The Fundraising Mindset

IMG_3133

Originally posted on Netocratic.com

Fundraising is not easy. It is one of the most frustrating and time draining activities you as a founder will have to do as part of your company’s growth strategy. Unless you are really lucky and investors come to you, it will likely involve taking many meetings with investors of all kinds, both good and bad before you ultimately succeed in finding someone who believes in you.

You will likely meet many types of investors along the process of fundraising, including:

  • Investors that doubt you as a founder/ceo, and your capabilities to execute.
  • Investors that are just meeting with you because they want to invest in your competitor.
  • Investors that don’t have the money to invest but want to be seen to be active by the ecosystem.
  • Investors that will want every inch of detail about what you will be doing for the next 5 years, when you both know your projections will be speculative at best and hogwash at worst.
  • Investors that don’t get what you do at all, but will have an opinion about your product because their child or spouse has a view on what you do.
  • Investors that are amazing and give you insanely relevant advice, but unfortunately say you aren’t far along enough traction-wise for their fund’s investment focus.
  • Investors that provide you with great feedback and would help you greatly if they were involved, but will only invest if someone else leads the round.

…And then… there is the one investor who ultimately believes in you and backs you. That’s all it takes. Just one.

The earlier the stage your company is in, the more that successful fundraising is about personal human connections and story telling. At the early stages of your business, as much as some investors will want to know your projected numbers (revenues, traction, etc), because there is so little to go on, it will always come back to your inherent abilities and vision as a founder. As such, fundraising meetings are mostly the way that founders can assess investors for value-add to their startup, but also for investors to see if they can work with the founders and to see how they think.
Because of this mutual assessment by both founders and investors during fundraising meetings, an analogy that people use frequently to describe the fundraising process is that of dating. As funny as it may seem, I do think the comparison works well…

Dating and fundraising

For example, in dating (as with fundraising):

  • You have to be willing to put yourself out there to meet anyone in the first place.
  • It’s a numbers game: you have to meet many people, this can be at in-person at networking events, parties, or online.
  • Connections usually happen in the least likely of places and are strongest when they come through a trusted 3rd party.
  • Being a good story teller gets people to laugh, open up, and remember you.
  • Chemistry matters.
  • Sometimes its just plain luck: being at the right place at the right time.
  • The better you prepare yourself, the better your odds get.
  • Being too eager to get back to someone or waiting too long can end things prematurely.
  • You have to go on several dates with several people before you ultimately feel someone is the right one for you.

Therefore, the fundraising mindset is really about four core things:

  1. Understanding that fundraising is a process and that it will take time. Only a very few are lucky to have it be quick and painless. 
  2. You have to embrace rejection as part of the process and not take it as a personal rejection.
  3. Treat every meeting as a form of practice that is merely making you better for the next meeting, rather than putting the full importance of any one meeting on your shoulders and beating yourself up if it goes badly.
  4. Analysing what was said during your meetings and learning how to improve on your mistakes is the most crucial aspect of reducing the time it takes until you find the right investor.

As you will likely never know where, when and how you will meet your future investor… as you go through this process, just remind yourself: Good news, Bad news – you never know…

Continue Reading

Be Nimble: Keeping Milestone Optionality

Pi_Milestone_on_Milestone_Road_Nantucket_MA

Identifying milestones for your company’s development is beneficial for an early stage startup for many reasons: the first is that planning milestones allow you to focus what you will be working on, secondly the process of identifying and planning them make you question when and in what order you and your team should try and execute something, and lastly, from a fundraising perspective (something I cover in more detail in my blog post on milestones) milestones are useful to tie together what you need to accomplish with how much money it will take to get there, and fundraise accordingly.

On this post, however, I’d like to address a very important concept that should be considered during this process of outlining and planning milestones. I call it, “keeping milestone optionality”.

The principle is very simple… even though you plan your company’s future growth and associated cash needs, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re a nimble startup.. not a large corporate that has to report to analysts and public market shareholders. Your nimbleness is your strength. A startup’s growth plan isn’t linear, it’s more like a series of zig zags. As such, whilst it is useful to forecast your milestones so that you have a plan, and understand your cash needs, it is also useful to look at that plan with one eye, while the other eye looks out for actions which might be more beneficial to your company than what you had originally envisaged or agreed with existing shareholders.

