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How I raised $10 million over Zoom: Learnerbly’s Raj Dey on tips for raising money

·5-min read
Learnerbly CEO Rajeeb Dey (Learnerbly/Raj Dey)
Learnerbly CEO Rajeeb Dey (Learnerbly/Raj Dey)

Rajeeb Dey is the entrepreneur behind a string of startups including Enternships, which he founded back in 2009. It has helped graduates find work in 7,000 companies from Telefónica’s Wayra to Propercorn, Silicon Valley Bank and StartUp Britain. Dey then founded Learnerbly, a professional learning marketplace of over 250 books, conferences, e-learning and coaches recommended by industry experts from companies including Google and Eventbrite. It has just secured a $10 million in funding round led by VC Beringea. Here Dey reveals how he raised $10 million over Zoom and shares his entrepreneurship tips for others.

Be open minded. Today fundraising is global and investor appetite is at an all time high. An investor can come from anywhere. Whereas in the past you may have bumped into someone at an event, in a COVID era where these are few and far between you have to look online. A significant new investor who joined our Series A was Cliffe Killam, a US angel investor who runs his family office. He connected to me on LinkedIn and fortunately I accepted. We had never met. Nevertheless, we had mutual connections and Cliffe mentioned he had an interest in our space. After an initial exchange of messages and 3 or so Zoom meetings he decided to invest a 7 figure sum — probably the best return on investment you’ll get on a LinkedIn subscription.

Be prepared. My entire Series A process was conducted from start to finish over Zoom. I hadn’t met any of my new investors in person and a number of them were international. This is a new world of fundraising and you need to track the investors you want to reach out to. Research the most appropriate partner and find the best way to contact them. Have they done a deal in your space? If they have, perhaps you know someone in common. Have they commented about something relevant on social media? That could be a good opening. Then track the process from first outreach to first call to follow up call. Ensure it’s a tightly run process. You want to (as much as possible) bunch together the calls to ensure that when you (hopefully) get to a term sheet outlining the investment opportunity you have a few different options to consider. Remember, some investors are in the business of amassing knowledge about different businesses and sometimes they may simply be wasting your time. Figuring that out early on is key.

Leverage angels. Once you’ve figured out who you want to approach, try and find a “warm introduction” — ideally either an existing investors (angels or other institutions) or other entrepreneurs (preferably from the VC fund’s portfolio). This gives the investors some extra confidence or at the very least increases the likelihood of them agreeing to a call. If your existing investors are following on — also investing in your next round — be sure to mention that to the prospective new investor.

Line up some ‘champions’. When you start raising, word will get out. The VC community is very tight knit. If you work with other VC backed businesses like we do at Learnerbly, your clients may find out too (especially if you’re pitching to an investor who has also invested in your client). With that in mind, start preparing a list of customers who may be happy to act as reference calls for investors as it’ll inevitably come up (but be prepared to also be asked for references which you haven’t necessarily suggested). It’s worth holding back on formal reference calls until the final stage. Your clients’ time is precious. One way of ascertaining if the VC is serious is holding back those calls until a term sheet has been forthcoming.

Have your data room ready. Ensure you have a robust data room — ours covers everything from employee records to insurance documentation, accounts, key client contracts and more — basically any data investors (or, more importantly, their lawyers) are likely to ask for. The earlier you have this in place, the easier it is to maintain for subsequent funding rounds. It makes the due diligence process smoother and sends a positive signal to future investors that you are organised. We used a tool called Digify, which enables you to set different levels of access (e.g. read only, print and download, etc.). It gives you a sense of who is really interested as you can see who has logged in.

Do your own homework. If you’re fortunate to have multiple term sheets, ensure you do your own due diligence on investors. Speak to CEOs of companies the VCs have invested in. Ask: ‘when the going gets tough how has X investor helped you?’ Or perhaps: ‘what’s the most helpful advice you’ve received?’ Many investors will promise to be ‘value add’ beyond money but it’s always worth digging deeper and finding out the reality from fellow entrepreneurs.

Always be raising. A number of the funds we spoke to for our Series A are people I have built up a relationship with over a number of years. The best time to raise is when you actually don’t need to raise. For me it was therefore relatively easy to engage with the European investor community as I had spent a lot of time developing my network. Even though we have literally just closed our Series A, the whole process starts all over again. Whilst my focus is to now get my head down on building the business, I will also start developing my network out in the US. The US is a key market for expansion and we ideally want a US lead investor in our next round. The process of developing those relationships starts now. It’s never too early to think about fundraising. Schedule informal (virtual) coffee chats or set up a mailing list of investors you want to ‘keep warm’ for future rounds.

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