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Most interns don’t expect to learn from the Executive Director or their CEO. Fewer get to. Fewer yet get to sit through a five hour seminar on financial strategy with said executive. This is what the analysts at RVC got on Tuesday as Executive Director Peter Adams walked a group of entrepreneurs and investors through a CFO’s role in acquiring funding. From how to build adequate proformas to when to schedule your raises, the RVC Financial Class Cluster threw us into the fire of financial strategy. Sitting in with a group of investors and entrepreneurs alike, here’s a look at what we covered.

Financial Strategy

Diligence is the name of the game at RVC, with every prospective deal getting a full diligence report drafted up for RVC members. For Peter, this means believability and accuracy in the numbers. In the case of financial strategy, this means clearly defining your major milestones, your key hires, when (roughly) you’re going to raise capital, how you’re going to raise it, and the nitty gritty of each of those things. Peter’s philosophy outlines all of these alongside clear exit modeling as fundamental to a success for prospective founders. What stood out in this densely packed granola bar of venture capital knowledge? The paradox of uncertainty.

Peter made clear that a company and its founders won’t have a clear date on which they will need to raise the next round, hire that new sales star, or sit down with their dream acquirer. Peter also made clear that a company needs to have an idea of what those events look like, and while precision is not present, they key came down to milestones. Bringing on new team members shortly after key product launches, identifying the scalability inflection point, and raising enough money to pave a long enough runway are his tips for a successful financial plan.

Valuations

Part of diligence is accuracy and reasonable goals, which for valuations means a lot things. One of Peter’s highlights is that while Angels would absolutely love it if their firms all became unicorns, unless that conversion happens in a fairly tight window, doing so isn’t best for the Angel. Rather than lofty goals that may provide a bigger sum after a decade, Peter instead argues for reasonable exit strategies. Acquisition by key distributors or large firms with histories of choosing the buy side of the buy-or-build dilemma, Peter argues, can result in faster turnarounds and safer strategies for both Angels and entrepreneurs.He defines clear ranges with key milestones for reasonable early valuations, and outlined a number of models used at RVC to determine those early valuations.

Peter also faced the audience with a thought challenge. Imagine an entrepreneur trying to raise their first seed round. As the omnipotent spectator, we know this company to have a specific valuation. The question at hand? Is it better for the entrepreneur if the company gets valued at double that valuation, or 10% less than its true value? While the company would be able to raise more money at the double valuation, the answer would be the 10% reduction. Less dilution and a slower, more controlled value inflation would prove advantageous for the entrepreneur.

Proformas

Proformas are integral to the other parts of this class. They are the bridge between your vision as an entrepreneur and the funding to get you there. It is the blueprint of your business and your plans, the pictogram by which you assemble a successful company. This means years of financials, forecasts, milestones and targets, key hires, and more. Good proformas are believable proformas, argues Peter, utilizing reasonable projections and honest numbers to justify their claims and valuation. He argues that VCs and Angels alike would rather see that entrepreneurs have reasonable expectations and goals they know they can reach. In other words, be honest. If your burn is running $15k a month, don’t try to hide it. Instead, highlight where that burn is resulting in growth and is driving value. Show how you can scale back to balance if you need to slow down while seeking funding. Tell prospective investors honestly whether or not you have plans for future rounds. What milestones lead up to it? There are no ruby red slippers to take you back to the quiet farm in Kansas, so build the yellow brick road that takes you to Emerald City of successful exit, no matter how treacherous it may be.

Rockies Venture ClubAs the cost of starting a tech company has gone down, VCs have moved upstream, funding bigger and bigger deals while angels and angel groups have taken up the sub-five million funding space. Meanwhile, accelerators and platforms have also taken a place with funds to jump start companies going through their programs.  MicroVCs are venture capital firms with assets under management of less than $100,000,000.  That sounds like a pretty big fund to angel investors, but in the big picture venture capital world, these truly are micro venture capital funds.

MicroVCs have taken on a huge role in filling the gap between seed and angel funding and big scale unicorn-track venture funding.  If you think about basic fund structure, a $100 million fund will invest about half of committed capital, or $50 million into its first round investments.  The fund will want to diversify to twenty or more investments, so you might see an average of $2 million for a first round.  Then they’ll have the remaining $50 million to continue investing in the top winners from the portfolio.  $2 million is a great amount for a post-angel round, but is far less than the $10 million that an average VC deal is doing today.

