Getting money is like dating, Jonathan Aberman told a room full of young entrepreneurs Tuesday night: It's the questions that aren't asked that can make or break the relationship.
Investors are motivated by fear and greed, he said. The fear is that they're making a bad decision by investing in your big idea. The entrepreneur, then, has to establish his or her character in a way that makes the investor want to get greedy.
Like dating, starting a business can be more complicated than it seems — although politely stalking someone apparently isn't as frowned upon when what you're seeking is knowledge.
Nearly 200 students and early-stage entrepreneurs got Tuesday night at George Mason University's Arlington campus as part of the Venture Camp. Aberman, the managing director at Amplifier Ventures, moderated the panel.
Want to start a business? Don't be afraid to ask a potential investor for names of other companies they've invested in that failed. Contact them and see how those relationships went.
Cary Scott, a co-founder of Lemur Retail, said early-stage entrepreneurs should pitch their idea to anyone who will listen — not to try to land funding, but to get feedback.
And keep in mind that sometimes things just don't work out.
"You've got to be prepared for rejection if you want to be an entrepreneur," Aberman said. "If you're not, get a dog."
The onus is on the entrepreneur to do his or her due diligence and find out not only what kinds of companies an angel investor puts money into, but also their reaction if and when that venture fails and their track record for investing in businesses that succeed.
"You want to have a group of people who you know well enough who can look you in the eye and tell you if you're doing something stupid," said Sean Glass, managing partner at Acceleprise, a Washington-based accelerator.
Generally, accelerators are businesses. Startups apply for funding. The accelerator makes a small equity investment in the company and then works with or provides resources for that company to realize a certain measure of growth in a relatively short period of time. Usually, the boot camp-like experience ends with a showcase, or an Investor Day — something that tells the angels in the greater Washington area to bring their checkbooks.
"We're in the early days of a new revolution in how startups are financed," Aberman said. The industry is only a few years old, and already some of those closest to it wonder aloud if it's a bubble that will, at some point, burst.
Khurrum Shakir, founder of iGrabber Autos, said he learned a lot Tuesday night about "who you should circle up with" and to "align yourself with the right folks."
Amplifier Ventures helped launch Venture Camp with Mason's Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Arlington Economic Development.
"We all have the same goal — to develop a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Arlington," Aberman said. "You have to walk the walk. It's not just going to happen."
The next Venture Camp will focus on the future of 3-D printing.
From the fall 2012 Venture Camp:
'Anything We Can Imagine Can Be Built'