no

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One lesson I learned the hard way as a founder is that investors never like to say “no.” They especially don’t like to say “yes,” but “no” is almost as difficult to get out of them.

Why? Well, because they never want to completely close the door on what could eventually be a massive missed opportunity. Or, if all of a sudden you get Andreessen Horowitz to pony up, they want to be able to change their mind and jump back in.

It’s a pretty sheepish move in my opinion, but it’s not my money so who am I to judge.

As a founder, you hear all kinds of answers that appear on the surface to be semi-positive, but deep down are just “no’s” in disguise.

As a service to all of you founders who are out their raising money for the first time, here are some phrases to be aware of:

1. “I’d love to meet, but I’m swamped for the next two months. Send me your deck, and please coordinate a time in late September with <insert assistant name>.”

2. If at the end of your pitch they ask, “have you considered joining an accelerator?”, close the laptop and walk away.

3. “I’m going to watch from the sidelines for now.”

4. “Who else is in your round?”

5. “I love what you’re doing, but I’m not sure it fits our current thesis.”

6. “Let me talk with the MP’s at our next partner meeting and get back to you.”

7. “We’re at the tail end of our current fund, which we’re using for follow-on investments, but we’ll be looking at new investments with our next fund.”

8. “Keep me posted on your progress.”

9. “I’m a fan of what you’re doing, I just don’t know anything about the space, so I couldn’t bring any value to you.”

10. When you’re pre-traction: “We’d likely invest when you have a bit more traction.”

11. When you have traction: “We’d likely invest when you have a bit more revenue.”

12. When you have revenue: “We’d likely invest when you hit a $1M run-rate.”

13. We really don’t like to invest in competing companies. Let me talk to <portfolio company> and see if they view you as a competitor.”

14. “We’re going to have our ‘analyst’ run the numbers and take a deeper look.”

15. “I don’t like to invest in convertible rounds. Let me know if you change to a priced round.”

16. “We might sit out this round and take another look at your series A.”

And, my personal favorite…

17. “We like to follow a lead. Let me know when you’re about to close your round.”

Investors, feel free to chime in. What classic lines did I miss?

[photo by Steve Boneham]