If there’s one person who embodies the idea of ‘entrepreneur,’ it’s Elon Musk.
He has been responsible for the development of a large number of high-profile technology companies, which include Zip2, X.com (later merged with Confinity to form PayPal), SpaceX, SolarCity, Tesla and many others.
What’s remarkable about Musk is the way he funded his start-ups, especially SpaceX and Tesla. While he has relied on external funding, he nonetheless had to face many setbacks that almost brought his companies to an early end.
As an entrepreneur, Musk can teach you a great deal about how to get funding for your start-up. Here are the three most important learnings you can get from his experience.
Convince investors with your commitment
The mid-nineties remind us of an era of unprecedented economic growth and a feeling of prosperity toward the country’s future, something that stands in sharp contrast with our present.
The context in which Musk raised venture capital to fund his first start-up represents another drastic difference compared to the present. In 1995, there was slightly over $8 billion available in the global VC market, a small piece of the current $155 billion that was raised last year.
In that same year, Musk launched his first start-up, Global Link Information Network (which eventually got rebranded as Zip2), a company that provided directions across the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Ashlee Vance, author of Musk’s biography Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, his beginnings were humble. Musk, his brother Kimbal, and a small sales team initially pitched the new company door to door.
For the first few months of operations, Musk couldn’t rely on the large pool of available VC funding, or the experience or connections he has today. The only strategic advantages that set him apart were his passion and commitment.
Due to their lack of funding, Musk and his brother had to live on the little money they had, sleeping on futons at their office and using the showers of the YMCA that was located a few blocks away. To convince their investors, Musk and his brother relied on a creative trick: They built an elaborate casement around the computer that worked as Zip2’s server and put it on a large, wheeled base that made it look like “a mini-supercomputer.”
This trick, together with the frugality in which the Musk brothers lived, helped them become profitable soon. Their early profitability helped them raise money from a small group of angel investors, which would eventually lead to a $3 million investment from Mohr Davidow Ventures, and finally, a $307 million acquisition by Compaq.
Due to their lack of funding, Elon Musk and his brother had to live on the little money they had, sleeping on futons at their office and using the showers of the YMCA that was located a few blocks away.
The passion and commitment Musk showed goes beyond the funny tricks and futon nights. Musk didn’t waste the $22 million he got from Zip2’s sale on expensive cars and luxurious mansions. He reinvested — and risked — everything to build his second company, X.com, which would lead to PayPal. The sale of PayPal to eBay netted Musk $180 million, which he then used to fund SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity.
If there’s one thing the beginnings of Musk’s journey show, it’s that he’s the kind of entrepreneur who works for the long run. When he’s involved with a company, he goes all in. He invests everything he has, putting all his energies into building them.
It’s hard for a venture capitalist to reject an entrepreneur with such a hard-working spirit. You don’t need to shower in a YMCA to show the sacrifice you are willing to make for your company (unless you are truly broke, like the Musk brothers were back then). Rather, you need to show you live and breathe your company, and that you are willing to do anything to make your vision happen.
Don’t give up control too soon
A hard fact about the tech world is that few start-ups get to grow to billions of dollars in valuation without any VC funding. This leads to dilution of equity and loss of control of the company.
Most start-up founders need to live with that situation, and many get to keep control, thanks to the high trust VCs have for the founder and executive team. The case of Mark Zuckerberg, who owned 28.4% of Facebook‘s shares at the time of its IPO, is a good example of this.
Yet, in some other cases, founders lose excessive control too soon, leaving them powerless against the more professional and experienced VCs. This is something Musk learnt early in his career.
Musk’s career in Zip2 had an abrupt and sad ending: The first funding round deeply diluted his equity, which left him powerless after his board of directors decided to bring on a new CEO and make Musk the CTO. While Musk was still on the executive team, he couldn’t tolerate the lack of control and the way the new CEO, Rich Sorkin, ran the company.
Musk met a similar fate with his second start-up, X.com. After Musk merged X.com with one of its competitors, Confinity, he ended up being the CEO of the new company, PayPal. Unfortunately, he was ousted from the CEO position after a rather trivial fight over the technology platform PayPal used.
