An entrepreneur in COVID times | Fundraising in times of Corona

blog - 11 min.

COVID-19 created a lot of financial challenges. In regard to startups one of the biggest issues is "how to raise funding"

First published on Femstreet

Jessica Lin is the Co-Founder and General Partner at Work-Bench, where her focus is on investments in the future of work and teams. Her passion for growing and supporting women in tech enterprise, have led her to launch aNavigate Women in Enterprise Tech Summit and Founders of Enterprise Startups (Who Are Women) Database.
Prior to Work-Bench, she was a Learning and Development Manager at Cisco Systems, where she worked with the Engineering organization on Agile transformation, innovation and culture.

Last week, in a live Q&A, she answered questions around fundraising in the current climate, how to adjust your B2B sales strategy, virtually pitching a VC, term sheet negotiations, planning for downside scenarios and recovery and more.


Q: When you say the bar will be higher in these times for fundraising, what should startups that have built relationships with investors and are keen to go full steam ahead be doing to differentiate themselves and raise their fundraising game in terms of prep, process, engagement etc.?

A: It’s everything you’d expect in a normal fundraising process – but everything needs to be even more precise, from your dataroom to all your data points.

I’d also acknowledge the current situation and be as thoughtful and realistic as possible about your forecasts, to show how you’re taking into account the current situation (and unfortunately worst case scenarios) and how to best navigate.


Q: What questions should founders raising in this climate ask funds and investors to make sure they are partnering with people who are prepared to support them through tough times?

A: Great question. I would ask:

1. About their own LP composition (whether they are institutions, family offices, high net worths…some have of course been more impacted by the volatile markets)

2. Related, whether or not these LPs are able to meet their capital call commitments (and thus have the VCs able to fund you)

3. About their reserve strategy (i.e. how much they set aside for follow-on rounds. This is especially for hard times, if they need to bridge you)

I would honestly get a sense of bandwidth as well – many VCs are hyperfocused on their existing portfolios, and may not have the capacity or ability to commit to new deals for some time.


Q: I would love to know your thoughts on how SAAS and developer tooling B2B sales strategies should change in this climate?

A: I hear you. Many B2B startups rely on conferences to be a strong source of lead-gen – especially for developer communities.

We are seeing many of our startups pivot to online webinar series and a heavy focus on content – blogs, white papers, and more. On sales, being able to show goodwill while aiding in productivity can be a win-win.

SaaS and developer tooling are super important now given the need to be at or above the level of productivity as in the workplace, and DevOps is going to be especially needed, with people going remote and the need for agility. With more of a need than ever, now is definitely the time to be experimenting with new content strategies for engagement and demand gen.

See here for a few more posts that may be relevant (dev tool or not): (Former CISO at Goldman Sachs)


Q: From a B2B sales perspective how would you go about it now?

A: I would recommend thinking about it 2 ways right now: your existing customers and new customers.

On existing customers, it’s all about making them as successful as they can be right now, with even extra customer success and support. Check out this piece by my cofounder Jon here at Work-Bench, where he talks about what he saw during the tail end of the 2008 financial crisis at Morgan Stanley IT, and how there was actually more opportunity for startups who could prove great efficiencies to sell into the banks:

On new customers, I’d check out this post from a former CISO at Goldman Sachs, where he talks about “Selling to the Need.” Folks may be a bit distracted right now and/or experiencing a spending freeze, but there are still meaningful ways to nurture potential customers with content, webinars, and cultivating community groups and just prove value that will be helpful to them now, even if it means a formal sale doesn’t come for a few more months:

I do believe mission critical things can and will get evaluated and purchased over Zoom, but other products may get pushed off if it’s not mission critical right now.


Q: We were about to launch our pre-seed round and had been in early convos with angels/early-stage VCs – our business is in women’s health tech/digital community space and so in this current climate our product would do really well so we’re focussing on pushing out our beta program asap as a result (before this, we were waiting to launch it post fundraise).

We’re in two minds about whether to keep pushing on with the raise or wait and focus on getting that traction, (if we wait however we can’t employ our team properly which may slow our progress/ability to onboard lots of users).

Would love your thoughts on what you would prefer to see as an investor, should we keep up the convos and try push a few to close or take a step back and let them know we’re focussing on traction?

A: Congrats on having built what sounds to be such an important platform in women’s health!

I think it comes down to an honest conversation with your angels and early-stage VCs you’ve built a relationship with – are they able to move forward right now? And if so, will they?

If so – then great, do it! 🙂

If not – then you’ll likely have to find ways to make your launch work with a scaled back team, which is the reality of so many startups we have been talking to. That said, if you can execute this well, then you’ll be in even more of a prime position when you do go out and raise, with more data points and traction.


Q: Do you have any advice for B2B sales in this environment where we are selling a product that helps enterprises work with their small suppliers better (we provide a simplified procure to pay software for managing long-tail suppliers that saves buyers time/money and also offer the suppliers on the other side faster payment on their invoices), and getting the tone of those sales pitches right given the ongoing crises?

A: I think so much of it comes down to empathy – empathy for the customer who may be going through their own business challenges right now. Empathy in your pitch – and positioning it as mission critical. And empathy in recognizing that if it’s not mission critical right now, that’s ok too…and still in delivering value through content/webinars/strategies that can be helpful to them, so when we do get past these challenging times, you have built a strong brand and association of empathy.

See below for some posts that could be helpful.


Q: Thanks for sharing today and for creating the women enterprise founders db – super useful. This is pretty specific. Do you have any businesses in your portfolio who either offer a product around supply chain management, or have you gotten feedback from any of your companies navigating changing supply chains? I’m curious which tools are useful and what kind of dashboards or other operational monitoring tools people are finding useful. Thanks!

A: Unfortunately we haven’t done much in supply chain management. We really respect Schematic Ventures though!


Q: Would you recommend starting a journey for investment now or rather hold until later?

A: If you have runway for 18 months (or can get yourself to that amount of time), I would recommend holding until later.

As I mentioned below, the bar for new investments is going to be *extremely high* right now for most VC firms, as many of them are focused right now on managing their existing portfolio through this time. Unless you have already built a strong relationship and/or are further along in the process, starting new conversations will be challenging at the moment.


Q: What is your view on the B2G market and how it will be impacted?

A: While we don’t do any govtech work, I imagine the government market like many others will generally be slower to sell into during this specific uncertain time.

That said – I do believe there will be certain technology areas and capabilities that will be more in demand. From our portfolio of startup selling into Fortune 500s, we’ve been hearing pull in many areas including automation for document extraction, platforms that aid with managing incidents and software reliability, to customer success software to assess customer health and reduce churn, and precision mental healthcare benefits to support employees in these trying times.

So it’ll really depend on your specific platform, and the essential need you are helping government orgs to solve for.


Q: Would love your thoughts on best practices for virtual pitching and how founders might want to switch it up as opposed to live pitches.

A: I honestly thought the best write-up on this was put together by Jane VC:, check it out.

One thing we’re hoping to try is actually to Zoom “lunch” together, just like we would if we were getting lunch with a founder. Those are the times when we actually get to know the team the best – outside of the pitch, just as people.


Q: What are investors to founders needing to raise within the next 60-90 days and what’s your advice?

A: My best advice would be 2-fold:

If you’ve already built a relationship with new investors and have been cultivating a process with them for a long time, then it’s worth going back and approach those new investors for your round.

That said, given your tight timeline (and I’m guessing runway too) – I would recommend first and foremost going back to your existing investors and figuring out if possible for them to bridge you for an inside round, just to give you enough capital to get through ideally 18 months (if not 2 years).

The bar is going to be very, very high for new deals:

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