some great learnings to share, shout out in the comments and lets debate! What did you learn from this feedback?