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Little-Known Funding Faux Pas

Eight things entrepreneurs often overlook when trying to raise capital.

Jim Casparie

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Every entrepreneur believes in their heart of hearts that their business is truly worthy of getting funded. Thus, they can’t understand why this one aspect of building a business is so hard. Surely everyone should be able to see what an outstanding opportunity is being offered by your business! What is it that investors see that keeps them from investing? Why do so many entrepreneurs seem to make the same basic mistakes over and over again?

I’ve spent several years listening to entrepreneurs pitch their deals and I’ve read more than my share of business plans. To this day, it amazes me the consistency of errors entrepreneurs make when presenting their investment opportunities. Here are eight common mistakes I’d highly recommend avoiding:

1. Investing too little in your own business.

When an investor sees that an entrepreneur has invested little or nothing in their own business, it sends a big signal to them that perhaps they don’t really believe in their own idea. What constitutes an acceptable investment? Well that depends on a variety of things. Different types of business require more capital than others (e.g, a medical device company would require more capital than a hair salon). The degree of sacrifice represented by the investment. In other words, how much pain will the entrepreneur feel if this business fails?

2. Investing too much in your own business.

Believe it or not, you can invest too much in a business. Just last week I spoke with an investor who had invested R2.2 million into a company that after three years in business was only doing R100 000 a year in sales. Worse, the company needed another R1 million to reach breakeven. The investor didn’t want to invest any more, but he had paid R12 a share for his investment and, at best, an outside investor would pay no more than R1.50. He was stuck. His choice was to either walk away from his R2.2 million or invest the next R1 million and hope it would be the last money needed. The lesson? Don’t let yourself get trapped into being the only one investing in your deal. If that’s the case, there may be a good reason why you’re the only one who believes in your business.

3. Paying yourself too much (and/or accruing unpaid salaries).

One of the worse signals an entrepreneur can send an investor is that they’re living off the investments of others. When investors see an entrepreneur who has made a limited investment in their business, yet they’re paying themselves R200 000 a year–not on sales revenue, but investor capital – we’re strongly inclined to pass on the deal. Some entrepreneurs try to get around this by accruing a differential between what they feel is an “affordable” salary and the salary they feel they’re truly worth. The difference is expressed as a debt to the business. Investors generally find this offensive and won’t invest under those conditions.

4. Not proving sales and sales potential.

There’s a saying that investors want to see that “the dog will eat the dog food.” In other words, if your product won’t sell, then you don’t have a business. For some reason, a lot of entrepreneurs seeking capital don’t seem to understand this concept. Yes, there are cases where businesses need capital before they even have a product to sell, but that’s not the issue here. The thing that’ll turn off an investor quicker than a cold shower is a business that either has a salable product but has made no effort to sell it, or they’ve discovered that the market potential for the product is far less than anticipated.

5. Failure to recognise the “sale to value ratio.”

Another thing that’ll turn off an investor is to see that the entrepreneur has sold off the majority of his business before they’ve even had their first VC round (we all know that VCs are the ones we’re supposed to give up our control to!). What these entrepreneurs fail to realise is the sale-to-value ratio. That is, you never sell too much of your business when the valuation is low. The trick is to only sell off enough to help you get to an important milestone where the value will increase significantly and the next round of capital will buy a lot less of your business.

6. Hiding Intellectual Property (IP).

Businesses that try and put all their IP into a separate holding company and only license the IP to the company seeking investments don’t fool investors. Generally, investors want to know that if management fails to achieve their objectives, the investors have the option to sell the IP and get some of their money back.

7. Not having a strong management team.

Investors will place strong emphasis on who you’ve attracted to join you in your vision and whether or not they have invested, contributed and/or bought or used the product.

8. Not having outside investors.

Finally, investors will be looking at who else has invested in your business. How much have they invested? Did they invest more than once? How impressive are your investors? Are they “A” players? As an entrepreneur, you’re truly known and respected by the business you keep. If your investors are deemed as sophisticated and knowledgeable, then you will be respected and, with any luck, a check will soon follow.