On my post on 7 reasons for founders to avoid tranched investments  I spoke about how a future tranche (a glorified milestone, if you will) could have a negative impact by dictating what a company should do, even if midway through its execution it turns out that it was a bad idea for the company to have that goal. For example, imagine if your plan had in place a monetization strategy (and associated revenue stream) kicking off in month 6 of your operations. Month 6 comes along and well, uptake is poor and your revenues are not coming in as expected. You have some chats with your customers and you find out that actually, the value they are getting from your product is mostly around the emerging network effect of your product, and because the network is still small, your early monetization is stifling the value they are getting because the barrier for new users to sign up is still high, and thus those that would be likely to pay are reluctant to pay.

Well, if you (or your investors) held you strictly to your original plan for the sake of ‘keeping to the plan’, you’d kill your company quite quickly, but by staying nimble and adapting your milestones to what you think should be the new direction, you might actually be better off than you would have been before. Naturally, this optionality comes at a cost, as your original plan will have changed and thus your cash burn will change and your goals (KPIs) will change as well… and that’s ok as long as you are aware how.

Good early stage investors (particularly those that invest in pre product-market fit companies) know that this kind of change mid-way through their funding is a possibility and they should be backing you in your ability to make these difficult calls even if it means a deviation from the plan they invested in. However, you should be mindful that there are many investors out there, that for some reason, still believe highly in the adherence to a stated plan. If you can, avoid taking money from them. At the very early stages in a company’s development, particularly during the pre product-market fit phase, investors should invest in you for your ability to adapt to changing and evolving circumstances, and not in your ability to predict the future 18 months in advance and stick to the plan when it clearly isn’t working.

Of course, this isn’t a recommendation to throw out all forms of planning, it still helps to create a milestone plan based around your hypothesis of growth (and relevant KPIs), cash needs, for you can’t be changing strategies every month and you need to keep an eye on cash burn. At the same time, however, you should constantly monitor whether there is another milestone optionality play coming up. If you do find, however, that you are constantly questioning your original hypothesis for growth, perhaps there is a bigger problem you are facing, but by keeping an eye open for milestone optionality events, you might fare better than if you exert uber discipline to a rigid plan that was built before you learned many new things.

In conclusion, as a founder, plan for the future, identify key milestones to grow towards, but always keep milestone optionality, particularly in pre product-market fit companies.

Continue Reading

Understanding The Vision in a “Visionary Founder”

glasses-vision-786x305

Originally published by TheNextWeb on Feb 19th, 2014

“If you have visions, you should go see a doctor” – Helmut Schmidt, one of the most admired German chancellors

Because I know how confusing and frustrating the fund-raising process can be for a founder, one of the topics I like exploring is ‘how to get into the mind of an investor’ when an investor is evaluating you for an investment. And whilst the easier topics to tackle tend to be quantitative in nature, the harder ones tend to be the ‘fuzzier’ qualitative ones…

In that spirit, I think we’ve all heard how investors want to invest in a solid team and how they want to invest in founders with a ‘strong vision’.. but what does that mean exactly? With visions, mission statements, and all that kind of fuzzy talk being part of many self-help books that are often dismissed as snake-oil, do they really have any place in the fast-moving, cold & hard world of startups? In the context of the early stage high growth startup world, what does having “vision” really mean?

Let’s start by defining what a founder’s vision* is not… *(feel free to replace a ‘founder’s vision’ with a ‘leaders’ vision’)

Vision does not equal power

A founder’s vision is not about how much money you want to make once you exit, nor is it about obtaining power or prestige. It isn’t about knowing exactly what the future will bring, nor is it about doing something no one else has ever done before. Rather, a founder’s vision is about how you communicate and put into action your values, beliefs, and ideals in producing & creating something of value for yourself, your founding team, your employees, your investors, and your customers. A founder’s vision is the foundation of a company’s culture and brand.

In the words of James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge — “There’s nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can’t clearly articulate why we’re doing what we’re doing.

