3 Ways VCs Say "No" Without Saying "No" with Jenny Fielding
Speaker 1: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real- world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.
Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster, I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster. And with me today is Jenny Fielding. Jenny is co- founder of The Fund, she is one of the most active pre- seed investors based in New York City. I know a lot of her or know of her. But Jenny, it's great to have you here.
Jenny Fielding: Thanks so much for having me, excited.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. So you are helping us at Bolster run a program called Ready to Raise, for founders who are getting ready to raise around. And I joined the first session of it. And you said something there that I thought was absolutely fantastic, so that is our topic for today, which is 3 Ways that VCs Say No Without Saying No. And it's so important for founders to be attuned to that and pick up signals from VC. So what are some of the things you've seen where VCs say no without saying no?
Jenny Fielding: Yeah, so I guess the backstory is that VCs are incentivized to maintain optionality. And so this means oftentimes they're saying no, but they want to keep things warm just in case. So the first thing that I see is what I call the string- along, which is the investor isn't really leaning in too much. And so the way that this manifests is that they constantly move the goalpost for the founder. " Oh, I'd like you to get one more pilot, one more customer," " I'd like to see the financials," " One more thing." And by doing that, they're not saying no, but you can tell that they're not leaning in, they're not running after this startup. So I call that the string- along.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah, moving the goalpost is brutal. Like, " Oh, if you only had one more customer, I'd be in." " Oh, sorry, did I say one? I meant two."
Jenny Fielding: Right, always asking for more info, more metrics, and it gets really exhausting. And sometimes I'll talk to founders and they literally are like, " Oh yeah, I've had eight conversations with this investor." And I'm kind of like an early- stage company, that sounds like a lot.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. All right. So the string- along, what's next?
Jenny Fielding: The second one I call the half- ghost, which a full ghost is obviously they don't respond, but oftentimes what'll happen is you get a one- word answer from the investor, they're busy, they're traveling, and so the duration of time just gets really dragged out. You're trying to move your process along and you provide some information and they respond, " Thanks." And what do you do with that? So I call that the half- ghost again, not really leaning in.
Matt Blumberg: Right. Yeah, that is a tough one, I get that. What's number three?
Jenny Fielding: Last one is the early bird, and that's the ultimate keeping optionality, which is, " Your company's a tad too early, but keep us in mind as things progress." And so that's really another way of saying, " Nope, not that interested right now."
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. It's funny, as I think about this whole topic, my longtime friend and longtime head of sales from Return Path, Anita, always used to say, the second- best answer you can get from a prospect is a quick no. Obviously, you want the yes, the second- best thing is a quick no, and anything else is awful. And all three of your things are some flavor of the not quick no. So those are all good things for entrepreneurs to be attuned to. And then, so let me ask you, if you're a founder and you're getting one of these signals, the goalposts are moving, they're not really leaning in, you're on meeting number eight, what do you do?
Jenny Fielding: Right. Well, the first thing is, I mean, the reason we love working with founders is they're optimists. And so that optimism, I think, is why, as investors and as a community, we're so excited because they don't necessarily know the challenges ahead. But I think the drawback of being an optimist is, as founders, we tend to hear what we want to hear, and we want to hear a yes. And so I think it's very critical to hear what actually is being said to you. And I think the way to help you do that is to surround yourself with other founders, mentors, advisors, people in the community that you can relay these conversations to. Because when I hear them, it's very clear that that's a no. But sometimes to the founder, it's not that clear. So the thing that I would say is build your team of people that are your sounding board where you can run these things back to them, play them back. Because oftentimes, they'll say, " You know what? They're just not leaning in." And sometimes it's inaudible for you to hear yourself.
Matt Blumberg: And once you realize that, whether you figure it out on your own or because you have a good kitchen cabinet around you, what do you do? Do you just ignore that investor? Do you break it off?
Jenny Fielding: Yeah, then you have to do the hardest thing, which is you basically have to move on. And so as a founder, you always have to be filling the pipeline with new investors. And so I'm not saying to ghost them, but you can just write them a polite email. " It doesn't seem like this is in your sweet spot right now. Happy to stay in touch." But in your mind and in your spreadsheet, you've put them as a pass.
Matt Blumberg: Inaudible.
Jenny Fielding: You don't have to have that actual conversation, but you've coded them a pass, they've coded you a pass. And we move along.
Matt Blumberg: We move on. All right, before we wrap up, tell everyone listening, what are you looking for in new investments, inaudible, stage, sector, geography, anything to help point people towards you or not towards you if they're not a fit?
Jenny Fielding: Yeah, so we're a very active pre- seed fund, although my co- founder and I are generalists, we focus on three verticals around money, health, and work. And we write$ 50 K to$ 250 K checks into all pre- seed companies, which we define as founders raising between about$ 500,000 to$ 2 million.
Matt Blumberg: All right. Jenny Fielding from The Fund, thank you so much for being here.
Jenny Fielding: Thanks for having me.
It’s important for founders to be able to hear what’s left unsaid in conversations with VCs. Sometimes, says pre-seed investor Jenny Fielding, VCs aren’t ready to invest in a startup, but they’re not ready to say no, either.
On today’s episode, Jenny shares three signs a VC may be saying “no” without saying the words—and what founders should do next.