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5 Key Questions To Answer For Raising Funding

As your business grows, should you be raising capital or focusing on organic growth?

Nicholas Haralambous

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There’s a nagging question that lingers in the back of the mind for many entrepreneurs: Should I raise funding? The answer is never simple and the truth is that there is no single answer to rule them all. It all depends on your business, the industry you’re in, how your business is performing and if there are even investors in your field.

Here are some key points to consider as you weigh up the options within your personal growth journey.

Is investment right for me?

The media in larger markets like the US and Europe have turned raising funding into some kind of sport. Funding events are extremely well covered by the media and often glorified as some kind of victory.

I’ve raised money from all kinds of investors over the past decade and can confirm that not all money raised is equal. Money comes with strings attached and a lot of formality that may not have existed in your business before.

Once you’ve taken external funding of any kind you immediately take on a fiduciary responsibility outside of just ‘If I screw this up, I walk away’. You are tied to your company and investors until the money dries up or you make everyone rich. Neither is a simple process.

Don’t get me wrong, there can be a lot of value in the raising of strategic capital, but it is not to be seen as some form of victory. When you raise money you should have a clear path to profit and a clear strategy on how you are going to use the money and what the potential of recouping it is. Without these things you’re just taking other people’s money to spend and pay your salary. That’s not cool.

Related: 6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch

The Different Kinds of Investment

If you don’t know what’s out there, it’s easy to think that banks are the only institutions with money. They’re not. Often they are the worst kind of money to raise and come with very formal strings attached that you cannot break free from. However, if you have a relatively straight-forward and stable business, banks can be a useful option to get a loan and then pay back the money relatively quickly.

I always suggest that the first port of call for funding should be sales. So if you think you need funding, what you are really saying is you need money and money comes from making sales. The best place to start for sales? The three Fs: Friends, Family and Fools. Sell to everyone and anyone you can find. A lot of young entrepreneurs will raise small amounts of investment from the three Fs too. This is very risky because you are putting your relationships at risk if the business collapses and all of your friends and family lose money because of you.

You can then graduate up into angel investment. Angels are high net-worth individuals who are looking to find very early stage start-ups with small batches of money. Usually this is a round of less than R500 000 for a pretty decent chunk of equity in your business.

Out of angel investors grow institutional venture capital firms. These companies will give you a lot of money for a lot of equity and help you grow. They’ll sit on your board (or formulate one if you haven’t) and they will drive you to grow your business at near-exponential rates. This level of funding is all about return on investment. If they put in R1 million, they expect to get R10 million in five years. It’s your job to make it happen.

Overall, with investment comes pressure and formality, but also the potential to grow something mammoth and meaningful very quickly.

My favourite kind of funding is the oldest kind out there: Profit. If you want to maintain control of your business and grow it, then you need to be profitable and reinvest the money in your company, not your cool new car.

Related: How To Start A Business With No Money

Is there a right time to raise funding?

travis-kalanick

In my experience there are a multitude of situations when your business might require external funding. The ‘right’ time can only be decided by the person running the show. If you are raising money out of desperation, perhaps it’s not the right time to raise. However, finding funding at this point may save your business.

On the flip side, raising growth capital is perhaps the safest time to raise funding. Your business should have profit and traction, it should be showing incredible value in the market and you should have a very clear plan to increase profits and growth exponentially.

If you take this plan to a variety of investors you are able to shop for the best terms and the best partners. That’s the kind of money you want. But bear in mind, if things take a turn for the worst your investors can become your worst nightmare. Just ask Travis Kalanick at Uber who is being sued by one of his major investors.

Raising funding is an extremely personal decision that business owners should think through carefully and plan for the worst as well as the best-case scenarios.

Nicholas Haralambous is the founder of the style company, Nicharry.com. He is an entrepreneur, speaker and writer who likes to tell the honest, brutal truth at every possible opportunity.

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Financing That Backs Entrepreneurs

The SME landscape is fast and flexible. It requires financing that understands how entrepreneurial businesses operate. Through its unique processes and assessments, Spartan’s finance solutions are geared to do just that.

Spartan

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It takes an entrepreneur to know entrepreneurs, which is why Kumaran Padayachee and his team at Spartan are dedicated to financially backing an often-underserviced sector: SMEs.

“We’re fast, we’re flexible, and we’re understanding,” says Kumaran. “Every single person who works here is SME-centric. We hire for fit, looking for empathy and alignment in every position. All of our processes and assessments are done with empathy and understanding towards SMEs.”

Becoming funding ready

Thanks to these systems, processes and the team’s unique way of assessing SMEs, Spartan typically grants finance within seven days, although the fastest approval has been six hours, with the longest 15 days.

Related: Alternative Finance – Filling The Gap

“How quickly we can approve finance is determined by how prepared the business owner is,” explains Kumaran.

“Do they have all their basic documentation ready? These include financials, management accounts, debtors age analysis and creditors age analysis. From a working capital context, this information makes it easy to assess the health of the business. Every business owner and financial director should be on top of these figures.”

