Corporate Lawyers, Corporate Development teams and Competitors are often overlooked or avoided by first time fund raisers. I think this is a mistake as I’ve won customers, raised money, developed partnerships and understood my market better by engaging these cohorts as part of my fundraising activities.
Every technology investment deal usually has at least 2 sets of law firms involved. So as the tech world is a small place, good technology lawyers, and in particular M&A lawyers, get unparalleled insight into what deals are happening from who is writing the Angel checks to what the bigger firms are looking for in terms of acquisition targets.
Partners at these firms are all about building and managing relationships and are often very open to meeting early stage startups, as like investors, they are always looking for the next Google to work with. I’ve found ‘good’ lawyers in tech to be excellent networkers and I’ve secured customers and investment via their introductions. They also have great insights into valuations, deal terms and all of the other important details required during fundraising.
I did not really know what this role involved when starting out. They are basically the teams that manage acquisitions and investments for bigger companies. Therefore you should think of them as Investors and/or the potential Acquirers of your company. They sometimes have titles like Head of Strategy and typically work to help their parent company achieve their strategic goals. This often means a mixture of acquisitions, ‘strategic investments’ and helping secure business development opportunities.
There are several potential issues with taking money from ‘strategic investors’ (I won’t go into them here) but I’ve found these relationships hugely beneficial. I would start by meeting Corp Dev teams in your industry and sharing your vision for your company. In many cases they might see you as potential competition so you will have to make a judgement call on what to share. You should also ask them for their feedback on your vision and try to understand where do they think the market is going. They will often introduce you to business lines such as sales, product, marketing, partnerships within their corporation which can be hugely helpful if you are looking to explore a sales / marketing partnership.
I love competitors. And this is not because of some aged cliche about how I need an enemy to crush. It is the opposite of that. Founders and employees of competing firms are probably the most interesting people you can meet. Think about it. You both share similar passions about the industry and they have valuable insight and experience that could be hugely beneficial to you.
Yes, they will not want to exactly share that, so the first meeting can be awkward. But you are going to see them regularly at Industry events, come up against them in sales meetings, and most importantly, you will need to regularly talk about them with potential investors.
I’m always talking to everyone I know who works at or is involved with competitors. I’ve also learnt that several competitors were not really competitors at all and they have become great friends and partners. We’ve looked at hiring several people from competitors and I’ve also been approached by a few about M&A deals. In fact, one that was changing direction even offered us their clients, and none of this would have happened had I not built a relationship with them.Competitors are a complex relationship, but important and one I would not shy away from.
I guess I sometimes see competition like the ‘Highlander’ movie where the catch phrase is ‘There can be only one’. At the end of the day, there can only be one market leader and maybe room for a strong 2nd place. If you are lucky enough to be one of them you will probably acquire some of your competitors, if you are not, you will probably be acquired by them. Either way, you are probably going to be seeing most of them for a long time.