“Never let a ‘no’ discourage you”, insists Frank Maene, managing partner of the Belgian investment fund Volta Ventures. “The world belongs to those who persevere.”
‘No’. This is, sadly, the most common response that we as investors need to give to a great number of start-ups. It is, of course, not the answer the entrepreneur was looking for, but a rejection is equally frustrating for us as potential investors.
Because in most cases we are saying ‘no’ to courageous and ambitious entrepreneurs. We respect them not only for their commitment, courage and passion, they are also people for whom we have a lot of sympathy and with whom we enjoy sharing a drink at events and on trade missions. Would it therefore not be easier to approve as many projects as possible? Would it also not be better to avoid a ‘no’ so as not to miss out on a successful exit?
Let us take a closer look at the origin of the ‘n’ word, because it is important for start-ups not to lose heart. An honest but painful ‘no’ avoids a waste of time for both parties. Volta Ventures receives over 2.000 business plans each year. We, therefore, need to be selective. Besides, each investment fund has its own business plan.
One of our goals, for example, is to invest in three to six new start-ups per year. In 99 percent of the cases, we must respond with a painful ‘no’. An investor simply does not have enough funds nor time for the many projects coming his/her way. Several reasons for saying ‘no’ are quite objective. You can normally find them on each investor's website. For example, each fund has its own focus. The project must fit into the selected sector, region and life stage. For Volta Ventures the sector is the internet and software, the region is the Benelux, and the life stage is companies at an early stage.
It is also important to have an instant rapport with the team, because as a fund, we are embarking on a long-term partnership with your start-up. If the presentation and the interaction do not run smoothly, the collaboration will be difficult. It is important for us to gain confidence in your team and to feel that it has the necessary knowledge, passion and determination to penetrate the market.
Even if the business plan is still largely incomplete, as a fund we need to have an accurate picture of the market size, the competitive edge, the sales and marketing strategy, the number of customers, downloads and trials. In addition, the expectation of what the start-up is worth in the eyes of the investor should not be too far removed from how the start-up sees it. However deep our sympathy for the start-up may be, at the end of the day we must be convinced that together we can achieve a good return.
Perhaps you are simply bringing your project to the table at the wrong time. Ongoing projects are always given priority; for example, when one of the companies in our portfolio is closing a financing round with an American venture capital investor or when the company is experiencing turbulent times. You may be drawn to a fund that is nearing the end of its life. The investors will then have insufficient 'free' money to accept new projects or be busy working on a new fund.
Dear entrepreneur, never let a ‘no’ discourage you. It is simply part of the business. The start-up may not survive the severe market test. Or, perhaps in your case too, it may take more than one year to collect funds. The world belongs to those who persevere. A ‘no’ is not a discouragement, but an opportunity to learn and do better next time.
Persist in your endeavours, keep spreading your idea, and above all, do not lose faith. There are plenty of other venture capital investors, business angels, crowdfunding initiatives, loans, government grants, and - best of all - customers that generate turnover. And if it is any consolation, there are as many companies that received our ‘no’ and which ended up as blockbusters than there are those with whom we partnered up and which eventually floundered.
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