- Player: Clive Butkow
- Company: Grotech Venture Capital Company, Grovest
- Claim to Fame: Previous COO of Accenture South Africa, with 28 years’ experience in the organisation, encompassing numerous leadership roles, including MD of Accenture’s Technology business.
- Visit: grovest.co.za/grotech/
Do business owners have funding misconceptions that will stop them in their tracks?
Absolutely. Too many entrepreneurs believe that raising funding validates their business model. The only thing that validates your business model is customers. If you aren’t selling what you’re offering, no amount of funding in the world is going to fix it. Go back to your customers. Listen to what they’re saying. Don’t fall back on the assumption that your problem is lack of finance.
Another important point to remember is that strategic funding comes with partners. The right partners add value to the business beyond the cash injection. In general, funders should provide four types of capital: Mentorship capital; social or relationship capital, which provides access to a network of new customers, new markets and peers; human capital, which provides access to the best people you will need to hire as you scale; and financial capital, the actual funding required to grow your business.
Too many business owners only focus on the fourth type of capital, forgetting about the other three. On the one hand, this means that funders bring so much more to the table than mere cash.
Many business owners who have entered into successful relationships with VC or PE partners understand that often the other three types of capital are even more valuable than the cash. However, the opposite is also true.
If you’re a business owner who isn’t coachable, who can’t accept the idea that someone else might be better at executing your company’s growth strategy than you, or who doesn’t want to be held accountable to anyone, then strategic capital is not a good avenue for you.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a good business, or you aren’t a good entrepreneur. It just means that the funding relationship won’t work for you or the funder.
Capital is not the same irrespective of where you raise it from. You’re entering into a partnership with someone who has their own business model, shareholders, goals and mandates. If their goals and values are not aligned with yours, it’s not going to be a pleasant or rewarding experience, nor will it be good for the business.
Who should be considering funding as a growth strategy for their business?
You need to carefully consider why you’re looking for funding in the first place. If you have a strategic reason for the injection of funds, then it makes sense to look for funding. If it’s just so that you can live the high life, invest in expensive offices, imported coffee machines, a pool table and take a large salary, then the capital is likely to do more harm than good.
We’ve seen too many entrepreneurs with money burning holes in their pockets. They forget where they came from and their frugal approach to running the business, and the result is wastage and often unhappy customers, not to mention the fact that funders don’t receive their returns.
Ask yourself these questions before choosing the funding route:
1. Do I need funding, and what will I use the cash for?
You need to be able to confirm that funding will help you achieve certain milestones quicker or more effectively than without funding, not only because you’ll need to be able to demonstrate this to the funder, but because it’s just good business practice.
I believe that businesses should bootstrap for as long as possible before raising capital to prevent too much dilution from their capital raise. They also need to clearly understand how much runway the capital would provide. For example, we like to see our capital last for a minimum of 12 to 18 months based on the predicted burn rate before they run out of cash.
2. Is this smart capital that will help me achieve my business objectives far quicker with the support of the capital provider?
Too often business owners are so desperate for funding that they take the first offer that comes along, irrespective of whether it’s the best offer, the best source of capital for their type of business and stage of growth, or if their values align with those of the funders.
Is there a specific personality type that is easier to fund than others?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to business, and the same is true of funding, however, there are a few rules of thumb that we stick to, most notably, do the skills required to run a growing business reside in a team, is the business owner coachable, are they aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and would they be willing to step down or into a different role if it was for the good of the business.
First, in the founding team, is there someone who can sell? If you can’t sell it, you don’t have a business. Someone has to make the stuff, and someone has to sell the stuff. More often than not, this requires at least two different people, with very different skill sets. Think Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
Someone has to understand channel to market, marketing, where you’ll find traction and so on. Many companies are started by an industry expert who really understands their product, but not how to sell. This will only get you so far. VC funders in particular are looking for exponential growth, so it’s difficult for them to fund a founder who only understands product and not sales. If you’re looking for funding, make sure you have both.
Next, and this is perhaps the most critical but also the toughest part of being a ‘funding ready’ entrepreneur:
Do you have the skills to take your business to the next level? The answer is not automatically yes. In fact, it’s most likely no.
Steve Blank, who coined the term the lean start-up, draws a clear line of distinction between start-ups and established businesses that has nothing to do with time in the market. As a start-up, you’re looking for something that is repeatable and scalable. Once you find a product with the right product/market fit, you’re no longer a start-up. Now it’s all about execution, and this is where many founders stumble. They’re great at finding product/market fit. They’re innovative. But they hate execution.
MBAs are the opposite. They’re masters of execution. They love numbers and details and processes, and they’re well suited to high growth. But, they’re best when executing a business model that works and has already been stress tested.
Some can do both; most can’t, which is why the ability to know your strengths and weaknesses is so important. We will never expect an entrepreneur to actively try to fix their weaknesses. It takes a lot of time and energy, and you just end up with slightly better weaknesses. Instead, hire the right people. Do you need an ops guy? Someone for the details? That’s how you grow. But it takes maturity to evaluate yourself, realise where the gaps lie, and make the right call. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be coachable and constantly working on areas that are or could be strengths. Coachability is key.
One of the biggest questions that we always ask is this: What if we have to bring someone else in to run things? If the business owner isn’t even willing to discuss this, or if they are uncoachable, we know the partnership is unlikely to be a successful one.
Where do business owners often misstep in their pitch?
Most don’t know their numbers well enough. You can’t outsource the metrics of how your business is run to your accountant. You should only be outsourcing your bookkeeping. Your numbers are the life-blood of your business. You need to know them intimately. Funders understand numbers. They will challenge you on them, and they’ll quickly see how familiar you are with the inner workings of your company.
In terms of growth projections, your numbers should be bottom up, not top down. Telling a VC that the market is $5 billion and you need just 1% of that to make a killing is like waving a red flag at a bull. A hypothesis based on big numbers is worthless. It’s an exercise in creative writing, and not only do I ignore it, but it actually loses you credibility with me.
Bottom up numbers show that you have carefully planned your go-to-market strategy. For example, you start out in five Pick n Pays. As you gain traction in the market you add a certain amount of stores per quarter, and then sign deals with two additional retailers. It’s still part guesswork, but it’s carefully planned guesswork. There’s a growth path that we can discuss, evaluate and add value to.
How much of a role does ‘gut’ play in choosing to fund a business?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust, integrity and gut. Am I buying this? Remember, this is my shareholder’s money, and I have a duty to them. I have to be comfortable investing their money in you, and backing my decision.
When I was at Accenture I was fortunate enough to spend time with Jack Welch because we consulted to General Electric. He taught me the rule of 3 ‘Es’ when hiring: Energy, intellect and integrity. Great candidates ticked all three boxes, but if the third (integrity) was missing, the first two were irrelevant. This has become an invaluable tool now that I’m a VC, and it often does come down to gut. Are you someone with integrity? Are you coachable? Do our values align? Can we embark on a long-term relationship together?
Understand a fund’s mandate before pitching for funding. Alignment is key for a successful funding partnership.