A founder’s vision, therefore, creates a company’s culture. This culture may not always be visible to outsiders of the company (nor is it generally communicated to potential investors specifically as such), but it is visible through the company’s culture, the brand and brand values of your company are ultimately determined. It is the brand of your company which is the outward-facing aspect to your company that customers and potential investors engage with. It is this brand that allows you to attract potential employees, customers, investors and partners. Thus, I believe that vision determines culture and culture determines brand. Think of many brands you love and respect and you will likely be able to trace their authenticity to one or several individuals (even if they are no longer there) who created the vision of the company and set the culture for all the employees to guide them through the creation of the products and services you love. Think of the ones that you liked at one point but no longer do, and you’ll likely be able to trace why to a point in time where there was a break-away or ‘sell-out’ from the original vision that started it.

How is a founder’s vision applied?

In some startups, a founder identifies a need they personally have (they are the customer), and thus, builds a company around a product or service to satisfy that need. Alternatively, there are other founders that find ideas within markets that didn’t previously exist (they intuit a need for a customer)… in some cases this happens by design and research and in some cases by accident, as was the case with the 3M Post It note.

Whichever way it may come, founders that have a strong vision that is synthesised, communicated and articulated to their team (and their customers) allows them to capture these opportunities and evolve them to become successful businesses. Effectively, a founder’s vision which is synthesized into a company’s culture and brand, facilitates the decision making process you and your team use to create your company’s products and services. It is through the clarity of a founder’s vision that  focus is brought to the planning and decision making process within a company, and as a consequence the company can function efficiently and increase its probability of success.

Authentically connecting with your clients

In a world were new products are constantly popping up and many being copied by unfair competitors, it is the strong adherence to your vision and the culture & brand it creates, that ultimately engages your customers to become loyal supporters and fervent defenders of your company. Unfortunately, if you betray your customer’s trust by deviating from your brand’s values, they will likely throw you and your products under the proverbial bus, so to speak.

In his TED talk about how great leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek, shares his golden circle of ‘why, how, and what’… and whilst I won’t go into summarising his talk here, the key point is that it all begins with the ‘why’ a leader must articulate to be effective… the “why” determines culture and the “why” determines ultimate “how” you do things and “what” you ultimately make.

A talented designer and good friend of mine, Gearoid O’Rourke  shared a thought in one of his talks that I really think captures why it is important to take the creation of a founder’s vision and company culture seriously, in his words: “Products can be copied, but culture cannot…” “Even if your products are copied, you will always be ahead of your competitors because they can’t copy your culture [and culture is what lets you innovate].”

Once determined, the culture of your company will help you make decisions about how to engage and communicate with your customers, whom to hire, what to prioritise, and whom to partner with. In effect, you vision, your culture, and your brand will become the foundation and focus of all you do.

Where to find your vision

Your ability as a founder to set this vision and culture is the attribute that investors look for. If you are unable to determine and set a vision and culture for your company, unfortunately, you are likely to have others, such as influential mentors and perhaps even your investors set it for you, and as we all know, we can’t be someone we are not, and ultimately, this will likely lead to failure.

Once you have determined your culture and then you want to communicate it externally, authenticity is the key to retaining trust. In the words of Gabbi Cahane  “if it’s just words on the wall, then it’s meaningless. Your culture is what you believe in and how you behave. Codify it, live it, recognise it and reward it. And do that every single day.” “Early stage investors are looking for the signs that you instinctively get this.”

If you are in the early early stages of starting a company and you’re really more just thinking of starting a company, I’d highly recommend you spend some time trying to understand what drives you and why, for if you want to embark on the difficult journey that is to become a founder and leader of future employees and future shareholders, it would really help you and them for you to be able to share ‘the why’ of why you do things.

And in case you are reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘but investors only care about traction’, I’ve seen several cases of where an investor is willing to take a huge leap of faith on a founder, even before any visible traction, but only when the investor feels there is a strong vision behind the company. Therefore, I leave you with this thought: Traction comes from happy and loyal customers, happy and loyal customers come from a great product or service that does what you say it does, a great product or service that does what you say it does comes from a team that has a coherent culture that allows them to know what to do, and a coherent culture comes from a strong and clear vision from the company’s leadership team.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Skylines

Continue Reading

Investment – Are You in Danger of Raising a Toxic Investment Round?

