Seedcamp Podcast, Episode 12: Lucas Nelson of Gotham Ventures

In the ‘Seedcamp Podcast Series’ we talk with key people in the tech startup industry to hear their stories and gleam key advice and learnings from their experiences.

On the very first day of Seedcamp’s Spring US Trip, we had the chance to visit Lucas Nelson of Gotham Ventures. With a background in hacking and a clear interest in the more technical companies and founders, he provides a very unique view into the world of investing and adding value as an investor.

During his chat with Seedcamp Partner Carlos, Lucas’ interest in helping CTOs surfaced. Through his co-creation of startupctosummit.com he provides CTOs a way to share their learnings with each other, and shares some of the top mistakes during our talk.

If you’re ever in NYC, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lucas.

If the above player doesn’t work for you, you can also listen directly from our Soundcloud page.

Subscribe on iTunes or by pointing your podcast player to the link below…

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The Top Ten Fundraising Fails

Fundraising isn’t easy, even if done well, its fraught with all sorts of ambiguity and frustrations. To that very point, I recently wrote a blog post about the fundraising mindset in order to help you set a tone on approaching the process.

That said, there are things you can do to make it go better than others and things you can do to make it go worse… and in the spirit of the ‘Tonight Show’s’ top ten list, below are my top ten things that will likely cause a fundraising fail situation.

Avoid them and learn from your mistakes and you will increase your likelihood of success.

– 10 – Presenting with a style that doesn’t capture the right attention. Yes, being over the top and dropping ‘f bombs’ might get you attention, but is it the right attention? Is it focusing the attention on what your message or just you? Also, what about a boring slide deck? Or a a deck that is missing product shots? Do these represent you well? What if you say your product is simple, but then your deck is really over complicated.. does that sound right?

– 9 – Not having a proper fundraising plan. Fundraising requires research. Find out if your potential investors are even interested in your sector.. have they invested in your competitor? What amount do they typically invest in? Going to someone that is a late stage investor when you are raising a little bit of money is like putting in a minimum order of 10 pizzas when you can only eat one.

– 8 – Not understanding your customer and how to reach them. When presenting or speaking about your customer, do you show a mastery about their issues? Do you understand what makes them tick and why your solution is the one that will likely best serve their needs? Do you also understand how to reach them? Where do they shop? What media do they consume?

– 7 – Unable to demonstrate a real pain for your customer (and how your solution fixes it). It is always tempting to create something that is useful to you, but is the solution you’ve created really a necessity or just a nice-to-have? Demonstrating a real pain, usually through some form of customer validation, is crucial in making a convincing argument for your startup.

– 6 – Assuming that a general market size study applies to your startup. One of the things you can do to quickly show that you don’t have a full grasp of your market is by showing a much larger segment than the one you operate in.  For example, I’ve seen pitches where an iOS app that is for sports tracking, mentions all mobile users worldwide as their market size… when actually, its more like mobile-sports-tracking-enthusiasts, which is a sub-segment of that bigger pie.

– 5 – Not truly understanding who your competitors are. This one is easy. If you think you don’t have competitors, then you probably haven’t researched hard enough. Rarely are there ideas that no one has thought about, but secondly and perhaps more importantly, sometimes there are substitutes which are ‘good enough’ which you need to be aware of and show how your solution overcomes the momentum that those existing solutions already have.

– 4 – Not knowing your cash needs & cash burn. If you’re going fundraising and you don’t know how much money you need, how long it will take you, to achieve what, and how you will spend it… well, then don’t fault investors if they aren’t impressed with your request for investment.

– 3 – Not explaining why your team is the team that will make this happen. Your team is 99% the reason why your company succeeds, and the idea is probably like 1% (I’m guessing on the numbers, but this guess feels right). If you skim through the ‘why’ of why your team is the right one for this investment, then you’ll likely miss an opportunity to impress an investor. I recently wrote a blog post about how to best think through your team slide here. Also, if you want to learn about how an investor evaluates your team, read this one.

– 2 – Having your existing investor shareholders own more equity than the founders. Toxic rounds that precede the round you are raising for can really negatively affect your fundraising plan. Read about why here. In general, try and make sure that you take investments that don’t jeopardize your future ability to raise follow-on funds.

