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How to Fundraise on Zoom Part 1: The Setup

Remote fundraising is here to stay, but it requires a different approach than in-person pitching in order for founders to be successful. In this article, guest writer Eric Bahn draws on his experience as a VC to provide a tactical guide on how to pitch over video conferencing platforms, especially Zoom and manage the fundraising process remotely. 

Keep reading for actionable advice for fundraising on Zoom or check out the Acceleration for All Awards to see how ViewSonic and Hustle Fund are teaming up to power innovative startup ideas and help first-time founders get the start they need.

Eric BahnEric Bahn is a co-founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund. Prior to Hustle Fund, Eric was an angel investor and partner at 500 Startups. Before becoming a professional investor, he spent over a decade as an operator (Facebook, Instagram) and entrepreneur (Beat The GMAT). Eric is a native of Detroit, Michigan and attended Stanford University (BA, MA), which launched his career into software and startups. Eric is happily married with two kids, loves minivans, and helps lead the Hustle Fund team from his garage in the Bay Area.

Covid is not going away quickly, and so remote work is making remote pitching feel more and more natural in the context of fundraising. It’s now possible to run your entire fundraise without physically meeting anyone — which is historically unprecedented in the VC industry.

We will cover three areas in more detail in this 2-part article, but the first thing founders should do is set up their space well:

  • A good microphone is critical!
  • Position your camera just higher than eye level.
  • Make sure your face is well lit.
  • Don’t worry about messy backgrounds, but create an intentional frame for your shot.

In part 2 of this article, I’ll explain why you should avoid using a deck.

  • Pitching without a deck is great because you can look intently at all the faces and watch for clues about if and where your pitch is resonating.
  • If you see a part of your pitch resonating (queued by heavy head nodding by the listener), double-down in that area of your pitch with a related story.

And, why you should load up your schedule.

  • With no commute, it is totally feasible to do 10-15 pitches per day.
  • Run an aggressive back-to-back process and stay organized via a CRM or spreadsheet to keep track of your conversations.
  • Follow up aggressively after the meeting and close that money!

How to fundraise on Zoom

The Evolution of Fundraising

Now I want to start with a bit of scene-setting and go through a little exercise with you. I want you to close your eyes, and remember a time pre-pandemic…

This is sometime in 2019. Imagine yourself waking up from a semi-comfortable bed at the Hyatt House in Redwood Shores, California. You’re there because that hotel is relatively cheap, and you’re getting ready for a full day of pitching on Sand Hill Road in northern California.

So you get ready, take your shower, brush your teeth, and put on your very best Patagonia vest, maybe it’s the blue one today. Then you wipe the dust from your Allbirds or Adam’s shoes and you’re looking ready to pitch.

You go get your Uber and head down to the Blue Bottle in downtown Palo Alto to get that power breakfast. It’s going to be the single origin Yirgacheffe Ethiopia pour-over and an avocado toast and it’s only $26 dollars – what a deal.

After you make sure that there are no sesame seeds or whatever in your teeth, you call another Uber and head down to Sand Hill Road to take your first meeting.

You enter the building. It’s got a beautiful minimalist aesthetic that was probably designed by a Japanese architect for millions of dollars. The receptionist greets you, and you get sort of settled and then you’re escorted over to the conference room where you see five dudes also in blue Patagonia vests (because it’s usually dudes who are the VCs in Sand Hill Road).

They are waiting to hear your pitch and you’re going through your mental prep. You do as best you can, you try to make sure that everyone’s not looking at their phones, and that they’re actually paying attention to you. Meeting 1 is done. Then you call the Uber, head to your next meeting on Sand Hill Road… 30 minutes later you’re at the reception… lather… rinse… repeat…

OK, if you had your eyes closed this entire time, you’re now welcome to open your eyes again and I have great news for you.

That BS song and dance in-person pitching may no longer be necessary because it’s post-apocalypse time. I mean, I work and pitch every day from my garage and it’s not in the Bay Area — but it is where I’m managing $50 million of AUM with my team.

How to fundraise on Zoom

Right next to me is a child’s potty, because we’re trying to potty train our two-year-old. This is totally cool, I have 8 little potties set up all around my house including in my garage. I’m smelling the potty, I have some garbage back there, and spiders are attacking me all day long. This is actually the setting that you should expect to see your VCs in moving forward when you go through your pitch.

It turns out that I think there are a lot of advantages to pitching on Zoom. But we’re going to expand our lens. It’s not just your pitch which we’re going to tactically address, but also discussing how to run an effective fundraise process, leaning into the fact that you can do this all online moving forward in this new reality.

One thing you should know about me is that I have raised a lot of money and I’ve done it almost all entirely through Zoom. This is almost entirely true for our previous and current funds, so hopefully that gives me some credibility.

The Current State of Fundraising

What is the current state of VC fundraising? It’s basically this – we are beholden to our overlord which is the Zoom platform. This is the gold standard that everyone’s using. It’s not Microsoft Teams which is a little bit awkward still, no offense to all the Microsoft Teamers out there. Zoom is the place where people are going and the tool that people are using most for their pitching right now and I don’t think that’s going to change.

It took a little while in 2020 once the pandemic started for VCs to actually feel comfortable making decisions only online, and not being able to meet with teams in person. In fact a little bit of macro context on this is that a lot of VC funds, the traditional ones, had a very specific kind of protocol where the final steps were to meet the founders in person.

