We are always eager to learn more about how new businesses succeed in their field. In this special interview, we spoke to Stephane Nasser, co-founder of OpenVC. OpenVC is an open source platform connecting founders and investors. With 7 years of experience in tech entrepreneurship and venture capital, Stephane and his team have made is easier for new founders to meet the right investors and secure funding.
What’s your story? How did you come up with the idea for OpenVC?
Before I started OpenVC, my first real job was at Microsoft where I managed operations for their startup accelerators in Paris. While I was there, I’ve been on the receiving end of a massive deal flow and I’ve seen how massive of a task it is.
Four years later, I became a business founder myself. I was raising funds for the first time, and I found out that the other side of the table is equally as bad. “There should be a better way of raising funds” was my initial thought when I started OpenVC.
After my first startup failed, the idea stuck with me, and I hacked the first version of the product using no-code tools. I started pushing it on founder groups and got positive feedback. That’s also how I met my co-founder and OpenVC CTO, Lucas. And the ball started to roll for us.
When you started out, how did you secure funding? What types of investors did you approach?
We bootstrapped for the first two years.
Very early on, we realized that our model “open & free” was not exciting for investors. We needed to get some traction and crack monetization before, maybe, raising funds. So we’ve built OpenVC part-time on nights and weekends, while doing consulting on the side.
Eventually, in 2023, we reached the point where we could go full-time and raised a bit of angel funding, mostly with people who had followed our journey for the first two years and were deeply involved in the journey of OpenVC. We actually had to turn down a few checks. This was all a very smooth and natural process.
As a founder, what were the major challenges you faced?
Monetization. Our platform is radically free and open. This is the core of our value proposition and people love it. However, this means that we have no clear path to revenue. We need to be very creative with monetization, for example through partnerships, advertising, lead generation. We also need massive volumes of users to make enough money. So it’s definitely our main challenge, but if we can make it work, it’s gonna be awesome!
When did you first realize that you had a great business idea in your hands?
Very early. The day we released OpenVC to the public, we launched on ProductHunt. That same day, we were voted Product of the Day. Then, 30 days later, we were voted Product of the Month. And 12 months later, we were running for Product of the Year! This is incredible when you consider how basic the product and team was at the time. The traffic numbers were also significant and user feedback extremely positive.
Could you tell us more about OpenVC and how it works? How does your platform connect investors and founders?
Investors just sign up to OpenVC, describe their investment thesis, and how they want to be contacted (email, online form, or intro). That’s it for them.
Then, founders filter out the investor base, find ones that fit and reach out. The only thing we do is screening the deal flow to prevent bad founders from spamming investors. Once investors and founders are connected, we get out of the way – no commission, no fee, no nonsense.
We also provide both sides with tools (CRM, deck hosting, etc) that make the whole process smooth and fully integrated.
How do you get investors and founders to join your network on OpenVC? Do you have a selection process before allowing them to be a part of the network?
Today, it’s easy to get investors to join OpenVC because all their investor friends are already there. We do very little marketing and get dozens of investor signups per month.
However, when we launched, we needed to find a way to “prime the pump”. Here’s what we did: we manually added 2,000 investors to the list. Of course, some data points were wrong. So we got a lot of angry investors message us, complaining that the check size or the thesis was incorrect. Then, we just replied they could sign up and fix their profile themselves – which most did.
We basically triggered them into signing up and providing us data!
What would you say are the most important traits a founder’s pitch should have to attract investors?
There are so many!
Storytelling is a big one. Investors get pitched all the time. It’s very hard for founders to cut through the noise. If you want your pitch to be remembered, you cannot describe a business, you have to tell a story. Investors are human beings, and they too respond to emotions and stories.
Another point is not sticking to the pitch deck too much. When you meet with an investor, be it in person or via Zoom, you want this to be a conversation, not a deck reading. Again, investors are human beings (hard to believe, I know) so treat them as such.
Any advice you would give to founders when pitching to potential investors?
Of course, a good story is not enough.
If you don’t have some positive signal to get investors excited, your story will fall flat. A common mistake for first-time founders is rushing top raise funds without enough substance to back up their ask. Make sure you have a solid team, a decent MVP and some traction before engaging with investors.
Bonus point if you can secure the first 25% of your round with your existing network. This is a strong signal for other investors, and they will be much more likely to consider investing.
What are your business plans going forward?
Growing! We spent the past two years patiently building, and we can’t wait to accelerate. The next few weeks are focused on refining the product experience and scaling up our capacity. Then we will activate marketing to grow traffic, and release premium features for power users. It’s very exciting and we can’t wait to see how founders will use these new abilities to raise funds and grow their businesses.