– 1 – Not reaching out to an investor through an introduction. Lastly, the best thing you can do for yourself is get an introduction to investors that you want to meet. Introductions are great ways to have immediate validation. Here are some other ideas on how to reach out to other investors.

– Bonus – Not learning from your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. You will make many, and that’s OK, so long as you don’t beat yourself up, understand what went wrong, and then iterate on it. In the words of Einstein – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Below is the video of this presentation.

Below is the slide deck that I used to present at Google Campus’s Fundraising Day.

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The Perfect Team Slide And Why It Matters

Originally posted on Netocratic.com on July 2, 2014

When an investors considers your company for investment at the earliest stages, who you are is so much more important than your idea. Your team is such a crucial part of your company’s success, and yet many teams omit their team slide or bludgeon it because they don’t feel they have anything interesting to add other than team photos and a job-title.

What’s worse is when pitching, founders usually just point to the team slide, and say something like – here is our team, we have lots of rockstars or something generic like that. And that’s it…

Wow.. way to undersell who you are!

Let’s look at what the major selling points of a team slide should be:

1. To show a team’s capability to deliver

Basically, does your team know anything about what you are doing. If you are a healthcare company, do you have a healthcare background? If you are making something for the financial industry, have any of your team members worked there? What companies have your team worked in that can validate you? If you’ve worked at Google before, for example, it would be worthwhile to put that company logo up on your team slide because the image of the brand would speak faster to your audience, than any number of words you could say in the same time frame.

2. To show a team’s capacity to deliver

Are you effectively complete or incomplete as a team? Is your team mostly business people but lacking the technical capabilities to deliver or is your team well rounded and able to execute? If your company industry requires an amazing specialist, do you have that specialist?  By the way, do not assume that it is a bad thing to admit you are looking to hire for specific functions you don’t currently have in an early stage startup, it shows maturity and your team’s self-awareness, although you don’t have to state it as part of your pitch (just saying, in case it is asked as a question).

3. To show a team’s culture & communication style

What is your company like? Is it a fun place to work in or is the tone more serious? What ‘titles’ do people have? How many of your team are outward facing and how many inward facing? These details are all items that an investor can pick up on based on your team slide.

In terms of where your team slide should be… there is not hard and fast rule, but I’ve found that if you are building something born out of a personal experience at your prior job or of interest.. it makes for a decent early slide to explain the background to your story/pitch. If you are building something that isn’t part of your background story, then where the slide sits is more about flow. Focus on telling a good story that is complemented by your team slide rather than the other way around.

So next time you are doing a presentation in front of investors… ask yourself, are you doing your team slide justice?

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Managing the Legal Process in an Early Stage Startup

 

Law School

One of the most time consuming things founders have to do other than raise money is deal with all the legal paperwork pre and post termsheet that fundraising typically generates. Not only can the legal process be time consuming, but also it can be emotionally difficult depending on how many items are being discussed before finalizing.

While there is no standard process (largely due to the variability in deal types and jurisdictional issues) that can be outlined for how to deal with your unique legal situation, I’d like to propose a few tips that might help you navigate your process along the way. As such, read this post not so much as a how-to, but more-so as a list of things to consider while going through your investment documents.

0) Always be mindful that the most important thing you have at your disposal is your word. If you make promises, keep them. Create trust between everyone you deal with. Say what you mean and mean what you say, and ask questions if you’re not sure. This will help build you a good reputation that will greatly help you along your way.

1) If you aren’t incorporated yet, or if you’ve just started working on an idea with friends, have a pre-founder and advisor arrangements (relating to splits and vesting) agreed before lawyers start drafting stuff later. Lawyers often need to change docs several times to accommodate founders changing their minds or negotiations taking a different turn before the legal docs. We’ve put up a document on our Seedhack site called the Founder’s Collaboration Agreement, which you can use if you don’t have something like this. I assume that for most of you this is not a relevant point, but perhaps for some of the newer teams that haven’t incorporated yet.

