1. Keep your expectations realistic.
When you’re at the helm of a growing company, especially one that’s in an innovative field, there’s a temptation to let your imagination run wild when it comes to the possibilities. I mean, sure, your company could be a billion-dollar “unicorn” someday, but the reality is, 75 per cent of venture-backed startups fail. Your investors know this. That’s why your well-meaning attempts to assure them that they’ve backed the next big thing may make you come across as out of touch with reality at best, or disingenuous at worst.
2. Get ahead of the problem.
Maybe you had a hiccup with a prototype or your company didn’t meet sales goals. It’s common to want to bury your head in the sand and hope that the whole thing blows over without your investors ever finding out, but let’s be real — that’s never the case. When you run into an issue, notify your investors immediately and lay out your plans to resolve it. If your investor hears about the problem through someone else, then you risk them getting an inaccurate or incomplete picture, and they’ll wonder why you didn’t give them a heads-up.
Whenever there’s something I think may unexpectedly pop up in the press or in my dealings with investors, I do everything that I can to give them as much advance notice as possible. Even if it’s something that is only peripherally relevant (e.g. “Hey, one of our competitors is about to be acquired by a huge soda company”) this shows that you’re vigilant about keeping investors up-to-date, and it emphasizes that you care about more than just taking their money.
3. Share your solutions.
I’ve had to tell my investors some pretty bad news in the past. My independent CPG brand, hint, was hit hard by the recession of 2007. Not long after that, we lost our biggest deal with a retail distributor. On both occasions, I had to approach my investors and be blunt. I told them that the recession isn’t going to be great for any of us and there’s a lot coming that we couldn’t have expected. Then, I revealed my strategy on how to move forward. My investors had appreciated knowing that we had thought through these situations and were keeping our heads as cool as possible.
4. Ask for help.
Some investors just want you to turn their money into more money. But many investors, even if they don’t have seats on your board, want to take a more active role in being mentors and advisors. This is typically a strategy they apply to their entire portfolio. Even if they’re more passive, don’t be afraid to ask for their insight when something goes wrong. A Stanford study showed that two-thirds of CEOs wish they had more counsel than they’re currently getting. Soliciting their perspective also demonstrates that you respect them and what they can offer you, and can also give them an extra dose of reassurance that you aren’t just trying to “do it alone” when it comes to your company. In your toughest moments, showing both honesty and vulnerability will say a lot.