The lack of control he had over his two companies had a significant impact on his future ventures. Nowadays, Musk prefers to start by investing as much money as he can, making sure he always has the upper hand in his company’s decisions. His obsession over equity control explains why, while he was going through Tesla’s funding, he maintained his ownership percentage.
The lessons are clear: Before you focus on raising as much money as you can, remember to keep some equity of your own (particularly if you are an inexperienced CEO). If you care about your company’s vision, you need to make sure you can carry it out. It’s hard to achieve such a feat if you hold little voting control over your company. Becoming profitable as early as possible can help you overcome this issue, especially if you get creative.
Elon Musk didn’t waste the $22 million he got from Zip2’s sale on expensive cars and luxurious mansions. He reinvested — and risked — everything to build his second company, X.com, which would lead to PayPal.
Lack of resources isn’t something that sits well with Musk. He has been willing to do whatever he has to do to have his companies prosper. What’s remarkable about Musk is that whenever he’s got all the odds against him, he turns the situation around by being resourceful.
To help you understand what I mean by this, let’s take a look at what he did with his latest venture, The Boring Company. Despite the fact he funded the company with his own money (as usual), the mission to build underground tunnels seems like an expensive task, making the company strapped for cash.
To raise money for the company, Musk decided to sell expensive flamethrowers at $500 each, which helped him raise over $10 million in just a few days. Instead of spending a long time raising money with the help of VCs (which would have diluted his ownership), he took one of his most significant advantages — his personal brand — and used it to make money for his start-up.
Being resourceful is an attitude shared by almost all successful tech entrepreneurs, as in the case of the founders of Airbnb. According to Leigh Gallagher, author of the book The Airbnb Story, when the founders were on the verge of bankruptcy, they decided to sell cereal prior to 2008’s Presidential election. Thanks to their PR-fueled campaign, not only were they able to extend the life of the company (which today is worth $31 billion), they were able to get accepted into Y Combinator, the famous tech accelerator, which would lead to their first funding round and the growth of the company. As Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator said, “If you can convince people to pay $40 for a $4 box of cereal, you can probably convince people to sleep in other people’s airbeds.”
The lesson you can learn from Musk is that if you lack funding (or any other thing that is essential to the existence of your company), it’s your job to do whatever it takes to get it. Life isn’t fair for risk-averse entrepreneurs, yet Musk has been able to make his companies work by getting creative, thinking on his feet and showing commitment right from the start.
Are You Struggling To Find Financing For Your SME? Try Alternative Finance
If you don’t qualify for traditional funding or if it isn’t the right fit for your SME why not explore alternative funding? We specialise in alternative financing options by providing in-depth and custom plans for you and your business needs.
- Call: 011 886 0922
- Visit: www.spartan.co.za
Alternative Finance is finance beyond the traditional – it is defined by the financiers’ area of specialisation – by what they specialise in, whom they serve, and how they provide their funding. It does not replace traditional finance but rather functions as a complementary and additional form of funding.
Alternative financiers are specialists – they focus on a particular need and on a specific audience. As a result their ‘how’ is customised to deal with their chosen target market and for this targets unique needs. This applies to the funder’s processes and to their level of flexibility around things such as collateral.
An example of this is that a SME may have an existing R1 million overdraft (their traditional finance) secured by R 1.5 million collateral but suddenly they need R5 million for some kind of contract or bridging finance – they need it fast and don’t have that extent of collateral.
The traditional funder cannot provide what they need, their process is too long and their flexibility is too low. An alternative financier providing bridging finance and specialising in SMEs is ideally positioned to fill this gap.
One of the most significant differences between a traditional funder and an alternative financier is in their process. In the case of the alternative financier, they have often chosen to deal exclusively with a particular customer base, for example SMEs. As a result, this funder has both an affinity and contextually relevant empathy in working with SMEs.
Not only do they speak the same language the funder also has an appreciation for the time and material constraints of the SME and has developed their processes to cater to this market. This applies most notably to the turnaround time of the funding need and to the assessment aspect – where flexibility around things such as collateral is vital in making the finance happen for the SME.
A traditional funder is unable to meet the deadline of a bridging finance need, submitted on an urgent basis, where the finance is needed as soon as 2-3 days from time of application. A specialised or alternative funder is able to do exactly this. A traditional funder is also unable to find creative methods in solving the SMEs lack of high-value collateral in applying for finance.
