Two weeks ago I wrote about a good way for entrepreneurs to ask one VC for a referral to another. This time let’s talk about one of the most effective ways to ask your VC for business referrals once you’re venture-backed. This also applies to entrepreneurs who are looking to derive the most from any of their boardmembers, be they investors, industry experts, or simply independents.
Effective entrepreneurs proactively seek to assemble a board of directors or advisors that will add value to their company: people that can bring industry expertise, business development connections, financing, or general wisdom to serve as a sounding board for strategic reflection. In venture-backed startups of course, the VCs typically insist on one or more board seats, with the purpose of both monitoring their investment (“control”) but also in the pursuit of serving their portfolio company (“support”) to best achieve capital gains for the fund. Even though in my opinion VCs in France historically leaned too far toward the Control rather than Support end of the spectrum, this behavior is changing for the better.
So if the board is comprised of the right people, all members should be willing to move mountains in service to the company.
However, willingness to help and benevolent intentions are requisite conditions but not sufficient in and of themselves. If an entrepreneur is asking a boardmember for an endorsed introduction, she (or he) should explain the request explicitly, ideally in a specifically tailored email which the boardmember can easily forward.
“Can you introduce me to someone at Facebook?” is a typical question I might be asked by an entrepreneur. Yes, I can. To a quite senior guy as a matter of fact who is overly generous in granting me favors. However, as you can imagine, this person faces numerous demands on his time. Furthermore, he does not understand your business nearly as well as you do, and he cannot read your mind to anticipate what you want from him. He will, generous as he is nonetheless, probably respond with something like, “How can I help?”
So if you can address this question in a concise and easily forwardable email, your odds of a fruitful encounter improve. Here’s a sample draft for a purely hypothetical case:
I would be grateful if you could help me with an introduction into Adobe, specifically to someone that handles partnerships within their marketing automation group. We have observed with admiration how, in its business model transformation, Adobe has built up its massive marketing cloud offering an enterprise-grade integrated data marketing solution with the agility of the pure players. As you know, our conviction is that the black-box RTB platforms like Criteo will cede ground to open solutions like ours. We believe that Adobe might be an ideal partner for our rollout and would like to explore this with them. Could you help us identify the appropriate person?