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Fundraising for a First-Time Fund. Lessons in Humility, and the Importance of Personal Relationships – Things We Learned at Manna Tree While Raising Fund I

Jun 1, 2020 | Blog

Post by: Ellie Rubenstein, Co-Founder & CEO Manna Tree

You might think having a famous investment-father meant our path to Fund I was luxuriously simple. It was not. It was hard (Herculean at times) and tested me at every turn. In the spirit of community, let me share my top 10 list of things I learned and confirmed along the way. (One caveat: we closed before COVID changed the nature of travel and relationship building)

1. Respect and work with those you know

Remember to respect the people that came before you, whether in your industry or your hometown, their support will be the most meaningful and gratifying if you can find ways to include them and value their knowledge as the next generation enters. Also, don’t forget your distant relatives. They can provide support and connections, as well.

You must win the trust of your parents and prove out returns in that industry since they might know it from many years of experience already. The trust will translate into confidence and cheerleading. Don’t forget to listen to their advice, keep making iterations, and work exceedingly hard, and the results will come.

The hardest people to convince will be the ones who know you personally. The hardest people to convince are those who don’t know you in this context (not because they don’t like you) but because they weren’t thinking about you and private equity. Find ways to go the extra mile and showcase why their support is the most meaningful. And payback respect and be helpful to them in return. There is nothing more rewarding than partnership and collaboration and buy-in from those who have watched you grow up.

Opening up about gaining trust with family members and the messiness of family relationships may lead to new doors within the relationship. Not only is every family office different, so is every family, but they all share the common theme of no family is perfect, and people are always looking for solutions.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a successful company headquartered in your town. You’d be surprised how approachable people can be and where friendships and investors can come from, even if the only common ground might be a passion for fishing and not necessarily in the company itself, other than family values and hard work.

2. Know your investors and diversify 

When you are told, it will be your hardest meeting, yet; it might turn out to be your best investor. People can connect with people on different levels. Just because you are told someone is a “track record guy” do everything you can to mitigate risk and bolster your presentation; find a way to relate, for example, even if it’s through fishing, even though they work in an overseas office far away from their home country.

There is nothing more rewarding than presenting to a conglomerate in your industry. It will be one of your tougher meetings, and you will have to be able to make a compelling case why you may know more than they did even though they are larger and more experienced. If you can get this level of buy-in, it could change your firm’s trajectory and sophistication.

Do not underestimate a next-generation investment professional. They are usually willing to go the extra mile to make an investment case, even if it started as a smaller conversation. Remember, they are also trying to prove themselves, and if they see value in this being a lucrative opportunity, respect their journey, and work with them. The journey and hard work and effort they make is equally as important as your effort to get an investor to commit.

Make the time to see your established investors, and when you do, don’t make fundraising the top priority. If you are traveling to a city, make time to see your existing investors and provide updates as they want to know about the money you are actively managing for them, versus merely flying in and out to grow the firm with new investors. Map everybody out and make every stop count.

3. Determine location and accessibility 

Be courageous, go to a new country by yourself, or with hosts you just met. Traveling together creates powerful bonds and shared experiences. You’d be surprised the level and pride people put on hosting in their own countries and can translate into investment dollars if you recognize dollars come from relationship building, especially in countries where relationships are a priority for business.

Find ways to celebrate holidays with people if you are in a foreign country or traveling away from home, shared traditions become meaningful, and meals shared on holidays are not rushed. Often, they’re rather relaxing, conversational, and far more intimate than some of the traditions you have experienced.

If you raise money from a region, no matter how far away or expensive, make sure you return. You don’t want to be that person that shows up and asks for money, rather the opposite, make your routines in those foreign cities and get excited about returning, sharing meals with the people you’ve become close with. Treat your investors with respect, no matter how far away they are, and make time for them.

Honor the rules of foreign country fundraising legalities, do the research ahead of time, and figure out what you need to operate in that country as each is unique. Even if it is a laborious process, the extra work required could create an impressive entry barrier for your firm that can give you an advantage, so seek out solutions; don’t run from complexity.

When you crave conquering a new continent, look closer to home; perhaps your border country relationships might turn out to be some of your strongest. You don’t have to always run around the world for further fundraising–it can be expensive and time-consuming. Get creative with your next country. It could become your new favorite.

4. Focus on the 5Ps: Prior Preparedness Prevents Poor Performance.

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If you get food poisoning, still SHOW UP at a meeting. Be honest, be vulnerable, share your passion for your investment thesis even if it sometimes means you might be throwing up due to food allergies. Don’t worry about looking your best, focus on authenticity, and be hungry to prove your investment thesis, even if you can’t eat during the meeting!

