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Failing forward: how I learned to respond to getting turned down by investors

Written by Sam Marley on Monday, 04 December 2017. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Investors kept shooting down Sam Marley when he first sought investment for Blurr. However, this taught him that the secret to a happy investor relationship is finding someone who believes in your startup for what it is

Failing forward: how I learned to respond to getting turned down by investors

Imagine that you’re at a coffee shop or in a boardroom with your investor deck ready, sharpest shirt on, shoes polished, ready to woo the investor who's given you the opportunity to pitch to them about your company and how it’s going to change the world. All you have to do is a ten-minute presentation, 30 minutes of Q&A and then you’ll walk out the door with cheque in hand. Sounds easy, right?

That's what my co-founders and I thought when we went out to raise our seed round for our location-based photo-sharing app Blurr. We didn't have revenue – or any plans for it – but we had scaled our app to multiple colleges across the United States and had achieved traction, the imperative factor for any startup. However, as we did the rounds of meetings and presentations we quickly found that raising money wasn't as easy as we initially envisioned.

We were three 21-year-old first-time founders still in university. And even though we had a cool product, an amazing story, unique vision and irreplaceable energy, we quickly found out that it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. We became disheartened with investors on the other side of the table who didn't match our energy and didn't even crack a smile at our usual punch lines that are all over our presentation deck. We started to question ourselves, tone down our unique presentation and even listen to non-interested investors’ advice about how to make our deck and company more standard. Throughout our whole journey, listening to that advice was the worst mistake we ever made.

What we quickly learnt is that we should double down on what makes us unique. Instead of bending over backwards to please investors, we had to find investors who loved us and our company for who we are and where we are going rather than who they wanted us to be. What that requires is greater patience, more self-awareness and a bloody thick skin. We developed a two-meeting rule where after two meetings we would ask the investor to make a clear decision about their next steps. That made it much easier to cut through the noise to determine who is serious and who we wanted to have a piece of our company. Taking this new approach helped incredibly and we eventually had a team of incredibly helpful, thoughtful and excited investors who couldn't wait to give us the money to make our vision a reality.

So much of securing investment is networking your way to the right doors and finding people that fit your company and personality. At the end of the day, the investor is giving you the money, not your company. They believe in you to make it happen and that's why if there isn't a personality fit it’s never going to happen. Be patient, know yourself and take every piece of advice with a grain of salt.

About the Author

Sam Marley

Sam Marley

Having clocked time at Yale University and as a Trade Operations specialist at Wellington Management, Sam Marley co-founded Blurr, the event photo sharing app, with two friends in 2015. He now spends most of his days in Los Angeles.

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