This SME has generally already used their high-value collateral for traditional credit facilities but now needs funding for growth or resolution of a temporary cash flow challenge. An alternative financier is able to look at such an application in a different way, and has most likely already established alternative ways to make this happen for the SME.
Ways To Raise Capital To Expand Your SME
John Whall shares some of his insights about raising capital, despite tough economic conditions.
Times are tough, we all know that. As revealed earlier this month by StatsSA, South Africa is in a recession. But as history tells us, recessions don’t last forever and as a business owner you need to stay focused and continue to look for ways to grow your business, because business growth means economic growth.
John Whall, CEO of Heartwood Properties has been in the business of commercial and industrial property development for many years. He has experienced more than one recession in his professional career. In order to expand, companies can raise capital in two main ways, through debt or equity. Debt involves borrowing money, while equity means to raise money by selling shares in the company.
Whall shares some of his insights about raising capital, despite tough economic conditions.
Bank funded expansions are a very common option for many SMEs. The one thing you must consider is that it could limit you in terms of how much you can borrow based on your credit history and available assets. You will also be liable for repaying the full loan plus interest. Right now, interest rates remain the same, but it may increase in 2019. Debt if used correctly and not to aggressively is a great way for SMEs to grow and expand, however debt should always be used conservatively and the business owner must ensure that the cash generated by the business can easily repay both the interest and the capital to the bank.
The South African government supports a number of funding programmes to encourage the growth of small, medium and micro businesses in South Africa. You can contact Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), SEFA, NEF, Khula Finance Enterprise.
Used in the startup phase mainly, this form of financing uses your network of friends, family or acquaintances. The Internet is used to spread the word about your campaign to reach larger amounts of people. Equity-based crowdfunding has become a popular alternative for startups who don’t want to be dependent on venture capital investors. This has proven to be very effective in developed markets.
If you require more capital than you can raise or borrow yourself, and you want to avoid aggressive debt funding then you may want to consider equity funding. This can open up a number of avenues that will offer you capital to grow your business. Very popular amongst startups are angel investors and venture capitalists.
Angel investors are people (business owners) who contribute their time, expertise as well as their own personal finances and in return expect to own a share of your business and receive a share of any future profits.
The opposite are venture capitalists and private equity investors, who are investment companies or fund managers who provide very large sums of cash in return for part-ownership. These type of investors do usually have a say in the management of the business and also agree to a five to seven year exit plan for their investment. This type of funding suits a business who needs a once off equity investment, but does not continuously need to raise capital to grow the business. The election of the investment partner is critical for the business owner and their medium to long-term strategy for the business must be aligned.
Established businesses usually do a public listing to raise ongoing capital in hope of expanding. Not only does this help to strengthen their capital base but it makes acquisitions easier, ownership more liquid for shareholders and allows the business to continuously raise capital to grow. Up until two years ago, the only option for a company to list publicly was through the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), which required a minimum capital amount of R500 million for a primary listing.
In 2017, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) issued four new exchange licenses in South Africa, all of which are already operational, which is not only providing an alternative to the JSE but is also offering opportunities to smaller businesses and driving down the costs of listing and share trading. One of these new exchanges is the 4 Africa Exchange (4AX) whom Heartwood Properties is listed with. They are the only exchange apart from the JSE which is licensed to trade across all asset classes, including both equity and debt as well as special-purpose vehicles and real estate investment trusts.
4AX is ideally suited for unlisted companies with a market capitalisation of up to R10 billion wishing to list. This, however, is not to say that this is a ceiling on the size of the company seeking a listing. The exchange has aimed to make the listing process more streamlined and timely while fully complying with its licence and the prevailing legal framework. Its listing requirements are less onerous and more cost effective than listing on the JSE, making it a viable alternative for smaller and medium sized companies. The other exchanges to consider include: ZAR X, A2X, and Equity Express Securities Exchange (ESSE).
Why Your Start-up Should Skip The Seed Round
Don’t tell your frugal grandpa, but these days, you can’t do much with the typical $2 million seed round.
When enterprise cloud start-ups meet with us, one of the first questions we ask is: How much capital do you need?
The companies we meet with are typically pre-product with small teams, around two to 10 people. They almost invariably say they need a $2 million seed round, for the simple reason that, today, just about all seed rounds are $2 million.