Pick four things to focus on for the year, walk into the office every day with a bullseye mentality and only focus on those four, don’t lose sight of them, and revisit them frequently to make sure you are still moving in the right direction.

Be prepared if you are making an investor pitch to a group at a golf club. There might be a very prominent investor randomly sitting there. You never know where your investors will appear from or why they are motivated to invest, so make the best of every presenting opportunity.

Sometimes 10 minutes might be the only face time you get with someone making an investment decision. Make it happen and make it count.

If someone from outside of the investment world offers you a meeting an hour later with a prominent introduction, take it. The concept of momentum is real, run with it, and rely on the 5 Ps to get you through a last-minute meeting.

Last-minute, same-day trips can be very productive if planned carefully. In the last few months of fundraising in 2020, three very short trips were made and had a 100% conversion rate. Study what makes trips effective and go out with a bang.

5. Maintain proper decorum 

You do not always need to meet the principal to get an investment decision. Treat the others in the office with the same level of respect. They are in those roles out of respect for the principals. Treat them that way and build a relationship with them, too.

If someone offers a commitment and it’s below your minimum, ask yourself what the value of their commitment is. More times than not, the dollar amount does not translate to the level of dedication or other value they are willing to offer the firm. The investors writing the smaller checks might be the ones who are more emotionally connected. Treat all investors with the same level of respect and priority, not based on a dollar amount. They still invested, the dollar amount should not matter. If someone offers you money for an investment, find a way to make it work. Every dollar will count in the end, and that person may make more introductions for you.

When someone says no, understand why they said no. Usually, people are not willing to provide the feedback, but if they are, you might gain more respect for wanting to understand the reason. The toughest No’s are some of the best learning experiences and not deadends, find the possible avenues. Also, If someone says no, it may not be a definite no. Keep them in the loop. As a first time fund, there is no track record, so it’s up to you to prove why a “no” should be reversed even for a smaller check size to get to know the firm.

There is a natural timing to the fundraising process. Don’t try to rush it. Sometimes people need time to sit on their thoughts to actualize an investment.

If someone offers you a boardroom meeting with their entire team, match the level of respect, and bring your team so you can engage at the same level of conversation. Don’t be intimidated by titles or firm sophistication, take the time to listen to the direction the firm may want to go and how you can collaborate even if only on a small level. Buy-in from the top at a personal leadership level is worth the emotional commitment and attachment to an investment.

If someone is on a sabbatical, don’t bother them right now. When they come back, they will be in a better mindset to actualize a request.

If an investor offers generous contributions in any way, accept it graciously. They are offering because you deserve it. Don’t feel uncomfortable.

Thank your investors regularly. Even daily. They are the reason you met your goals. It’s even more rewarding when, in turn, you can offer a recommendation, introduction, or a meaningful gesture that means as much to them as their investment did to your firm.

Be flexible, agile, grateful, appreciative, and respectful when investors are willing to go out of their way for you. They are proud of the investment they made in the firm, so take the time to return the level of respect and time in kind.

6. Get personal

You might be surprised by how personal people want to get with you. When you are asking for money from them, they want to be comfortable with you are as a person. If you decide to make yourself more vulnerable with personal information, it might lead to an investment, but you have to be comfortable with disclosing that knowledge. Set your personal boundaries.

Meet someone where they are comfortable for an investment level, not where you think they should be, or wish they were. The person behind the dollar amount is more meaningful, especially if they have an emotional connection to the investment they are making. Developing trust over meals is one of the better ways to build relationships, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, prioritize mealtime not boardroom time.

Don’t focus on the names of institutions, focus on the people you are working with within the firm, and spend your time on the ones that want to go to bat for you, instead of the ones giving you a slim chance of success due to institutional barriers. Make their job easier for them, not harder. Listen to their requests and provide the information they need specific to their firm or clients. You may learn a new way of meeting potential LPs as a result.

Take the time to get to know the people behind organizations. You won’t regret it. At the end of the day, real people move things forward, and human connections are powerful no matter what medium you are using. Be authentic, establish trust, collaborate, work extremely hard, and demonstrate teamwork; it adds to your credibility.

Due diligence can get messy, but the people who honor commitments even when they don’t go as planned are people you want as part of your investor base. If someone gives you their word with a significant offering and honors it, stick very close to that person, continue to listen to them, and seek their advice.

When you think you are at the finish line, you’re probably not. Every closing is down to the wire. While you might only want to share the positives with your investors, you’d be surprised that those who might only know your good side are the ones who want to have a phone call when things don’t go as planned.

