The funding trifecta
Do you tick the boxes?
Investors look at a deal from three angles:
- Are you investable?
- Is the deal investable?
- Is the risk investable?
In order for a deal to happen all three boxes must be ticked.
It’s important to remember that many viable businesses do not raise VC funds, as a viable business does not equal an investable business.
There’s a pervasive myth that there’s no funding available for early-stage businesses. There is sufficient capital in the ecosystem and South Africa is not short of great ideas or products. Unfortunately, what we are short of is great entrepreneurs. There are many more R1 million opportunities than there are R1 million entrepreneurs. In particular, there is a shortage of great entrepreneurs who can scale their start-ups into assets of value. There is a key skills gap between the ‘wantrepreneur’ and the scalable entrepreneur.
Here are ten ways that you can beat the odds and build a business that is scalable, sustainable and will attract the attention of investors — if you even need investment after getting the basics right.
Remember: Many great businesses have been self-funded.
1Find and craft your dream team
Investors back the jockey before they back the horse. As talented as you may be, it’s unlikely you have all the skills required to launch and build a successful business on your own. And even if you do, you won’t have the time and energy to do so, especially as your company begins to grow. Investors invest in people and not ideas or products and services.
Investors also prefer to invest in teams over individuals. Have you put the right team together? People are far more important than the idea or product. Whilst many entrepreneurs have a great product or service, they do not demonstrate the business skills to build a successful business around that product or service.
Don’t be a solo founder. Except for some very isolated examples, most entrepreneurs will have little chance of raising money unless they have a team. It may be a team of two, but the solo entrepreneur raising money can be a red flag.
First, no single person can do everything. We’ve never met anyone who can do absolutely everything, from product vision to executing a plan, engineering development, marketing, sales, operations, and so on. There are just too many mission-critical tasks in getting a successful company launched. You will be much happier if you have a partner to back you up.
2Understand that raising capital is time consuming
This time could be better spent on getting customers and developing your market. Rather invest the initial time in obtaining product-market fit than trying to raise money too early.
Raising capital does not validate your business model, only customers do.
This makes it vital to get paying clients before you pitch to investors. No one will fund you if you are not solving a problem. It’s that simple. And it’s hard to prove that you’re solving a problem without paying customers.
3Bootstrapping is non-dilutive customer funding
Some of the most successful start-ups have self-funded their businesses through the simple act of selling. Conclude a distribution agreement through a large distributor, reseller or OEM. Pound the pavement and sell your product. Get customers — and adjust your model or offering if you haven’t found product-market fit.
This is how early-stage entrepreneurs figure out how to get their businesses off the ground. Every entrepreneur owns one very valuable resource: 100% of their equity.
Use it wisely and try not to dilute it too early. Bootstrap your company before you try and raise institutional capital.
4Begin discussions with investors before you need the money
A soft introduction to an investor is an effective way to start a conversation about your business. Grow your network at every opportunity and then leverage that network. I am a firm believer that an entrepreneur’s network is their net worth.
Once you’ve made a connection with an investor, you can keep them updated on your progress. In this way you’re showing them that you’re setting goals and milestones and meeting them. This creates a very different discussion down the line when you are looking for growth funding.
5Not all money is created equal
There is a difference between ‘smart’ and ‘lazy’ capital, and you want smart capital. There’s no shortage of money looking for a home, but if you’re looking for investment capital to truly build a scalable, sustainable business, then you need all four types of capital from your investor: Social capital; financial capital; human capital and mentorship capital.
6Make your business attractive to an investor
In order to present an attractive deal, you need to think like an investor. Put yourself in their shoes, and understand their business model.
Investors look for scalable businesses and to raise finance you need to show how you will scale. A good idea does not equal a good business model or an investable business. You need to show investors how you are going to make money.
They need to see a clear ROI for their investment. You must quantify the risks your business faces and show them how you will mitigate them. You also need to show them how you will use the funds raised. High salaries, flashy cars and swanky offices are not what investors want to pay for.
7Be realistic about your valuation
Investors are not gamblers and business is not about taking unnecessary risks. It’s about mitigating risks. There are a number of key areas that investors focus on, including proof of product-market fit, consumer acceptance, first rate management, the potential and ability for high growth, whether it’s a high margin business, if there’s a viable risk-reward relationship and if there are obstacles to competition. Most start-ups fail because they don’t get one or more of these ingredients right.
