The marketing dilemma in todays start-up world can be defined by the need for capital to increase marketing, but also the need for marketing to gain capital. Read more
Finding capital is no easy task. Lots of start-ups struggle early on with where to find the capital they need to bring a great product (or service) to market or to tend to a broken technology in need of some work. Funding Your Dreams: Calling All Entrepreneurs, a panel at this year’s WILD Summit, covered just this. Once you’ve determined how much capital you need, how do you put together your fundraising strategy? Who do you ask for funding and are you offering something in return? What do you need to know before you start? Read more
Last week at the Angel Capital Summit, the Rockies Venture Club hosted the first-ever University Startup Challenge. It was the first pitch competition in Colorado specifically for students from across the state, and we were proud to host it! Since they presented to real investors at an investor conference, we were looking for the ‘most fundable companies’ instead of just business plan competition winners. These entrepreneurs are all actively working to build their company, and some have real traction in the market. They were also on equal footing with the rest of the companies at ACS for investor funding. 5 of the top universities in Colorado nominated students for the event – University of Denver, CU-Boulder, CU-Denver, University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State University. Read more
When you think of entrepreneurship, innovation and startups – what words first come to mind? I bet it’s not “government,” but in Colorado, maybe it should be on the list. Read more
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.
Fundraising for start-ups is a popular topic these days. There is a lot of glory in receiving big money from investors. After all, there must be promise in your company if Angels or VCs are willing to invest.
Have you ever tried to reach the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? Literally. Like, have you ever seen a rainbow and tried to walk or drive to the end of it? It’s impossible. The end of the rainbow is elusive. And its location fluctuates and often disappears altogether. This is a fantastic metaphor for fundraising.
An entrepreneur is sometimes more likely to grow a company by financing it themselves and working hard to build their business from the ground up. What’s more, the bootstrapping entrepreneur will gain better control over the future decisions–something that may disappear with big investors on board.
Sure, some start-ups do gain a bit of notoriety when they become venture-backed, but at what price? If someone is going to give you loads of money, they don’t do so without expecting a lot in return. Fundraising is “really like celebrating someone going into debt. Even equity investors expect a payback.” Does a business founder really want to owe everything to backers? If you have a strong notion of how you want to build your company, it can pay to make your way independently.
So what exactly does bootstrapping a business involve? Bootstrapping in business means building a start-up by using internal cash flow (as opposed to money from family, friends, or investors) and little to no external help. This method of growth is undeniably slower than big investments up front, but the time and effort can pay off. As “angel investor and wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has said, ‘My dad taught me that when you borrow money it’s the worst day of your life.’” The bootstrapper can obtain financial independence and pursue the mission of her start-up unabated if she is willing to go the distance. Nobody will be knocking on her door looking for a return on investment except herself.
What are some ways bootstrappers can keep the company afloat in this entrepreneurial journey? After all, it’s not easy by any means, and there will be perils around many a corner. Startups can grow by reinvesting profits in their own growth if bootstrapping costs are low and return on investment is high. The entrepreneur can also continue working otherwise to fund the new venture. Or the business model might require customer financing – asking for payment up front before the service or product is delivered. And of course, there are an unlimited amount of other creative solutions for bootstrapping, ones to be determined most useful on a per-company basis.
What are some examples of successful bootstrapping? You might see somebody with experience in start-ups creating a new business. Nick Denton is a good example –after leaving his first company, First Tuesday, this guy worked out of an inexpensive storefront to build Gawker, a company now valued at $150 million. On the other end, you have Sophia Amoruso who worked inconsequential odd jobs until she earned profitability and $30 million in annual sales with her clothing start-up, Nasty Gal. She bootstrapped her way to success in five years of sales on Ebay.
All of this bootstrapping talk isn’t meant so much as a deterrent to fundraising as it is used to suggest an alternative method for more securely and independently building your business instead. Nobody can deny the allure of that pot of gold at the end of the entrepreneurial rainbow. I mean, who would say she doesn’t want her idea or product to hit it big in all senses of that phrase? It’s just that very few ventures will actually end that way so easily and without consequence. If you want control, financially and structurally, of your company, it just might be better to spend the time buying a pot, finding gold bit by bit to fill it, and then painting the rainbow yourself.
Stacy Gregg is an educator, runner, reader, and mom to two energetic pre-schoolers. She joined the Rockies Venture Club at the end of 2012 to support the communications side of the organization.
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