Investor Update Emails: Help Your Investors Help You


At the end of every month, I send an update email to DataFox’s investors. It’s one of the highest leverage things I do as CEO.

Why is it so valuable to keep your investors posted?

  1. You don’t know exactly who can help you with what. Tell your investors about your challenges, so they can help proactively!
  2. Follow-on rounds are easy when your investors are informed & enthusiastic.
  3. It’s a great forcing function early on to keep your eyes on critical metrics like burn, ARR, engagement, etc.
  4. As stewards of your investors’ hard-earned capital, it’s your duty!

Slippery Slope

I started sending investor updates the month we raised our seed round: October 2013. Sixteen months went by, and I faithfully sent sixteen updates. But in February 2015 - when update #17 was due - I was slammed with preparing for our follow-on seed. I didn’t get around to sending #17... or #18, #19, #20 or #21. Good habits can die fast!

That was a big mistake, and it wasn’t until a few months sans-update that I realized just how much value was lost by pausing that line of communication with our investors. I wasn’t getting as much proactive help from our investors, fewer recruiting candidates were sent our way, and I felt like I had less command of our metrics.

By June (5 months later), we were back in the saddle with the long-delayed update #17. And I’ve never missed an update since.

Best Practices

Having sent 25 monthly investor updates, here’s what I focus on:

  1. Key metrics: your choice of metrics (and what that says about what you’re optimizing for as a company) is as important as the actual data. Show month-over-month trend, preferably in a chart.
  2. Content > style: I experimented with MailChimp for a while (to make the emails look prettier). Not worth it. Keep it simple: plain text with charts.
  3. Keep it short: Your investors are as busy as you are (and probably reading your update just once, on their phone). Text should be < 1 page.
  4. Be transparent but discreet: Be honest in highlighting challenges and failed initiatives; that’s how you’ll get the valuable advice you need. Assume, though, that your email could end up in North Korean hackers’ hands - so nothing too confidential.
  5. Include 1-2 clear asks: Put yourself in your investors’ shoes. They’re reading your email on-the-go, and might fire off 1 or 2 emails to help you. Make your asks crystal clear.
  6. Put a blurb in the footer: As a startup, your positioning can change quickly as you learn about your market and as your product grows. Keep the latest blurb in the “PS”, for easy access.

Use a Template

Here’s the template I use for our investor update (all numbers are made up).

Dear investors, We’ve had a great start to the year. February was our biggest month to date for new bookings (+$X), bringing us to $100M ARR. :-) Key Metrics Table 1: Key Metrics   Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 6.56.45 PM Chart 1: Annualized Recurring Revenues (ARR): [monthly column chart] Chart 2: New, churned, and expanded ARR: [monthly column chart, showing new customers, expansion bookings, and churn] In February we generated $X in new contracts, compared to $A, $B, and $C in the previous three months. Key customers won in Feb:
  • Customer 1 (type)
  • Customer 2 (type)
  • etc.
We had big upsells/expansions with:
  • Customer 1 (amount)
  • Customer 2 (amount)
  • etc.
Churn was better than budgeted, at $X vs $Y. Expenses: our expenses came in X% under budget, because... Gross burn was $X vs $Y budgeted. Net burn was $Z, bringing our cash balance to $C. We have runway through MM/YYYY. Challenges We’re trying to figure out how to solve these challenges:
  • Challenge 1 (+ potential mitigants)
  • Challenge 2 (+ potential mitigants)
  • etc.
Product Roadmap: We’re gearing up for the launch of “[Product Launch]” in March. Features included in this release are:
  • Feature 1
  • Feature 2
  • etc.
Q2 2016 will be all about [Feature], [Feature], [Marketing Initiative], etc. If you haven’t already, you should download our Chrome Extension to get useful information on companies when you visit their websites. Recruiting We’ve had a number of great hires since our last update:
  • Hire 1 (team)
  • Hire 2 (team)
  • etc.
The most urgent open recs are currently:
  • Engineering: lots of incredible features on the roadmap that need talented owners soon.
  • SDRs: the rapid growth of our marketing and sales teams continues. If you know of young folks trying to break into tech sales, this is the place, trained and led by our team of Salesforce veterans.
Requests
  1. Recruiting! See priority positions above, and all open positions here: www.datafox.com/careers.
  2. Sales! Your friends in sales, marketing, business development, M&A, and investing - I’ll personally set them up with a free trial and a demo.
Thanks again for the continued support! Best, Bastiaan PS: As a reminder, here’s our elevator pitch: DataFox helps sales, marketing, and finance teams be data-driven in their prospecting and have thoughtful, personalized conversations at exactly the right time. Our software uses machine learning to identify new prospects and actionable sales triggers from thousands of data sources, helping reps open doors to new business and elevate their conversations. DataFox counts companies like Box, UPS, Twilio, and InsightSquared as customers and is backed by Goldman Sachs, Green Visor Capital and Google Ventures. For more information, visit www.datafox.com.

 

Other no-BS templates I like include Leo Polovets’ and Jason Calcanis’.

Share it with your team

Share your investor update with your team! Despite all hands meetings and weekly emails, you can never over communicate within a startup. People love learning about parts of the business outside their own (that’s why they leave BigCo to join a startup!), and, given their intellectual curiosity, they’re interested in the mechanics of keeping our investors up to date.

Share it with your friends & advisors

Bonus points: share a less confidential version of the email with your friends, family, and advisors. Perhaps not monthly, but quarterly or semi-annually, your supporters love hearing how you’re doing and it’s a great way to keep people close to your company.

I’d love to hear others’ perspectives on this topic, let’s have a conversation @bastiaanjanmaat!
PS: we’re hiring across every function, experts as well as athletes! Check out www.datafox.com/careers.