In the world of startup fundraising, sometimes it’s hard to know what everyone is saying. Buzzwords comes and go faster than you can call for an Uber. The “art of the pitch,” as they say, is constantly evolving to keep up with the times.
However, as the trends change, one part of investor-to-founder communication has remained rather constant. During the pitch, no one is actually saying what they really mean. Understandably, this can be frustrating for both sides involved. Therefore, I have put together this handy investor-to-founder translator for you.
Investor to Founder
The biggest offenders of startup fundraising double-speak are, of course, the investors. It’s their job to remain neutral and avoid being too direct. After all, they may not be interested in investing today, but tomorrow is a whole different story. That’s because today’s sub-par photo app is tomorrow’s Instagram. Thus, the investor tends to act Swiss while peacocking just enough to keep their spot in line. To my brave founders, here are a few sayings you might see along the way with their actual translations.
“It’s too early for us to jump in here” = I can’t think of a real reason to decline
“We’re looking for mission-driven founders” = We expect you to work unhealthy amounts of hours on this
“When is your round closing?” = How long can I delay in giving you a commitment?
“Who else are you talking with?” = I’m going to email them right after this meeting to gossip about you
“Who else is investing in this round?” = Is anyone smarter than me sticking their neck out first?
“How are your cohorts performing?” = I sound smart if I use words like “cohorts”
“Oh, yes. I know them very well!” = We had lunch once
“We’re going to pass at this time, but I’ll be rooting from the sidelines for you!” = I’m appearing supportive just in case you actually make it work and I want to invest later
Founder to Investor
Of course, startup founders themselves are also guilty of being hard to understand at times. In the great game of startup theater, one is usually putting on an act of some kind. So from the other side of the table, here are a few things that you might overhear – likely at the Creamery cafe in San Francisco – along with their actual meaning.
“Would be great to give you an update on the business!” = I’m looking for a bridge round
“We are doubling every month!” = Last month, we had 1 sale, and now we have 2!
“Working on a HUGE partnership with a big tech company” = Google’s lawyers have kindly asked that I stop stalking their BD team
“Things are going great!” = We are totally screwed
Bonus! Pitch Meeting Translator
Before we go, there’s also a bit of transition required for the actual pitch meeting itself. Look for these signals and know their actual meanings.
“If you don’t mind, our associate, Brad, is going to sit in on this meeting” = Brad is doing due diligence for us on a competitive investment
Muffins or some form of croissant is provided in the conference room = They really want to get in on this deal
VC allows the meeting to run over time = They REALLY want in on this deal
VC runs for the door right when time is up = This deal is never happening