Startup Toolkit: How to Rock an Investor Update
Your first investors have to love you, *really* love you, warts and all, to open their wallets.
At Habit Labs we’ve got an amazing, committed team of investors who embody the phrase “value add.”
Yep - they’re written us checks.
But investors should put up more than just money. Ideally they should contribute other gems (intros to other investors, product testing, etc.) of essential value to your company’s formative stage(s).
We also believe it’s our responsibility to ‘put out’ more than just a good product. Plus, it often takes more than a few months to build something brutally useful and brilliantly functional.
Let’s face it - the most important product in an early stage startup is the team.
Communicating team growth and efficacy (or team challenges and breakdowns) to investors is an important part of the relationship.
One way I try to fulfill this commitment (and stay in close touch) is to provide our investors with frequent updates.
In addition to helping our Boston, NY, and Silicon-Valley based angels stay on top of what’s cooking at Habit Labs HQ in Seattle, the investor updates serve as an internal time capsule, a sort of fossil record. They’re the written history of Habit Labs in the making.
At some point in the future, I may even go back and perform linguistic analysis on word choice and try to crossmatch that to company events on the calendar, but that’s geekery for another time.
Maybe it’s the English major talking, but I do believe someone on your team should act as the bard, recording events from day one.
Trust me - there will be plenty of times in your company’s future where reciting a ballad of past wins and losses provides an emotional depth charge the team needs to revive.
Do I ‘have’ to do this? Did any of my investors start to ask for updates before we started serving ‘em up? No. Thank the major deities not a single funder in our lineup is ‘high maintenance.’
And I want to keep it that way. So far, this reporting *seems* to be keeping em happy (but funders, feel free to rip me a new one if that’s not the case).
In fact, we’ll be doing investor updates monthly (at minimum) via email, and I’ll be calling our investors at least 1x a month (probably 2x a month during a ‘raise’ period).
Do I think writing this up all the crap below is a worthwhile use of a couple hours of my time? Oh hell yes.
The “investor update” actually serves triple duty:
1. Keeps investors close.
2. Serves as fossil record of company culture and code in progress.
3. Acts as a killer way to focus on metrics that seem positively correlated with your success (or stalling).
Another plus - an abbreviated version of the ‘investor update’ is a juicy bite of business news to peruse for potential investors, friends + family who think your founder journey is nuts - even frenemies in your sector.
Doing a monthly update is also guaranteed to generate good meat for blog post fodder, which is part of my monthly marcomm time commitment.
It’s super-easy to tee up a week’s worth of posts (or more) when writing the update, especially because my mind’s already focused on wordsmithing. I just copy/paste topics and headers right into my Google calendar as I compose the report.
If you haven’t done an investor update yet, don’t worry. It’s never too late to make a good impression. Your investors have probably already mentally written you off anyways, so just dive in.
How to Get Started:
1. Start an email folder titled “Monthly Investor Updates.” Begin to copy/paste and send links of interest to yourself, then save them to this folder. You’ll use items in this folder to fill in the template below on a monthly basis.
2. Get email list of current investors, prospective investors, advisors/mentors, friends + family, frenemies who should fear you. You’ll send a version of this document to all those lists, once a month.
3. Organize your materials in the order most of your funders use to decide if you’re a good investment, ie team, culture, product.
4. The whole shebang should take a page or less in a Google doc. Edit ruthlessly.
NOTE: Sometimes it’s tempting to lump press items into marcomm, then talk about usage and biz metrics in traction, then stuff the team updates into near-criminally boring ops updates, then financials.
Don’t bore people. This should read like a letter to that good friend who was always sort of better than you in high school. Show off a bit, but not too much. Keep it real.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Remember, your investors want to think of you as people, and feel the passion for your problem + product burning through their browser.
You want them to remember you month to month, and take your call about any one of your needs on a Sunday (or respond to an email asking for press intros less than 24 hours before an embargoed release).