Your forecasts are at best a bunch of hypotheses or guesses, so bear all of these points in mind. Wild valuations that discount these core areas will show investors that you haven’t done your research and you aren’t in touch with your numbers.
Start-ups that are attractive to investors understand that they need to be able to articulate their market research and how they will achieve traction.
For me, there are three critical ingredients that determine start-up success:
- Do you have the best team on the planet (people)?
- Are you selling something customers want (product-market fit)?
- Are you able to get and keep customers (in other words, are you adding value to their lives)?
These three elements are more powerful than an over-inflated valuation will ever be. In fact, over-valuating your business will do you more harm than good.
8Sell the deal to the investor
Raising money is about selling. No business skill is more important than the ability to sell. If you can’t sell your idea, product or service you won’t raise the required capital for growth, convince your prospective investors of your vision (and subsequent valuation) or achieve the deal terms you want. Selling is critical.
But be careful. Dilution is less important than success. 100% of nothing is nothing. Many entrepreneurs want funding, but they don’t want to give equity away for that funding. If that’s the case, rather choose the debt funding route. Investors are looking for equity, it’s that simple.
If you choose this route, then the best way to approach investment is with an abundance mentality. Together you will build a bigger business, and everybody wins.
9The business model — and not the plan — is one of the critical steps in raising capital
You need to present a business plan when you pitch to an investor, but what they’re looking at is the business model contained within that plan.
Research and prepare a good business plan that is tidy and easy to read. Package it from the investor’s perspective and not yours. Your plan should be a roadmap from where you are today to where you are going to become profitable. We call this a clear path to profitability, and it’s an essential component of your presentation.
Focus on the one to three-page polished executive summary and elevator pitch and assume it’s the only document your investors will read. Remember, you must validate your financial figures and show that you have achieved product-market fit.
10Master the pitch
Finally, make sure your pitch is perfect. I have never heard a pitch that was too short. On the other hand, I’ve sat through many, many pitches that were too long.
The best pitches show the investor what your business does. They include demos and prototypes. A 60-slide PowerPoint deck is the exact opposite of this. Be ruthless in removing information from your deck to get only the essentials across. The purpose of a pitch is to stimulate interest, not to close a deal. If the pitch is short and to-the-point, you can start a more in-depth discussion. A long, rambling pitch will just lose investor interest and close the door on a potential deal.
The foundation of a great pitch is the research you do before the meeting starts. You need to know your audience, what they care about, and what will pique their interest.
The best pitches follow the 10/20/30 rule: A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points.
The 10-slide PowerPoint presentation
- Problem: The pain that you will be addressing (avoid looking like a solution searching for a problem).
- Solution: The painkiller that you have developed and how it will alleviate the pain (ie. the scratch for the itch, aka the product).
- Business model: Explain how you will (or do) make money.
- Underlying magic: Explain your technology, the secret sauce or magic behind your product or service.
- Marketing and sales: Explain how you are going to reach your customers.
- Competition: Provide a (realistic) view of the competitive landscape.
- Team: Describe the key team members as well as the board and investors (must sell yourself first and your team).
- Financial projections and key metrics: These include number of customers, conversion rates, cost of customer acquisition, lifetime value of customer.
- Status/progress and timelines: Status of your current product or service, what the future looks like and what the money will be used for.
- TOP RULE: Use slides to lead not read.
Want Funding? Finfindeasy.co.za Founder Says You Must Learn To Speak The Language
Darlene Menzies, founder of Finfindeasy.co.za and the successful recipient of multiple rounds of funding unpacks what she wished she knew the first time she pitched her business to investors.
I clearly remember my first large pitching opportunity over six years ago. It was an evening cocktail event organised by one of the legendary pioneers of South Africa’s venture capital (VC) community, Brett Commaille. It took place on or near the top floor of the Reserve Bank building in Cape Town. One of the reasons it’s so vividly etched in my memory is that I had to climb more than 30 flights of stairs to get to it because as a chronic claustrophobe I don’t do lifts.
After reaching the right floor and catching my breath I stepped into a room full of 30 or so high net worth individuals — my introduction into the new world of Angel and Venture Capital investors.
Looking back, I wasn’t as nervous as you might expect, partially, I thought, because I had prepared well and I whole-heartedly believed in the product I was pitching. But in hindsight, I realise it was mostly because I was wonderfully naïve. There are some benefits to being a greenhorn.