Wallpaper by Morrissey666

money

Fundraising for an early stage technology startup is always a challenge. You have to navigate many meetings with potential investors and hopefully reach agreements that make everyone happy so you can continue to work in good faith after the negotiations are over. However, in some cases, after the dust has settled in a negotiation, it isn’t always a win-win for everyone.

For example, what do all the following company circumstances have in common? (note: all these companies are real early stage companies.)

  • A founder who gave away > 60% of his company for 100K in funding in tranches.
  • A founder that gave away > 75% of his company to his ‘investors’ in a pre-series A round.
  • A company that gave away > 70% of their company for < 100K to investors, but still wanted to go through an accelerator.
  • Another company with 51% ownership to existing investors.
  • Another company where the investor offered the founders a sub €30K investment but it came over tranches across the year (as in no cash right now).

As you read the above examples, you might find these offers as ’normal’ (then this post will hopefully help you think twice in the future about these kinds of deals), or you might reel in shock as you read each one of the above anecdotes. Either way, in this post I want to highlight the concept of a ‘Toxic round’ or a ‘Toxic cap table’ in an early stage startup to help founders navigate potential investment offers and avoid getting themselves into a difficult situation in the future.

What is a ‘toxic’ round?

‘Toxic’ rounds (not a technical term) can be defined as fundraising rounds that can pre-dispose a company to  struggle to find subsequent financing because newer investors shy away from a potential investment once they find out what the state of the company’s current cap table and or governance.

Whilst it is very hard to make any judgments about the quality of investors because each company’s financing history is unique, a common view is that investors that ask for terms such as those highlighted above are usually not of the sort that one wants to take investment from. However, the focus of this post isn’t to highlight the qualities of ideal investors (if you want to read more about the ideal qualities of a new investor check out this text), but rather why subsequent new investors might shy away from investing in your company if you have taken on this kind of round in the past. Additionally, in this post I’m only focusing on founder dilution and not on other potential aspects of a company’s shareholdership that could make it difficult for new investors to invest.

Therefore, the reasons why a new investor might shy away from a company that has experienced a ‘toxic’ round in the past can include:

  1. Because the company will likely require more capital in the future should it prove successful, and potential new investors feel that the founders will be less motivated to stick with the company as the value of their equity declines over time through premature excessive dilution.
  2. New potential investors feel that current investors own too much of the company and perhaps the company has a governance issues as a consequence.
  3. Because the investors have a large stake, it brings up a lot of questions about how the company got itself into this situation. Did it happen through a down-round? Was it due to other negative circumstances which could affect the future of a new investment? The circumstances raise a lot of questions and doubt in a new investor, and considering how many investment options an investor receives per year, frankly, as a founder raising capital you just don’t need any more reasons for a new investor to reject you.
  4. In the specific case of ‘debt’ or an ‘early exit of existing investors as part of a new financing’; potential new investors can sometimes object to having the money they are putting in as part of a new round be used for anything other than to expand the growth of a company. This means, potential new investors may shy away from companies that have investors that are eager to dump their shares as part of the financing transaction or companies that have too much debt outstanding that is repayable as part of an upcoming round.

Having said the above, how do you more precisely define a toxic round? Well, a toxic round could be where either “too much money” comes in too early at a too low a valuation, or where a company is too under-valued, or both. All of these cases lead to founders being greatly diluted too early in their company’s life.

To help you visualise these potential scenarios, let’s look at the following equations:

  1. Money Raised / Post Money = % dilution to founders
  2. Money Raised / (Pre Money + Money Raised ) = % owned by the new investors

These two equations represent the same thing, the only thing that changes is the definitions, but the numbers are all the same. If you don’t know what Pre or Post money mean, check out myrecent blog post which defines some of the components of a round.

What is the solution for toxic rounds?

