During our time at the Winter Founders Program, all of the startup groups pitched their idea to about 40 angels and venture capitalists at an event put on by Y Combinator called Angel Day. In addition to Angel Day, we also pitched Wufoo to about 5-10 investors in follow-up presentations. After a few meetings, we started to notice the same questions being asked over and over again. If you’ve never met with angels or VCs and are curious as to what they might want to know, here is a list of the more common questions we fielded.

1) Who else have you spoken to?

I believe every single investor asked this early on and I’m not completely sure why they cared so much since they should be basing their judgment and strategy on the strength of the idea and not on its popularity. I think it’s because Silicon Valley is a lot like high school in that you’re basically as cool as the people who talk to you. Being funded by Sequoia, is not unlike dating the hottest cheerleader in the squad. Then again, maybe it’s just natural human curiosity. Either way, it’s a good idea to keep at the top of your head who you’ve talked to and their appropriate place in the pecking order.

2) How will you make money?

If Adsense is your stratetgy, you might want to start thinking of some alternate revenue models. After one investor asked us this question, he quickly said under his breath in a little prayer, “Please don’t say Adsense.” If you already have a million users, then the investors are going to listen to you no matter what you have planned. That said, investors are getting hip to the notion that funding a Web 2.0 startup that’s obsessed more with the technology than the revenue is just asking for trouble.

If you need help thinking of alternative revenue models, I highly recommend checking out Startup Pricing Models and Giving Your Software Away For Free for some good reading on the subject.

3) How will your company grow?

Investors want a return on their investment, and they naturally want to see you grow your market. I believe going over this question with your co-founders is a great exercise, because your company in three years is going to be very different from what it is right now. Always good to have everyone on the same page about how things should pan out. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just think about whether your growth strategy is going to be achieved by creating new product lines, reaching foreign markets, or adding some nifty features.

4) What technologies do you use?

We’ve noticed that a lot of the investors are ex-programmers and enjoy showing off a little programming speak, but why they all care about this just stumps me. Basically, we’ve seen every kind of language being gobbled up by the big boys. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you write your application in Ruby, PHP, Python, ColdFusion or even .NET. Users pay attention to the ends, not the means. Instead of asking whether we think MySQL can really handle a large set of users, they should be asking us is how we’re planning to keep our interface intuitive and responsive. On a related note, mentioning buzzwords like AJAX or standards doesn’t seem to matter all that much to anyone out there.

5) How easily can you be copied?

If you’re writing a web app, chances are there are a lot of other teams who could create a similar program (if you’ve got no competitors you might be working on the wrong thing). We tried to be as honest as possible when answering people, so our standard response to this one went something like this: “Um, not to toot our own horns, but we’re pretty good at what we do, but nothing changes the fact that Wufoo is a computer program written by three guys in a couple of months. We believe completely in our team and our implementation and know it won’t be easy to duplicate what we’ve done, but if another quality team comes along and wants to copy us, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. Our plan is to win by being more innovative, more dedicated, faster and more customer-savvy than anyone else out there.”

6) Can we see the demo?

Everyone in Silicon Valley has an idea, and many of them are similar. Investors want to see the goods. We had one investor invite us out to a casual dinner, and when we didn’t have our laptops with us, we ended up taking him to our messy apartment full of pizza boxes and soda cans because he wanted to see the demo then and there. We got a follow-up meeting and an offer out of it, so it’s good to know that a working demo is more important than cleanliness. Basically, always assume they haven’t seen your online public demo and have that localhost version on your laptop ready to go.

7) Who are your competitors and how are you better/different?

Unless you just invented a teleportation system, research your competitors and be ready to answer what you can do better than everyone else out there. Don’t even try and avoid this question because about two days after any meeting, you’re going to receive an email asking you to detail how you’re better than 20 other companies the investor just Googled.

8) Who are your customers?

The trick to this question is to be specific. You’ll want to have examples of who is using, who will use, and who wants to use your product. At Startup School, Ann Winblad from Hummer Winblad said they will even contact companies you mention as potential customers during the due diligence period to verify their legitimacy as a customer.

9) How will you spread the word about your product?

This was my favorite question, because we could usually nail it. Investors understand the power of word of mouth marketing, and you win bonus points if you can demonstrate the ability to quickly spread the word. One of our biggest selling points was the fact that we have a decent blog, we belong to the 9rules network, and we were able to reach over 50,000 unique people in a matter of days when we released our public interface demo.

10) What will your market penetration be?

This was actually only asked of us once, but I had to add it to emphasize that you don’t need to spew out a bunch of BS to impress investors. We could have made up something you probably heard in an MBA class, but instead just said, “We honestly don’t know.” And that’s the truth, because I can’t even begin to guess what percentage of the available form building market we are going to get. The investor was a little bit shocked with the answer, but it definitely wasn’t a deal breaker.

If you’d like to learn more, I’d also recommend taking a look at the topics Brad Feld would like to see all entrepreneurs incorporate in their pitches.