2) Always check what your legal responsibilities with existing shareholders are before taking any decisions with or without them. When you have existing shareholders, involve them (including the distribution of information about the new round) as per whatever rights they may have agreed with you as part of their investment documentation. If this means you need to inform them, then inform them, if this means you need to ask them something, then ask them, but don’t leave it to the last minute. Generally speaking, they’ll try and be helpful, but depending on how busy they are, they can take a while, so don’t leave it for the last minute.

3) Don’t be annoying:

a) Lawyers cost money for both sides of the table. Do as much research as possible on your own and try and aggregate your questions as much as possible so that you use your lawyers and their lawyer’s time efficiently.
b) Make sure you have a position on items that are being discussed so that you don’t go back and forth on stuff on the phone or after decisions have been made. Nothing is more annoying than backtracking in legal processes.
c) Don’t let your lawyer get annoying or overly aggressive with your investor. The investor can always walk away if you and your lawyer are coming across as overly difficult and asking for stuff that might actually be destructive for the company in their view. Be assertive for sure, but don’t be divisive. Seek to understand the issues and always think creatively on how to solve them rather than letting the lawyers get into a stalemate or in an argument with your potential investor. Always feel free to say “let’s park this point for now and return to it after we’ve had to consider it”.
d) Don’t let paranoia of what others could do to screw you get the better of you. It is OK to be slightly paranoid (I know I am), but don’t let it be so bad that you make the legal process feel painful as you come up with bogus reasons by which to reject perfectly common clauses in an investors proposed documentation.

4) Legal documents have two parts, the commercial stuff (like valuations, percentages, etc) and legal stuff (like which jurisdiction, which filing/reporting procedures, etc). Get all or as much of the commercial points agreed between you and the investor before involving the lawyers (this is effectively what the termsheet is, but sometimes some stuff slips into the subsequent docs to keep the termsheet ‘light’) so that the lawyers are just left with representing these on your documents. If you need to have a discussion on a commercial point, do it with the investor alone and offline (even if you had to ask your lawyer or another shareholder for advice) you shouldn’t spend time on the phone with lawyers negotiating commercial points. Lawyers will help you through the technical points.

5) Always ‘red line’ any changes you make to documents. Keep track of all changes. Use track changing on Word. Google Docs may have this, but lawyers don’t use Google Docs generally.

6) Generally speaking.. and this is just a general rule… conversations are Founder <> Investors and Lawyer <> Lawyer.. meaning, you rarely speak to the counsel of the Investor directly or the Investor with your counsel directly without you guys being on the phone with them.

7) Keep CALM AT ALL TIMES. If you lose it, you will lose it.

8) Always seek solutions. There are multiple ways to skin a cat. Any issue can usually be solved via some creativity. The lawyers aren’t there to come up with stuff for you, you have to sometimes be the one (along with the investor) that can come up with solutions and then the lawyer’s articulate it legally. Although.. Don’t get too creative too, cause that can burn you.

9) Most of you are using lawyers that have been recommended and are experienced, but maybe you are struggling with your current counsel and are looking to switch. It is important that you get good counsel (read my post on this here). Don’t be cheap on this one. You’ll regret it later.

10) Do propose using standard documentation that other lawyers have frequently seen, in the USA consider using the Series Seed docs, or here in Europe, the Seedsummit docs which are based on the US Series Seed docs, or the BVCA ones, etc. there are probably a few more out there, just familiarize yourself with a few to ask them if the ones they send you are based on ‘standards’ as that will reduce everyone’s workload.

11) Managing the closing process. This is a difficult one and in the UK, with deed execution requirements can be difficult, but when there are multiple angels involved lawyers often spend a lot of time getting signatures and it increases the costs that founders don’t want to pay (I just heard of a deal that had 9 angels and the lawyer spent 20 hours managing that process for the entrepreneur, thus ended up overall 3x over budget).  Sometimes, you as founder, can handle this but best case is if one of the leading angels takes charge of this process, we have seen this and it has been really good but you can’t count on having that organized person being on board, so be prepared to be ‘that guy’.

12) Do your due diligence homework. Get your IP agreements, employment agreements, etc organized to help the process go by faster and smoother for your new investor as they will likely have to review these documents.

Hope that helps, and feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section below!

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