Knowing the above, it would seem that the solution for toxic rounds would include both raising the right amount of money AND setting the right valuation for the company early on so that as the company grows, it doesn’t find itself in a ‘toxic’ situation. If you want to read more about how much money to raise and setting the right milestones check out my following posts below:

So if that solves the ‘Money Raised’ part of the equation, how about the valuation parts of the equation (pre-money)? Valuing an early stage company is always a source of much debate and causes many people lots of stress. As I’ve described on my previous blog posts on the subject:

There are many methods one can take to arguably ‘price’ a company. However, the larger point is that no matter what method you use, it will always be subject to current market dynamics… meaning that no matter what “quantitative” method you think you are using, it is subject to the variability of how the overall market is trending… if we are in a boom, the pricing will likely be higher, if we are in a bust, it will likely be lower. It’s a simple as that.

Taking these market dynamics in consideration, take a look at a recent Fortune blog post on what the average dilution hits are in the USA for Series Seed, A, B, and C rounds. In the Fortune post, you can see the average dilution per round for the typical rounds and you can see the market dynamics over the years (check out what the 2007 recession did to % dilution per round). What you realise is that none of these rounds, no matter how big, take as much equity as the real life examples I noted above at the start of this post. Even if you consider that different countries have different country risks, the range of numbers is a multiple of 3x what is recorded over the last 6 years in the USA.

What if your investment round was toxic?

So what if you’re already in a tricky situation similar to the examples I noted above? If you find that you are in the situations described in this post, unfortunately the available solutions aren’t always easy and straightforward. The single best solution is to have a tough talk with existing investors on how to rectify the situation before new investors either walk away or make it conditional as part of their new investment. There can be many ‘creative’ solutions to solving the problem with your investors, such as investors giving back equity if founders hit milestones, but they will all seem ‘creative’ to a new investor rather than ‘clean’ if not completed before they invest; hence why the ideal solution is to work through this topic with existing investorsand help them understand that by not helping you overcome the situation, they very well may be jeopardising the long term value of their own investment. Perhaps counter-intuitive, but true. In the end, any progress you make with existing investors on fixing these situations if you are already in them, is better than no progress, no matter how tough the discussions.

I leave with you with the following thought of prevention for you to discuss with your potential new investors if they offer you a hard deal… yes, they are taking a huge risk by investing in your early stage startup, but by taking too much equity or debt too early, are they really just pre-disposing your company to failure? Something to discuss.

Originally Posted at Netocratic.com: http://netocratic.com/toxic-investment-round-2451

Enhanced by Zemanta
Continue Reading

Model Equity Calculator for Founders with Option Pool Expansion

calculator

English: Historical valuation on the secondary...

SeedCamp’s hackathon, Seedhack, took place at Google Campus, London, on the 8th to 10th of November. It brought together some of the brightest talent in the startup community from 15 countries with one of the best accelerator programs in the world and mashed it up with awesome content providers like Twitter, Facebook, BSkyB, BBC, Getty, HarperCollins, EyeEm, Nokia Music and Imagga. There were a total of 12 teams working on interesting and exciting projects.

As part of this hackathon, Ali and Will helped me aggregate resources to help founders better understand the process of raising equity and the impact it can have to their founder stakes. We aggregated resources to help entrepreneurs to understand  the numbers and implications of raising money and giving out equity. Valuing a company and calculation its impact on your equity is a very complex and confusing for entrepreneurs as well as being far from an exact science, this is the pain point that we wanted to address.

In the words of Seedhack attendee Will Martin (@willpmartin)

“Fundraising is one of the most difficult parts of the startup world, as first time founders this is an even more daunting process. Experience of raising a round and understanding the numbers and implications of that round and the related equity issued to an investor as well as employees in the form of an option pool is vital, but sadly is only fully understood by going through the process for real. Our intention was to give founders the knowledge required by being able to go through the process in a simple and easy way, thus giving the founder the confidence when it happens for real.

Ali and I are first time founders currently actively looking for investment. We know the total value we need in terms of money we want to raise as well the percentage of equity we are comfortable willing to give up to the investor. What we didn’t know and learned through the process is the implications in future rounds as a result of that initial funding round. Having an option pool for employees, advisors, board members etc. is something that complicates the issue and is often a requirement in the terms an investor is offering. This complicates the issue for the founder, so being aware of the impact of their shareholding as a result is vital for a founder as it is them that gets diluted in the first round but also any subsequent round, but it is often overlooked.