Jim Casparie is a renowned money coach.

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Attracting Investors

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.

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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.

Related: 10 Tips From The Dragons Of Dragons’ Den SA

2The Numbers

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

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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.

Related: Dragon’s Den Polo Leteka Gives Her Top Tips To Attract Growth Capital

5Sell Yourself

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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Attracting Investors

3 Things You Must Have In Place To Get That Start-up Bank Finance

If you’re planning to secure funding for your start-up, you need to put the right foundations in place.

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The South African landscape for raising finance is tough for any business, with stringent lending regulations. Here are three areas to focus on as you set up your start-up to ensure you’ll qualify for a loan or equity funding.

1Securing a Market

Most SMEs I have mentored or advised start with expressing how big the total market size is for their product or service, but, while this is important to understand, the big question is: What percentage of that market will you attract and how?

Look at the ‘how’ first and work your numbers backwards. For example, if you secure a R10 million contract to supply an item that has a market size of R37 billion you are capturing only 0,03% of the market. However, if you’re able to cover your monthly expenses (including your loan repayment) and make a profit, that’s what counts. You should be able to show this contract or letter of intent to procure, which shows how and where you will find this market.

Related: The One Question You Must Be Prepared To Answer When Pitching Investors

2A Strong Team

When you’re starting out you’re likely to be the sum total of your team. If you’re going down the entrepreneurial journey alone, make sure you have identified who will mentor and guide you through the areas you don’t have competencies in and cost this into the business start-up and running costs.

Focus on who in the business is going to:

  1. Sell and market: Do they have the necessary skill, network, product and market knowledge?
  2. Control the money: Are they financially savvy and can they make sure that money is being used for the right things?
  3. Operate: Who has done this before? Can this individual manufacture the product or arrange the supply of goods or services, ensure quality control and sound human resource management?

3Compliance

Formalising your business is costly but necessary. If you don’t have a formal entity, shareholders agreements, loan agreements, financial statements, management accounts, tax compliance and so on, you will come short when looking to raise finance.

Understand these costs upfront and include them into your start-up budget — this will save you a lot of pain in the long run.

Related: 3 Ways For Social Entrepreneurs To Access Fundraising

The truth is that finance is available for women who have the right business ingredients just as much (if not more — in the South African context) as it’s available for men and just as with men. And, resources such as these help to unpack and guide the core fundamentals that are needed to make business bankable/fundable.

Then it’s all about implementation and staying on track to translate all that you’ve done and all that you wish to do in a bankable business plan, and approach the relevant funder for your needs. The right business mentor can certainly help you on that journey.

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Attracting Investors

If You’re Trying To Raise Money, Doing Any Of These 9 Things May Scare Off Investors

Avoid these mistakes and funding could be yours.

Dave Lavinsky

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Most new and existing businesses can benefit from outside funding. With such funding, they can grow faster, launch new initiatives, gain competitive advantage and make better long-term decisions as they can think beyond short-term issues like making payroll.

Unfortunately, though, most entrepreneurs and business owners make several mistakes that prevent them from raising capital. These mistakes are detailed below. Avoid them and funding could be yours.

Making unrealistic market size claims

Sophisticated investors need to understand how big your relevant market size is and if it’s feasible for you to eventually become a dominant market player.

The key here is “relevant” and not just “market.” For example, if you create a medical device to cure foot pain, while your “market” is the trillion-dollar healthcare market, that is way too broad a definition.

Related: The One Question You Must Be Prepared To Answer When Pitching Investors

Rather, your relevant market can be more narrowly defined as not just the medical devices market but the market for medical devices for foot pain.

In narrowing your scope, you can better determine the actual size of your market.

For instance, you can determine the number of foot pain sufferers each year seeking medical attention and then multiply that by the price they might pay for your device.

Failing to respect your competitors

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Oftentimes companies tell investors they have no competitors. This often scares investors as they think if there are no competitors, a market doesn’t really exist.

Almost every business has either direct or indirect competitors. Direct competitors offer the same product or service to the same customers. Indirect competitors offer a similar product to the same customers, or the same product to different customers.

