How to Raise Money When You’re Not in a Major VC Market

Posted on Apr 27, 2013 | 60 comments

How to Raise Money When You’re Not in a Major VC Market

I travel the country a lot. And I am often approached by entrepreneurs in cities which don’t have a vibrant VC community. They often ask whether they have to move to SF, NY or LA to get financed.

St. LouisI have the same response always, “Where do you want to live? Where do you want to build your community, your relationships, your family?” I’m trying to get a feel for their commitment to local community versus being in a place where financing is easiest.

If their commitment to staying local is weak I normally say, “Well, it certainly would be easier on you to be in a larger community. It would be easier in terms of getting access to angels, VCs, the media, whatever. So if you’re really indifferent you might consider it.” On the other hand, if they have a strong preference to staying local I usually tell them that I believe you can build a business anywhere these days.

You can build a meaningful company just about wherever these days. Just ask the people of Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Iowa, Princeton, Dallas or countless other cities that don’t have enough venture capital.

Ask SuperCell. Or Rovio. Or UrbanAirship. NewToy, Dwolla, Pollenware or Wonga.

If you don’t live in a major VC zone, I have some tips for how to make it easier to raise Venture Capital.

Before I explain, let me give you some backgrounds why it’s harder to raise money if you live outside “the zone.”

Let’s start with “oversight.” Most VCs view it as their responsibility to mentor, debate, cajole and generally assist with investments they make. They also view it as a responsibility of the money they manage on behalf of others to provide oversight of these companies. And it is significantly easier to help when you are local.

Take me for example. This afternoon (Saturday) I have a coffee meeting with a portfolio company founder. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a senior exec who is considering joining a company in which we’ve invested. He would be a very senior hire for us and filling an urgent gap. I know local talent. I know who is perceived as good and who has a fancy resume but others think didn’t perform. That’s what local allows. I know the whole ecosystem: VCs, CEOs, tech teams, founders, angels – and I know people who have worked together for 15+ years.

Local knowledge runs deep. Thus, a desire to invest more locally where I think I have a competitive advantage. Otherwise I’m just money.

But I do invest outside of LA. Examples include DataSift (San Fran & London), MyTime (SF) and (SF).

Every year I’m in the SF Bay Area 12-14 times. I’m in NY 6-8 times. And then there are smatterings (Dallas 2x, DC 3x, Philly 3x, Austin, Boulder, Seattle not to mention San Diego 8x, Santa Barbara 8x – where I invested in RingRevenue).

This isn’t a complaint. It’s a goal to help you understand the life of a VC. And I no longer control my calendar. When DataSift sets up a board meeting (next one in London, last was in NYC) we have investors from NYC (IA Ventures), SF (Scale Ventures) and the founding team + chairman in London. So when dates & locations are set – they’re set.

So ….

Am I looking to add 8 trips / year to [name your location not already on my annual itinerary]. Not easily. Of course if it’s a company on fire I would travel to any 2-hop city from LA.

So how do you overcome that given that all VCs must have a similar pattern to me other than super-human VCs like Brad Feld or Dave McClure who have insane travel schedules but an unbelievable ability to put in the air miles and be whenever/ whenever?

Here’s what I would do if I were you. I’ll pick a mythical company in Kansas City.

  • For starters I’d try to raise my initial capital locally
  • Next I’d research every VC in the country and find people who grew up in or near KC. Why? Because you know they must already come back 1-2 times / year anyways. Plus, they know the local market better and therefore don’t have the uninformed biases of those that don’t. If these people work for reputable firms and have the right industry knowledge they ought to be on your pitch list
  • Importantly … I would pitch investors in SF, NY, Boston, LA, etc. and say the following

“I live and work in Kansas City. I have the tremendous advantage of access to a hard-working, loyal and technical talent pool. So I want to stay here and build my business.

That said I want the best VCs in the industry and for that I know I need to be in a major VC hub.

So here’s the deal. I will commit to traveling to NYC seven times per year for board meetings. I’ll make your life easier because I know you travel all the time anyways and KC ins’t exactly on your normal path.

Heck. I need to be in NYC a lot anyways. All I would ask is that you hold 1-2 board meetings / year in KC.

You’re going to want to do that anyways to always kick the tires of the local team. Plus, we have some rocking bbq to make it worth your time.”

I know some people will cringe at this idea, “if the VC really wanted me they would come to ME.”

Maybe. But until you’ve achieved the kind of success you know you’re capable of, it’s a harder ask. And with my strategy, you take their biggest objection off the table. By the way, no VC will ever tell you, “I don’t want to come to KC 8 times / year” because it would sound bad.

But as I always tell entrepreneurs, “Better That You Deal with The Elephant in the Room.

  • thatmtnman

    its hard to pick up and move, I have to say. On the other hand, we’re so committed we’d move to the moon.

  • Philip Sugar

    I think the big distinction is consumer versus enterprise For consumer, it matters to be close to the ecosystem. For enterprise, I’ve never heard a client say I’ll pay you more because your costs are higher.

  • Guest

    Test comment

  • Guest

    another test

  • fly

    shes drawing hearts in the sand

  • Brian Sirkia

    Thanks for the post, Mark. We’re in Burlington, Vermont, which despite the dearth of VCs, is at least one of the most beautiful places to start a company.

    The biggest obstacle we’ve found as a tech startup is that there are only a couple local (to the state) funds and a handful of angel investors, none of which focus/are interested in an early stage tech company because of the level of risk. Why bet on a risky highly scalable tech company, when you can invest in a consumer or industrial product that already has steady sales and just wants to expand across Vermont?

    We’re doing our best to raise the level of tech investment in Burlington, but great to have this as a marker for the kind of travelling we should expect if we try to do a raise from investors in other geographical markets.

  • pointsnfigures

    Chicago has a nice burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem. Of course, not enough VC capital here yet either. But lots of startup activity. (And a good airport for VCs!)

    At earlier stages, if I run into a company from out of driving distance, I always wonder why they couldn’t raise money in the town they are from? If you are from Austin TX, why am I seeing you?

  • pointsnfigures

    Logistics, Agriculture, Medical, B2B, Finance in Chicago,

  • Jonathan Strauss

    testing again

  • Isaac Rabinovitch

    Thing is with Portland, it has other advantages for startups. There’s a lot of informal networking here. It happens on the street, in pubs, at endless meetups and hackathons, open bike rides, even ping-pong parties. That’s a knowledge base you won’t find in SF.