There are a lot of conversations around funding development on the bitcoin network. It’s an important topic with big implications for the future of cryptocurrency. I’m not going to weigh in on the best funding mechanisms right now, but I will offer a few thoughts on fundraising in general.
I am a big fan of bitcoin and have been following, using, and discussing it since 2012. More broadly, I am passionate about human freedom and the promise bitcoin holds to enhance it. I’m not technical and have no standing as an expert on cryptography or code.
But I'm pretty good at raising money!
I’ve made quite a few pitch decks and proposals, had hundreds of donor and investor meetings, and raised several million for both nonprofits and startups.
Have a why
Why does your project exist? What motivates you? What are you trying to bring about in the world?
Investors are humans. They have limited time and attention. If you can’t connect your passion with something they care about, no amount of technical know-how or necessity can win them over.
Describe the problem
A lot of technical people start right in describing the product, activity, or tech. It’s better to begin describing a vision of the world without your project. What’s the pain point people are feeling?
Make it human, not technical
I’ve seen problem statements like, “The throughput is insufficient for 60% of use cases”. Yikes.
That is a technical problem. But technical problems are everywhere and most aren’t worth fixing. Investors want to know what the human problem is. What pain is this causing to whom? What’s being missed out on?
Rephrasing to something like, “People have to wait hours if they want to use it for X, and this can mean missing crucial appointments” has a dramatic impact.
What do you do to solve it?
After describing the real, human pain felt by the problem you’re trying to solve, explain as simply as possible what you do to solve it.
You’d be amazed how many pitch decks and proposals leave the listener or reader wondering, “But what to you do?”
Make it clear. Problem in the world causing a particular pain, we do a specific thing to remove it. Boom.
Tell the outcome of your solution, not the inputs
Then share the vision of the world after you solve the problem. Don’t focus on the activities you engage in, but how the world in general and specific individuals live a better life.
OK, so you’ve clearly explained the why behind your project. You’ve painted a picture of the problem and the pain it causes. You’ve plainly stated what you do to solve it and shared a vision of the improved world after you do.
Now is the time to explain what makes you the team to do it. What have you done in the past? Do you have proof of doing similar things? Do you have a unique skill or insight?
You’ve convinced them this is an important race. Now let them know why you’re the right horse to run it.
What is the roadmap?
They’ve followed so far. They’re interested. But they still want to know your game plan for executing this solution. How long will it take? What’s the sequence? What steps need to occur?
Lay out a basic, high level plan for 3-6 month increments over the next 24 months. Explain the likely outcome by the target date. Have a few benchmarks along the way.
How will you use the money?
Now break the roadmap into a few components and put dollar amounts on them. What does $X result in? $XX? $XXX?
Tons of detail isn’t necessary, just reasonable targets you are confident make sense. Don’t bluff. Answer honestly, what could you do with the next unit of money and what positive outcome would that produce?
If you have a for-profit company someone is investing in for equity, let them know how and when they’ll get paid. Do you plan to achieve profitability and spin off dividends? Get acquired? IPO?
If it’s a non-profit, what’s the big giant world changing long-term goal they are helping to advance?
In crypto, perhaps it’s a project that benefits the ecosystem but doesn’t necessarily directly return money to the investor. Show them how your long-term success translates into the success of the network and a corresponding return for them in terms they care about. Whether increased adoption, customers for their business, added value to other companies they invest in, or coin price increases.
They want to know if all goes well how does it end?
Sounding needy or desperate
People like investing in momentum. A weak pitch leads with, “Without money, we won’t be able to do anything.”
A strong pitch leads with, “This will happen with or without you. We’re moving forward. Your investment means we can do it even faster and better!”
Sounding like extortion
There’s a famous National Lampoons magazine cover that shows a dog with a revolver to its head and the words, “Buy this issue or the dog gets it.”
It’s funny as parody, but not when it’s a real fundraising pitch!
Technical people are often frustrated with how non-technical people fail to appreciate the important complex stuff they do. This tends to make them resort to extortion style funding pitches.
