Family offices are notoriously secretive. This makes complete sense – why would a high net worth family need to advertise the fact that they have money to invest? Even with minimal publicity they would undoubtedly end up flooded with requests, so secrecy is in fact required, just to minimise the size of their inboxes.
Whilst this does make family offices hard to find, it can act in your favour, as family offices will use this secrecy to sort the wheat from the chaff. Take your time to do some digging, find a family office that has a track record of investing in your area of research, and get a mutual contact to give you a personal introduction; this will increase your chances of being considered favourably, as the family office will see that you are serious by how much time and effort you put into finding them!
Here are some tips for how to both seek out family offices and make move successfully.
How to find family offices
So bearing this lack of publicity in mind, what is the best way to seek out these secretive institutions? This is perceived by biotechs to be their main bottleneck: a poll conducted during Biotech and Money’s recent family office and life science webinar showed that seventy percent of delegates felt that accessibility of family offices is the biggest barrier to greater family office investment into life sciences. Here we consider what entrepreneurs’ best options are:
Databases can be a good way of seeking out initial potential leads, but blanket cold calling should be avoided – make sure the family offices you contact are interested in your area before you get in touch. Matthew Norman, deputy chairman of the family office council, suggests that startups read around what investments have been made by family offices and look for recurring investment in particular areas:
“Look what deals have been done and what families have been investing in that space more than others.”
This means you avoid pestering those who simply won’t be interested. He also urges startups not to cold call family offices using the often out of date phone numbers and email addresses found in databases, adding that in order to get a proper introduction, family offices expect you to be ‘part of the club’. Finding a credible person, such as a capital raiser, to introduce you to family offices can be a real door opener – although caution must be exercised, as some capital raisers may ‘over-promise and under-deliver’.
Family office conferences are great places to meet new family offices, and are particularly useful for finding out what areas they specialise in. Even if none of the delegates are suitable for you to apply to, it is still worth asking them if they know any who might be a better fit. Several American, biotech-orientated family offices have mentioned that they will tend to avoid conferences where startups pay a fee to present in front of an audience of angel investors and VCs.
Academia and non-profits
Academia is often a great place to seek advice on how to apply for family office funding. Not only will many professors and researchers have been in similar positions themselves, but their address books are usually jam packed. Another advantage to using academia as your gateway is that family offices like this route – they know who to trust. Amir Heshmatpour, from Los Angeles-based AFH Holding and Advisory, has cited a good relationship with UCLA as a route towards new investments.
Finally, non-profits can be a gateway to discovering family offices. Whilst non-profits themselves obviously have completely different, more charitable aims, a quick read of their history often provides useful names of HNWs. The non-profits themselves might not get involved in direct investment, but their founders and associates may have projects on the side.
Making a move
So you’ve found a few family offices that look promising, either through general research or asking the right people – now how do you make the best possible first impression?
Ideally get a personal introduction, perhaps by a professor, an investment professional, or even another family office who you met at an event. But failing this, with no option left other than to send an email, you need to give it your best shot. How?
Firstly, be polite! If you at all feel tempted to try something different and attention-grabbing, consider what may seem exciting and original to you is probably terribly clichéd and overused from their perspective. Whilst being polite and formal may be far more overdone, it does have the advantage of being much more socially acceptable and easy to follow…
Getting straight to the point
Be concise. After quickly and politely introducing yourself, get straight to the point and explain what your technology is, why it fills a gap in the sector and what any financial support would be used for. Don’t feel the need to introduce the topic via lots of background – if they work in the sector, chances are they know the subject back to front! Avoid writing ‘as you know…’ followed by lots of medical terms – it will get overlooked.
Keep reminders polite
If you don’t get a response straight away, bear in mind that some family offices may have no-response policies for unsuccessful applications, although plenty of them don’t. Melissa Krauth, director of Claria Biosciences, stresses that she ‘strives to respond to everyone and participate in the ecosystem,’ and that ‘around 98% of emails will be answered, but the other 2% slip through cracks’. Hence the best advice is to wait a few days and, in the case of no response, send a polite reminder email in case you are one of the 2%. If there is still no response then assume they have seen it and decided no, and take solace in the fact that most family offices will be happy to give advice concerning why your application was unsuccessful.
Do your research!
It is important to point out at this stage that you must make sure they are an appropriate company to send your application to – they may not even bother to send back an email saying ‘the reason why your application was rejected was because we only deal with cancer therapies, so your application for funding for a diabetes cure, although brilliant, we’re sure, simply isn’t right for us’.
Making your pitch
Another area to think about is your pitch – if you get one, that’s great! But don’t put in all that effort to get one just to mess it up when you get there due to basic errors.
Present your idea
As unfair as this may seem, it is the quality of presentation and knowledge/research exhibited by the entrepreneur that sticks in the family office members’ heads, not necessarily the technology itself. “The technologies can fade a little bit, but you remember the person,” says Melissa Krauth of Claria Bioscience.
Ask for advice
Whilst you may have quite a clear vision of where you see the funds going, remember that these people are the financial experts, so don’t be rigid – be candid, ask for their opinions and advice, and they will respect your humility and willingness to ask questions.
Prepare for a grilling!
Remember too that members of bioscience-focussed, mission-based family offices, whilst not experts in your field, will most likely be scientifically trained – be prepared for scientific questions! At a 2014 conference Meredith Fisher made the audience laugh by advising potential pitchers that they should not attempt to ‘jedi mind trick’ the family office panel into thinking that a product is good.
Keep your slides succinct
As for your presentation itself, ideally you should have one version for presenting with and a separate version for the investor to skim upon receipt. This skimming version should be short and concise, telling the ‘story’ of you technology primarily via the slide titles and the concluding paragraph. Also it should contain fewer than 20 slides, or it will not get looked at in depth: cut out the fat and skimp on the background – many will already know all this!
Family offices care little about your online presence – Todd Holmes, from Gurnet Point Capital, remarks that what position you come in a Google search means little to him for an early stage venture. Instead he wants to see a well told story, well referenced data and a clear plan. Having said this, half-hearted attempts at publicity, riddled with typos, cheesy graphics and an unclear narrative, are a real turn-off.
A final point to raise is that of confidentiality. Several family offices will only consider non-confidential proposals at initial stages, after several incidents in the nineties where entrepreneurs decided that suing VCs for NDA infringement was easier than actually raising capital. Don’t let this stop you from being protective of your IP, but be aware that many family offices will expect a certain level of trust between all parties during initial pitches. Getting the balance right is therefore crucial – you should never let any potential investor persuade you to be under-protective of your IP. Chris Donegan stresses the importance of doing this properly, stating that strongly protected IP gives you more options later on, and means that the science can still have significant value even if the company itself fails to take off.