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How to write an effective investor update for your startup

Communicating effectively with investors is critical for any startup. An investor update provides a valuable opportunity to inform your investors on key business developments, performance metrics, and strategic initiatives. But simply providing data and facts is not enough for an engaging, impactful update.

The most effective investor updates tell a compelling story. They highlight progress made against crucial milestones while acknowledging risks and challenges still ahead. Your goal is to build investor confidence along the startup journey. With thoughtful preparation and sharp storytelling skills, your investor updates can be vital in building support. This article provides tips and strategies for crafting an effective investor update for your startup, including investor update templates you can use.

What is an investor update?

An investor update is a monthly or quarterly report given by a startup to its investors that provides a snapshot of the company’s key financial metrics, operational progress, product roadmap prioritization, team growth, and strategic developments. Investor updates help maintain open communication between startup founders and their investors.

The value of the investor update

Investor updates provide value beyond just reporting financial metrics. From strengthening relationships to aligning on vision, investor updates serve many critical purposes.

  • Keep investors engaged and informed on critical metrics. Sharing metrics allows your VCs to understand the company’s health and growth trajectory, keeping investors up to date.
  • Demonstrate progress made against goals and milestones. By showcasing achievements against previously set targets, startups can instill confidence in their investors. Go beyond financial numbers and share qualitative feedback for a fuller picture.
  • Maintain open communication channels. Regular updates ensure that lines of communication remain open, both for fostering trust and transparency and for asking investors for help for advice.
  • Address changes in strategy or pivots transparently. A business pivot or strategy change can be alarming if not communicated clearly. By addressing these proactively and transparently, startups can address concerns and explain the rationale behind decisions.
  • Forecast future capital needs or an upcoming funding round. By giving investors a heads-up about raising venture capital funding in the future, startups enable them to prepare for follow on funding support and understand the company’s long-term vision.

Best practices for writing an investor update

Crafting a compelling investor update requires thoughtful preparation and sharp communication. From condensing details to sending updates regularly, follow these best practices for writing updates that engage your investors and build confidence.

  • Keep it short and concise. Investors often review multiple company updates; getting straight to the point ensures they can quickly grasp the essential information without wading through excess detail.
  • Use a consistent format. Using a standard format for each update makes it easier for investors to find and compare critical data points over time.
  • Communicate challenges transparently. Addressing difficulties head-on builds trust and allows investors to offer help or advice.
  • Send at a regular monthly cadence. Consistent investor updates ensure investors stay well-informed and engaged with the company’s journey.
  • Balance complex numbers with qualitative insights. While metrics showcase performance objectively, qualitative insights give depth and context to the numbers.
  • Use visualizations like graphs and charts where helpful. Visual aids can quickly convey trends, comparisons, and complex data.
  • Time updates to arrive before investor meetings. Sending updates ahead of scheduled meetings ensures that discussions are informed and productive.

Looking to raise venture capital funding for your business? Watch our Startup Funding 101 video to learn the difference between Seed, A, B, and C funding.

How to write an investor update

Determining what to include in your investor update is an important balancing act. Be comprehensive yet concise, highlighting key metrics, milestones, and strategic context, to craft an update that informs, engages, and inspires confidence.

1. Start with a tl;dr

With a portfolio of startups to attend to, investors tend to be busy. Summarize your update’s key highlights and data in a few concise sentences, opting for bullet points when possible. This “too long; didn’t read” executive summary helps investors immediately grasp the essential takeaways.

First, hit the key metrics, milestones, and strategic context in 2-3 sentences. Then provide the details and explanation in the sections to follow.

2. Share updates on your financial numbers

Sharing financial numbers in monthly updates offers transparency, assuring investors their capital is being stewarded wisely. It provides a clear snapshot of the startup’s health, enabling informed discussions and strategic decisions. Regularly presenting these figures and key performance indicators builds trust, demonstrating a founder’s commitment to accountability and finding product-market fit.

Buffer, a company known for its radical transparency, has publicly shared its investor updates over the year. One from 2021 includes their Q4 2020 financial results and compares their numbers in 2019 and 2020, providing investors with insight into their annual change.

image alt text

Be sure to cover all the essential numerical indicators of business health:

  • Margins. Report both gross and net profit margins to demonstrate overall profitability.
  • Cash flow. Disclose cash flow numbers to illustrate capital availability and sources of funds.
  • Churn rate. Share customer retention rates which directly impact recurring revenue growth.
  • Burn rate. Disclose the current pace at which capital is being spent to inform startup viability.
  • Active users. Track the size of the engaged user base as a leading growth indicator
  • Sign-ups. Monitor new user sign-ups as a future revenue driver.
  • MRR. Disclose monthly recurring revenue totals to forecast future income.
  • CAC. Calculate customer acquisition costs to analyze profitability per customer.
  • Runway. Estimate remaining capital reserves to determine the need for funds.

3. Include customer wins

Call attention to any impressive new customer accounts secured during the period. Provide details on the scope of expanded relationships with existing accounts. Having reputable customer names and validation for your product demonstrates real market traction.