“Go ahead and see what happens when you stop funding us and the whole network crashes!” is not a winning pitch.
Even if you’re raising for a charity, guilt is a weaker emotion to appeal to than greatness. Talk about the great outcomes they can help create, not how bad they should feel if they refuse to fund.
This takes many forms, including weak asks like, “Here’s all my life and heart I’ve poured in, so if you care about what I’m doing it’d be nice if you helped out a bit.”
(For some reason, Redditors seem partial to this kind of pitch. It might work for karma, but in the world of business it’s not the best way to secure funding.)
Make them feel awesome for investing, not bad for abstaining. Make it an opportunity they don’t want to miss out on; an entrepreneur they can’t wait to bet on, not an annoying beggar they want to make go away.
Forgetting the ask
Weird as it sounds, the most common pitfall of all pitches is forgetting to make an ask!
I’ve seen so many great pitch decks and proposals that make the problem and solution real and tangible and get me excited. Then they just end. Without ever making a clear ask! No call to action! I've been guilty of it myself.
I remember some of my early fundraising meetings when I worked for a nonprofit. I’d share exciting new initiatives and then wait for the donor to say something like, “Great, I’ll cut you check.” It didn't happen.
I was nervous. It felt tawdry to follow up the pitch with a dollar amount. In reality, anything else is worse. To not make the ask is to waste time and expect the prospective funder to do all the mental work of putting something on the table.
If in writing, make clear how to support. If in person, bring it home with a clear spoken ask. “We’re seeking $1M for this next phase, and I’d like to ask you to invest $250k.”
(Oh, and after the dollar amount leaves your lips, wait. Be silent. Let them be the next to speak. Otherwise you'll end up blabbing and walking back your pitch before they have a chance to bite.)
Create a pitch deck
Trust me. You think you don’t need a pitch deck for your project. But you do.
Not because you can’t raise without it, or because every investor will demand one. But because the mere act of building it will ensure you get your pitch right!
It is a powerful exercise in tightening your narrative and bringing clarity. It will help pull you out of the weeds for a bit. I build a new one every year or so for my companies, even if I’m not raising a funding round.
I recommend creating a deck that is 80% images, 20% text, and has slides that follow the points I listed above in that basic order.
There are many ways to make a great deck, but many more to make a bad one. One thing the world of venture-backed startups have done well is share info on what makes a good deck. Do some Googling.
I recommend the book Get Backed as an excellent guide as you build a deck.
Decide a strategy
There are a lot of different ways to raise money. While I have run successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, I tend to prefer individual and institutional investment to crowdfunding. Primarily because of leverage. A targeted sales process for a few dozen investors can yield more money quicker than a massive campaign to thousands of smaller donors.
But crowdfunding can be powerful, especially in a strong community like crypto. You can’t just slap something up though. Crowdfunding requires better marketing skill, while large individual and institutional investors require better sales skill.
Whether you’re raising equity, nonprofit donations, or pre-selling a product or revenue stream; whether crowd, individual, institutional, or a combo; decide where to put your focus and really try to win at that one strategy rather than half-assing several.
Prospect and research
If you’re going after larger investors, create a simple prospect spreadsheet. Start with anyone that comes to mind. Then start looking up investors on similar projects. Ask around.
Use Crunchbase or SignalVC or any other tools to help you find potential investors. Find contact info, research and take notes, rank them in three tiers by your most to least ideal investors.
Start sending cold emails!
Take the time to customize to each prospect. Track who you’ve sent to. Send followups.
It’s best to begin with your lowest tier investors, so that if you get calls or meetings you can work out the kinks on those, then dial in your pitch for your higher ranked investors later.
Keep the process moving, a little bit every day.
It sounds awful to most people. It’s not.
You care about your vision. You’ve already invested in it yourself, with your time and energy.
If you can learn to translate your own passion and vision into something others can get excited by, you will unlock a super power. For yourself, and for crypto as a whole.
PS - If you’ve got a pitch and you want me to look at it, I’m happy to provide honest feedback. email@example.com.