The startup fundraising process is holding us back. We don’t think you should have to know a guy who knows a guy to meet the right investors and we’re building systems to make that possible. We believe that if we can make fundraising more accessible and straightforward we can speed up the mechanism by which innovation happens and get the future built faster.
Open Scout is on a mission is to displace the need for warm introductions within the early-stage financing process. With that mission in mind we’ve set out to take tangible steps forward. More specifically, we have launched a non-exclusive scout program across the country (and in a few areas internationally) — starting with University campuses — that reports back to a growing network of investors. At the time of writing, this scout program is active on +70 campuses and the investor network has grown to reach over 700 investors ranging from professional investors at firms like General Catalyst, First Round, and Sequoia to active individual Angel investors within groups like AirAngels, Havard Business School Angels, and New York City Angels. Early on in this process we also realized the need for better tools to share company materials at this scale and built a solution called OnePager that’s used within our network as well as outside of it.
From here I’ll dive into details around the scout program, but I also wrote a more romantic article about why I founded Open Scout in the first place that you can find here if you’re interested.
Our non-exclusive scout program is the result of a simple structural change that has far reaching incentive implications.
A “classic” scout program (a couple articles about those here and here) is built to extend the sourcing reach of an investor. Founder connects with Scout. Scout reports back to Investor. Investor evaluates Founder.
“Classic” scout programs are typically run by larger firms with the bandwidth to support scout relationships and recruiting, but that’s not always the case. Some smaller firms have also developed scout programs in an effort to expand their sourcing capabilities and grow their brands to compete with more established firms. What’s always true in “classic” programs though, is that a scout is an extension of the investor and whatever preferences or thesis they hold as well as the incentives that drive them. Investors don’t just need to find founders — they need to win deals. By extension, a success for a “classic” scout is a won deal — not a found deal. This is where things get a bit ugly. “Proprietary deal flow” is a term that gets thrown around when VCs pitch potential LPs, but rarely gets brought up more publicly because it’s so obviously bad for founders.
In brief, a great way to limit your competition with other investors on a deal is to be the only one who knows about it. On the other side of the table, a great way to successfully raise money as a founder is to have a lot of investors competing for the deal. The scout ends up getting caught in the middle of these two opposing forces. What’s best for the founder they believe in and what’s best for the investor they’re working for. I wrote more extensively about this in a “scout thought experiment” you can find here, but those are the basics.
The Open Scout program is different in that it’s non-exclusive on the investor side. That means that although we work with a growing network of over 700 investors across the country and world — we are not loyal or an extension any singular investor or group of investors. A success for Open Scout is a founder finding a great investor. Period.
To give an example of the “classic” structure compared to the non-exclusive Open Scout structure in practice:
In the “classic” scout program structure, as mentioned earlier, a scout will seek to identify exciting founder teams and connect them with the firm they’re associated with. For the sake of this explanation, let’s say this “classic” scout finds 5 exciting founder teams all at once. They’d look to connect those founders to their firm. To start, that connection might come as an email with 5 memos related to how each founder team is exciting with 5 PDF pitch decks attached. From there, the associate or partner or whoever at the firm works with scouts directly would evaluate the materials and decide which founders they’d like to connect with. For the sake of example let’s say they decide they want to connect with 1 of the 5 founders you sent along. You make the introduction.
You have exposed 1 founder to 1 new potential investor.
Within the Open Scout structure on the other hand, when a scout finds 5 exciting founder teams they have a much better chance of making an impact. Having discovered the founders, they are now tasked with helping them connect with as many potential investors as possible. This is where things get much trickier logistically. Let’s say that a scout for Open Scout finds 5 exciting founder teams and then is hoping to connect each of them to 700 different investors that could be interested in their raise. When that scout turns to the investor side of the equation they’re now dealing with 700 different emails with different memos and PDF pitch decks attached to each. Does any one person have the emails of 700 different investors? What does follow up look like? How do the founders keep track of the progress and engagement? It quickly gets out of hand. So we started Investor Day to centralize these interactions and increase exposure.
When you share those 5 founders through Investor Day you expose those 5 founders to over 700 investors.
Investor Day happens every other week and gets founders exposure to over 700 investors. We share founder information using our OnePager tool to consolidate information under a single URL, with share settings to control who can access it, and a click-by-click analytics dashboard so founders can track engagement.
We first launched Investor Day in August of 2020 and have since shared over 500 companies with investors. We’re proud to say the process has worked well so far:
“HiHome is officially closing our pre-seed round this week with ~1/2 of the investors coming through Investor Day / were referred to us by someone who found us on Investor Day — woohoo!” — Tony Shu, HiHome
“Investor Day generated as many leads/first meetings in a week as I had been able to secure during the first month of the raise.” — Austin Lee, Kaya
And that’s where we’re at right now. On a mission to displace the need for warm introductions within the early-stage financing process. Growing our non-exclusive scout program and the network of investors it connects with. Improving OnePager as a sharing tool for founders.
These are baby steps, but we’re excited to keep pushing forward.
If you have any questions, have feedback, know someone who would be a great scout, know a founder who needs help fundraising, want to support our mission generally, or just want to say hi. We’d love to hear from you! Here’s a link to our contact page that looks like a dead-end, but will make it to my inbox — I promise.