Welcome people into your home. These familial settings are where conversation barriers are eased; trust is built better than an office building when people can see you in your home environment that matches your firm’s culture–allow people to see your authentic nature.

7. Take chances with connections

It is not always true that you need to meet someone in person to close. If the strength of the introduction is strong and well-nurtured, they will vouch for you. It’s a powerful thing to experience and makes you realize why relationships matter.

If someone wants to go to bat for you, let them run with it. It could open up an entirely new continent, and expand the size of the Fund, just by developing a close working relationship with one person that genuinely plays the role of a connector in their community. Quality over quantity, in this case, matters. Nurture the living daylights out of this person!

One of the most rewarding types of investors will be the ones who offered to make introductions for you, and then they follow your growth and end up investing. If they are in the fundraising world for a living, the vote of confidence makes it that much sweeter and meaningful. So don’t treat your “introducers” any different than you would a potential investor.

You never know when an email introduction from someone who responds within 30 seconds to the email could be another massive opportunity for your firm. If someone is that responsive, this is the type of person you want to work with. Prioritize responsiveness as a character trait for Potential investors, as there will be many more times you need to get ahold of them.

Realize that some forms of communication are better than others. For example, sometimes phone conversations can become ego contests; if possible, find a way to meet in person, as those connections can be more nurturing and positive face-to-face.

Also, keep in mind that who and how you are introduced to a potential connection matters more than just meeting the person.

It is imperative that you also get to know the people who support your industry. In our case, farmers are the heartland of our investment thesis. We view farmers as one of the noblest callings as they are helping to feed us all. When you visit a foreign country, get to know the farmers. Better yet, find a way to include them in your investor base. They are the knowledge base of your firm, and their buy-in is invaluable.

8. Stay balanced

Sometimes you may have to give up your weekends, or stay longer on a business trip and spend your time with potential investors if they offer it. The conversations are different and allow you to get to know someone outside of being in “sell” mode.

Despite some sacrifices you may have to make, still make time for your personal friends. Fundraising can be all-consuming; you need to pace yourself. The personal time on hobbies you enjoy will allow you to continue the level of work necessary to complete the job.

But if there are times when you have to work and family or friend time is still a high priority, invite people to join your family events so they can get to see another side of you and feel included in your personal life.

9. Learn from your experiences and follow up

When we started, we were told that the average success rate for fundraising is 1-2% amongst the big PE groups. If you do that math, that’s a lot more people than you realize you need to meet and talk with to meet your investment goals. While ours turned out to be higher, it wasn’t until we started studying our process and understanding why people invested. Continuously analyze your own sales process and make changes as needed to travel, materials, etc.

The concept of momentum should be your best friend. Rarely do people follow up, so be the person who does. Be the one who continues the momentum. Turn a meeting into a prolonged experience.

Follow up on EVERY introduction offered, take phone calls. A 30-minute call or referral could be your next investor just from shared principles or common interests. Getting to know people, their interests, their friends, and their families can provide a wealth of meaningful connections. This is key to trust-building, and I cannot emphasize this enough.

10. Make familiar connections

Fundraising as a woman is a different experience. More so, fundraising as a young woman is an additional experience. Women, by nature, are often more nurturing. Find ways to protect your emotional energy. If you set the standard as unlimited time, energy, effort, ideas, that’s not built to last. Set boundaries, protect your emotional energy.

Women go the extra mile, and it’s an attractive characteristic for a fund manager to find someone attentive. Find other women fund managers to share experiences with, industry-agnostic, and you will quickly learn that this will become your new tribe as they truly understand the experience you are going through. Women support women, get to know the women’s private bankers or asset managers who open doors, and become a support system within their institutions.

You should also find ways to collaborate with leaders of your industry. They might be willing to write a small personal check, even if not from their institution. Their knowledge and willingness to have your firm work with yours will elevate deal due diligence.

It is a great idea to return to the first group of people you pitched to–the literal first group. If you’ve been working hard, they will be the ones that will have noticed how far you’ve come, and if you can convince them to invest at that point, it’s gratifying since they were part of the initial journey.

Never forget your investors’ family members and friends that you have met along the way. Not only have you created meaningful relationships with them along the way, but you may also find the opportunity to reconnect with them professionally when more opportunities arise.

It was a great exercise to turn the last year of my professional life into a top ten list; it allowed for genuine reflection. What is exposed is the truth about relationships; they should not be transactional. Now more than ever, really see each other’s humanity and respect each other instead of merely check-seeking. It’s as simple as that.