That seemed reasonable I think in the previous era, but in today’s post-apocalypse era it’s no longer happening and it took a little bit of time for people to catch up in my industry.

So I’m going to start with some very tactical things about pitching on Zoom and then we’re going to look at the fundraising process itself.

Let me walk through some of these things and bear with me if it sounds a little bit crazy. Take a moment to watch a tour of my workspace below. I’m in a garage. I’m usually standing or walking on my treadmill all day. I have a space heater for times when it’s a little bit cold. I have a gigantic camera.

How to Design Your Setup for Online Pitching

Let me talk about some of the elements in my garage.

My clock: I have a gigantic clock and it is quite helpful as sometimes when you’re in full presentation mode, it’s impossible for you to track what the time is. Depending on what kind of software you’re using, it will obfuscate the time. Having that clock in the corner of my eye keeps me on track and on time on Zoom. Ending on time is really critical in your fundraising process.

Lighting: I have a cheap light that I bought on Amazon. Some people go with a ring light, but I just go with whatever is sort of soft and movable. It cost me $10 I think, and I have a ViewSonic monitor which is ridiculously wide-screen.

Onto the camera. When I’m on Zoom, it’s important that I’m speaking at eye level. Most of the materials that I click on are at the high part of my screen, so it makes it easy for me to have eye contact with the folks I’m pitching, aka the camera. I put the camera right in the center to be center-framed. I don’t put too much headroom above me and I have a decent-ish camera. It’s 1080 pixels because I want clarity so people can see my expressions and smiles. These small things make a difference.

The new eye contact on Zoom is looking directly into the lens and it’s a little bit subtle. When you can see me reading stuff, the eye tracking looks pretty good, so think about that kind of positioning. It makes it feel much more natural when you deliver a pitch.

Now onto sound. This is something that I learned over 10 years ago when I ran an education company. I had to do hundreds of webinars over the course of that career. If you were to spend just $100 on your entire audio visual setup, I would recommend spending $95 of that on sound. It’s OK for the visuals to be a little bit grainy, a little bit janky, and it’s OK if the lighting’s a little bit off too. But the cardinal sin is having terrible sound. This is where you get the most bang for your buck.

What do I use? I have a condenser microphone – it’s an Audiotechnica AT-2020 USB Condenser and it’s 13 years old or so. I have it on a spider mount and arm which allows me to reposition the mic for sitting, standing, etc. When you have a condenser microphone it’s important to point it at the range between your chin and the lower part of your neck – that actually captures much more resonance and bass. Why am I telling you all this? It’s one of those small details of having a meticulously framed pitch that reduces distractions.

Now in my case, let’s talk about why I work from my garage and why I don’t have a green screen for pitches or webinars or anything. I’ll be frank: I don’t want to hide the fact that I’m in a garage. This is my life and even when I’m pitching you’re going to see children running in and out so it creates a little bit more authenticity and shows I’m not trying to obfuscate anything. In addition, I think it makes me slightly more relatable because a lot of founders are also struggling. Like me, they have their own lives and they’re sequestered in places like garages, closets, and so forth because of their noisy, beautiful, real lives. That’s something that I want to present as a VC, to you, as a founder.

When you use your authentic background and show you’re not hiding, maybe you have a cute dog or an indoor succulent garden, it sometimes provides a fun talking point. If you find that there’s a little bit of awkwardness at the start, you can say, ‘oh yeah you can see my dog, I just got that puppy, sleeping in the corner’.

Another cardinal sin is a distractingly laggy internet connection. It’s very hard to schedule potential investors so make sure that all of your infrastructure is in place before you get them on Zoom.

How to fundraise on Zoom

The moment that we had to shut down our Hustle Fund offices, I went to Comcast and bought the most expensive gigabit plan. It’s about $70 a month and it turns out that it is the most critical business expense I could have made for this transition. If you’re in a region that doesn’t have good internet, you may want to consider taking more drastic measures, for instance looking into places near you, such as a hotel, where you can go to use their internet for the pitch. First make sure that they have a super fast connection because in some cases, hotels will charge you $25 to use the internet. It’s totally worth it, especially if you’re pitching for a million dollars or more.

Laggy connectivity is just one of those things that, for a VC, feels like a missed detail. When someone has slow internet, even if it’s totally not their fault, it doesn’t leave a great impression. During the height of the pandemic, some of the Hustle Fund team, despite living in major cities like Boston, chose to go to a local WeWork to get a super clear and fast connection to do Zoom presentations.

If, on the other hand, the VC has a laggy internet, maybe they are on a yacht in the Mediterranean, I suggest jumping on just a phone call instead. You don’t want the VC to have control of your fundraising process by them coming back to you suggesting moving the meeting to a time that suits them. Try and avoid that at all costs.

There it is, the setup you need to fundraise on Zoom.

Stay tuned for our next AFA article and I’ll dive into the details of your pitch and your fundraising process.

You may also be interested in How to Construct Perfect Slide Headlines for Your Pitch Deck, another article penned by Eric that provides excellent advice for founders looking to fine-tune their pitch deck. Or, if you’re ready to pitch, jump directly to the Acceleration for All page and get started today.