It is awkward to ask people for money. Whether an entrepreneur or fundraising for charity– most people are not used to asking for cash from other people. They’re obviously not the same, though – investing in an entrepreneur (hopefully) produces a financial return. If you’re talking to an angel or VC and you feel like you’re just asking for charity, you need to get your head right. Your frame of mind determines much of your life and other people’s response to it, so feeling confident while raising money is obviously important.
If you feel like you’re asking for charity from investors because you’re not sure about your business, stop. Save everyone’s time and money and change something before you ask for money.
If you feel awkward fundraising but believe in your business, you have some room to work with. When raising money, your mindset should be closer to “This money will allow me to better grow my company and my investors will benefit”, than “I need this money so I don’t go out of business.” Both statements may be true, but focus on the positive. I’m not saying your business should only be chasing money – I believe the goal should be to create value for your customers, and if this is done well profit will follow.
Whether you’re nervous or not, here are five questions you need to be comfortable with. Think of them as “elevator answers” where you can get the main point across in 15-30 seconds, with the ability to expand on them as necessary.
1) How much is your company worth?
Simple question, not-so-simple answer for a startup.
There are a number of different ways to value your company, and the Angel Capital Association has a great post on methods here. The important thing is to use a few, because they take into account different factors and can demonstrate your ability to think from multiple perspectives. Be able to explain why you used the methods you did, as well as underlying risks, assumptions, and caveats in your models. It’s not as important to come up with the “correct” valuation (not a multiple choice test here) as your approach in finding it. You don’t really define your company’s value anyway; value here is determined by what investors are willing to pay for equity. Also keep in mind that valuation is not necessarily the most important thing on the term sheet, and that a high one means more growth necessary to generate the same return.
On a very basic note, know the valuation inherent in your ask. If you ask for $1 million for 20% equity, you’re valuing your business at $5 million pre/$6 million post. If you’ve taken the “college business plan” route so far and came to your valuation by “here’s what I think I need and how much equity I feel like giving up” go back to the drawing board.
2) What are you going to do with the money?
Be specific, and ready to explain each aspect of your plan. Whether it’s to fulfill a huge backlog of orders of widgets you’ve already been selling at a high margin (great!) or you need to hire programmers or a sales team, know the specific reasons and why they’re important.
3) Can you make this work with less?
Genentech is a great example – in 1976 they originally wanted about $3 million from Kleiner Perkins, and were persuaded to prove the concept first. A $250,000 investment helped accomplish this, with much less upfront risk for the entrepreneur and investors. Genentech had a $300 million IPO in 1980, and was fully acquired by Roche in 2009 for $46.8 billion.
Know all the finances. You should already have your current and projected numbers down pat, including revenue, EBITDA, margins, etc., as well as your hopes for an exit. Also, know as much as you can about your industry’s numbers and how other valuations were determined, such as with a financial multiplier or number of users. While many entrepreneurs like to think they’re the only startup in their space, even risk-prone investors like angels or VC’s get wary of moving into virgin territory. It’s useful to have industry comparisons, but be able to distinguish yourself and why you are more likely to succeed.
4) What does it cost to acquire a customer?
This is an important and often-overlooked metric but is increasing in popularity. What does it take to produce your product and get customers to pay you for it? Once you have a customer, do they stick around? Sticky customers lead to scalability.
5) What will this investment cost me?
Last, but perhaps the most important question: ask yourself – what will this investment cost me? For the investor, this is a straightforward answer: usually a check, or a check and time on a board. (On top of due diligence – your potential investors have to pay for that, too)
For the entrepreneur, it is not so easy to answer. Raising money is not making money, and it means you have more to build to generate the same return on value. As a startup ecosystem we have a tendency to celebrate dilution, but more funding is not always better. If you get a high valuation early and need more money before the company’s value has grown, you’ll be facing a painful “down round”, where the share price is lower on a subsequent round. Last quarter, (Q2 2013) 22% of the VC deals in Silicon were down rounds, while 14% were flat rounds – the un-sexy side of high valuations.
In the wisdom of Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Having excess cash in your pocket can lead to an unnecessary burn rate and not validating customer traction. Even successful entrepreneurs can fall into the over-funding trap, especially after exiting their first company with a windfall. If fundraising, diluting founder’s equity to the point where it impacts your motivation is dangerous as well.
Raise money only if you need to. If you do, start the process 6-12 months before you actually need it, and make sure you’re on top of your game.
Tim Harvey is a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder and a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club. He has started a few businesses (nothing big yet) and most recently worked as a Fortune 500 marketing consultant with a neuroscience-based startup. Prior to that he was an investment advisor for individuals and corporations, holding FINRA Series 7 and 66 licenses.