*How To Union Negotiation

When you bring outside capital into your business, you’re getting more than a quick injection of cash. Accompanying the money into your company is a new set of stakeholders: Your investors.

The relationship you build with these people or groups will have a direct and lasting impact on the success of your venture. Beyond weighing in on your plan and decisions through their voting rights, investors can become partners, clients and ambassadors of your business. The successful ones are typically well connected—they can open doors you didn’t know existed.

Soon after we started ModernAdvisor, our investors facilitated a couple of crucial introductions to high-profile people in our industry. We’ve also benefited from brainstorming sessions with our backers. It’s essentially free advice, from knowledgeable professionals who have a vested interest in your success.

The more your investors know about your direction and the challenges you’re facing, the better equipped they’ll be to offer help. Here’s how you can keep your backers informed and on-side.

1. Know your audience

What motivates someone to invest in a young company in the first place?

An angel investor may simply desire to stay involved in a business while enjoying semi-retirement. Startups are exciting, and everyone wants to be part of a success story. Backing a fledgling venture that goes on to greatness makes an investor look smart in the eyes of peers and business contacts.

Investment firms—think private equity or venture capital—are looking to make a decent return. Fledgling companies offer greater upside potential—it’s easier to double—or triple, or quadruple—capital put into a small, young venture than a larger, more established one. There’s less information available about small private companies than publicly-listed corporate behemoths, so they’re more likely to be undervalued. But just because you don’t have analysts crawling through your financials doesn’t mean you can get away with hiding or misrepresenting the status of your venture. Sophisticated investors know what they’re looking for, and will expect just as much information from you as they would from any other holding.

Quite often your investors will be older than you, and you need to keep that in mind. Don’t assume that they don’t understand your challenges—most have been a CEO at some point. They may not have experience with your particular industry or business model, but they’ll know if you’re downplaying or exaggerating the reasons for your success or failure.

2. Communicate early and often

You don’t want to annoy your investors by peppering them with trivial details, but you also don’t want them to lose interest in your company, or lose confidence in you as a leader.

It’s your responsibility to manage expectations around timelines and performance, especially for important milestones like launch dates. Sometimes this involves straight up bad news. If you’re coming up against an unexpected challenge, it’s tempting to wait until you’ve solved it before concerning your investors with it.

But bad news must be disclosed immediately says Tracey McVicar, managing partner of Vancouver-based CAI Private Equity. “Sit on good news as long as you want, but don’t sit on bad news for a moment,” she counsels. “The sooner you make it our problem, the faster it will get solved.” Your investors may have experience with this particular issue, or know someone who does. But they can’t help you until they know you need the help.

3. Give them what they want, when (and how) they want it

Some investors will barely skim your annual report, while others will expect monthly updates. Get a feel for each investor’s communication style, and modify your delivery accordingly. Let them know what they can expect and when.

Never assume that an investor will spend more than five minutes with your report. If you have a lot of material to cover, include an executive summary at the beginning. Be concise. “Light, tight, and bright” is your mantra. If you plan to hold a shareholder meeting by web conference, make sure to give plenty of advance notice. (For bonus points, provide a recording afterward for those who can’t attend).

However you’re communicating, there are a few basic categories of information your investors will expect to see in your letters and reports:

  • The numbers: Nobody’s going to invest in your company unless they think it’s a sound business decision, and performance metrics are the purest representation of this. You’ll want to report on your top and bottom line growth, which demonstrates your ability to raise revenue while keeping costs under control. Other important indicators of the health of your startup include user and/or customer growth, attrition, and engagement. You should also be tracking the cost of client acquisition —in the early days this number can be quite high, but it should decrease over time as you hone your onboarding strategy and grow your market share.
  • The business environment: No company exists in a vacuum, and your investors expect you to have your finger on the pulse of the market. You should know about regulatory changes and important trends in the market you serve. If there are new technologies becoming available that may help or hinder your growth, make sure to mention them. You also need to keep track of your competitors are up to, and be able to articulate how you are keeping up—or better yet, keeping ahead.
  • The inside track: What’s actually happening within the company? You may think there’s very little to report, when in fact there is almost always something interesting going on at a startup. Details like making a key hire or exploring a new potential market for your product aren’t visible on your balance sheet, but are still of interest to your investors.

4. Prove they were right to back you

Always remember: Investors have options. They could put the money they’re offering you into real estate, infrastructure, or a million other assets. They’ve chosen to invest it with your company—and with you as its leader—for a reason. Now your job is to maintain their confidence.

Ideally, you want to get your relationship to a point where your investors will participate in your next round. You also want a loyal investor base that will back you in important board decisions, like bringing on a new director or making a big pivot. So staying top of mind and working to ensure investors like you is a smart move.

Finally, the investor community is small. People talk. There may come a day when all you have is your reputation, and your ability to communicate impacts that reputation. Authenticity is key. Investors are professionals—they know that it’s rarely a straight line to success, and they don’t expect you to have everything figured out. What they do expect, is that you’ll be available to address their concerns as they come up. “Bad things happen,” says McVicar. “The only unforgivable sin is to ‘go dark’ on your colleagues, board, or shareholders.”

• • • • •

You’ve probably heard plenty of horror stories about investor-entrepreneur relationships gone wrong. But stay present and be proactive and honest with your backers, and you’ll be fine.

Navid Boostani is co-founder and CEO of ModernAdvisor, an online investment platform. ModernAdvisor has raised $2.7 million in seed and Series A funding.

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What’s your investor communication strategy? How do you keep your financial backers happy and interested in your success? Let us know by commenting below.

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