Every week, inventors and entrepreneurs tune in to watch startup founders pitch the heavy-hitting investors on ABC's Shark Tank. Judging from the number of emails I get from people who'd like to know if I can introduce them to QVC's Lori Greiner or put them in touch with the show's producers, everybody now sees a TV appearance as their ticket to angel investor money.
But there's more than one way to get an investor's attention, even a mega-high profile one like Shark Tank's Mark Cuban. That's what Ryan Ozonian found out last year, when he dashed off a quick email to Cuban through Cuban's blog.
Ozonian reports that he heard back from Cuban "within eight minutes."
"At first, I thought no way it was really him," Ozonian says. "But after a couple more notes back and forth, it became clear it was."
A couple months of due diligence later, he'd received $250,000 for his Los Angeles-based social-gaming startup, Mention Mobile.
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How'd he do it? It's a story of doing your homework, proving your concept, being willing to take a chance...and sending a well-crafted, short email.
Ozonian got the idea to contact Cuban after researching the billionaire and stumbling upon a 2010 blog post on Cuban's Blog Maverick site that said, "If you develop Social Games I want to talk to you. I'm looking to invest in games, developers and projects."
What did Ozonian say that got Cuban on board so fast? Here's his exact email:
"I'd like to quickly introduce myself and my company, Mention Mobile.
In 2010, I partnered with Kory Jones, an Emmy award winning entrepreneur fresh off the sale of his last two companies, to form Mention Mobile. We run an up and coming mobile social gaming and application business out of our offices in Los Angeles (currently bootstrapping). We have released one game and will be releasing the second game soon. Both games are very social and take full advantage of the Facebook API. We have a lot more in the works coming out this summer and an awesome concept portfolio."
Cuban responded with a request for a concept portfolio, and estimates of expenses and revenue for the coming year.
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In other words, "What are you going to build, how will you build it, and what are your revenue projections," says Ozonian.
Ozonian admits that having a marquee name as a co-founder (Jones has created graphics for big names like Fox Sports and Skywalker Ranch), helped get him noticed.
But more important was the fact that Mention Mobile already had a small track record -- its first game, Trivia Friends, was already developed, released, and finding success. The game uses public Facebook information to create trivia questions about a player's friends.
With Cuban's help, Mention Mobile has pumped out several more games and is preparing a game called Word Derby for what will be the company's its biggest launch. The new game will be the first of Mention Mobile's games to have a paid version (the others are free, but give players the option to pay for add-on items). They are partnering with a powerhouse, Electronic Arts' Chillingo, to market the new game, a move Cuban advised on.
"Any critical decisions that can make or break a game or a deal, he's kind of steered us in the right direction," Ozonian says.
Ozonian's advice for other startup entrepreneurs hoping to connect with a big-time angel? With the cost of bootstrapping a tech startup fairly low now, investors want to see proof that your idea has a market.
"Be able to say you've executed on some part of the idea," Ozonian says, "before you go pitching people for money."