"I know everyone and can connect you with any investors you want";
"We charge based on intros";
"With respect to investors to whom I make the intro, I only work exclusively";
"We work with a retainer and will begin with two-months of work in which we will build the business presentation and then address the customers";
"We work only on a success basis... but charge per intro, plus a monthly retainer, plus consulting, plus expense reimbursement";
"We have an ecosystem and access to the entire US market";
"Why don't you send me the business plan, the financial plan and the presentation and then I'll decide."
These are just a taste of the statements I heard from finders of investors and business contacts. Needless to say, I wasn’t willing to work with any of them. As the number of startups grows, so does the market for service providers. It might seem at times that the core of the ecosystem is one big marketplace of service providers while the startups themselves, which are essentially the industry's primary source of growth, are pushed to the sidelines.
For the sake of clarity and in order to avoid insulting anyone, we shall define "finder" as a source that connects supply and demand, whether in relation to business (customers) or investments (investors/funds). Therefore, within this definition, we can include all the factors which create intros to potential customers and/or connect entrepreneurs with investors and VCs. Among them, we can find private individuals, companies/consulting and business development groups, hubs or accelerators.
In my opinion, there is a critical point that everyone misses. It’s easy to get blinded by Finders and their promises, and Founders shouldn’t fall prey. With all due respect Finders, as qualified and connected as they may be, at the end of the day, the power lies with the Founders and their project! There is a rather amusing but true statement: “oftentimes, a mother wants to feed more than the child wants to nurse." Simply put, though a founder desires to find connections with both customers and investors, the Finder would not exist without him.
From one entrepreneur to another, here is a guide that details the principles of working with Finders (business or investment related). This list of principles represents a culmination of my 7 years of experience, conversations and negotiations with hundreds of finders while growing a startup in a foreign market without any prior personal contacts there (England), during which I read, edited and signed dozens of such contracts.
This guide includes four parts:
Tips for Working with a Finder
Principles of the Finder Agreement
Documents for Download
Hopefully, this guide will sharpen and clarify your work with the finder. I would be glad to receive any feedback; feel free to email me or comment on the blog/post.
And most importantly – good luck!
1. Tips for working with a Finder
While the Finder may be well connected, the maximum number of his connections is in the dozens. Even if he shows you a list of hundreds of connections, take into account that we are searching for high-quality connections, and therefore the number of relevant contacts are going to be lower from the get-go. Additionally, take into account that your startup will only be relevant to some of these contacts. As it turns out, the amount of connections available to you from that large list is now limited. The more likely scenario is that during the first two or three months of your joint work, you will receive between 5 and 20 intros. Furthermore, based on how well you and the finder work together, you may continue to receive 1-2 interviews every month. To maximize the Finder's contribution and your potential connections, here are a series of tips for ongoing work:
Thou shall not
You will not work with a Finder without third-party vetting for such Finder.
You will not work with a Finder without a signed agreement
Do not sign a Finder agreement without having a lawyer review it
Do not work with Finder who doesn’t disclose his commission to the investors he or she approaches
You will not work with a Finder who doesn’t understand your venture and domain, at least at its strategic level
You will not continue to work with a Finder who is not delivering in the first month or stalling your progress- You will not confirm a 'lead" to a Finder until you have checked that you are not obligated to another Finder for the same lead
You will not leave an open and valid Finder Agreement after you finished to work with the Finder, and will always send an official termination email/letter, including and validation of the leads
Do not "drop the ball" after the finder has passed it to you (not responding to an email / not arriving at the meeting)
Do not avoid or refrain from paying the Finder fee when its due
You will not terminate a relationship with Finder in a negative or aggressive manner.
The widespread expectation, once the Finder agreement is signed, is that customers and investors will begin to rain down on the Founder. This is not the case, and even with the finest interconnected finders, all of this takes time. There are many reasons for this, beginning with the pressure on the end of the customer/investor or on the organization they are trying to reach or even on the Finder himself.
Although the burden of proof lies on the Finder for delivery, the Founder still shoulders excellent responsibility, or as Jerry Maguire said: "Help me to help you." Only this time, you would be Cuba Gooding Jr.
Quality VS Quantity
Though it may initially seem that the developer wants to have as many Finders as possible to run and open doors for them and create intros, especially if they are paid to do so, you are mistaken.
