11 Smart Ways to Vet an Investor Before You Seal the Deal

(Investors around a table.)


Q: What’s one smart way to vet a potential investor before sealing the deal?

A: Talk to other companies they have invested in. “By reaching out to founders and executives at other companies that your potential investor has invested in, you’ll be able to get a sense of how hands on they will be, what type of advice or value-add they provide (aside from cash), and overall whether or not it was a good experience. This type of information will help you decide whether that particular investor will match what you are looking for.” Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile

Find out what value they provide beyond money. “Ask your investor to articulate exactly what value they will provide beyond writing a check. If they can’t confidently and clearly articulate their value, you should not move forward in working toward terms. Ask them to explain how they delivered this value to other investments and how they can do the same specifically for your startup.” Andrew Thomas, SkyBell Doorbell

See how they handle negative news. “The only way to truly know a potential investor’s character is to go through tough times with him or her. To simulate that, strategically surface negative news and gauge their reaction. How they handle it will speak volumes.” Sean Kelly, SnackNation

Research the investor online. “It’s amazing what you can find out about a person or entity by doing some thorough searches online. Research their background, prior investments, LinkedIn, business websites, online articles, press mentions, etc. Look for any red flags and validate any statements made. With social media and the amount of content published online, you can verify and uncover a lot about most individuals or entities.” Shawn Schulze, HomeHealthCareAgencies.com

Back channel references. “Ask a lot of questions. If you really want to do a full vet, find out who they’ve invested in and do back channel references on them. You’d be surprised, not all VCs have sterling reputations within the community. Conversely, there are a lot of less well-known VCs who are both extremely helpful and have amazing reputations. The only way to find out is by doing back channel references.” Joseph Walla, HelloSign

Find out if they want to learn from you. “There should be an obvious pattern. Look at their portfolio and the relationships they’ve maintained with the people they’ve invested in. A good investor is first and foremost a people person — someone with broad knowledge or experience and a thirst to learn through you. A good investor will trade their money and experience in exchange for an opportunity to grow and learn from you.” Julien Pham, RubiconMD

Discover if they have a willingness to participate in follow-on rounds. “Unless your startup is witnessing hockey-stick growth, expect to raise multiple ‘bridge’ and/or ‘seed’ rounds before you raise Series A. If existing investors decide not to join a follow-on round, it sends a negative signal to other investors. Dig into the investor’s past track record and measure how often they have participated and/or led subsequent bridge rounds. Stay away from the one-timers.” Vishal Shah, NoPaperForms

Know whether they can take on a lead role for you. “Investors typically know and work with other investors. Should you have to raise more money, they should be willing to take the lead on helping you raise. This type of investor is very important to have early on in your company as it will dictate success in future rounds.” Andy Karuza, FenSens

Talk to a previous company that had a period of failure. “The true test of a great investor is how they react when times are tough. Do they disengage? Provide helpful guidance and introductions? Do they redouble their efforts? Every investor has had struggling investments. Find out who in their portfolio went through tough times and get the skinny about what it’s going to be like for you when you face your most important challenges.” Trevor Sumner, Perch Interactive

Focus on investors who grasp your business quickly. “Having raised around $5 million from a variety of investors, I’ve learned that those who grasp the business quickly will be the best investors. Don’t waste time explaining your business model, including your value proposition, profit model, key resources and core processes to an uninformed investor. Instead, focus your time and energy with those who intuitively appreciate the opportunity.” David Ciccarelli, Voices.com

Share your vision. “Do you share your vision with the VCs you are looking to get money from? Two things you would get to know: 1) Whether the VC would be a partner in your vision and help you refine it as you progress, and 2) If there is disagreement regarding the vision of the company, how would you two sort it out? It is very important for you to be open and transparent with VCs since you are looking for a partner for next three or four years with them.” Shilpi Sharma, Kvantum Inc.