Finding a funding fit

Not every business needs funding. Some can grow organically and draw on their own cash reserves. Others choose an equity route.

Spartan is a debt funder. However, even as a debt funder, the team’s aim is to back entrepreneurs and help them grow their businesses. They evaluate what the finance will be used for, and if the return is greater than the repayments.

“There are numerous ways that finance can be applied incorrectly by SMEs,” says Kumaran. “One of the first flags we look for is debtors age. If the industry norm is payment in 30 days, but a business is typically paid by its clients in 60 or 120 days, then we know there is something wrong with their internal processes. Either the company is too shy to be assertive with clients, or it lacks the capacity or capability to invoice clients and collect cash efficiently. Either way, the result is a shortage of cash.

“Business owners in this situation apply for a loan in order to be able to pay the bills, when they should be reviewing their own business, pulling one or two levers, and improving their cash flows.

“A customer project or contract is an example of an expansionary and positive need for finance. These cases are ideally suited to bridging finance. The problem is that there’s a lead time gap. You need to start the project, spend cash to hire people or purchase equipment, build internal capacity, deliver on the project and then the customer only pays you. Working capital and bridging finance allows the entrepreneur to do just that, and the company grows as a result.”

Bridging finance, in particular, is high risk and requires a large amount of flexibility, which is why more traditional funding institutions shy away from it. Spartan, on the other hand, offers revolving bridging loans to customers the team has worked with. “We understand this space, and our aim is to support the entrepreneurs within it,” Kumaran concludes.

Related: Business & Leadership Lessons from Kumaran of Spartan

Alternative finance solutions

Spartan is a 36-year-old Non-Bank Finance Company — that specialises in financing Small and Mid-sized businesses by providing:

  • Growth Finance [structured finance for expansion]
  • Specialised Asset Finance [equipment/machinery/technology/software/office fit-outs/energy/etc.]
  • Working Capital Finance [bridging finance & medium term loans].

Bridging Finance

Bridging Finance is available for one to three month terms and is ideal for contract or project-based businesses. It is a solution that assists businesses with solving cash flow issues due to growth related challenges in their business and is either for a once-off need or for revolving business use.

Spartan is an Authorised Financial Services Provider 47631 and Registered Credit Provider NCRCP8669.

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Venture Capital

Is Venture Capital Right For You?

Take this online test to find out if venture capital is what your business needs.

Monique Verduyn

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It’s important to know the ins and outs of venture capital before applying for backing as it may not necessarily be the right solution for all entrepreneurs, or for the particular stage your business is at.

To help prospective businesses determine if they are suitable candidates for venture capital funding, Mark Shuttleworth’s local venture capital company, Here Be Dragons (HBD), has compiled a venture capital readiness test. To check your readiness – visit the South African version of the site – Knife Capital below.

Take the VC Test

The HBD test is quick and practical, designed to educate and prepare potential applicants for what they can expect from venture capital.

The test guides applicants through an umber of important decisions and points they will have to consider carefully should they wish to embark on a partnership with a venture capitalist. Consisting of three deal breakers and another 15 questions, it looks at the components of a venture capital investment.

Related: 5 Key Questions To Answer For Raising Funding

Questions such as: “Will your revenue grow by at least 30% each year?” and“Are you prepared to part with a significant ownership stake in your business which may result in the loss of control?” are tough choices that need to be made ahead of time. Your answers will determine whether you are on the right track for venture capital.

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Take the test at Knife Capital.

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Venture Capital

The Truth About Venture Capital Funding

Before you plough hundreds of hours into securing your dream investor, consider if VC funding is the best fit for your business.

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Venture capital is often regarded as one of the most attractive and sought-after sources of financing for start-ups, and rightly so, especially due to the range of value-added services that a venture capital firm can provide to help the start-up grow and succeed.

For any founder considering venture capital, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many driving forces behind the scenes for the venture capitalist, which may cause problems for the founder team and the start-up. This could be anything from pressure from the VC’s own investors, or other deals that have gone wrong for the VC in the past.

Not all VCs are created equal

A point that was commonly brought up by founders is how their expectations have not been met. Not all venture capitalists are the same, and they vary in terms of the extent to which they are able to provide value-added services.

There were several cases from the start-ups interviewed who stated that their expectations had not been met. In certain instances, this is a result of the venture capitalist not living up to their word, but it is often because the founders’ expectations are not set at the correct level.

Related: How Giraffe Played The VC Game (And Won Funding)

Your move: The best way to manage this is by doing extensive research on the venture capitalist you are engaging with. As a founder, you should not be afraid to speak to other entrepreneurs who have dealt with the VC to gain an understanding of what to expect if you engage with this particular firm.

Chasing funding is time consuming

chasing-venture-capital-funding

As a founder, it’s important to manage your time carefully, and getting involved with VCs makes this even trickier. Generally, founders will need to go to countless meetings before they are able to get any investment. Over and above meeting with investors, the process of fundraising can be very time-consuming, especially if you enter a due diligence phase with investors.

