In our previous article, we surveyed several founders about what qualities to look for in an investor. Here, we continue to share insights about what they wish they knew about the often-murky world of fundraising.
As we mentioned in the previous post, Mark started his career in impact investing at Gray Ghost Ventures and Zoe with UnLtd India. Both of us began learning by reading the blogs of mainstream VCs like Mark Suster, Brad Feld, and Fred Wilson. These blogs, written to make transparent the otherwise opaque decision-making processes of investors, also served as a classroom for us as early stage investors.
For many entrepreneurs, impact investing is a space even more confusing than venture investing. Tweet This Quote
Unfortunately, we didn’t see – and still haven’t seen – the same sort of content coming from impact investors, a space even more confusing to entrepreneurs than venture investing. When entrepreneurs come to us asking what to read to understand the investing process, we continue to recommend Brad Feld’s book Venture Deals. It doesn’t exactly serve the same “know your enemy” purpose for the entrepreneurs we work with as it does for tech founders.
That left us with an uncomfortable question: Are we the only ones that don’t seem to know of good fundraising resources for entrepreneurs solving major social and environmental challenges? We asked several entrepreneurs the following two questions to find out what they were reading and who they respected:
- Whose writings do you read to get up/keep up to speed on impact investing and startup investing?
- If we put together an article series designed to provide guidance and insight to fundraising entrepreneurs, what topics should we make sure to cover?
Where Founders Go to Learn About Investors
So where do founders go to learn about impact investors? Founders mentioned these resources as being useful, in no particular order:
- Kyle Westaway’s Weekend Briefing
- Brian Walsh’s All Things Impact
- Steve and Jean Case’s Twitter feeds
- The VilCap and Unreasonable blogs
- B Lab’s internal social network and other Slack groups
- Posts by Mulago Foundation’s Kevin Starr (see his SSIR posts here)
These sources are an important start. Beyond these, the field thins: “I tend to rely on my impact investing workmates to send around interesting articles,” said one founder. “It’s actually my social interactions with impact investors that inform much more of my opinions and knowledge.” So what do founders want to hear from investors?
Where The Gaps Remain
While one founder thought that entrepreneurs could pick up most of the knowledge they need from existing venture bloggers, others pointed to a handful of knowledge gaps:
1. Case studies about founders that had raised money and made sales.
Or, as one founder who has fought successfully through raising money and building repeated sales, “stories of other entrepreneurs that figured it out and went through the struggle.”
2. Honest talk from founders about impact investors.
As one founder put it, “When looking for other funders, we spent a lot of time on websites of various foundations and funders trying to see whether we would be a good fit for them. And we really struggled to figure out what they were looking for – often they had very broad ‘missions,’ but then their portfolio was small and focused in a few areas. Other times, they had very precise funding goals, but they funded a seemingly random series of social projects. So giving innovators a clearer way to vet investors – to understand what they really are most likely to fund, and then what they are like to work with as a funder – would be useful.”
Many founders still have a lot of painfully practical questions about impact investing. Tweet This Quote
3. More field-level research on impact investors.
One founder had such an impressive list of questions about impact investors that we can’t help but share it in full, only lightly edited:
- What’s holding back the risk tolerance of impact capital?
- What can startups that aren’t at the minimum deal size do to attract impact capital?
- What is the balance of financial opportunity versus impact opportunity that should be in a company’s narrative?
- Do impact funders care more about story or quantifiable impact?
- What is the potency of different impact narratives?
- Who funds impact investors, and what do they care about? What are their performance requirements for the funds?
- What are the incentives for impact fund managers?
- Are impact funds being squeezed out in the same way that VCs are caught between angels and private equity?
- What are examples of some home runs that we should emulate?
We hope to see more information written for founders about how to effectively raise impact investing dollars. Tweet This Quote
We know from experience that impact investors work hard to add value to their founders; this was also evident in the responses we received from founders about their relationships to their own funders. But most of the founders we spoke with still had a lot of questions about impact investing – painfully practical questions that could mean the difference between a full round of funding and having to shut down a company.
Our hope is to see more and more information written for founders about how to effectively raise impact investing dollars. If we can continue to do that, then our impact will be limited not by our understanding of the funding landscape, but by the ambition and ability of the entrepreneurs hustling hard to build companies that impact the world.
This article was co-written with Mark Hand (@markchand), a Ph.D. student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. These are most of the founders that responded to the survey featured in this article: Hudson Baird (PelotonU), Trevor Boehm (Penny, UnLtd USA), Greg FitzGerald (Carbon Analytics), Isabella Horrocks (Linkage), Jen Medbery (Kickboard), Erine Gray (Aunt Bertha), and Ben Lyon (Kopo Kopo, Caribou Digital).