For those of you that were fans of the movie Swingers you may remember this infamous scene:
“[It's 2:32am, and Mike decides to call Nikki, a girl he met just a few hours ago][Nikki's machine picks up: Hi, this is Nikki. Leave a message]
MIKE: Hi, uh, Nikki, this is Mike. I met you at the, um, at the Dresden tonight. I just called to say that I had a great time... and you should call me tomorrow, or in two days, whatever. Anyway, my number is 213-555-4679 -
[the machine beeps. Mike calls back, the machine picks up]
MIKE Hi, Nikki, this is Mike again. I just called cuz it sounded like your machine might've cut me off when I, before I finished leaving my number. Anyway, uh, and, y'know, and also, sorry to call so late, but you were still at the Dresden when I left so I knew I'd get your machine. Anyhow, uh, my number's 21 -
[the machine beeps. Mike calls back; the machine picks up again]
MIKE: 213-555-4679. That's it. I just wanna leave my number. I didn't want you to think I was weird or desperate, or... we should just hang out and see where it goes cuz it's nice and, y'know, no expectations. Ok? Thanks a lot. Bye bye.
[a few more calls. Mike walks away from the phone... then walks back and calls again; once again, the machine picks up]
NIKKI: [picks up] Mike?
MIKE: [very cheerful] Nikki? Great! Did you just walk in or were you listening all along?
NIKKI: Don't ever call me again.
Yeah, communicating with potential investors can feel a bit like that.
In fact, a few years ago I was speaking with an investor friend in Switzerland about manager communication. I asked him how much he liked to hear from his current managers and potential investments and, as was his wont, he laconically answered “Enough.” When I pressed him a bit further, he provided a story to illustrate his point.
“There is a manager that I hear from every day it seems. Every time I open the mail or get an email or answer the phone, I know it must be them. Finally, I started marking ‘Deceased’ on everything they sent and sending it back. Eventually the communication stopped.”
Seriously, when you have to fake your own death to escape an aggressive fund marketer, they’ve probably gone just a HAIR too far, donchathink?
All kidding aside, communication (how much and how often) is a serious question, and one that I get a lot from fund managers, particularly those frustrated with a lack of progress from potential investors.
While some managers react to slow moving capital-raising cycles by reducing or ceasing all communication (bad idea!), others move too far in the other direction, potentially killing (hopefully just figuratively) their prospects with emails, letters, calls, etc. But there is a happy medium for investor communication if you follow these simple guidelines.
Early communication – In the earliest days, just after you’ve met a new potential investor, your goals for communication are simple:
- Provide key information about the fund (pitch book, performance history);
- Attempt to schedule a meeting (or a follow up meeting) to discuss the fund in person;
- Establish what additional materials the prospect would like to see (DDQ, ongoing monthly/quarterly letters, audits, white papers, etc.)
- Send those materials
Your only goal at this stage is to see if you can move the ball forward to get to a meeting or a follow up meeting. Think of it like dating. Just not like Swingers dating. You always want to try to move the ball down the field, with the realization that being overzealous is more likely to get you slobberknockered than a touchdown.
Ongoing communication – After you have established a dialog with a potential investor, you should have realized (read: ASKED) what that investor wishes to receive on an ongoing basis. You should continue sending that. In perpetuity. Unless they ask you to stop, or they literally or figuratively die. Think about how much communication that an investor receives from the 10,000 hedge funds, 2,209 private equity funds, and 200+ venture capital funds that are actively fundraising. If your fund falls completely off the radar, how likely is it than an investor will think about you down the line? Yeah, them ain’t good odds. Your ongoing communication should consist of a combination of the following:
- Monthly performance and commentary;
- White papers (educationally focused);
- Invitations to webinars or investor days that you are hosting or notifications about where you will be speaking;
- Email if you are going to be in the prospects’ vicinity to see if an additional meeting makes sense.
In addition, it is a good idea to establish an appropriate time to call during your meetings. For example, after the initial or follow up meeting, ask specifically when you should follow up via phone. And then do it – no ifs, ands or buts. Even if performance isn’t great at the moment. Even if you feel you’ve now got bigger fish to fry. Make the call. And during that call, make an appointment for another call. And so on and so on and so on.
The trick here is to keep the fund in front of a potential investor without being in their face. And to do that, you MUST ask questions and you must be prepared to hear that another call and/or meeting may not make sense at the moment. Take cues from potential investors. Trust me, they’ll appreciate you for it.
During Due Diligence – If you are lucky enough to make it to the due diligence stage, I would suggest preparing a basic package of materials that you can send to expedite the process and demonstrate a high level of professionalism.
- AIMA approved DDQ – And don’t leave out questions. We’ve all seen these enough to know when questions have been deleted. If a question isn’t applicable put in N/A.
- Audits (all years since inception)
- Biographies of principals
- Organization chart
- Offering documents
- Articles of incorporation
- Investment management agreement
- Information about outside board members
- Service provider contacts
- Valuation policies (if applicable)
- Form ADV (I and II)
After The Investment – After an investor makes an investment in your fund you should stay focused on your communication strategies. Ideally, you should agree with the investor BEFORE THE WIRE ARRIVES what they wish to see (and what you can provide) on an ongoing basis. This will help avoid problems in the future. You can earn bonus points by including any ODD personnel on materials related to operational due diligence, since they don’t always get shared between IDD and ODD departments.
Also, make sure you pick up the phone when performance is particularly good OR particularly bad. Many managers will call when performance is bad for advance “damage control,” but only calling when performance is bad creates a negative Pavlovian response to caller ID. Don’t be the fund people dread hearing from.
Hopefully these guidelines will help as you navigate the fundraising cycle. And if not, hey, Swingers quote.
Sources: IMDB.com, CNBC, NVCA