Emotional Triggers and Investing

Directors like James Cameron, James L. Brooks, and Steven Spielberg are masters when it comes to understanding human emotion. In just a few short scenes, they can leave a whole audience in tears. They aren’t doing anything magical. They’re just appealing to the same human emotions we all have. As an Alchemist Accelerator Partner, I teach founders how to apply the same principles to fundraising. Get an investor emotionally excited and investment comes naturally. Try to beat them to death with numbers and figures, and you’ll just spin your wheels. Investors see thousands of pitches a year and fund a handful. If you want to win, you have to get them excited and snap them out of their default behavior of “no.”

Luckily for founders, investors are human too. So naturally, they have common emotional triggers that spark excitement, and ultimately, investment. In working with hundreds of founders, as well as raising $5.4million in seed funding for my own startup, I’ve identified eight emotional triggers nearly all investors respond to. By focusing on conveying these points to prospective investors, founders stand much better chances of raising capital and ultimately building great businesses.

The eight emotional triggers are:

  • Big Market

  • Rapid Growth

  • Why Now?

  • Unfair Advantages

  • Founder Strength

  • Founder Bond

  • FOMO

  • Confidence

Big Market

Investors live and die by their returns. The only way to get big returns is to invest in companies that have potential for big exits. For most investors, big market is a fairly binary measure: “Is the TAM (total addressable market) large enough to get me outsized returns on my investment?” they’ll be thinking. If the TAM is over $2B, you’ll get a check and if it’s less than $2B, they’ll likely have to pass—even if they really like you. So make sure you help your investors know exactly how big your market is by helping them do the math. If an investor is asking questions about how many customers are in your space or how big you think the market is, don't make them guess at the answers. Give them all the data they need to help them understand the TAM. This is especially important if there's a general perception your market may be too small.

Rapid Growth

The only thing that separates a startup from a small business is rapid growth. It’s literally the definition of a startup. The easiest way to demonstrate a rapidly growing company is to, of course, be growing rapidly, which typically means you’re adding users, customers, or revenue quickly. However, if you’re pre-revenue or pre-launch, growth projections can also help to convince an investor that your business is about to take off. If you've done the work in Excel to know you're adopting the best business model, now is the time to use it to convince someone else.

Why Now?

The why now question is really a two-part question of movement. Why has this business never been possible until now? What has changed now to make this business possible for the first time? After all, fresh ideas are nearly impossible so chances are others have come before you and failed. You need to explain what has changed that will make your vision succeed. Market movement creates opportunity. You see it. They see it, but only you know how your business can best seize the opportunity to create billions more for the benefit of both of your organizations.

Unfair Advantages

Investors recognize there are lots of smart people in the world, so becoming a successful company in a crowded marketplace requires more than just efficient execution. Describe precisely how you're creating a new earnings engine as well as any unfair advantages you may have. For example, if you have extreme domain knowledge around analyzing very large datasets or have worked in the industry you're targeting with your new product (e.g., healthcare), you should highlight that in your pitch.

Founder Strength

Building any successful company is hard. Building a multi-billion dollar company is nearly impossibly hard. When investors invest in your business, they can’t just believe in your idea. They have to believe in YOU. The best way to convince them is to show them a history of exceptional achievements. For example, if you have a new security technology, are you already an inventor holding patents or do you have a CISSP? Name drop. Make connections to your market. Mention achievements and show off logos. Be sure to share all of your founding team strengths.

Founder Bond

Co-founder conflicts are among the top reasons startups fail. It’s not talked about every day on TechCrunch, but investors see it all the time in their portfolios. So when a potential investor asks, “How did you and your co-founder meet?” he or she actually doesn’t really care about your cute story of growing up together and your mutual admiration of Pokemon. What the investor really wants to know is if you and your co-founder are committed to each other enough to stick it out through the ups and the inevitable downs of startup life. Founders who have bonded because they've known each other awhile often have an edge because (presumably) their relationship has already weathered some turbulence.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

In the public markets, investors pay big money for the privilege of investing in stocks at a future date, at a current known price. It’s called option trading and it’s a multi-billion dollar market in the U.S. alone. In the private market, investors get “free options” all day by telling founders simple things like “We’re still discussing things internally” or “We’re still working through diligence items.” As a founder, it’s your job to move these maybes to real answers. The best way to do this is by appealing to what we all fear, which is missing out on something that might be amazing.

Confidence  

Investors are looking for founders with confidence. After all, if you aren’t confident in your own business, why should the investor be confident in your ability to make it successful? One of my fundraising mentors, Michael Carter, used to remind me, “It’s your job to be confident.” That haunted me during my own fundraising process, but it also provided a healthy reminder that confidence isn’t an emotion. It’s something you can project through tone, body language, and deliberate actions—even if deep down inside you feel anything but confident.

Emotion stays with us, making the discovery of the right human connection a significant factor in an evolving investment strategy. Talk. Uncover. Discover. Emotional triggers have the power to accelerate your funding success.


About Michia Rohrssen

Michia Rohrssen

Michia Rohrssen is the CEO of Prodigy, the fastest growing auto startup. He is also a founder/blogger at B2BFounder.com, providing actionable insights from a founder in the trenches. Before Prodigy, he served as Head of Growth at VentureBeat and CEO of Smarter Solutions. Learn more at https://getprodigy.com.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.