The MicroVC area is more understandable if we look at what kind of entities fill this space. There are sub $25 million funds, also known as NanoVC Funds which operate very differently than $100 million funds.  Then there are the accelerators which are actually MicroVCs.  Also, more and more angel groups are creating funds (Like the Rockies Venture Fund) and are moving upstream a bit to do larger deals.  Finally, angel groups are syndicating actively, so they can move into larger and larger deals.  Some examples of the power of angel groups leveraging their investments by working in syndicates include Richard Sudek’s work at Tech Coast Angels who syndicated a $10 million raise via syndication and similarly Rockies Venture Club Participated in a Series F syndicate for PharmaJet locally.  These are not deals that we would typically expect to see angels playing in.  This means that angels, when working together can start filling the space occupied by the MicroVCs.  Rather than competing, we’re seeing angels investing alongside MicroVCs at an increasing pace.

There are other considerations, however.  MicroVCs will typically hold back half of their fund for follow-ons, while angels are less predictable and many still use a “one and done” approach to their investments.  Even with MicroVC follow-on investment of up to $10 million, this is still not enough to propel some companies to the scale they’re shooting for, so they’ll still need to engage with traditional VC once they get big enough.

Angel investors should help startups to figure out their financial strategies so that they can work on building relationships with the right kinds of investors from the beginning so that they don’t paint themselves into a financial corner by working with the wrong investors.  Similarly, startups need to understand the goals of any type of VC so that they don’t waste their time barking up the wrong tree.

 

To learn more about the evolving role of MicroVCs, consider attending the RVC Colorado Capital Conference.  It’s coming up November 6-7th in Denver, CO.  Visit www.coloradocapitalconference.org for more information on speakers and presenters.  This event is on of Colorado’s largest angel and vc investment conferences of the year and there are great networking opportunities.   We hope that  the audience will come away with an idea about how all these types of capital are evolving and the different strategies that companies can take in choosing who they want to pursue for their capital needs.

Peter Adams

Managing Director, Rockies Venture Fund I, LP
Executive Director, Rockies Venture Club, Inc.
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Too many startups stress about how to get their whole story into a five minute pitchVC Pitch Last Slide and they don’t think enough about how to cheat time to get more out of their pitch.

You can cheat just a bit to get the most out of the five minutes (or two, seven, ten, twelve, fifteen or whatever you’re given). This is the first to two blogs on the topic of how to cheat time — the first has to do do with the first slide and the second has to do with the last slide.

Ask yourself this – how long is the last slide up on the screen?

The answer is that in a five minute pitch event, the last slide is usually up for five minutes of Q&A. If this slide is up for five minutes, why do so many people waste this opportunity by having the slide say “Thank You” and their email. Most pitch events provide your email to all attendees, and it’s great that you’re polite with the “thank you”, but it would be much better if you could effectively use that time and that slide to reinforce the key points of your pitch.

A good last slide will reiterate the highlights of your pitch.

You can have the team, product, market, traction, the deal, or whatever you like. I have seen slides broken up into as many as six sections with key elements reinforced in each. Since this slide is up for so long, the twenty five word limit for slides in a pitch event is waived! Go ahead and toot your horn.

The kiss of death for a pitch is when nobody has any questions for the presenter. This means that either people didn’t understand your pitch, or that they understood it well and had absolutely no interest. The last slide will help clarify key points, but most importantly, it will provide key points that people can ask questions about. Sometimes people are shy to ask a question and sound dumb if they didn’t understand something. Sometimes in a big pitch event, people may even get confused and ask a question that doesn’t even pertain to your company, but might have been from one or two pitches prior. Having your key points up on the screen gib vets them the confidence to ask questions.

Of course – the other great solution to silence during Q&A is to have Back Pocket Slides that you can draw on to effectively extend your pitch if nobody asks any questions!

fire_exit-svgI heard it again this week.  The lame startup who answered that they didn’t have an exit strategy because they just wanted to create value for their customer.  I’ve heard this so many times by CEOs who think they’re being noble by focusing on their passion and commitment to the company and not to an exit – but what I hear is that they are NOT truly committed to their business.

  CEOs who don’t have an exit plan are limiting the potential for their business.

