Back in March, 500 Startups set up a dedicated Slack channel to facilitate investor networking during its first ever Digital Demo Day. The platform, renamed 500vc, proved so popular that the team decided to turn it into a permanent meeting venue. Deprived of travel and in-person events, more than 1,300 vetted investors from around 50 countries now converge in 500vc to meet, share deals and exchange insights.
McKeever “Mac” Conwell is one of them. He joined 500vc to attend Digital Demo Day as a portfolio manager and deal team coordinator at Maryland Technology Development Corporation before launching his own fund, RareBreed Ventures, in August. An early stage investor and generalist, Mac uses 500vc to get exposure for his portfolio companies. After recently dropping the pitch deck of an e-sports company in the deal flow channel, five investors reached out. It is now going through due diligence with an investor. Another portfolio company, in edtech, is also currently in talks with an investor.
“Any given time, any given sector, no matter what it is, I can find somebody else who can look at it [a pitch deck],” says Mac. “Instead of me emailing a deal to you, I can put this in the Slack channel and it goes out to an entire list of folks.” Mac recommends staying engaged and exploring member profiles. That way, an investor can tag people interested in a particular sector and direct-message decks them.
Looking ahead, he plans to continue eyeing potential investments through RareBreed, which focuses on founders outside major tech hubs without easy access to venture capital. The 500vc community has allowed him to meet investors who share his interest in underrepresented founders, and with whom he hopes to forge long-lasting connections.
One such investor is Shila Nieves Burney, who was tapped by 500 Startups to oversee the East Coast channel, one of 500vc’s 40 micro-channels, which represent sectors and regions worldwide. Shila, who’s the founding and managing partner at Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, is looking for co-investors, including Mac. She has highlighted the ability to potentially identify deals through 500vc in her fundraising deck to LPs. “I have a view of deals I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t part of that channel, if I wasn’t part of this Slack community; especially sitting here in Atlanta,” says Shila, who looks for diverse teams in the Southeast. So far, she has looked closely at up to 10 companies she learned about through 500vc.
Community members should keep an open mind and explore various channels, suggests Shila, including being receptive to opportunities that weren’t on their radar. That’s how a feminine products company caught her eye recently. Although it is on the West Coast, she found it worth checking out. “Take a look, maybe a second look,” she says.
Susan Wang, a seed to series B venture edtech investor at Learn Capital, joined 500vc in April after a major edtech conference was cancelled. She recommends attending the monthly 45- minute Virtual Meet and Greet 500vc hosts, through the events platform Icebreaker, to facilitate one-on-one introductions. This has allowed her to connect with a generalist investor with whom she now holds quarterly calls to share thoughts on edtech and talk about deal flow. “To the extent I see things that are for example too early for us, or things that are not in edtech that I see are interesting, I’ll pass it on to him,” says Susan.
She also had the opportunity to nominate Learn Capital portfolio company Smashcut at 500vc’s monthly Startup Spotlight, with the goal to get exposure for the startup. Smashcut, as well as four other investor-nominated companies got their own channel for one week, and the opportunity to schedule office hours with investors.
Mac, Shila and Susan are all part of various Slack channels as well, including the newly- established Bunch of Founders, but also the pre-pandemic channels of Emerging Venture Capitalists Association and Global Women in VC. The latter attracts more than 2,100 full-time investors from Bangkok to Sao Paulo. “It [Slack] is a scalable way to share qualified deal flow,” says investor and Women in VC co-founder Jessica Peltz Zatulove, who’s also in 500vc.
She believes the foundation for making an investor Slack group successful is trust. Her advice includes being inclusive and generous, asking founders if they’re comfortable having their pitch decks shared, and being transparent about deals. “If you post an investment opportunity, say ‘I’m an investor or I passed, because it’s too early or too late,” she says.
Post pandemic, investor Slack channels are here to stay–one more tool to lean on. “We’re in a moment of time that will produce transformative companies that will shape the coming decade. With founders now dispersed across the country, investors are finding new channels and getting comfortable sharing deal flow through trusted virtual networks,” says Jessica.
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