Convey the strategic significance of landing each major customer win, quantifying the potential revenue impact of large deals closed. Additionally, share any particularly favorable contract terms secured that reflect a strong bargaining position.

4. Detail product updates

Investors want to know how you’re approaching your product roadmap. Summarize any significant new product features, technology upgrades, or functionality improvements shipped and released to customers in the last month or quarter. This demonstrates continued innovation, iteration, and progress on the product roadmap.

Contextualize the significance of each launch and explain how it advances your platform capabilities in alignment with customer needs.

5. Provide insight into challenges

Transparency builds trust. Don’t shy away from openly sharing current struggles, risks, or headwinds you are facing as a startup. Whether internal execution issues or external market forces, discuss the key challenges frankly. Analyze the root causes and impacts and outline the steps to mitigate and overcome each one.

This shows self-awareness and proactive problem-solving. In turn, investors can provide valuable support and advice to help confront the challenges.

6. Share team updates and key hires

Regular updates on new team members and critical hires provide investors a glimpse into the caliber of talent attracted to your company, providing clues into your market positioning and internal culture. Additionally, highlighting promotions emphasizes the company’s commitment to nurturing and recognizing internal talent, fostering an environment of growth and loyalty.

These updates underscore expansion and internal advancement that reinforce the company’s health.

7. Ask investors for help

Navigating the complex world of startups often necessitates pooling collective wisdom and resources. Engaging with investors isn’t just about financial backing; it’s an opportunity to tap into their industry expertise, networks, and insights to propel the company forward.

Ryan Hoover, the Founder of Product Hunt and Weekend Fund, advises startup founders to be explicit and specific with their investor asks. “You want to make it easy for them to help you,” he says. “For example, instead of asking for intros to SaaS companies, provide them with a clear definition of the type of companies you want to connect [to], a blurb they can use, and a spreadsheet of all the companies on your wishlist.”

Proactively ask investors how they can provide assistance and add value in specific areas:

  • Fundraising. Request introductions to their network for your next round.
  • Hiring. Inquire about recruiting talent through investor referrals.
  • Customers. Ask for help facilitating conversations to land key partnerships.
  • Office space. Seek support for real estate needs through their connections.
  • Partnerships. Leverage investor relationships for co-marketing and product partnership opportunities.

8. Thank investors that provide value to your startup

Recognizing and thanking helpful investors in your monthly update serves a tri-fold purpose; It showcases genuine appreciation, motivates other investors to step up their engagement, and establishes an atmosphere of collaborative achievement, emphasizing that the company’s successes are the result of collective effort and guidance.

Arianna Simpson, a General Partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, underlines how thanking helpful investors can serve founders. “To get the most out of your investors, it’s a good idea to have a shoutout section in your investor updates,” she says on Twitter. “We’re competitive nerds and will definitely go the extra mile to consistently make it on the list.”

9. Shake up the format on occasion

Consider occasionally changing the typical format of your investor updates to spur deeper engagement. Interactive video sessions with Q&A, informal small group gatherings, and product demos all break the routine of standard emails or PDFs.

Jessica Verrilli, the Managing Director and Co-founder of Adverb Ventures, has discussed the value of investor updates over Zoom, noting that “email may be more efficient for [monthly] or quarterly updates, but this is a neat way to see the community of investors [and] more depth of conversation once [per year].”

Just be sure to cover all the critical content investors expect, even if the delivery format varies. Refreshing the approach keeps investors more attentive to your updates.

Investor update template

Structuring your investor updates using a consistent template ensures you cover all the critical information investors want to track each period. Use this customizable investor update template as a startup founder to efficiently communicate your progress across metrics, milestones, challenges, and discussion topics.

Monthly Investor Update - [Month Year]

Greeting

TL;DR

  • 2-3 sentences summarizing key metrics, milestones, and context

Financial Updates:

  • Revenue -
  • Gross Margin -
  • Net Margin -
  • Cash Balance -
  • Burn Rate -
  • Runway -

Operating Metrics:

  • Total Customers -
  • Monthly Active Users -
  • Monthly New Users -
  • Churn Rate -
  • CAC -

Key Wins This Month:

  • New customers:
  • Expanded customers:
  • Key partnerships:

Product Development Updates:

  • New features launched:
  • Product roadmap priorities:

Team Updates:

  • New hires:
  • Key promotions:

Top Challenges:

  • Challenge 1
  • Challenge 2
  • Challenge 3

Investor Discussion Items:

  • Fundraising prospects
  • Hiring needs
  • Customer introductions requested
  • Potential partnerships to leverage your connections
  • Upcoming milestones and key decisions

Thank Helpful Investors:

  • Thank you 1
  • Thank you 2
  • Thank you 3

Thank you for your continued support and guidance as we build the business. Please let me know if you have any other topics you would like me to cover in the next monthly update. I appreciate you taking the time to review our progress. Please reach out if you have any other questions!

Crafting compelling investor updates consistently lays the foundation for transparent communication and trust with your startup’s investors. Regularly engaging investors through updates demonstrates good governance and accountability as you grow. Maintaining open dialogue strengthens relationships with investors that can support your business over its lifetime.

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