The fundamental lie of exit denial is in the belief that creating value for the customer is the same as creating value for the business.  Think about it – if you do something really well and create value for a customer, and you’re passionate about carrying out that mission to the greatest extent possible, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to identify larger companies who shared your values and could carry out the mission to even greater extents with their additional resources, capital, sales channels and expertise? Creating value for the acquirer means creating value for the customer as well – it’s rare that anyone wants to acquire a company with no customers.

But no – you’re just creating value for the customer, and then if you do that, acquisition offers will come along….eventually.  Yes, offers will come along, but they may not be from companies that share your values.  They may be from companies that want to shut you down.  They may be from companies that want to exploit your product or customers.  Just passively waiting for a suitor to come along is a cheap cop-out for lazy CEOs who believe that uncertainty means that you have to wait for whatever the world brings you.

Companies who are truly passionate about their mission are working to develop two value propositions simultaneously – the value proposition for their “first customer” who buys their product and the value proposition for the “second customer” who buys the company. Wayne Gretzky Exit Strategy

CEOs who think about the second customer are the ones who get me excited because they exhibit deep knowledge of their industry.  Like Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player who famously said “I don’t go to where the puck is, I go to where the puck is going,” these CEOs have identified a trend and they build value for companies in their industry who will be needing their innovation within a three to five year window.

To be sure, there is uncertainty.  You can’t just pick the acquirer, date and amount of acquisition.  This does not mean, however, that you can’t research comparable transactions and identify the key players and their behaviors.  You can create relationships with the companies who will be needing your technology so that when their board identifies a need for your product/service, they know that you are a key player in the industry that would be a good acquisition target and can reach out with an offer.

Identifying multiple bidders for your exit strategy not only allows you to select 6699678_sthe bidder who most closely matches your values and goals for the company, but also allows you to demand top dollar for the acquisition.

No, it’s not all about the money, but if you put your head in the sand and just wait for suitors, you will likely end up with a lower price for your acquisition and more importantly you may fail to truly carry out the mission of your company to its fullest potential.

Create a detailed exit strategy and show everyone your passion for the mission of your company.

It is almost deemed common sense to follow where the money is, but one must also consider where the opportunity is as well. This is where the thought leaders get a head start and  potentially receive better returns. The Rocky Mountain region is looking favorable for investing due to recent startup activity and a lack of access to capital.

Startup Activity in the RockiesScreen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.25.26 AM

Recent startup trends are looking favorable for the Rockies. The Rocky Mountain region states are Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Idaho. All of these states rank high on the Kauffman Index Startup Activity Rank for 2015.

Among these states Montana ranks #1 for 2015, and Wyoming follows at #2. Colorado ranks #4, and Nevada jumped 11 spots to place it self at #10.Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.30.43 AM

Fishing for Returns

Angel investors should always consider the water they are fishing in. The Rocky Mountain region is setting itself up to look like a stocked pool. With so much start-up activity, angels can afford to be picky while also diversifying their portfolio. Not to say angels should throw their money in the area assuming one will be a home-run type of investment. Yet, they have a bigger selection to compare and contrast similar investments.

Competitive Deals
Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 11.21.43 AM

The 2015 Annual Halo Report shows that 3 out of 4 Angels invested within their region. However, less than 18% share of all angel dollars are within the Rocky Mountain Region (this yields higher competition among the startups). Therefore, with less money coming from out of the region, and only 18% of total money within, start-ups need to build a well rounded deal to stand-out and gain an Angels attention.

(I.e. More activity doesn’t necessarily equal better returns, but it does yield more opportunity and more investment options. Always do your due diligence/invest smart, but also consider regional activity or trends.)

Rockies Venture Club (RVC) is excited to announce an entrepreneur and investor education program partnership with one of Japan’s most prestigious early stage venture capital firm, Future Venture Capital (FVC). Read more

This is a fast cool video for both angels and startups alike.  Read more

There’s a lot to know about angel investing, but the one thing most people miss is how to syndicate a deal.  Almost every angel investment deal in an entrepreneur’s company is a syndication and there’s a lot more to it than just getting a bunch of investors together.   Read more

Some people think only the mega-corporations like Exxon and BP are leading the way in oil and gas investment, but Angel Investors are having an impact as well.  In Colorado oil wells can be drilled for $1.5 million – about the same amount as a typical Angel Investment Deal.  Angels are profiting from these investments – even after the recent cuts in oil prices. Read more

There are two major classes of investments you can make in cannabis companies, and every investor should know the difference. Read more