HTML Form Builder
Chris Campbell

The Top 10 Questions Investors Asked Us by Chris Campbell

This entry was posted 4 years ago and was filed under Notebooks.
Comments are currently closed.


  1. Dharmesh Shah · 4 years ago

    The reason why investors ask who else you’ve talked to is that they’re trying to gauge the level of interest in your deal.

    If you have talked to others that are within their circle, they will likely contact them and find out what they thought (think of this as expedited due dligence).

  2. Nail Shakirzhanov · 4 years ago

    Chris, thanks for sharing your experience.

    I’ve just got something to add to No.7: Given how easy it is for people now to switch from one service to another, startups should not only consider their immediate competitors in the field but also any other firm the customer can go to to obtain same or similar benefits. Investors would feel more confident investing into an idea if the team behind it demostrates high level of lateral thinking. The reason being is that if there is something that can kill your business instantly, it’s more likely to be something you never considered to be a threat.

  3. Dean Edwards · 4 years ago

    Your wufoo demo page is broken. Fix it quick before any investors drop by. ;-)

  4. anon · 4 years ago

    One way of answering #4 is not answering at all for security reasons: you can honestly and correctly reply that if the details of your architecture become known, crackers can lookup vulnerabilities corresponding to your particular language and version.

    It’s basically a polite and firm way of saying “Next Question”.

  5. Paul Watson · 4 years ago

    I am curious as to why “What technologies do you use?” is at #4 and yet you go on to say it isn’t important. Is it a question that is asked out of curiosity and nothing more?

  6. Chris Campbell · 4 years ago

    Hey Dean,

    Anything not working in particular?

    Dharmesh, I believe you’re right that sometimes they are gauging. Other times I honestly believe it’s just curiousity.

    Nail, Good call. Should have also mentioned competition which isn’t direct.

  7. Chris Campbell · 4 years ago


    That question was asked by probably every investor. Maybe they’re just curious, maybe they think ruby gives you a competive advantage. I don’t know, but if you meet with an investor, they’ll probably ask you what you use and how you’ll scale.

  8. Dean Edwards · 4 years ago


    this page:


    gives a JavaScript error on startup - “Class is not defined”

    basically nothing works after that.

  9. Ryan Campbell · 4 years ago

    Hey Dean - I can’t seem to recreate that JavaScript error in IE6, Firefox, or Safari. What browser are you using, so that I can try and hunt it down?


  10. Mislav · 4 years ago

    If I know Dean good enough, he’s using Firefox :)

  11. Mislav · 4 years ago

    I don’t get the error, too.

    Judging from the first line of demo.js, var fieldProperties = Class.create();, it seems like common-dynamic.js never got loaded and demo.js doesn’t know what Class is.

    My guesses are: a) Dean has a trigger-happy ad blocker; b) common-dynamic hasn’t been generated at that time because of a server/PHP glitch; c) Dean is maybe not using Firefox and we’ve all been hearing about using gzip encoding for javascript files lately.

    BTW… common-dynamic is a huge mashup! Why is browser caching forced off for it? I understand it being off for demo.js (which may change) but for the former … ?

  12. Ryan Campbell · 4 years ago

    Good catch Mislav - I didn’t realize caching was turned off for that file. I’ll have to fix that. Thanks.

  13. Jeff Jordan · 4 years ago

    Great post, Chris! I added a few insights on a couple of questions that you probably didn’t have to answer because you covered them in your presentation.

    (Sorry for what probaly looks like a shameless promotion of my blog. I have to run, but I didn’t want to bolt without giving you a shout out.)

  14. saddam · 4 years ago

    This article has been stuck on bloglines for 2 weeks and can’t be marked as read. Not sure why. Maybe your end?

  15. anon · 4 years ago

    I frankly didn’t notice how messy your apartment was —- certainly no worse than my apartment was when I was your age. And I have found from experience that seeing a demo as my first exposure to the product gives me a clearer idea of what problem you are TRYING to solve. I can then play with it on my own (if I’m still interested) and see what the customer perspective is. Remember, at any one time, a typical early stage investor is looking at 2-3 dozen deals, and time/mindshare management is the biggest issue.

    I enjoyed the candor in the 10 questions, guys.

  16. Pozycjonowanie · 4 years ago

    Chris, thanks for sharing your experience.

    I believe you’re right that sometimes they are gauging. Other times I honestly believe it’s just curiousity.

  17. Gsm Cellular · 4 years ago

    Very nice site - congratulations

  18. Herbal · 4 years ago

    I was looking for any article about this from several weeks. And I foud it here. Many thanks. Good job, man.

  19. Ksiegarnia · 3 years ago

    I just bookmarked your site cause you got some good stuff and you are someone to keep an eye on - good luck!

  20. Ksiegarnia · 3 years ago

    Everyone needs a hug.

  21. budowa domów · 3 years ago

    Good article

  22. budowa domów · 3 years ago

    Everyone needs a hug.