You have just quit your high-paying corporate career. You’ve been flung into a world of uncertainty, brimming with a lack of security and full of unknowns. Maybe you over-stayed your welcome on a friend’s couch (like I have), barely pulled a salary for 12 months, or firmly established yourself as the number one customer of any establishment with a two-for-one special. Why? Entrepreneurship…
That niggle in the back of your mind to solve a problem close to the hearts of a specific segment of people or potential customers. That’s why.
Recognising that a number of different ingredients go into the creation of successful ventures, one such ingredient is suitable finance.
In Zero to One, Peter Thiel’s book on entrepreneurship, the following observation is made: “The 12 most valuable technology companies are all venture backed. Together, those 12 companies are worth $2 trillion — more than all other tech companies combined.”
The short of it is that finance, or getting funded, matters. According to the 2015 South African Venture Capital Association (SAVCA) survey, assumptions about funding availability in South Africa were confirmed. Dry-powder capable of being deployed by some of South Africa’s most eminent venture capitals and funds is being kept locked away in chests, buried deep and well out of the reach of prospective entrepreneurs and portfolio companies of such investors.
While the number of venture funds has increased by 40% (from 22 to 31) over the course of the past four years, average independent deal values over the same period have decreased by more than 7,5 times, from R25 million to R3,4 million per transaction, and total value invested in the particular ‘asset class’ by more than 45% (from R281 million to R146 million).
Why? Having started a number of entrepreneurial ventures, worked with South Africa’s most established venture capital fund, and currently assisting entrepreneurs to raise finance, some interesting patterns emerge.
Entrepreneurs are flagging the lack of available and ample risk capital, while investors point at a lack of quality entrepreneurs. Exposure to both perspectives can only lead to one conclusion: tThere is hope. If anything, the last six months have served to reinforce what was initially believed: through En-novate, (a venture recently co-funded and co-founded by Dan Brotman and Natan Pollack, in association with Investec), I have had the great privilege of gaining access to South Africa’s top entrepreneurial talent, which is far greater than often believed.
From the murkiness, a question emerges: if there is plenty of capital to go around, what is the key to unlocking interest in getting your business venture backed? More apt perhaps: how do you get funded?
Anecdotally, the following is important:
Venture returns are not randomly distributed; they follow what is known as a ‘power law’, where a negligible or small segment of a portfolio generates all, or the largest proportion of funds’ returns.
But the fact remains that 20% of investments drive more than 80% of returns. Investors are exclusively looking to find, back and grow this 20%. Your job is to convince any prospective investor that you are worth backing, and by virtue, fall within the ambit of the highly regarded 20%.
How to get funded
The following observations are drawn from my experience at the coalface of venture finance in South Africa; be it through unsuccessful five minute pitches, or long-nights around dimly lit boardrooms late into the early hours of the morning, ultimately yielding success.
1Foundations are key
Venture capital has always been good at funding the future. What does this mean?
The world’s most valuable companies have, among many, one thing in common — making peoples lives better: Important problems, being solved for a large base of sufferers in need of particular and fitting solutions.
100% of the world’s smallest market does not mean anything. You need to fundamentally understand and articulate why your solution exists, why it matters, and why it is going to get BIG. Technical talk splayed over a meaningless solution to a non-existent problem won’t fool anyone, especially astute investors who look at investments for a living. Moreover, some of the world’s most profound business models with the deepest of economic moats have come as a result of the ruthless pursuit of impact, not the other way around.
The entrepreneurs who get funded by the top investors understand this better than anyone.
Tip: Find those investors who are intent on making the future better, articulate your existence in that version of the future, and think about how your product, solution or service will assist in realising that future.
Venture investors have their own base of investors to answer to, and to generate returns for. (Investors into venture funds are commonly known as Limited Partners, given the proclivity for venture funds to be housed in partnership structures.)
Furthermore, with so few venture-backed companies returning entire funds, you need to think about and construct your version of 10x.
Tip: Be able to answer why your business will generate a return of at least ten times the money investors initially look to provide. To some, this might seem out of kilter with known-knowns. The reality, however grim, is that very few investments make it big, and that investors need to look for and find those companies that ultimately will. Hence the need to understand why your company will be crucial in making the future better, be valuable for that very reason and therefore return multiples on money initially invested.
We often see entrepreneurs fixated on their product, their market, or perhaps the unit economics underlying the ability of their enterprise to capture economic value. For the most part, entrepreneurs forget the single constant in all venture-backed businesses: great people and the drivers behind their success.
Looking at the websites of some of the world’s most successful venture funds, or talking to any local investor, you will find one thing — it’s all about people and the founding teams that drive entrepreneurial ventures.
It’s not hard to see why…
The funny thing about early stage companies is the desire of such businesses to change and evolve over time, often way beyond the scope of what was initially envisioned. Investors know this better than anyone and look to find those people who will succeed above all else.
Great people shape the DNA of great companies. Without people, DNA does not exist.
4The three Ts
Team, Team, Team — Enough said.
As venture funds have become more widespread, and the asset-class accepted into the mainstream, an interesting pattern of fragmentation has started to emerge.
Among many, funds are being created and developed around frameworks that relate to the following: to gain exposure to specific industries; to acquire minimum ownership stakes; to become active in managing and running portfolio investments; or to apply capital for social good.
Moreover, clear beliefs about investment stages, cheque sizes and qualifying criteria exist among South African investors.
Tip: Allow your investment requirement, the stage of your business and your business’s industry application to drive and dictate your strategy in finding suitable investors. Just as ‘product market fit’ is important, so too is investment and investor, i.e. selling your business and vision to the right buyer or recipient. For the most part, information pertaining to investment requirements is to be found on the websites of venture funds.
Whatever the unique parameters of your situation, or that of your company, it is imperative to optimally match you, your company, and any investors you are looking to onboard. In short, this means understanding where respective interests lie, and ensuring that they are aligned with those of investors.
Instead of sharing your marketing materials or your financial model with the first result returned by a generic
Google search, think about:
- How much equity you are willing to give away and why
- Your industry, what your company would need to succeed (in addition to capital)
- Strategic benefits that particular investors are able to provide in helping you ‘make it’
- Whether you are looking to grow and exit from your business in the near-term, or create value for the long-term
- How your business fits in with the existing portfolios of potential target investors
- Your desire for investors to get more hands-on and deeply involved in the operation of your business.
And while the outline above is no guarantee to getting funded, thinking about these questions deeply and meaningfully is sure to get you better prepared, assist you in crafting a story that will resonate with the frameworks and language spoken by investors, and ultimately drive a higher probability of receiving a cheque from an investor that is burning to see you succeed.
If there are any takeaways to be had, it is this: think deeply about the process, your business and resist the noise. The most important asset you can have is the ability to think independently, however painful this
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Sell and market: Do they have the necessary skill, network, product and market knowledge?
- Control the money: Are they financially savvy and can they make sure that money is being used for the right things?
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Presenting investors with a novel – or a napkin
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.
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.
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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