Creative Strategies for Finding LP Investors for Your Venture Fund

When talking to first-time fund managers, Precursor Ventures’ Charles Hudson often shares this piece of advice:

“If you’re new to fundraising, chances are you’ll run out of one of four things during the process: Hope, patience, financial runway, or LP leads. You can survive one or two of those, but usually not more than three.”

Hudson’s point – one echoed by many of the fund managers at this year’s RAISE Conference – is that raising a venture fund is a grueling process. Even though LPs may take a hundred meetings or more over the course of a year, most will only make a handful of investments. For my first fund – New Cycle Capital – we talked to 120 investors to get 13 to say “yes” and raise $26 million.

In addition, many limited partners are forthright that they take meetings to learn, even if the odds of investing are miniscule. In fact, one large family office said at RAISE that they take many meetings, but add just one new fund a year.  This means emerging fund managers will need to do hundreds of pitch meetings over a 12-18-month period to make a fund happen.

How do you get these meetings? And how do you make sure you’re being efficient with your time? Here are some of the tips our RAISE panelists shared for finding and getting in front of the right LPs.

1. Start to build relationships early.

Many LPs want to cultivate relationships with fund managers over time, before they invest – so get in front of them as early as possible.

“One of the things we like to do is follow a manager over a cycle. It helps us to see how they invest and how they handle opportunities and pitfalls,” said Nicole Belytschko, Managing Director at CM Capital Advisors. “This really informs our process and allows us to get to know the manager and their inner workings.”

Starting relationships early is particularly important with the gatekeepers like Cambridge Associates, who have additional internal processes and conduct deep due diligence.

“We encourage groups to get in front of us before they’re ready to start fundraising,” said Zach Gaucher, Senior Research Associate at Cambridge Associates. “Coming to us and saying, ‘I’m halfway closed, I’m two months before things are wrapped up’ doesn’t give LPs time to establish a relationship and go through a diligence process.”

2. Ask for intros and insights.

We heard from many LPs that they’re eager to take meetings with people introduced to them by a trusted friend or colleague, so don’t be afraid to ask for these intros.

You can also tap into your VC network to get a better sense of which LPs might be a good fit. I’ve found that other fund managers generally know what their own LPs are looking for and will want to make introductions if there’s a good fit.

3. Get some deals going early with AngelList.

If you’re just getting started, AngelList can be a solid source of funds to get a few deals done early, noted Brendan Wallace, co-founder of Fifth Wall Ventures.

“I used AngelList to incubate our fund,” Wallace said. “I made a website for the fund even before we had capital, then raised money on AngelList to do about $25 million worth of deals. This allowed us to test our investment thesis and build a track record.”

4. Analyze PitchBook or Preqin data to focus your list.

While most agree fundraising is a numbers game, James Joaquin of Obvious Ventures suggests using PitchBook data to narrow your target list.

“Our second fund was more of a grind than our first one, because we were going for much more institutional investment and we increased the fund size by 50 percent. We had to take a lot more shots on goal,” Joaquin said.

To facilitate this process, Obvious “bought some very expensive PitchBook data,” ran a set of filters to see which LPs invested in their fund size and new managers, then put a weighting on the funds they thought had a similar story or track record to theirs. The result was “a much more focused target list to work from,” added Joaquin.

(I’ve also found that Preqin can be useful to see which funds an institutional investor has traditionally invested in – you can also use Crunchbase to research which funds have similar investment strategies.)

5. Seek out strategic investors.

For sector-specific funds, there can be a strategic advantage to soliciting investment from the leaders in the industry.

Wallace realized that if he could get the biggest incumbents in the real estate industry to become LPs in his real estate-focused fund, it could give him a strategic edge in subsequent fundraising.

“We raised the first half of our fund from the biggest real estate incumbents like Lowes and CBRE – basically a big real estate name from each of the strategic sectors of the industry. They saw this as a way to get ahead of new technologies and possibly identify competitive threats earlier,” said Wallace. “After that, it was easier to get meetings with endowments and pensions.”

According to limited partners, strategic investors also address a key issue facing new venture capital firms: lack of differentiation. Notable strategic investors demonstrate that a firm is likely to get unique deal flow and can provide strong due diligence on potential investors. Think hard about which investors will make your story better, and get them lined up first.  

6. Tap into your founders.

If you’ve got some deals under your belt already, consider asking your founders to invest.

“It’s really great if you get founders you’ve backed before to back you – even if it’s a small check,” said Eva Ho, General Partner at Fika Ventures. “We had almost twenty founders from our past funds put in a check varying from $25,000-$100,000.”

Ho noted that this strategy also made her fund more appealing to other prospective LPs, sharing that, “It definitely made people sit a few minutes longer during our pitch.”

7. Don’t lose hope – or patience.

Finally, Ho notes that you should be prepared to “grind it out.”

“I think we pitched close to 500 people over seven months,” she added. “There’s no other way to do it.”

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