THE BIG DEAL: You want to keep them invested in your business, and in you, personally and professionally.
It’s easy to lose the romance after the check is in your bank account and they’re waiting to see if you’re one of the startups that dies on the vine or one that 100x’s them. Your monthly update, if underutilized, is a missed opportunity to maximize their investment in you.
Here’s our template:
Title of Email: We are Kicking Major Ass this Month…OR…We are Sucking at Startup Life this Month and Need Your Help with X
Greetings XX -
Time for our monthly update. We love you. If you want to hook us up with intros, here’s the 3 sentence company/product/team/founder description paragraph you can copy/paste:
Sentence 1: Blah blah blah we’re awesome. Or blah blah blah we’re sucking at A and need B to fix this. Or blah blah blah we’re sucking at C and have no clue how to fix it. Help.
Sentence 2: Market stat from relevant email or blog post (not nec. yours).
Sentence 3: This is crazy, because we just happen to be building X for Y. Opportunity is now Z.
We sure could use your help with:
Need 1: Team. (Hola Mr. A, you know this guy…)
Need 2: Intros. (Hey Mrs. B, can you intro me to Mrs. C so she can help with this?)
Need 3: Product feedback. (Hey D, E, F, we’d love to have you look at this…)
Need 4: Press. (Hey Mr. G, don’t you know someone at Wired?)
Need 5: Other. (Hey Miss H, can you help us with blah?)
Now on to the rest of our BIG news. Amazing press. Crazy product coding. The world is our oyster. Until it’s not. If the shit is hitting the fan, put that here. But, either way, we’re gonna need your help this month for X.
- Total team strength: New since last month (provide awesome intro, link to soc-me)
- Trying to rope in: Have offer out to superstar/ninja/mathematics coder that would look Bobby Fischer look dumb
- Still looking for: Need your help finding Y
- Nifty thing we do together, ie we do this because we love what we do…(new pullup machine)
- Sweet and or funny anecdote, ie new office dog
- New process in place (we published our axioms here and commit on Git)
- Lines of code or other product update (NOTE: Tech founders either love or loathe this. Figure out if your team really gives a rat’s ass about this being an externally communicated metric before sharing. I now ask Buster for the top 3-5 important product updates from his perspective, and copy/paste those right in).
- Dev milestones
- Learnings (3 points)
- Direction last time
- X for Y
- You’ll get a look…(date)
STATE OF THE BIZ:
- Previous month overview/super stat
- This month overview/super stat
- Key user metrics (users/subscribers: total, new, churn)
- GRR metrics (growth, revenue, retention)
- Partnerships, etc.
- (If you’ve got really big cajones…) Cash on hand, burn last month, runway
- Financing - planned time til next funding raise (should be, ah, before runway ends)
- Book mention
- Press mention
- Late night TV
- Conferences/events: Spoke here
- Online: Blog/Quora post here got mad traffic
- IRL: Did this community leadership thing in Seattle to grow ecosystem
- Raising: Here’s who we’re meeting; here’s who we want to meet
- If not raising: Nothing new; remember next raise this date
Another trixsy benefit gleaned from the investor update…
Composing it helps you start to gather data on which metrics of note are correlated with your startup’s success (or lack thereof).
Here’s a specific example particularly if you’re also measuring subjective team evaluation of efficacy on a weekly basis (TechStars method from Andy Sack).
Then, when you break out job descriptions/duties by team member and set goals, you have some actual basis and metrics that matter to jumpstart planning and stay on track during scrums etc.
Nice teasing closer about what’s coming down the pipe with product next month, or if you’ve got speaking engagements etc., pimp them here.
Now go forth and communicate. Startup founders who don’t reach out frequently are often feeling insecure, scared, or on the brink of failure. Don’t be ashamed to pull in everything of value your investors have to contribute. It’s part of their job.
But they can’t provide you with resources that will help you swim instead of sink if. you. don’t. ask.