How Rei "Built Relationships" for Successful Fundraising

September 28, 2023

My one piece of advice for future founders: don’t wait until the week before your fundraise to start “building relationships.”

Today I’m excited to announce The Grand has raised 4.7M in new funding!

Startup fundraising can often seem like a smoke and mirror show. I’ve been advocating for more transparency in the process for years. (In my days as CEO of First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, I coached hundreds of founders on fundraising. I often judged pitch competitions, including at SXSW where I went kind of viral for calling out the lack of diversity — but that’s a story for another day).

I want to unpack a piece of advice founders are frequently given about fundraising: “fundraising is about building relationships.”

This advice is common, but the how is often unclear. What does “building relationships” look like? How do you go about doing it in a genuine and intentional way that doesn't feel transactional?

Here’s how I approached it at The Grand.

The relationships that led us to our successful fundraises actually began way back—in 2009.

I was fresh out of college and trying to find my footing in New York City, and I came across a blog called The Aesthetics of Joy, by Ingrid Fetell. It really struck a chord with me. Ingrid wrote about Joyspotting, finding joy in everyday life. Practicing Joyspotting led me to feeling more present and secure, and less overwhelmed as a new grad navigating work and life.

Around the same time, I came across the Awesome Foundation, a global community that supported awesome projects with micro-grants. Their mission resonated with me, and I started following their work in New York City. When I joined GOOD, I reached out to their New York City chapter to see if they would be interested in partnering together (GOOD + Awesome — how could we not?). They got back to me and I ended up meeting one of their trustees for coffee: an entrepreneur named Alexis Ohanian.

A few years later, I landed at General Assembly, right in the heart of the NYC startup scene. I was running community events, and Alexis had just written a book called Without Their Permission, so I invited Alexis to do a book signing at GA. Little did I know, this would be the start of a connection that would come full circle almost a decade later.

Fast forward to 2015, I joined First Round Capital (where I met Anita!) to lead Dorm Room Fund. It was my first time working in venture capital. I was the only women of color on the investment team and every time I met with the partnership I felt a ton of imposter syndrome. So I asked my boss if I could work with an executive coach.

I went on a quest to find a coach who could understand my unique perspective and that's when I came across Albert Lee.  Albert had a similar cultural background to me, and he was a design partner at a VC fund. His insights on navigating the creative aspects of work and life resonated deeply with me and I asked him to meet. Here's where things get even more magical: during my meeting with Albert, I found out that he was married to Ingrid Fetell, the very same person who had inspired and influenced me through her blog as a fresh graduate!

Four years after joining First Round, Anita and I decided to start The Grand. When coming up with our dream investors, we knew the most important quality would be someone who shared our values, deeply understood community, and had first-hand experience building and scaling a global one.

I reached back out to Albert at the start of our first fundraise to share our vision of The Grand. Albert wasn’t actively investing but introduced me to an amazing angel investor, Liz Hartley (who came on as an investor this round!). Liz and I had a fantastic conversation, and then Liz offered to connect me with Katelin Holloway.

In my first call with Katelin, it was apparent that we were on the exact same wavelength. She understood the need for The Grand right away, shared our values, and could clearly see the vision of the world we wanted to create. Katelin’s experience leading people and culture at Reddit was exactly what we needed on our cap table, and I was so excited to continue the conversation.

In our next meeting, Katelin shared she was in the process of starting a fund with none other than Alexis Ohanian. The stars aligned, and we became one of 776's first investments. It was a crazy, magical, surreal moment.

When I reflect on this journey now, I can see that building authentic relationships begins with curiosity, and then is further amplified by taking action towards your vision, multiplied by effectively communicating your passions — also known as increasing your Surface Area of Luck.

That’s my one piece of advice for future founders. Don’t wait until the week before your fundraise to start “building relationships.” Instead focus on constantly increasing your Surface Area of Luck.

If there’s a blog, a book, an organization that inspires you today — reach out to the creator and get to know them. Ask them thoughtful questions, tell them your dreams, and engage with the people who are in their community. Do it with care, intention, and passion. Over time your efforts will multiply, and create opportunities for serendipity and magic.

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