How to Use PR to Attract Attention from Startup Investors
Wondering how startup investors find the companies they invest in?
Patrick Mathieson, a venture investor at Toba Capital, lists more than a dozen ways in a Quora post. The first one he mentions is hearing about the company in the news or press.
He starts his list by claiming that the items are “in no particular order,” but we have our doubts. There’s a reason he named media mentions first.
Startup investors are constantly scanning news to keep a pulse on trends. They want to be the first to pounce on the Next Big Thing, so they use news sites and Twitter lists (which usually link to news sites) to do that.
Because media mentions come from third parties rather than the companies themselves, startup investors are more likely to view the ideas contained within the pieces as more credible than if the founder had just reached out to their VC directly.
But will any news coverage a startup gets automatically send VCs knocking on their doors? Not necessarily.
Here’s how to craft your PR strategy so that it resonates with the investor crowd.
Identify Your Niche and Speak to Your Target Audience
For a startup that’s just getting established, it may seem impossible to get your name in the headlines of major publications with all the noise of your competition. Luckily, you don’t have to.
Most venture capital firms have a particular focus, such as fintech or clean energy, and keep their investments exclusive to companies that fit that focus. That also means they usually pay attention to the publications that cater to those industries fairly closely.
What niche are you in? Chances are there’s at least five to 10 publications specific to it. (Bonus: if you follow the startup investors you love on social media, odds are they’ll occasionally share pieces from these publications.)
Once you’ve identified your targets, think about three or four topics you can talk about that no one else is talking about within that niche. Reach out to the editors of these publications and offer to byline pieces for them around the topics you’ve identified.
Establish Credibility Through Thought Leadership
We have a whole different blog post on the value of thought leadership, but for the purposes of this piece, we’ll say that this approach is valuable because it shows investors you’re someone who understands your business and the space you’re in.
Thought leadership gives you a chance to start a conversation with an investor without actively pitching them. Your words are essentially a pitch that the investor can use to assess your investment-worthiness organically, making such pieces a powerful relationship starter.
That doesn't mean you shouldn’t still pitch investors – after all, that’s a big part of a founder’s job. But OCA Ventures partner Tamim Abdul Majid puts it this way: "If we see founders and senior management teams getting consistent media attention for their insights on the problem they are solving and the future of their market, it's a positive signal to us.”
Thought leadership shows you’re not a flash in the pan doing a round of PR to try to drive up valuation. You’re deeply invested and thoughtful about your space and have the kind of expertise that a VC looks for.
Show Traction Through a Steady Stream of Updates
Let’s say you’ve launched your company and you’re doing everything to push it forward. During this time, there may not be many big product updates or sexy partnerships.
But radio silence could be a red flag to potential investors. They may start to wonder if there’s trouble brewing at home that could create more risk than they like.
Fortunately, there are ways to “manufacture” news for your company that shows you’re still 100 percent in the game and are making waves in your industry.
My colleague Clay Kuntz breaks it down in the piece linked above, but some of the examples he uses:
- Launch a survey: Reporters love surveys because they provide the raw data that can drive a story.
- Announce a company milestone: An update like number of units sold or number of users can be a powerful metric for indicating growth.
- Announce an executive hire: These can signal to startup investors not only that you’re growing but also that you’re maturing (especially if the hire is in a newly created side of the business).
Highlight Multiple People on Your Team
Recently, Steve Schlafman, an investor at Primary Venture Partners, tweeted this to his followers:
I have three pitch decks in my inbox without any team slide.— Steve Schlafman🌎 (@schlaf) September 16, 2020
Founders: the team slide is the single most important one, especially at pre-seed. Never leave it out.
“I have three pitch decks in my inbox without any team slide. Founders: the team slide is the single most important one, especially at pre-seed. Never leave it out.”
It may be an underestimated metric, but having a solid team, beyond just the founder, is a major component to a startup’s attractiveness to investors. While driving interest in a founder is good and helpful for putting a face to the brand, investors need to know all their dollars aren’t riding on one person.
One thing that’s sure to get their attention? If multiple members of your team team are regularly being highlighted for their contributions to the company.
Our client NanoGraf does this extremely well. The battery technology company has at least three members of its leadership team who all regularly give media interviews.
- In this WIRED piece, NanoGraf Chief Technology Officer Cary Hayner gets into the details of battery chemistry.
- In this podcast interview with S&P Global, CEO Francis Wang is able to delve into the global supply chain issues specific to the battery industry.
- And in this interview with C4ISRNet (a military publication), Chip Breitenkamp, VP of Business Development, was able to share the significance of a recent contract NanoGraf won for the US military.
Promote, Promote, Promote
This is probably the most important step.
Do you remember our friend Patrick Mathieson – the VC I quoted at the start of the post? One of the other ways he mentioned VCs learn about new companies is through Twitter.
Investing is still very much based on shared networks, and in the age of social media, our networks have grown massively. In response, many VCs have crafted carefully curated Twitter lists of reporters or publications they like to keep tabs on to alert them to new opportunities.
When you secure a PR win – an interview with your founder, a culture profile, an article your CTO is quoted in – be sure to share it from your company account as quickly as possible.
In addition, encourage the members of your team to share the piece from their own personal accounts as well. Personal accounts tend to get more engagement than company ones, plus the more people share your news, the more likely an investor is to see it.
Go Forth and Brag
If you thought getting on startup investors’ radar was all cold LinkedIn pitches and hobnobbing at cocktail bars, think again.
It turns out the PR you’re already doing to get customers can also help you start (and extend) conversations with VCs.
Now that you know a little more about how investors choose the companies they do, you can start tailoring your PR efforts even more to speak to them.
Want help? Check out these other awesome PR tips from the Propllr team: