The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with VCs Using LinkedIn

guides May 22, 2023

As a founder of an early stage startup, you should be constantly building up your network of investors. This is true not only for your current round, but as a way of preparing for your future rounds as well. From the late seed-stage onward, most startups will raise money from venture capital firms. However, navigating the landscape of VC firms and securing their interest is not a simple task. They come in different sizes and include different types of players, and founders should know who to approach and when. Of course, VCs tend to use LinkedIn quite a bit, so LinkedIn is a tool that can be invaluable for startups aiming to connect with VCs. This guide will provide a step-by-step strategy to effectively leverage LinkedIn for this purpose.
Here are some of the things we will cover in this guide: 

  1. How to find and screen the right VC for your current round. 
  2. The internal structure of VCs, big and small
  3. The advantages and disadvantages of approaching smaller VC firms
  4. How to connect with the right people in a VC using LinkedIn

Let’s get to it:

Finding the Right VCs for Your Current Round

There are many places where you can get lists of active VC firms. Of course, Meet.Capital's curated investor lists are our recommended option. Our team reviews every investor on our lists. 
We also highly recommend building your own list, by using Crunchbase and LinkedIn’s SalesNavigator.  If you need some guidance on how to do that efficiently, check out our course:
How to build an investor list tailored for your startup.

After getting your initial list, you need to screen them to determine their suitability. Consider the following:

  • Investment Thesis: Does the VC's investment thesis align with your startup's mission and goals?
  • Industry Focus: Does the VC typically invest in your industry or sector?
  • Stage Focus: Does the VC invest in startups at your stage?
  • Investment Size: Does the VC typically invest the amount of capital you're seeking?
  • Portfolio Companies: Does the VC have a track record of investing in successful companies? Also, check if they have any direct competitors of yours in their portfolio.
  • Value-add Services: What other support can the VC provide beyond funding? This could include connections, expertise, operational support, etc.
  • Size and structure of the VC firm: There are significant differences between large, full-staffed VC firms, and small VC with only a few (sometimes even only one or two) general partners calling the shots (see below). 

 * If you’re startup is in the seed or late-seed stage, be warned - a lot of VC firms claim that investing in seed-stage startups is part of their mandate, but unfortunately too many of them tend to hardly ever do so in practice. This is especially true with larger VC firms. Consider getting some references or examining their portfolio to see if they actually have meaningful traction for your stage of funding. 

The Structure of Venture Capital Firms, Big and Small

 Venture capital (VC) firms come in different sizes and can have varying organizational structures. Let's compare a typical small VC firm to a large VC firm:

Small Venture Capital Firms:

A small VC firm usually manages less capital and has a more streamlined staff structure. The number of employees typically ranges from two to ten. Here's a simplified snapshot of the typical hierarchy:

  • General Partners (GPs): These are the decision-makers of the firm who source deals, manage portfolio companies, and raise funds. In small VC firms, GPs often take on multiple roles that in larger firms would be delegated to junior staff. They typically have a significant financial stake in the fund. In some VCs, there might be as little as two or even just one general partner taking decisions. 
  • Venture Partners: These are often industry experts who work part-time with the firm, helping to source deals or provide expertise (and in some small VC firms, this role may not exist at all).
  • Associates/Analysts: These roles may not always exist in very small VC firms. If they do, they typically assist with market research, due diligence, and other tasks.
  • External advisors: Domain experts with whom the General Partners consult before investing in a startup from a domain that isn’t in their direct area of expertise. 

A small VC firm might have a more narrow investment focus, targeting specific industries or stages of company development.

Large Venture Capital Firms:

A large VC firm usually manages significant capital (often in the billions) and has a more complex organizational structure. The team can range from tens to hundreds of employees. Here's a high-level view of the typical structure:

  • General Partners (GPs): They are the primary decision-makers and leaders of the firm. They often have specific sectors or types of investments that they focus on. In large VCs, they can be extremely hard to connect with without a warm, sometimes even a very warm, personal introduction. 
  • Principals: These individuals often manage parts of the investment process, conducting due diligence and making investment recommendations. They are usually much more approachable than the general partners and have some influence on the decision process, or at least have the ability to move your offer up to one of the GPs. 
  • Associates/Analysts: These roles are more prevalent in larger VC firms, conducting research, sourcing potential investment opportunities, and supporting the broader team. They tend to be very open to accepting pitches from founders but have limited capacity to actually bring startups into the investment and due diligence process of the VC firm. One of their jobs is to do the first level of screening for the firm, and often their aim is to screen out most of the deal flow they encounter. 
  • Operations/Administrative Staff: Large VC firms often have more support staff, including roles such as CFO, legal counsel, marketing, human resources, etc. They might sometimes be able to make introductions to the GPs in the firm, but generally, they are not the right people to approach, for obvious reasons. 
  • Venture Partners: These are usually industry experts or experienced entrepreneurs who work with the firm part-time, helping to source deals or provide expertise. 

A large VC firm often has a broader investment mandate, investing in a wide range of industries, geographies, and stages of company development.

In both small and large VC firms, the exact titles and roles can vary, and not all firms will include all of these roles. It's also worth noting that the structure of a VC firm can influence its investment strategy, decision-making process, and the way it interacts with portfolio companies.

Advantages of connecting with smaller VC Firms:

Connecting with a smaller venture capital (VC) firm that primarily consists of General Partners (GPs) can have certain advantages over larger firms that have a more diverse team structure including associates and assistants. Here's a look at some of those benefits:

Accessibility: A fund that has grown to have a large staff means they have a lot of traction and success. Their general partners are very hard to access. Some of them are so busy or flooded with deal-flow that even a warm intro will not be enough to start a real conversation. Smaller VCs are usually more accessible, more hungry for new opportunities, and in many cases, more humble and approachable. 

Direct Access to Decision-Makers: In a smaller firm with predominantly GPs, you're likely to directly interact with the decision-makers from the outset. This might streamline the fundraising process, as you won't have to navigate through multiple layers of associates and analysts before reaching the people with the power to invest.

More Personalized Attention: With fewer portfolio companies, smaller VC firms often have more time to provide individual attention to each startup. This could mean more guidance, support, and mentorship for you and your team. On the contrary, in larger firms, you might not get as much attention unless your company is one of the top performers.

Aligned Interests: GPs in smaller firms usually have a significant personal financial stake in the fund's success. This alignment of interests can lead to a more committed and collaborative partnership, where the GPs are incentivized to help your startup succeed.

Flexibility and Patience: Smaller VC firms, particularly those with fewer bureaucratic layers, may have more flexibility to invest in riskier or unconventional startups. They might also be more patient with their investments, focusing on long-term growth rather than quick exits.

However, it's important to balance these potential advantages against the benefits larger VC firms can offer. Larger firms often have more resources, a broader network, and a wider range of expertise. They can also have a greater ability to support follow-on funding rounds, which can be crucial for a growing startup.

As a founder, it's crucial to carefully consider what you need from an investor and to weigh these factors when deciding which type of VC firm to approach.

How to Approach Venture Capital Firms on LinkedIn

1. Search for General Partners in VC funds:

Use LinkedIn's Sales Navigator or Crunchbase to search for VCs, screening them for location and sector. Focus on smaller VCs, with less than 10 employees, as you stand a better chance of connecting with them. Make a list of the general partners in those VCs that you would like to connect with. Prioritize those that are your 2nd-level contacts on LinkedIn. 

2. Network Through Mutual Connections:

Look through the list of General Partners (GPs) at the VC firms you're interested in, and review their LinkedIn profiles to find any shared connections. If there are mutual contacts you have a strong relationship with, don't immediately request an introduction. Instead, start a conversation about the GP, asking your mutual connection about the strength of their relationship with the GP. If they confirm a close connection, you can then request an introduction, explaining why it would be beneficial.

3. Analyze and Identify Accessible GPs on LinkedIn:

If you can't secure a warm introduction, the next step is to identify General Partners (GPs) who are within your reach on LinkedIn. This involves a few sub-steps:

  1. Map Out 2nd Level Contacts: Start by identifying GPs who are your 2nd level contacts on LinkedIn. These are individuals who are connected to people you're already connected with, which makes it easier for you to initiate contact.
  2. Check Activity Levels: Next, consider how active these GPs are on LinkedIn. GPs who regularly post updates, comment on posts, or engage with others are more likely to see and respond to your message. You can gauge this by visiting their profile and looking at their activity feed.
  3. Respect Boundaries: While analyzing their profiles, also look for any indications that they don't want to be approached through LinkedIn. Some GPs may explicitly state this in their profile information. If that's the case, respect their preference and do not reach out.

After completing your analysis, prioritize the GPs who are most accessible — those who are 2nd-level contacts, are active on LinkedIn, and are open to being approached. This prioritized list will help guide your outreach strategy.

4. Sequential Outreach to GPs:

Reach out to the identified GPs in each VC firm, starting with the most active GP on LinkedIn within each firm. Send a blank connection request, and after it is accepted, send a brief message pitching your startup, explaining why you want to connect, and gauging their interest. Remember to keep your message concise and compelling. Wait a few days before moving to the next GP, giving each individual time to respond. Be patient, it might not be a good idea to have parallel discussions with more than one partner in a VC. In most venture capital firms, each investment is led by one of the GPs, so parallel conversations can only harm you. 

5. Expand Your Outreach to Venture Partners and Principals:

If you can't connect, reach out to the next VC. But if you are really keen on connecting with a specific VC and you're unable to connect with GPs, extend your strategy to include Venture Partners. After exhausting those, you can reach out to the Principals at the VC firm. Follow the same methodology: start with looking for an intro from any mutual connections (but in this case, only ones that are easy to find and access), then progress to direct outreach to those that are your 2nd-level contacts on LinkedIn and have a good level of LinkedIn activity.

 6. Track Your Outreach:

Establish a system for tracking your outreach to each VC contact. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet, listing each contact, the date you reached out, and any response received. Use a series of pre-defined tags to easily navigate through your list at a later stage. This helps you stay organized, avoid duplication, and monitor progress over time. Tracking your outreach also allows you to analyze patterns and refine your approach if necessary.

7. Follow-Up Effectively:

Following up is a critical part of this process. If you haven't received a response within a reasonable timeframe, typically five days or one week, consider sending a polite and professional follow-up message. It's important not to be overly persistent or pushy, as this can be off-putting. We recommend no more than two follow-up messages, spaced out over about a week and a half or two weeks. 

Conclusion: Mastering LinkedIn for Venture Capital Success

Securing venture capital funding is a vital step in the growth journey of many startups, yet connecting with the right VCs often presents a challenge. By leveraging LinkedIn, founders can proactively build their investor network, prepare for future funding rounds, and navigate the diverse landscape of VC firms. In this comprehensive guide, we've provided you with strategic insights on identifying the suitable VC for your current funding round, understanding the internal structures of various VC firms, and gauging the potential benefits of engaging with smaller firms.

Most importantly, we've outlined a step-by-step strategy for effectively using LinkedIn to connect with the right individuals within VC firms. By using these strategies, founders can better position their startups in the competitive funding environment, fostering meaningful connections and opening avenues for growth and success.

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