A professional entrepreneur will prefer quality over quantity when it comes to finders. I'd instead work with 2-3 good finders than have 20 or even 10 signed Finder agreements.
For one, though a Finder is a service provider (though, unlike a supplier who brings coffee and toilet paper to the office, a Finder sits with you at the business and investor tables), he knows (or should, if you and the Finder do your job right) the most sensitive things about the venture - almost at the level of a real partner. And it would be best if you treated them accordingly.
The second reason is to avoid duplication. Some finders may address the same source.
A third reason is resource utilization. You can't let the reins loose; you eventually have to manage your finders (see tips below).
Once you've decided to work with a Finder, the first thing I recommend is to schedule an hour-and-a-half to two hours meeting, where you will pass on a neat, professional and focused briefing on the venture—starting with the vision, the team, the product/technology, the market, examples and even how to deliver a pitch.
The Finder is not with you in the ring and isn't familiar with the day-to-day matters of the venture. On the other hand, he represents you and the venture with customers and investors. Invest in your Finder as if he were your No. 1 employee.
It goes without saying, that if you do not have high-level, ready-made material on the venture, you should not be pursuing Finders. The Finder is the cannon, but the marketing materials are the ammunition. So don't pull the trigger in an attempt to hit the target if you didn't even insert the magazine.
Marketing Materials are a high-quality website of the company; Executive Summary; Investor presentation; Customer presentation; Case Study; Marketing video.
Prepare what I call a Kick-off email in advance. This is a short and concise email that sets forth the essentials of the venture story and the purpose of the intro. It should include an executive summary/customer presentation. Approve the email content in advance with the Finder and then send each time at the Finder's request so that Finder can easily transfer to the prospect/investor with his or her additions.
We recommend building 2-3 versions of this email to create A / B Testing in the message. Over time you will notice which messages work better and which are less successful so that you can improve accordingly.
Pre-meeting briefing with Lead
It is always advisable to brief the Finder a few minutes before meeting the lead. This is in order to receive notes and tips on the customer or investor. This is one of the moments when the finder is required to show his added value to the process.
If you've reached the point when you need to pay your Finder's Fee - be happy! Make the payment as soon as possible and don't forget a word of gratitude. If it's a possibility, make plans for a drink to celebrate. Celebrate the small wins.
2. Managing Finders
Finder management is of utmost importance to the whole process. Once you start, you must focus on the three key processes: confirmation, supervision, and feedback.
Confirmation - Create an email chain between you and the Finder to confirm the referrals to the various parties. This means all the essential credentials and updates are concentrated in one place.
Control - For documentation and control of workflows with the Finder, you must create a shared tracking excel to which both of you have access (but only you can edit). In this sheet, all leads, details and the progress/status of leads are documented. It is essential to note the date of the intro and the date of the most recent contact with the lead. This is because they have legally binding significance, as well as affecting the intro period. I use Google Docs. See the Chapter 3 Template for your use.
Feedback - After each meeting with the Lead (a potential customer or investor), it is crucial to update the Finder who coordinated the meeting and define the next steps. In addition, after each quarter, it is vital to have a status update meeting with the Finder, where you work on the tracking excel, examine the status of each lead together and define the strategy with each prospective customer/investor.
Status Update meetings
Be sure to schedule status update meetings on a bi-monthly basis, informally and with a social aspect. At these meetings, you can share the progress of the venture in person while also garnering feedback, receiving information on new opportunities, as well as updates on the market from an objective source that sees dozens of entrepreneurs and ventures a month.
It's essential to keep a list of finders you don't want to work with. With regard to such a finder, make sure to mark them clearly on the Finder management system to prevent someone from the company from approaching someone from the list.
Conclusion of work
When the relationship with the Finder is concluded, regardless of the reason, it is important to send, together with the email terminating the relationship, a status of the leads the Finder helped you approach. Save these email chains for your benefit. It is in your interest and your sole responsibility to provide this (see Finder Management - Confirmation). As such, you will have a PDF version of the lead status table.
3. Principles of the Finder Agreement
As you've probably understood, legal documents should not be downloaded from the internet and signed without further ado. It is your responsibility to sit down with a professional attorney, preferably a lawyer who is familiar with your field and has experience writing the Finder agreements. Together, you will create a professional and thorough agreement which covers all the basics; even those you aren't familiar with. Here are a few notes I found crucial to clarify on this topic:
Though this isn't an official clause in a Finder agreement and not even an official tip for working with a Finder (see below), I think it is relevant. Your contract should be fair.
