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
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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