It’s been over 3 years since I moved to LA and started what I’ll call the Los Angeles Venture Capital “fundraising scene”. Over the past 3 years, I’ve raised a good deal of money (some disclosed, some undisclosed) and I’ve formed a few opinions along the way, which I’m going to share here in hopes that you can avoid wasting valuable time as you go about your own fundraising efforts in Los Angeles.
1. DON’T PITCH THE BITCH (i.e. Don’t pitch “Associates”)
In this instance, “the bitch” = “the associate at a VC firm” (gender agnostic). Don’t waste your time pitching associates at VC firms. In my opinion, VC associates have absolutely ZERO decision making ability / influence and will likely leave the firm within a 2 to 3 year period for one reason or another so any long term firm relationship you to wish establish through them will likely fade. Don’t bother with associates, it’s just a waste of your time. Instead, go straight for the VC partners with real check writing ability. If they pass you off to an associate, be wary. It’s straight out of the movie Boiler Room, except that in Boiler Room they chauvinistically advise not to sell stock to women. Here, I’m just advising that you not try to sell to VC firm associates, as it’s a waste of your time. Seriously, don’t pitch the bitch.
2. PAY LITTLE TO NO ATTENTION TO THE FORMALIZED ANGEL GROUPS
Every young entrepreneur in LA has heard of the Tech Coast Angels and their unaffiliated clones / red headed step children – The Pasadena Angels and The Maverick Angels (who actually charge you to pitch – run to the hills). In particular, if you have a “consumer internet” company, i.e. the kind of company you see regularly covered on TechCrunch, then my advice is to not bother with any of the LA based formalized angel groups. The reasons are too numerous to mention (HINT: They are Dinosaurs and although they’ll be bragging about Green Dot for the next decade or more, don’t be fooled, you’ll be wasting your valuable time and energy trying to get in front of them).
Rather than ranting aimlessly about these groups (NOTE: I’d be happy to debate them publicly about my issues with them), I’ll just simplify my reasoning behind this point with the following short story: Someone very high up (i.e. an executive / board member) at one of the groups recently told me that he’s fundraising for a new company of his own. When I asked if he planned on pitching the same formalized angel group at which he holds office, said NO (I’ll refrain from detailing why in an effort not to sell him up the river). Amazing right? I could go on and on and ultimately into a tirade ripping into these groups but I’ll keep it professional and just tell you that if a member of the group thinks it’s a waste of time to pitch the group itself, then it’s likely a waste of time for you too. If you are absolutely set on pitching members of formalized LA based angel groups (TCA, Pasadena Angels, and Maverick Angels), then go directly to the individual angel members themselves for personal investments (rather than the group) or better yet, go and pitch angels that don’t associate themselves with one of these formalized groups.
3. DON’T PITCH FIRMS WITH NO MONEY!
This may sound totally obvious but reality, it’s not always easy to tell, and there are at least a handful of “cashless VCs” in LA. Due to the awful economy of 2008, 2009, and beyond, some VCs have died off or are in the process of slow downward spiral. Some have had a hard time raising new funds and are close to or already out of cash. Those that still have cash are slow playing their hands, or have reserved their remaining cash exclusively for follow on investments (i.e. topping off their existing portfolio companies when cash gets low). That being said, these VCs still hang around the “fundraising scene” and will often take a meeting with you, even though they have little to no cash to actively invest, just to ensure themselves that there are not passing on the next Twitter, Groupon, or Zynga. The problem here being that they wouldn’t have the check to write even if they though you were the next $1B+ exit. So how do you know which firms are out of money? Here’s 3 easy ways…
1. Ask them point blank how much cash they have to put towards new investments, the last investment they made, and the amount of the check.
2. Ask around – i.e. other VCs and entrepreneurs to get a 2nd opinion of the firm and it’s financial position, and
3. Do a little research and find out when they closed their last fund and the amount of the fund.
If everything passes the smell test, then by all means go ahead and court the heck out of them. If things don’t add up, be sure to ask for intros to other investors that are more active.
Ryan Born is the founder and CEO of AudioMicro, and also runs Audioo. Born was VP Finance / Controller for WireImage, has served at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and is also a photographer who has had his images appear in major print publications from Rolling Stone to People Magazine. Born blogs about entrepreneurship and startups at Ryanborn.net. He originally posted this article on his blog.