The essence of the agreement with a Finder is the legal establishment of a business relationship. Unlike a lease agreement or even a customer service contract, an agreement with a Finder should regulate the grey areas in the process, given that quite a few exist. Therefore, please don't take the legal document or the lawyer preparing it lightly.
Confirming a Lead
The Finder must run each lead by the company for confirmation. This must be done ahead of time and before taking any measures to approach such a lead. It is the responsibility of the founder to ensure there are no overlaps or duplications.
See Chapter 2 - Finder Management.
The validity of a Lead
This is a point that many are not aware of and is also a primary cause of many debates. Close this issue, and you will avoid conflicts in the future. Beyond the obvious fact that the Lead must be approved, you must define a time frame for the confirmation of a Lead. This means that after said set time, the lead shall no longer count as being afforded by the Finder, and he shall not be granted commissions if an agreement is concluded with this lead. This prevents a situation where a Finder gives you an intro with a customer or potential investor, and nothing results from it. Yet a year or so later, someone else provided an intro or even someone you know personally in an organization, and as a result, a deal closed. Does the initial finder get a commission? This depends on the term that was set for the validity of a lead. I generally define a term six months after the most recent contact with the Lead, and if nothing comes to fruition – the lead is erased.
Another limitation one can create, which may put off charlatans yet not create a problem for professional Finders, is limiting the period between the intro made by the Finder and the following point of contact (be it a phone call/ meeting/ video chat) with the lead. For example, two weeks after the Finder sent an intro email and the lead didn't respond in any form; the lead will be erased. This prevents a lot of bogus finders from sending messages to the entire phone book and claiming they deserve compensation.
The "Added Value"
Anyone can send an email connecting two people. Many people have quite a few leads they can introduce you to. This fact alone does not justify hiring them as a Finder. Moreover, I believe creating a simple intro by email should be a courtesy between colleagues, just as you wouldn’t charge anyone for asking for the time.
Other than opening doors, a professional Finder should have a real added value, which increases the chances of you closing a deal and improve your connections and options in this new business overall. These are some of the added values that a good finder can bring to the table:
Improving marketing materials by providing feedback and guidance.
Developing strategy and tactics when dealing with leads, maximizing your chances of success.
Mentoring. The Finder is capable of mentoring you to improve your work and conduct.
Feedback. The personal or professional connection that Finder has with the lead has value beyond making the connection. He can talk to the lead behind the scenes and give you a realistic picture and feedback you won’t get in the conference room.
The Finder will present his charge and his commercial conditions. However, here are some points to keep in mind:
I don’t want to pretend to know what the ideal fee is for a Finder and name a set price. This is an open market, and these terms are closed in negotiations between the Founder and Finder. Most of the emphasis is put on the strength and quality of the leads the Finder can provide and the Founder's negotiating power. Simultaneously, I found an inverse correlation between the commission that the Finder seeks and their quality.
"No" is a legitimate answer. You do not have to accept every offer that arrives at the table. On the other hand, don't rebuff too many offers because that’s what encourages the Finder to work with you.
There is no reason to pay the Finder a retainer unless the Finder works for a set amount of hours a month with defined deliverables.
It is crucial to cover situations which may incur multiple fees (two Finders are eligible as a result of dual intro). This type of situation should not occur if you are working correctly. However, it is still advisable to devise a mechanism for such cases. I recommend 50/50, based on the higher commission of the two.
In principle, do not agree to cover current Finder expenses. This leaves an open end for wastefulness.
Under no circumstances should this be a section in your agreement. Either the Finder's connections are substantial and will service the deal, or the connection was not substantial enough. It, therefore, should not be exclusive to this specific Finder, thus losing an opportunity for a worthwhile deal with the relevant lead.
Termination of Engagement
It is usually customary to give written notice (email) of 7-14 days for termination of the engagement. Please note that even if you have completed an engagement with a Finder, you still should pay for leads and payments on intros made during the engagement period.
See the previous chapter for tips on this topic.
4. Download files
For your convenience, documents for working with Finder are attached. Credit goes to Nimrod Vromen from the law firm Yigal Arnon & Co.
Finder Agreement (investors) Template
BD Finder Agreement (customers) Template
* Using those documents is your responsibility. Nothing in this blog post is legal advice and does not replace professional legal advice.