The pitch itself went well, I had been briefed to keep it simple and short. I described the solution we had developed, the problem it was addressing and what the size of the potential market was. I spoke briefly about the competitors and what our differentiators were, what the business model was and shared our go-to-market plan.
I covered the size and pedigree of our team, as well as my skills and experience as the founder (aka the jockey) and ended with details on how much money we were looking for and what we would use it for. I was relieved when it was over and felt confident about my delivery.
A bunch of hands shot up, which was positive. I felt encouraged; the hard part was behind me. Or so I thought. My nightmare began when I took the first question. “Great pitch, I love what you guys are doing. Please can you tell me a bit more about the traction you are getting, what your current burn rate is and how much runway you have.” My heart sank and I felt my cheeks start getting hot.
I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. I could tell he wasn’t intentionally trying to embarrass me, but nonetheless his VC jargon made his questions sound like enquiries about cars and airplanes or something mechanical rather than anything I was working on. I put on a brave face and asked him if he would mind explaining to me what it was he wanted to know so that I could try and answer him. That was the start of a steep learning curve as I began to navigate the world of early stage capital raising.
Six years on, the South African start-up and venture capital community has matured and grown dramatically and there are many more entrepreneur events, training opportunities, start-up competitions and pitching coaching sessions, which has resulted in some of the lingo becoming more commonplace — even so, raising venture capital still largely remains a very foreign and intimidating world for novice entrants. Back then I wished I’d had access to a practical VC-made-easy glossary and step-by-step manual as a beginner’s guide. I’ve been threatening to write one ever since.
Terms you should know when looking for funding
After surviving my harrowing Q&A baptism of fire, I starting working my way through the world of term sheets and deal negotiating and came across many more acronyms and VC-specific terminology that I had to learn to interpret and understand. Below are just a few of the terms I would love to have known about and understood before my climb up those Reserve Bank building steps. There are many others.
Deck (or pitch deck) refers to the short presentation you will give to the investors. Guy Kawasaki, a well-known American investor, recommends his 10/20/30 rule as an easy guide for your deck. He says make sure your presentation consists of ten slides, take no more than twenty minutes to get through them and use a font that is no smaller than 30 points per slide.
See guykawasaki.com/the_102030_rule/ MVP (minimal viable product). This is a product developed with the minimum features to ensure it is sufficient to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from these initial users.
Traction refers to the number of people who have already started using your product or service and provides a means of proof to the investor that people want/need what you are selling. Traction is best measured by the number of paying customers acquired over a defined period.
If you are running a business that sells products/services via subscription, then potential investors will want to know your churn rate. This refers to the number of customers who bought your product and never continued using it i.e. those you lost after acquiring them. This figure impacts your growth forecasts.
Tip: Make sure that you have built the churn rate into your forecasts so that your numbers are solid.
Burn rate refers to the amount of money the business requires monthly to cover operating expenses. You can definitely expect to be asked what your current and anticipated burn rate looks like should you receive growth funding.
Runway refers to the number of months that the business has sufficient cash to continue to operate before it runs out i.e. if you have R200 000 in the bank and your burn rate is R95 000 and you are not expecting any immediate income from sales then you have two months runway.
What investors want to know is how long the business can keep going until it has to close. Once again expect to be asked your current runway and your future runway in terms of the amount of money it will take to achieve the desired numbers.
This is a common term used to describe the kind of growth curve in a start-up that an investor is keen to see. It refers to the exponential growth of things like users or page views, but mostly to revenue, which is projected to occur once a particular inflection point is reached. Early stage investors like to invest before this point is reached and then to sell their shares once the hockey stick growth is achieved.
Related: How To Raise Working Capital Finance
Venture capitalists only plan to invest in your business for a limited time period, usually between five and seven years, before expecting to receive their returns. An exit strategy is a planned approach to them leaving in a way that will maximise their benefit and minimise damage. A typical exit strategy is a plan to sell the company once it has achieved its anticipated growth targets. In this case they may want to know who you foresee would be prepared to buy your company.
The term sheet is the document presented to the start-up by the venture capital investor once they have decided they would like to invest. It outlines the terms by which they are prepared to make the financial investment in your company. You are entitled to negotiate the terms with the investor before reaching agreement. The signed term sheet is not legally binding, unless stated, but rather it contains the final terms of the investment that will be used to draw up the legal documents for the deal. Always seek legal advice before signing a term sheet.
Do your research
My encouragement to entrepreneurs who are looking to raise venture capital is to have a coffee or two with a few seasoned founders who have already done deals in order to get firsthand insights about what to expect when you engage with VCs — from the time you land the pitching opportunity to when you sign a deal and get the money and everything in between.
