April 24, 2023

How to attract early-stage angel investors

Polly McMaster, founder & CEO of luxury workwear brand The Fold, shares her tips for attracting early-stage angel investment

Polly McMaster

5 min read

Polly McMaster, founder and CEO of womenswear brand The Fold

Though it’s become a lot more common for early-stage cap tables to be filled with angel investors, knowing where to start, who to talk to and how to approach actually asking for cash can be daunting for first-time founders.

Going from “hi, this is my business” to “would you like to invest” is fraught with potential pitfalls and awkward moments, not to mention dead ends and what can feel like wasted time.

Fundraising has presented some of the hardest and most stressful times I’ve had as both a founder and CEO. Essentially, you are asking investors to take a view on your business, and on you as a leader of that business — no matter how brilliant you and your business are, when it comes to investment most conversations are going to end in rejection.


But despite the challenges, in the last decade I’ve managed to raise more than £11m for my womenswear business The Fold — here are the lessons I’ve learned when it comes to tapping into angel investment.

Network and the money will follow

When it comes to investing, relationships matter. And although for time-poor founders, group pitch events can be a valuable learning experience — providing potential investors with a window into who you are and what your business is — they don’t work.

Building connections in a group environment isn’t always possible, particularly given the nature of pitch events, where there’s a very clear goal in mind for those attending, which makes building authentic connections more difficult. And although coming out of the room with one contact might be a great result, think about it this way: you wouldn’t hire someone in that context, so don’t expect to leave with a signed deal. 

Instead you should be looking to build a wide network outside of events where it’s obvious you’re there for investment. Whether it’s for strategic advice, recruitment, supply chain or for reeling off entrepreneurial ideas, you should be expanding your network whether you’re fundraising or not — if you only start to build connections when you need them, it takes much longer to build credibility and trust.

You should be looking to build a wide network outside of events where it’s obvious you’re there for investment

 Many angel investors will be looking to back startups that align with their passion and experience — they typically have subject-specific expertise and lean towards investing with that in mind. So focus on getting in front of networks made up of people from your field and adjacent circles to maximise your chances of finding the right match. 

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My network has been curated through several separate channels. Firstly, by utilising strong relationships with senior people from previous jobs and leveraging their broader industry knowledge — it’s through them that I have been introduced to some of my most influential contacts.

However, when I moved into the retail/fashion industry I had to start building connections from scratch — during this time business school was essential. I would attend events as often as possible and became very strategic about connecting with professionals and contacting alumni. With persistence my network grew — there’s a lot to be said for a warm introduction and the efficiency of LinkedIn. 

What’s more, a trusted network can act as a self-selecting filter as you expand it to look for partners, and prove crucial in opening doors for you along the way, this having been my most effective method of establishing connections with institutional investors. 

A trusted network can act as a self-selecting filter as you expand it to look for partners, and prove crucial in opening doors for you along the way

With VC investment in women owned businesses declining, building connections and opening doors is even more important for women-led startups. 

Research we recently did for our Start with One campaign revealed women are actually more likely than men to start investing after having a conversation — so it’s a great help if you can find other female founders and investors to talk to and build a mutually supportive network. 


We also found that women aged 18-29 are just as likely to talk about investing as men, so be open to tapping younger generations too.

Don’t waste time, be direct

Endless conversations in which you’re second guessing who just wants to be supportive and who actually wants to invest can be exhausting. There comes a time when you just need to know - “are you in?” 

Though there’s no perfect time to ask that question, you’ll cut the journey short by being upfront.

Luckily the world today allows for much more transparency in whether someone is interested in investing or not. Thanks to social media it's often public knowledge — “angel investor” is now a job title on many LinkedIn profiles, so this can save a lot of awkwardness and trying to read between the lines.

And though there’s no perfect time to ask that question, you’ll cut the journey short by being upfront. 

If someone says they’re interested, be prepared to lock them in with the details. Make it easy for them. What counts is ensuring that you have the ability to move quickly when opportunities do arise. Have a high-level term sheet and one-pager on your business that is ready to go and can be sent over straight away — that’ll enable you to catalyse and build on fruitful conversations. 

It’s about you, as much as the business

Many angels don’t spend as long looking at the business plan and balance sheet as you might expect, but they do want to know you are the right leader to navigate the changes that impact both of these (when they inevitably do).

Make sure you’re prepared to pitch yourself as much as the product or service you’re creating —- believe in yourself and know the answer to “why you?”. Business plans almost never work out in the way intended, so it's really important to ask yourself how you will deal with uncertainty and risk, as well as overcome the challenges that are inevitably going to come your way.

See every no as a step towards a yes

It doesn’t matter if you’re rejected by 10, or even 100 people — don’t take it personally.  If a deal isn’t a good fit for an angel then it’s often nothing to do with you or your business — it would be unusual to expect most of them to say “yes”.

The most important thing to remember is to not be disheartened by setbacks. Take every no as a lesson learned and remember to take value from the journey. Remember that there are so many other founders going through the process too. The more we can talk about this, the easier it will become.