Capital Gains: Marie Chevrier, Founder of Sampler, On the Key Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask Before Approaching an Investor
Every successful company started by uniquely solving a problem.
For Marie Chevrier, that meant finding a better way to connect consumer packaged goods companies and their samples to consumers. As the CEO and founder of Sampler, Chevrier works with her team to help brands build one-to-one relationships with audiences through targeted and measured sampling programs. She’s since reached over 50 million consumers in 24 different countries with clients like L’Oréal and Pepsi, transforming her business into one of Canada’s fastest growing startups.
Today, Chevrier and her team have raised $3.2 million in a series of small rounds between 2014 and 2018, and closed a further $3 million in their series A earlier in 2019. According to Chevrier, when it comes to building your company and working with investors, it’s all about asking the right questions.
Do you care enough about the problem?
“People always say, ‘Is the problem you’re solving big enough?’ I think more important than that is asking if the problem you’re solving is something you want to get up every morning to solve? Is it something that you’re passionate enough about that you will find the energy, every day, to tackle?”
What are your core strengths?
“The biggest piece of advice that I didn’t get that I would have loved is to focus on what makes your company strong. I think there is a lot out there about key metrics but at the end of the day, every business is different. Investors appreciate when you can help them explain what metrics matter to your business. Stay away from vanity metrics and measure the things that are really going to push your business forward. With investors, I spoke to the things that we saw to be very important and identified what really makes our business strong.”
How are you creating rapport?
“It’s always about remembering the last conversation you had with an investor. There are a lot of them that say they don’t invest in straight lines, but in all the dots along the way. If you’re at a networking event, say hello and give a quick update even when you’re not fundraising. Give people a reason to stay in touch with your story and think about you. By the time you’re ready to fundraise, [investors] will have heard about you and generally know where you’re at. It’s about building relationships, and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Have you done your due diligence?
“You want to really understand what investors are focused on. The portfolio of that particular investor of a firm will tell you a lot about their interests and background. Have you noticed that they’re really into marketing technology? Have they made a few investments in AI lately? What are the areas that seem to interest them? A lot of them have blogs so you can get a little more into their minds to see what they’re thinking. And then obviously, if you find a portfolio company that you’re connected to somehow, you should absolutely take one of the founders that has received funding out for coffee to better understand what the investors are like.”
What unconventional skills have you cultivated?
“[I used to act] and it is often encouraged for entrepreneurs to take improv classes. I want to get back into it because it is about thinking on your feet. You could prepare for a meeting all night long and have answers to every single question prepared, but I bet you a million bucks there’s going to be something that you didn’t think about. I don’t think investors expect you to have all the metrics handy, but they do expect you to answer in a confident way. If you don’t have the data in front of you, the best approach is to display how you would think through that data. In order to do that, you need to be good at thinking on your feet.”
"I need to feel like when the person is investing, they’re investing in me and how my team sees the world."
Do you trust each other?
“I need to feel trusted. I need to feel like when the person is investing, they’re investing in me and how my team sees the world. The vision of where we’re headed needs to be very aligned. I’ve had people in meetings try and ask me to change my entire business model, where I would respond, ‘No, this is not where we’re headed.’ As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the opportunity to go down two or three different paths. If your investors are not aligned with where you’re going, you’ll end up taking detours. Focus is everything.”
How relatable is your business?
“A lot of times, the themes that women are focusing on are often women’s issues. Before, you would see women building solutions for moms or in beauty. And although they’re incredibly massive markets, the people that were investing didn’t see them that way. A lot of the investors I talk to will relate to my business model through the lens of their wives. Going into it, an entrepreneur needs to know that they must find a way for that person to relate to it and see it as a big business opportunity. It really comes down to the challenge of not having enough women investors to match the rising number of female entrepreneurs.”
Are you investing in your team?
“For us, we are 100 percent about the people. I think we’ve done an incredible job at hiring really smart, ambitious people who see Sampler as the place where they’re going to be able to quickly accelerate their career, and in turn, put so much passion and love into what we’re building. People are always going to be your most valuable asset.”