The Investor Sourcing Guide
How to attract and obtain investors to your established, high-growth business.
As an established, high-growth company, you may find that you need to source capital, identify a mentor, or work closely with other affiliates to prosper. In this case, partnering with an investment holding company can be a valuable growth tool.
So, what should you do if you want to be acquired by a holding company?
1. Research everything
If you’re considering a long-term investment partnership, make sure you conduct substantial prior research. There may be many potential investment partners out there, but each has specific venture and industry directives. Get to grips with these.
Related: Is Venture Capital Right For You?
2. Be candid with yourself
The amount of capital that you need will affect which holding company you choose. In particular, you’ll need to understand what your risk profile looks like relative to the returns you expect to provide. This will also help you to source, entice, and keep the attention of the most appropriate partner.
3. Identify your must-haves
Any investment partner you choose is likely to be able to provide you with funding, a broader network, and economies of scale. Beyond these, however, you’ll need to decide on your most important benefits (must-haves), so you can target the companies that can offer you the best fit.
4. Spell out your funding plan
You’ll need to be very clear on how you plan to spend the funding you get from your investor. This plan should stipulate, in particular, how you plan to grow.
5. Scrutinise each investor
Make sure to analyse your potential investors’ investment history, so you can get a clear idea of where your interests are aligned. Look specifically at things like:
- Where investors’ get their funding
- What their investment track record looks like
- What their investment directives are
- Their appetite for risk
- The returns they usually aim for
The crux of the matter
Research is essential, no matter which holding company you hope to be acquired by. This will help you to find, attract and retain an investor who gives you the funding you need, and lends you the support to be innovative, productive, and profitable.
6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch
Whilst most of us are unlikely to appear on television shows such as Dragons Den or Shark Tank there is a lot we can take out from watching these programmes.
Whilst most of us are unlikely to appear on television shows such as Dragons Den or Shark Tank there is a lot we can take out from watching these programmes. Entrepreneurs will often need to promote their businesses to prospective customers, lenders, investors, employees and even suppliers.
All stakeholders would like to know with what and whom they are dealing. They will need to assess risk and will try and evaluate the business against others who are competing for those same funds.
1Know Your Product
You should be able to describe your business within 60 seconds, in a confident and positive manner. Let the stakeholder know what particular problem your business solves which makes it viable and attractive.
Your brand and how you intend to develop it is important in determining whether they will invest or lend you money. Share critical information with them such as large customers, patents and trademarks and details of forward orders.
If you are looking for funding or investment, make sure you have the relevant paperwork to back up what you are saying.
You must have your numbers at your fingertips. A true and successful entrepreneur will know his numbers instinctively and be able to recollect and present them convincingly. Stakeholders want to know your turnover (sales) over the last couple of years, your gross profit and net profit.
Investors want to know what they are investing in and whether there is strong potential for their money to grow. Lenders will want to assess their risk — how are you going to repay the money? Moreover, you as the business owner, need to be sure that you will be able to make the required repayments.
You must know what your margin is, as this will largely determine your viability as a business. Margin or gross profit is the difference between the selling price of the goods and their cost and is usually expressed as a percentage.
3Know What You’re Asking For
Be clear as to the size of the investment you want to give away and how that determines the ‘valuation’ of the business. Therefore, if you wish to raise R200 000 for 10% of the business, that means you value the business at R2m — be sure you can back that up or you will get taken apart.
4Have a Business Plan
The best way to fully understand your business is by way of having a detailed business plan, which has been prepared whilst working through every facet of your business, from the original idea to the finished product.
As the business owner, you need to live this business plan and be able to use it as your daily guide to success. Develop it, change it where circumstances require it, but most importantly know it and understand it.
In this way, you will be able to deal with most of their questions, be they about marketing, research, international expansion etc. It is also a good idea to know your competition and what they are up to.
In most interactions, you the entrepreneur, are selling yourself. Whether it is an investor, lender, customer or prospective employee, it is their impression of you and your capabilities which ultimately determine whether they want to work with you.
Be confident, defend your position where required, as you will need to parry some blows but do not behave arrogantly.
6Learn From Your Mistakes
Many entrepreneurs who have presented to the Shark’s Den and not been able to garner investment have turned their business into great successes. You need to be able to learn from the experience, and if rejected, bounce back even stronger.
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