For example, if you planned to open an Italian restaurant in a town that previously did not have one, you could correctly say that you don’t have any direct competitors. However, indirect competitors would include every other restaurant in town, supermarkets and other venues to purchase food.

Likewise, don’t downplay your competitors. Saying that your competitors are universally terrible is rarely true; there’s always something they’re doing right that’s keeping them in business.

Showing unrealistic financial projections

Businesses take time to grow. Even companies like Facebook and Google, with amazing amounts of funding at their disposal, took years to grow to their current sizes.

It takes time to build a team, improve brand awareness and scale your business. So, don’t expect your company to grow revenues exponentially out of the gate. Likewise, you will incur many expenses while growing your business for which you must account.

As such, when building your financial projections, be sure to use reasonable revenue and cost assumptions. If not, you will frighten investors, or worse yet, raise funding and then fail since you run out of cash.

Related: Top 5 Personality Traits Investors Look For In An Entrepreneur

Presenting investors with a novel – or a napkin

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While investors will want to meet you before funding your business, they will also require a business plan that explains your business opportunity and why it will be successful.

Your business plan should not be a novel; investors don’t have time to wade through 100 pages to learn the keys to your success. Conversely, you can’t adequately answer investors’ key questions on the back of a napkin.

A 15- to 25-page business plan is the optimum length to convey the required information to investors.

Not understanding your metrics

How much does it cost to acquire a customer? What is your expected lifetime customer value?

While sometimes it’s impossible to understand these metrics when you launch your business, you must determine them as soon as possible.

Without these metrics, you won’t know how much money to raise. For instance, if you hope to gain 1,000 customers this year, but don’t know the cost to acquire a customer, you won’t know how much money you need for sales and marketing.

Likewise, understanding your metrics allows you and your team to work more effectively in setting and achieving growth goals.

Acting like know-it-alls

While investors want you to be an expert in your market, they don’t expect you to be an expert in everything. More so, most businesses must adapt to changing market conditions over time, and entrepreneurs who feel they know everything generally don’t fare well.

A good investor has seen many investments fail and others become great successes. Such experiences have made them great advisors. They’ve encountered all types of situations and understand how to navigate them.

If you’re seeking funding, acknowledge such investors’ experiences. Let them know that while you are an expert in your market, you will seek their ideas and advice in marketing, sales, hiring, product development and/or other areas needed to grow your business.

Related: Stand Your Ground When Looking For Investors

Focusing too much on products and product features

When raising funding, you need to show you’re building a great company and not just a great product or service. While a great product or service is often the cornerstone to a great company, without skills like sales, marketing, human resources, operations and financial management, you cannot thrive.

Furthermore, if your product has a great feature, be sure to specify how you will create barriers to entry, such as via patent protection, so competitors can’t simply copy it.

Exaggerating too much

When you exaggerate to investors who know you’re exaggerating, you lose credibility.

One key way to exaggerate is with your financial projections as discussed above. There are many other ways to exaggerate. For instance, saying you have the world’s leading authorities on the XYZ market is great, but only if they really are the world’s leading authorities.

Likewise if you say it would take competitors three years to catch up on your technology, when investors ask others in your industry, they better confirm this time period. If not, your credibility and funding will be lost.

Lacking focus

What do investors care about? They care about getting a return on their investment. As such, anything you say that supports that will be welcomed.

For instance, talk about your great product that has natural barriers to entry. Discuss your management team that is well-qualified to execute on the opportunity.

Talk about strategic partners that will help you generate leads and sales faster.

But, don’t go off on tangents that don’t specifically relate to how you earn investors returns, like the fact that you’re a great tennis player.

Likewise, conveying too many ideas shows you lack focus. For instance, saying you’re going to launch product one next year, and then quickly launch products two, three and four, will frighten investors. Why? Because they’ll want to see product one be a massive success before you even consider launching something new.

Investors have two scarce resources: Their time and their money. Avoid the above mistakes when you spend time with investors, and hopefully they’ll reward you with their money.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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