With a fresh infusion of $281 million in her second fund to invest in early-stage companies, Alexa von Tobel has a message for startups: She’s here, and she understands your needs.
“When you’ve actually been a founder, you just feel the contours and the details of a problem or a scenario differently, because you appreciate all of the dimensions, all of the weights,” says von Tobel, who catapulted to entrepreneurial fame with the digital financial-planning service LearnVest. That company was acquired by Northwestern Mutual in 2015 for $375 million.
In 2019, von Tobel co-founded Inspired Capital, a New York City-based early-stage VC firm, alongside Penny Pritzker, the former U.S. secretary of commerce. That same year, she launched Inspired’s first fund, which clocked in at $200 million, a feat for women-led venture capital firms at the time.
Unlike a number of other women-led VC firms, Inspired does not only cater to women-led companies. It is also industry agnostic. Inspired has invested in companies like digital bank startup Rho, executive women’s network Chief, and homebuying platform Habi. Von Tobel is also an Inc.com columnist and host of Inc.’s Founders Project podcast.
Here are three ways the entrepreneur turned investor suggests getting the attention of VCs like her:
1. Communicate your passion.
Investors look for founders who are truly committed to their idea in a way that extends beyond just wanting to build a successful business, Tobel says. For her, she looks for the founder’s or company’s mission, which should be the driving force behind the company.
“You have to be able to narrate where you are and where you want to go clearly, because you have to be able to attract talent,” Tobel says, adding that passion also attracts customers, media attention, and other equally as passionate business partners.
2. Prove that you’re ready to learn.
Money follows the founders who want to get better every day, Tobel says. She finds that being a founder is the only job that the better you are at it, the more complex and difficult the challenges become because you’re growing the business. To handle that, you need to learn on the job.
“We look for founders who we know can not only accelerate into that growth curve, but they look for input and feedback,” she says. And it’s not because you’re not self-assured, but because you want to improve every day.
3. Don’t focus only on the money.
As a founder, you want to give yourself as many unfair advantages as possible. When it comes to capital, some deals and fundraising partnerships come with other benefits– support, a celebrity name, or access to information, for example. Don’t overlook the value of these aspects by focusing on just the dollar figure offered to you up front, Tobel says.
“You’re not just looking for capital. The best founders are recognizing what they want. They want capital that comes with unfair advantages and capital that allows them to go faster,” she says, adding that in this market, money isn’t necessarily the limiting factor. Rather, time and execution are, so look for the deal that can help you pull off your idea.
Correction: This article previously misstated LearnVest’s acquisition amount. It was acquired for $375 million.