You should not underestimate the time required for this, which is further elaborated by the founder of a firm that went through several fundraising rounds: “It was really a strain on the business during the fundraising period due to the time and effort involved in engaging with VCs. And actually, a lot more than we thought. It really took a lot of time and work to get the money and I think that’s the most disruptive thing to the business.”

Once you have VCs on board, another time element is introduced. Of course, a lot of time would be spent on productive tasks with the VC, which is beneficial to the company. However, several founders criticised the amount of time that they felt was wasted on non-productive tasks — the type of administrative tasks and reporting that VCs generally require. This requirement varies amongst firms, but it’s understandable. They have their own investors and reporting requirements.

As a founder, you generally will have key roles across the board, and your time is extremely valuable. If you become involved with a venture capitalist, the non-productive time spent with them generally can’t be avoided, but it’s something that should be taken into consideration, and a key part of your planning.

Your move: Approaching multiple investors, conducting due diligence and reporting to your VC if you close a deal are all extremely time-consuming tasks. Does your business need the funding, or would your time be better spent building the business while you bootstrap it?

Who holds the control?

From the perspective of the venture capitalist, one of the most important aspects is control. Although loss of ownership and control for yourself as a founder may be obvious, there are several implications to consider.

First, a VC with less than 50% ownership of a company (which is often the case) does not necessarily mean they have no control in your firm. They usually have a variety of control mechanisms, which, in practice, give them control of many elements of the business.

A VC can, under certain circumstances, replace the CEO or founder team, even if they don’t have majority control. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of growth, internal conflicts, or a high employee turnover rate.

Related: 6 Resources For Start-Ups Looking For Alternative Funding

Second, as has been seen in several VC-backed firms, when the venture capitalist has control and is able to influence decisions, this potentially leads to several conflicts. One of the founders interviewed had this to say: “We were at a point where we needed to make a critical decision on the strategy of the business. Our venture capitalists were pushing for a change; one that I was not happy about. This caused a lot of conflict and confrontation. In the end, the venture capitalists were able to enforce the change by convincing some others on the board. Ultimately, this decision didn’t work out and the business suffered substantially.”

Your move: The ability of a venture capitalist to enforce a decision is dependent on numerous factors, and especially the investment contract. The structure of the investment contract is critical, as it can determine the future relationship with your investor. Consider all these factors as you enter into an agreement.

The problem with too much money

A point that may seem counter-intuitive at first is that receiving venture capital can actually put a sin into your business model. Why? Because a big cash injection can distract you from your core business operations. You’d think that suddenly having lots of money (when you’ve been trying to get an investment) is a perfect situation.

Generally speaking it is; but there’s also a very real danger that not managing that money correctly can put you and your business in a situation where you’re even worse off than before receiving it.

Inexperienced founders are the most likely to experience this problem. Many start-ups interviewed talked about how they initially wasted money, overspending and putting it into the wrong areas. The classic problem is that in order to grow your business and improve your results, you hire people, but you don’t necessarily grow a business by hiring people. It’s absolutely essential to manage this money wisely and to avoid the money serving as a false sense of security.

Your move: In almost all cases, it’s advisable for any new entrepreneur to bootstrap for as long as possible. Don’t see funding as the first option. Try to raise as much as you can yourself, get revenues as early as possible, and focus on your fundamental business operations. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about business when you have to be very careful with your cash — and be cash generative as quickly as possible.

The exit question

exit-interview

Venture capital investments are generally governed by a life-cycle based on when to enter and exit from investments. These are typically around ten years.

When the fund gets close to the end of its life cycle, the fund managers, or investors, will be under pressure to gain liquidity for their investment. An important consideration for a founder is how old the fund is.

The closer the fund is to the end of its life cycle, the more challenging things can become, due to this additional pressure for liquidity.

Related: New Ways SMEs Can Find Funding

As many founders have experienced, the topic of an exit, or liquidity event, can often be a difficult one, especially if the founders are not ready to exit. “The discussion around the exit was a major confrontation because they wanted to sell, and we didn’t want to sell,” says one founder. Who makes the final decision is dependent on a variety of factors, and especially the terms that are written in the investment contract.

Your move: Carefully consider the life cycle of the fund that will be investing into your business. If you’re just at the beginning of your start-up journey, selling too soon could cost you a lot of money. Rather find a different VC firm or funding route, and hold onto your equity for longer.

Bringing it all together

All in all, venture capital is a great source of finance and its value should not be discredited.

There are numerous benefits to venture capital, and receiving professional mentoring, assistance and resources from people who have the knowledge and experience can be an invaluable tool.

Just the fact of having your firm backed by venture capitalists serves as a type of ‘stamp of approval’ for other players in the market. The points mentioned above do not necessarily represent every venture capital investment, but it is important to understand some of the potential impacts of going the venture capital route, and with this knowledge in hand, you can better prepare yourself for the process.

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