Entrepreneurs are faced daily with so many unknowns, so much chaos and survival pressure. Adding fundraising into the mix can often feel overwhelming. How do they keep their heads above this murky water and avoid the many obstacles that lurk below the surface? I’ve distilled out five rules that apply to all fundraising activities as a series of guiding principles.
1. Timing is everything.
Sharks can detect a drop of blood from a long way off. Investors can similarly detect fear from a distance and this can negatively impact their view on investing in your company. At worst they will walk away, at best they will command a much lower valuation and more onerous terms.
The worst time is when you have little capital left and a very high burn rate. It would be far better to close a fundraising round ahead of needing to increase your burn rate.
Similarly, putting your product out into an unprimed marketplace that ignores it or does not deliver the level of hockey stick growth you were wanting will send a negative signal to potential investors. It would be far better to raise capital so you can use it to generate the right level of publicity and interest in your product ahead of its release so that there is pent up demand for it.
2. Fundraising is not transactional.
Think of raising capital as a continuous process that starts when you launch your company and ends when you sell it.
Always be raising based on your continuum of growth needs. But never be raising at some juncture when it is critical that the funds come in or your business will falter, as per the point made above.
Also factor in that however long you thought it would take to close a round is probably only about half as long as it will actually take.
3. Funding marketplaces are cyclical.
Be aware that the climate for funding can shift markedly. At one moment there can be a funding frenzy with investors desperate to get into specific opportunity spaces. This will drive up valuations and give you a feeling that funding is easy, that you can demand better terms.
However, just as quickly the market will freeze over and it can become much harder to raise money either for a specific sector or overall.
Currently we are in the middle of a slowdown. The frenzy is over. Investors are taking their time doing due diligence and forming relationships before they ink deals. At this point you need more patience and to be more realistic on valuations than a few years ago.
4. Leverage funding inflection points.
Make sure you raise the right rounds of funding to match your position on the growth continuum.
And raise only enough to progress through the risk reduction you aim to achieve in that round. Too much funding may allow you to skirt through this risk reduction process and continue down a flawed pathway, building a delusional sinkhole that you cannot escape.
Continuously pare back on opportunities that present themselves to focus on core activities that progress you through each round’s inflection point.
Seed funding should be used to build a basic, but demonstrable validator for your hypotheses. Ideally this should be scalable – starting with a bare minimum validation but then progressively adding to it so that your product begins to approximate, but not reach product market fit. Remember to listen carefully to market feedback at this point and don’t power ahead into that delusional sinkhole when all the signs are there that your hypotheses are not being validated.
Series A funding is raised to get you to product market fit and the subsequent market traction that this enables. Investors prefer to come on board when they can see product market fit on the horizon as this allows them a more reasonable valuation than when customers are banging the door down to get to your product.
Series B funding is used to deliver scalable growth. You’ve built the rocket ship, you now need to scramble out of the growth engine room and into find the command console so you can steer your business into directionally correct territory that sets you up for the next round of funding.
Series C funding is perhaps the hardest round to raise as it is the real truth seeker. Up until now you could have relied on buzz to generate growth, but now you need to prove that you have the right unit economics in place to ensure sustained, profitable growth. This is a crucial time to be aware of that delusional sinkhole again. If you’ve raised too much money you could be plowing it into revenue growth and delaying the hard conversation you need to have around the economics of your unit growth. Revenue growth must convert into positive unit growth or you will sink your business as you expand it.
There are always exceptions, but raising outside of these inflection points is exponentially harder.
Coming back to the key point that timing is everything you should factor in about two years between each of these funding rounds. That gives you enough time to focus on growth for a full year before picking your head up for six months to raise the next round, while maintaining a six month contingency as a buffer.
5. Optimise your fundraising for success.
Does the investor or group of investors you are bringing into a round have what it takes to support you, over and above the capital infusion?
If you answer a resounding yes, then find an approximated win win deal and close the round. You could keep negotiating them down on deal terms or look elsewhere for a higher valuation, or a bigger named venture firm. But that would be a distraction. A financing deal is one moment in the growth continuum of your business. Keep your eyes on the prize: business success.
You are taking on a venture capital partner because you want to build a bigger business at an accelerated pace to what you could without their funding and guidance. Don’t over obsess about your equity stake. Think more about how much more you can grow your business with their involvement so that you all win, big. Keep that goal in mind and view each funding round as a mile-post on that journey. It is an important enabler, nothing more, nothing less.
By investor I refer to the sponsoring partner at a venture capital firm, not the firm itself. Your relationship with them is going to be a lifelong partnership, not a transactional, deal-based one-off interaction. Are you comfortable they would take your call at 3am in the morning or delay their Wednesday afternoon golf game to attend an emergency board meeting? Think of them as talent you are bringing onto your team. Talent you are prepared to take advice from and whose counsel you would trust implicitly.
I hope these rules assist you in your capital raising endeavors and provide you with much needed perspective to view funding as a part of your growth journey.