The changes to equity positions of the founders, investors, employees etc. is very important to understand as it dictates control and value of a company. Having this knowledge now gives us as founders a huge advantage over other founders we are competing with for funding and bridges the knowledge gap that exists for first time founders.”

In order to read some of the terms on this cap table model, below are some definitions which you might find useful:

Pre & Post Money Valuation

“The pre-money valuation is the valuation that a company goes into raising a round of financing with. By establishing this valuation, it helps investors understand what amount of equity they will receive in the company in exchange for their capital. Once the financing round has been completed, the post-money valuation is the sum total of the pre-money valuation plus the additional capital raised. So, if the pre-money valuation of a company is $10 million and they raise $2.5 million from investors, their post-money valuation would be $12.5 million. Investors would own 20% of the resulting company.” – Dave Morin, Source Quora

“A PRE-MONEY VALUATION is the valuation of a company or asset BEFORE investment or financing. If an investment adds cash to a company, the company will have different valuations before and after the investment. The pre-money valuation refers to the company’s valuation before the investment.

External investors, such as venture capitalists and angel investors will use a pre-money valuation to determine how much equity to demand in return for their cash injection to an entrepreneur and his or her startup company. This is calculated on a fully diluted basis.

If a company is raising $250,000 in its seed round and willing to give up 20% of their company the pre-money valuation is $1,000,000. (250,000 * 5 -250,000 = 1,000,000)

Formula: Post money valuation – new investment

Source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-money_valuation

A POST-MONEY VALUATION is the value of a company AFTER an investment has been made. This value is equal to the sum of the pre-money valuation and the amount of new equity.

The Post-money valuation is the sum of the pre-money valuation and the money raised in a given round. At the close of a round of financing, this is what your company is worth (well, at least on paper).

If a company is worth $1 million (pre-money) and an investor makes an investment of $250,000, the new, post-money valuation of the company will be $1.25 million. The investor will now own 20% of the company.

The only reason it’s worth spending time on this term at all is that it “sets the bar” for your future activities. If your post-money after your first round of financing is $4 million, you know that to achieve success, in the eyes of your investors, any future valuations will have to be well-in-excess of that amount.     

Formula: New Investment * total post investment shares outstanding/shares issued for new investment. “

Source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-money_valuation

Option Pools

“An option pool is an amount of a startup’s common stock reserved for future issuances to employees, directors, advisors, and consultants.” – from startuplawyer.com

Option pools can also be formed by Restricted Stock Units, but whichever one you use, they are generally still called ‘Option Pools’.

The OPTION POOL is the percentage of your company that you are setting aside for future employees, advisors, consultants, and the like. Employees who get into the startup early will usually receive a greater percentage of the option pool than employees who arrive later.

“The size of the Option Pool as a percentage of the POST-MONEY Valuation and where ALL of it comes from the founder’s equity. This is the least founder-friendly way to present this, but it is also the point at which most early stage investors will start the negotiations. The expectation from traditional venture firms is that this will equal 15%-25% of the company AFTER they make their investment. The Option Pool is one of the most complex and, from the entrepreneur’s perspective, confusing terms in an equity financing scenario.” – source http://www.ownyourventure.com/content/tips/op.html

Round Size – 

The investment, or money is how much money is raised in a given round of financing. However, the decisions (and their implications) surrounding this number are among the most important that a founding team makes. It is not just about how much money is raised, it is about the terms that the money is raised on and, maybe most importantly, whose money it is and what they bring to the table in addition to money.  – Source http://www.ownyourventure.com/content/tips/inv.html

Link to the Model Cap Table: http://bit.ly/1ayKk8p


NOTE FOR MODEL TO WORK – It needs to run on Excel (Google docs coming soon) and with circular calculations turned on. This can be done by going to (Mac Excel) Preferences -> Calculation -> Iteration -> Click on Limit Iteration

If you are considering using Convertible Notes as part of your round, check out this variant of the cap table with notes on how to convert as well: http://bit.ly/17kHlSA

Additional Equity Calculation Tools (Thanks to Ali Tehrani for finding these – @tehranix) –

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta
Continue Reading