There comes a time when your business needs an injection of capital to get over that hump. The hump might be the viability test for your product; the road to earning revenue; or the boost to take your business to that next milestone. Whatever it is for your specific company, finding the best way to raise the needed cash is an important and often challenging task.
A conventional way to do this is to bring on a new shareholder. Here are four practical things to consider and implement to do just that:
First up, how do you practically raise funds by bringing a new shareholder on board? It’s important to understand that your company is raising funding. This is done by offering ownership to the funders in the form of shares. The ownership and value of the company is split into fractions (shares) – a new owner puts money into the company, and gets shares in the ownership of the company in return.
2Measuring your company’s value
The natural next question is: how much ownership does the new shareholder get in return for their contribution? Does a R 1 million investment get the new shareholder 50% or 5% of the ownership of the company? As you can expect, this depends on the value of the company before the investment.
How do you measure the value? Luckily, there are whole industries dedicated to doing this – with the essence being: Your company’s value depends on its ability to earn profits for its shareholders.
There are many ways to measure that, but you will essentially need to show a compelling argument of why the company can earn profits for its shareholders.
3The start-up challenge
This is where the early stage start-up company faces a real challenge. The start-up will often have little or no actual revenue – making it hard or even impossible to show a track record of earning profits for its shareholders. The challenge here is to show its potential to earn revenue.
Typically, this comes down to showing a great product, a great management team, reliable research into the size of the market or potential market, and how the start-up’s value offering can crack that market wide open.
4The investor’s risk
Once you’ve convinced an investor to buy 5% of your company for let’s say R1million rand, and you’ve given them a 5% shareholding in your company, what’s the next step? What risk does your investor take?
The starting point is that your investor is now a shareholder, so they take all the risks that you do. If the company fails despite your best efforts, the investor takes that risk and has no claim against you or the other shareholders.
It is common for sophisticated investors (think Venture Capital, Private Equity or Angel Investment Funds) to try and limit that risk. Common tools here include liquidity preference – which is a fancy way of saying that they get their investment back before you do, should the company become insolvent (that is if there is any cash back).
But what do you personally owe that investor in return? This is important – you as a director of the company will owe a duty to that investor to spend their money wisely, in the interests of all the shareholders. You owe them a duty to manage the affairs of the company prudently. You are now the custodian of someone else’s money and your goal is to build the value of the company so that you give all the shareholders a return on their assets. If you breach this duty, you can be held personally responsible for the shareholder’s loss.
Again, sophisticated investors can also require more from you – especially if you and your start up management team are essential to the growth and viability of the business. They can “lock up” your shares in such a way that you can’t sell for a specified period of time. They can also require your shares to “vest” over time so that if you leave before then, the company can take back your shares.
These and other tools are specifically intended to minimise the investor’s risk by motivating you as the founder and director of the company to stay and grow the company’s value.
Planning ‘life after the investment’
It seems obvious that you should prepare carefully for fund raising. It can be a time consuming exercise – but one you’ll never regret. It’s important to know what your potential investors want to see in order to agree to the value of your company.
Also, it’s vital to be very clear on what your obligations will be to the new shareholders once they come on board. Discuss both their expectations of you, as well as your expectations of them. Build the “life after investment” picture very clearly so that you know what your position will be afterwards.
In a nutshell – lay strong foundations with investors for a long term relationship in advance, and your company’s long term prospects will be much healthier.