Tom Williams is an entrepreneur and one of Canada’s most active angel investors. Since last year, he’s raised a total of $7.7 million in funding for BetterCompany, a social platform where people anonymously discuss their work life.
He got a jumpstart on his career - working for Apple when he was 15 and then managing Mike Milken and Larry Ellison’s VC fund at 20. Now in his mid-30s, Tom is a seasoned pro in the startup industry. Here’s five lessons he shared aimed at entrepreneurs.
Noah built the ark before the rain
Entrepreneurs need to be proactive and meet investors before their need to fundraise is urgent, says Tom. Viewing investors as ATMs and just soliciting them for money won’t work - it takes time to build trust and relationships.
Case in point: Tom spent 9 months only building connections before fundraising for BetterCompany.
In this day, cold calls to investors just won’t cut it. “Without the warm intro or context, you’re nobody to an investor.”
And once you have a rapport with investors, Tom urges founders to update them at least once a month regarding their company’s progress. Even if you think your product is ground-breaking, investors won’t chase you. The onus is on founders to stand out among the hundreds of companies vying for an investor’s attention.
Ultimately, connections will make or break an entrepreneur - as Tom puts it: “Your success will be driven by the relationships you have.”
Despite being well-connected with investors and the startup community in both Canada and the United States, Tom had doors shut on him when he was fundraising for BetterCompany.
Tom is candid about the setbacks he’s had, because he knows that many other people in the industry aren’t so transparent.
Don’t hire employees for your startup
Hiring the right people for BetterCompany is an ongoing concern for Tom. He notes that “there are startup people and there are employees.” The former can better adapt to changing conditions in a startup but the latter have a more rigid mindset and approach in the workplace.
The unique perspective of being an entrepreneur and investor
His experience as an entrepreneur, or “being in the trenches” as Tom puts it, has helped him gain the trust of the founders whose companies he invests in.
Tom focuses on “founder and market fit.” If the founder sees the world and market differently and has a ceaseless passion for their product, he is keen to invest.
If you want it, go and get it
Tom says that Canadian entrepreneurs who are unwilling to travel to the Valley and network with investors are doing themselves a huge disservice.
Embedding yourself into the Valley’s startup landscape is key as people there want to help their own. This means making a trip to California at least every 6-8 weeks, according to Tom.
If entrepreneurs are not serious or hungry enough to make it down to the Valley, they should rethink if they truly want to make their startup goals come to fruition.