After the first angel or VC funding round closes and the checks are cashed, most startups go through a transformation, like from a caterpillar to a butterfly, that makes them fundamentally different than a pre-funding company. CEOs who fail to realize the changes that need to happen will end up facing challenges they did not expect.
Here are a few changes that need to take place after funding:
Create a budget.
No – not your proforma with all the optimistic sales projections – this should be a budget with numbers you can commit to. Many companies feel like having a million dollars in the bank is an unlimited blank check to buy fancy new furniture or hire a dozen new employees. But all those things drain cash faster than you think and having a written plan for minimizing your burn rate and maximizing the runway to your next raise (or hitting break-even) is going to be an important part of your success. Running out of cash before you hit the milestones needed for the next raise is a death sentence for your startup.
Update the Professionals that Serve Your Business.
If you’ve had your Aunt Bertha doing your books, it’s probably time to upgrade to a CPA who can provide you with the advice you need to keep from making mistakes. A CPA is going to be important once you need audits as well. Your legal team should now include several different legal specialties including securities, Patent and IP, and general business and contracts. You probably got your legal house cleaned up in order to get funding and now is the time to get the right people on board to keep it that way. Bankers, insurance, and other advisors are all going to be able to scale with you as you grow.
Communicate with Investors.
Investors notice when you stop calling them after the check has cleared. This is a bad thing for founders – especially those who are going to need to raise another round. Future investors will contact first round investors during diligence and a good relationship is important – even more so if you hope to have follow-on rounds from your first funders. Monthly reports including good and bad news, financials and metrics updates are a minimum. It’s better to stay on top of the investor relationship and by communicating frequently, investors are more on-board with what’s happening. Use a platform like Reportedly.co that allows you to see who has opened your messages and also allows investors to comment and offer help when needed.
Balance Growth and Resources.
You’ve been pitching your $100 million top line you expect in five years, but now it’s time to match your resources to your growth targets. Grow too slowly and you’ll never raise another round (so you’d better hit break-even) and grow too fast and you’ll run out of cash before you hit the benchmarks for Series A and then game-over. Perfect balance is what you need for venture success.
Update your Exit Strategy (Goals and Contacts)
During your pitch everyone wanted to acquire you, but now it’s time to start executing on your Exit Strategy. You should include the update in every board meeting and monthly update. Start making contacts with those companies for whom you create value early on. If they don’t know who you are, you’re not going to get the multiple offers you need for that 5X multiple you were lusting after.
Ok, you think you’re growing too fast to waste time on shit like metrics. Fine – go ahead and be mediocre. The best companies are crystal clear on what success looks like, how to measure it and what their goals are. Without metrics, your team is mis-aligned, your investors are in the dark, and really – you haven’t got a clue about where you’re going. You don’t have time not to do this.
It’s not set in stone, but without a roadmap you’re bound to get nowhere fast. Companies without at least a lightweight two pager plan find themselves going through expensive pivots left and right to try to figure out what they could have done in the first place with a good planning process. BTW, statistics say that after three pivots you’re out.
Change from Tech Culture to Sales Culture.
So far, success has looked like getting your MVP launched. You are three founders and a dog coding away in a basement somewhere, but now you need to change gears and become a sales and marketing company with a tech foundation. Too many companies can’t get out of their tech roots and they keep on coding, but never figure out how to sell. Break out of your comfort zone and start selling.
You’re on the clock now and capital is the most powerful accelerator out there. You’ve got to code fast, sell fast, grow fast. Companies that think they can continue on their old pace don’t get venture capital. It’s a race against the clock with ROI multiples of 10X in five years, 25X in seven, there’s no time to waste and the slow starters won’t ever get to Series A.
Investors are your partners.
Now that the deal has closed, and all the negotiations are done, it’s time to tap into your investor base for help, connections and advice. Keep them in the loop and engage them – they’re worth a lot more than just capital.
Post funding transformation is hard and unnatural for most founders. Pay attention to your successful peers and remember that getting rounds of funding are not what this is all about – work towards creating a great, meaningful company with huge value for your exit partners!
Peter Adams is the Managing Director of the Rockies Venture Fund, Executive Director of Rockies Venture Club and Co-Author of Venture Capital for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, August 2013. Available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and your local bookstore.