Thursday, August 8, 2013
How to Convince Investors – by Paul Graham
(This is one of a pair of essays on fundraising. The next one, on fundraising tactics, is coming soon.)
When people hurt themselves lifting heavy things, it's usually because they try to lift with their back. The right way to lift heavy things is to let your legs do the work. Inexperienced founders make the same mistake when trying to convince investors. They try to convince with their pitch. Most would be better off if they let their startup do the work—if they started by understanding why their startup is worth investing in, then simply explained this well to investors.
Investors are looking for startups that will be very successful. But that test is not as simple as it sounds. In startups, as in a lot of other domains, the distribution of outcomes follows a power law, but in startups the curve is startlingly steep. The big successes are so big they dwarf the rest. And since there are only a handful each year (the conventional wisdom is 15), investors treat "big success" as if it were binary. Most are interested in you if you seem like you have a chance, however small, of being one of the 15 big successes, and otherwise not.
(There are a handful of angels who'd be interested in a company with a high probability of being moderately successful. But angel investors like big successes too.)
How do you seem like you'll be one of the big successes? You need three things: formidable founders, a promising market, and (usually) some evidence of success so far.