The end of the pitch… the rise of the project.
I recently heard a compelling alternative to standard pitching for startups raising their seed rounds. It intrigued me, so I contacted the speaker, Ottawa startup lawyer James Smith, and created this step-by-step framework based on his philosophy.
The basic premise is that startups focus fundraising efforts on “building a project” (a.k.a. a lab) rather than creating pitch decks. Founders then get potential investors to participate in the lab and then raise the round from these participants. And while this process can be used by any startup, the project methodology is targeted for early-stage startups raising a seed round.
The pitching process, particularly for a seed round, can be inefficient. This is why the project method will make a lot of sense to some and can be used as an alternative or better yet, a concurrent strategy to pitching. Plus, there is the value-add of getting these experts’ participation before founders are ready to raise and even if they don’t invest!
Overview of the Project Methodology
- Get an endorsement of the problem your startup is solving.
- Create the lab.
- Find participants to join the lab.
- Get participants in an ongoing engagement loop.
- Raise the round.
Sound familiar? It likely does. It’s a sophisticated take on the, “when you need money, ask for advice, and when you need advice, ask for money,” concept. What stands out about this approach is the structure – it is both practical and actionable for entrepreneurs.
GET A PROBLEM ENDORSEMENT
Founders need to find someone well respected by their potential lab participants who is willing to endorse the complex problem their startup is solving.
CREATE THE LAB
The lab is based on a pithy hypothesis – one that is backed up with reasonable evidence for making the prediction.
For example, “our hypothesis is X, Y, and Z, and this is why we think that.”
Once you have a hypothesis, founders need to decide if it has enough credibility yet. In other words, you need to ask yourself – do I have enough that an intelligent person would be interested? If yes, then proceed with creating the lab. If no, you need to do some more work first.
Some signs that a hypothesis may be credible enough…
- You’ve finished development of an MVP and had a successful soft launch
- You got a big-name advisor
- You’re obtaining users / paying customers at an intriguing rate
Seek participants who are both interested in what the lab is doing (e.g. they’re actively investing in the space) and who can add value. Once you have a list of potential participants, start the invite process.
Prime the pump.
The lab invitation is essentially a conversation – one that ends with permission to connect in the future.
Not sure how to get the conversation? Try Smith’s script.
“I know you’re very busy, but can I get 15 minutes to half an hour for a chat?
I know from your background you do X, Y, and Z; and do cool projects in _______ space
So you would be perfect to help with this one business / product problem we have…”
Ultimately, the conversation needs to end with permission to reconnect. This is the key activity that turns individuals into participants.
- Research your potential participant and know your key metrics like the back of your hand.
- Go into the conversation with the goal of getting advice on a business / product problem.
- Get permission to follow up with the results of the advice.
Once you have permission to reconnect, the next step is to get each potential participant engaged in an ongoing feedback loop, so during the “follow up conversation” (i.e. the one where you let them know the results of their advice), start an engagement loop.
Create the ongoing engagement loop.
- Set a goal for the next month.
- Ask the participant if they have any advice for achieving the goal.
- At the end of the month, go back tell them the results. Give the participant feedback on their advice. Regardless of whether you hit the goal, explain what tests you are running to figure out why you either succeeded or failed.
- Go back to the participant with the results of these tests.
- Set a new goal.
Once you’ve gone through this process once or twice with an individual, consider them a participant in your lab.
RAISE THE ROUND
Once participants are routinely engaged in the lab (e.g. > 2-3 months), founders can try to raise their round.
Smith outlined two popular round structures – the note and the ghost commitment.
The note round involves founders approaching those lab participants with investor potential and letting them know they’re opening a note round with a generous valuation and low cap that is closing in 30 days.
Using this structure, founders can propose to each investor that if they raise X (e.g. $500k) can they count on them for Y (e.g. $25k)?
If you’re a seed stage startup who needs to fundraise, the project framework is an easy-to-use structured alternative approach that can reduce or eliminate the amount of formal pitching required to successfully raise your round.
DISCLAIMER: This is general information only and does not offer any form of legal advice whatsoever.