Demo Day Advice - From a VC Turned Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs - congratulations on approaching Demo Day!  You'll soon be surrounded by interesting people, inundated by emails, and distracted by countless potential conversations that you'll need to prioritize carefully.  Based on several years of experience and more than a handful of “Demo Days”, including the Alchemist Accelerator’s, here are a couple of tips I hope you’ll find useful:

1)  Remember that 5 Minute Demo Day presentations are NOT enough time for listeners to decide whether to invest or not.  Your goal for the Demo Day presentations, therefore, is to attract the attention and trigger the NEXT CONVERSATIONS with the individuals in the audience that could be the best sources of feedback / investment ($) / advice / or customer introductions.

  • Sometimes all of these dimensions happen at once, usually feedback and "advice" happens first as a precursor to investment or introductions.
  • None of these dimensions, however, will happen if the listener (for whatever reason) decides they are not interested in having a follow-up conversation.
  • If you think someone or some firm could be a good fit for you, then be proactive in getting their attention.

2)  The demo day presentations are only 5 minutes, if not shorter!  The short format requires you to present in "broad brush strokes" that capture the most important highlights.  Prioritize what content to present and what details to highlight most efficiently.

  • Sometimes the slides you create for "full" 30/60 minute conversations with investors are good ones to reuse.  More frequently, it helps to edit and consolidate top-level takeaways or "aha moments".
  • Pay special attention to feedback from listeners who are hearing your pitches for the first time, domain experts who know your space, and non-experts who don’t know your space.  Each of them will give you different types of feedback, and you'll need to decide who to optimize for carefully.

3)  From my experience as a VC and angel investor, the most important questions to address within an abbreviated Demo Day pitch to trigger follow-ups from the right prospective investors are as follows:  
a.  Why now?

  • Compelling answers to this usually involve something significant changing in the market, with new/different customers or pain points that are growing, or new technology breakthroughs enabling problems to be solved, or something else encouraging different behaviors (such as government regulation or customer psychology).  
  • All of you are smart and talented.  Articulate (in simple terms to someone who is not an expert in your field) why you are excited and passionate enough to be dedicating your life to your companies right now.

b.  Why you?

  • The big opportunities and major inflection points across industries will be discovered by several, (usually many) different teams. What makes your insights unique or authentic?  
  • What experience or exposure do you have to the domain?  Have you or your co-founders been entrepreneurs before, or have you had other exceptional experiences in your life that will make you succeed when others give up?

c.  Target Market.

  • What subset of the market and subset of customers are you going to start targeting first, and how big can that "slice of the pie" get as you grow your product / team / business?  
  • Most VC's focus and talk about Billion dollar markets because its difficult to build large businesses in small markets, but it's rare that new products and new companies can target actual Billion dollar markets from the start.  Usually, whether limited by feature set, market awareness, or geography, most startups have to start by focusing on small pieces of big markets to grow into bigger markets and bigger companies.
  • I prefer to see a tighter focus and deeper understanding of smaller markets as precursors to bigger / quickly expanding markets rather than claims to HUGE markets that are crowded with competition or demonstrate lack of focus or deep understanding of target customers.

    d.  Product (or service). What are you building, creating, or enabling?

    • A single sentence that clearly articulates (again in simple terms that someone who is not an expert in your field can understand) is best.  That single sentence will keep evolving, and it will require more detail when you explain it to people with domain expertise. Even so, you should aim to distill the core trajectory of your company into to a single sentence that can be remembered.
    • What signs of customer validation, or market adoption, or business potential do you have?

    e.  Differentiation. What is defensible now and into the future?

    • What is the strategy for expanding, and what will become the more UNIQUE and compelling dimensions to your product offering vs. inevitable competition?
    • Are you 2x better or 10x better than the alternatives? Across what dimensions and subject to what assumptions?

    e.  Business Model.

    • At the seed stage you don’t need to have the world’s most comprehensive business model, nor a combination of 3 different business models.  You do, however, need to have some ideas on how you might start to capture the value or benefits that you provide.
    • Again, what signs of customer validation or business potential do you see? Deep understanding of how much customers are paying for alternatives, or inferior solutions, or notable competitors in the market are good proxies.

    Overall, strong Demo Day presentations usually weigh heavily towards addressing <Why now> + <Why you> + <Target Market>, with lighter treatments of <Product> + <Differentiation> + <Business Model> (due to time constraints).  Follow-up conversations, and deeper diligence from potential investors will go deeper into the areas of <Why you> + <Product> + <Differentiation> + <Business Model>.
    You can identify individuals/VCs who are a better "fit" for you on the basis of how well they already understand <Why now> + <Target Market>, and how deep they can dive into discussing the other areas. Individuals/VCs who don’t already share your opinions regarding the <Why now> and who don’t ask thoughtful questions about the other areas are usually dead ends, or will require a lot of time to be convinced.
    4) Have fun and stay positive!  Prioritize your time and scheduling of follow-up conversations!  The Demo Day pitches and many conversations that will follow are a unique and special time for you as entrepreneurs.  Build relationships, follow-up with the most relevant potential sources of advice or funding. Don’t let the many NOs and frequent radio silences you will encounter discourage you from progressing up the paths you are on.  You are privileged to see opportunities where others are blind, and courageous to climb routes that others are too scared to explore.

    Onwards!
    About Luis Robles

    Startup advisor & Angel Investor, Blockchain enthusiast, Experienced Company Builder & VC Investor (previously @ Sequoia Capital). Co-Founder, VP Products & Marketing at Diamanti. Knowledgeable about enterprise businesses, datacenter infrastructure, cloud computing, distributed + open source software, big data, IOT. Senior Product Manager and early engineer at VMware. BS and MS degrees in Computer Science from Stanford + an MBA from Harvard.
    About the Alchemist Accelerator
    Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.