Our next question is: What can you accomplish with $2 million? If they’re honest, they’ll say, “Not enough.”
We then tell them that we agree. In our experience, $2 million is a little light. At this point, more often than not, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Yeah, by our calculations we really need $5 million to get to the next stage.”
So, this raises the question: Why even raise a seed round?
Don’t tell your frugal grandpa, but these days, you can’t do much with $2 million – not in the enterprise cloud realm, anyway. These companies are attempting to build very important products for the enterprise. They are trying to solve weighty problems for business, and getting to their first product offering requires the help of experienced, high-quality engineers who (news flash) do not work for free. There are also early sales and marketing challenges that these start-ups need to get right.
And yet, so many start-ups are still stuck on the $2 million seed round. That’s what the market expects, so that’s what they’re conditioned to ask for – instead of the larger amount that they really need.
We need a rethink here. In fact, there is no longer a Classic Series A market. That’s because the capital requirements for today’s enterprise cloud companies are a lot different than they were 15 years ago, when cloud companies first burst onto the enterprise computing scene.
In theory, new cloud companies need a lot less capital to get off the ground due to lower upfront startup costs, cheaper technology and a wider range of distribution options. OK, fine. But it’s still hugely important to get the right pieces in place and build a solid foundation. And no matter what anyone says, that does not come cheap.
So, how much is the right amount? For early stage cloud business application companies, we believe the real capital requirement is about $5 million. That’s how much you need to hire seasoned executives, prove out an acceptable level of customer success and really start to refine your customer-acquisition model.
But here’s the other problem: The traditional Series A firms are now so large that they need to put much more money to work – a minimum of $10 million. So, that sweet spot between $2 million and $10 million is not really being addressed in the venture world.
And it needs to be addressed. Today you have that headless syndicate of $2 million to $3 million seed rounds composed of 12 different angels and a few seed funds that have already invested in 70 other startups. This is not a great situation for startups. After all, most of these investors aren’t signing up to provide hands-on advice or help with the hiring of key employees.
Plus, $2 million is just not enough capital to build out a product and team that’s ready for prime time. For enterprise cloud startups, the seed round is simply not that effective or efficient.
So, what’s the solution? My advice is to simply skip the seed round.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for seed funds and angels. Of course there is! In fact, as a managing partner at a Classic Series A firm, I welcome these investors, because they can play a critical role and add extremely complementary value to the Classic Series A syndicate.
At the same time, they also understand that $2 million is not sufficient for today’s cloud startups. We want leading seed firms and value-added angels to join us as co-investors so they can avoid the headless syndicate syndrome and help provide cloud startups with the capital the really need.
Related: 10 Tips for Finding Seed Funding
The reality is that today’s venture capital market is not really optimised for early stage enterprise business companies. At one end of the spectrum, seed investors are not in a position to provide the long-term capital or board-level support that startups need.
At the other end, traditional venture firms have grown in size and have raised progressively larger funds. As a result, they are looking to write bigger checks of $10 million and above. That means they require startups to have a considerable level of traction and be further along in their development before making an investment.
This is why we need a return to Classic Series A investing.
What the market really needs are venture capital firms that are truly built for early stage investing, and that are led by seasoned operating partners who themselves have been entrepreneurs, who are connected to the top players in the cloud market, and who can provide that kind of insight and advice needed to build global, category-leading companies.
More than ever, enterprise cloud companies need honest-to-goodness Series A investors that can help them accelerate growth and maximise their true potential.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Technology2 weeks ago
3 Things Africa Must Get Right If It Wants To Leapfrog Into The 4th Industrial Revolution
Lessons Learnt4 days ago
What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew
Company Posts1 day ago
Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform
Business Landscape1 week ago
How Schindlers Attorneys Became Involved In The Landmark Cannabis Case
Branding2 weeks ago
Why You Should Prioritise Brand Image
Get Organised1 week ago
How To Multitask Like Tim Ferriss, Randi Zuckerberg And Other Very Busy People
Increasing Productivity2 weeks ago
Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity
Entrepreneur Today4 days ago
AlphaCode Awards R16 Million To Fintech Start-ups In One Of SA’s Richest Start-up Initiatives