Most startup companies have the same goal: Get funded by a prestigious VC who can help them scale, offer valuable connections and send a signal that the company is a comer. But we all know that VCs, especially the big ones, pass on over 99 percent of the deals they see. So what’s the secret to getting funded?
I have invested in startups for the past 15 years and over that time I’ve seen thousands of company decks and have personally been pitched by hundreds of startups.
Luckily, a number of deals I have funded have gone on to raise big rounds from famous VCs.
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While there is no universal answer as to how a startup successfully closes a great funding round, below are seven issues that I’ve noticed always kill VC interest:
1. Not solving a real problem
Everyone thinks his or her startup solves a consumer pain point. However, ask yourself metaphorically if the pain point you solve is “aspirin level” or is it “morphine level?” Big VCs love to invest in businesses that solve morphine-level pain. Why? Because when pain is huge, it’s far likelier consumers will pay for the solution.
Businesses that solve minor inconveniences usually hit a brick wall when they try and monetise or scale and don’t usually get funded.
2. Targeting tiny markets
Given the huge risks in startup investing, I need to see that your startup can become a billion-dollar business. Yes, that’s billion with a capital B. If your target addressable market is in the nine digits, most big VCs will dismiss it as too small.
A R100 million exit, even though it sounds amazing, usually will not move the needle for a large fund that has billions to deploy. Big markets mean big dollars, so think BIG.
3. No technical talent
I see deck after deck proposing all types of mobile apps but many times the companies have no personnel who can actually program or code. This destroys credibility. Outsourcing or using technical consultants will not cut it.
If you don’t have a technical co-founder you’ve pretty much selected yourselves for extinction.
Do not try and raise money until you can credibly point to the person who is going to make the backend or technical magic happen.
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4. Under-estimating your competition
When I see that there are over four existing players in your space, or if you have chosen to compete with existing tech monsters (Facebook, Google, etc.), you better have a bulletproof story about why your business is different.
Compelling business models usually have very little real competition, because they are attacking the market creatively and doing something that hasn’t been done before. It can be much harder to get funded as a “me-too” business.
5. Overestimating your product
In Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One, he says that your product needs to be 10X better than whatever is currently out there to get breakaway traction. I agree. Anything less than 10X will not create consumer passion that is sticky and viral.
As a CEO of a technology company myself, I know that making something even 50 percent better is hard, so 10 times may sound crazy. But in our hyper-competitive economy, you need to come to market with something that is not only incrementally better if you want to get funded.
6. Relying on top-down analysis
All too often, I hear a pitch that says something like “our target market is X billion is size, and if we can get Y percent of it, we will be Z billion in revenue.” Nobody ever believes this top-down fluff, so just avoid it.
You have to have a bottom-up analysis that starts with the unit economics of your product and shows how you will get to the first million in sales.
That first million will be the hardest revenue you ever get, so if you can convince me that you will beat the odds and get there, it makes it far easier to believe your scaling story.
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7. Lack of passion
This may be the most important. Remember, in the end VCs are investing in people. No matter how much I like your product, if the CEO and team do not exude passion and confidence, I pass every time.
As someone who has founded and built businesses, I know every startup will face “going concern” risk at some point over the first year or two. Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is passion and confidence. So make sure you believe your own story and that you really love your product, because everyone in the room can tell instantly.
If you avoid the pitfalls listed above, you will have a far greater chance of raising a round with a great VC.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Taking A Business Public Can Unlock Its Full Potential
How can business owners continue to create shared value and drive growth beyond the venture capital funding rounds to attract new investors and customers, and unlock the inherent value in their business?
In the context of entrepreneurship, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the start-up phase of a business. But what happens beyond that?
Listing on a stock exchange is often the best way for a business to realise the next phase of its growth ambitions and create opportunities for shareholder and investor diversification.
Listing a company provides a more effective tool to access capital and enhance liquidity than private equity markets, as there is a much larger investor base to tap. Importantly, this pool will also include institutional investors, such as pension and investment funds, most of which are mandated to only invest in listed entities.
Reasons to list
Raised capital can be used to fund expansion or research and development, or meet other capital requirements for acquisitions. Listing creates exit opportunities for founders, shareholders and early-stage investors, and helps to spread the risk of ownership. Other growth opportunities become accessible as lenders can more accurately determine a company’s market value to determine loan-to-asset ratios.
Valuations for potential mergers or acquisitions are more objective. In this regard, a share issuance can be offered as a suitable exchange of value, rather than using cash to make a purchase or acquisition. Listing a business boosts its credibility and brand equity, which is beneficial from a customer perspective.
It helps to attract and retain the best talent from an employee perspective through the implementation of an employee share incentive scheme.
But before a business lists, it is important to consider the commercial benefits and, consequently, if this is an appropriate next step. In this regard, the leadership team must first review the strategy and agree on where the business is in its lifecycle, and where it is going. For any business to be successful, the shared beliefs and purpose of its leadership team must align and there must be consensus among shareholders that the time is right to list.
Consider the trade-offs
Once this point is reached, consider the implications of taking a private company public. Firstly, business owners must understand that they are effectively giving up control of their company. They must also acknowledge that the transition from a private to public company can be difficult, with increased compliance and transparency.
Listing on a stock exchange also raises the public profile of the company. This includes greater oversight from external stakeholders, with strict reporting and disclosure requirements required by the exchange and regulators. These aspects are mandatory to ensure greater transparency, which translates into greater protection for investors.
Meeting compliance requirements
Arriving at this decision therefore requires a thorough due diligence process. This entails meeting financial reporting and minimum regulatory compliance requirements, which have potential cost and administrative implications that can prove challenging, particularly for smaller businesses.
However, it’s imperative to meet these requirements, as this ensures the business will stand up to market scrutiny and that the entity delivers exactly what it promises to investors. It also ensures the business meets the exchange’s corporate governance requirements, complies with the Companies Act, and operates in line with industry best practices.
This due diligence process is also vital if a company hopes to adequately demonstrate value to investors in the open market. This will help listing advisors and sponsors, whose job it is to market your company to potential investors, to more accurately determine if there is appetite for your business.
Institutional and retail investors will use this information to interrogate the business’s value proposition to ascertain the potential for growth following a listing, and determine whether the business model will deliver adequate and sustained returns over the medium to long term.
Need Funding For Your Vision? Give ‘Tasteful Persistence’ A Try
Zuko Tisani’s Legazy is a company that plans six international immersions for mainly start-ups, executives and members of the public. He has managed to grow his business from floundering for funding, to attracting large corporate investors. Here’s how your business can follow suit.
Legazy was launched with the aim of playing a leading role in the South African digital economy by stimulating the trade on African innovation. Legazy is well on its way to increasing the success rate of entrepreneurs through exposure to market access, partners, media and investors. “Before we were consumers and bystanders of industry 4.0,” says founder Zuko Tisani.
“We work with large corporates and Government, speaking their language by understanding what is important to them and not promoting what we think is important,” Zuko explains.
“Our narrative is tailored to fit the specific corporate we speak to. A lot of companies make the mistake of shooting in the dark and send a generic proposal to as many people as possible.
“We also realised the return on investment for content was huge. We are well documented visually and with the corporates that sponsor our projects it makes it easier to get funding because we can tell a unique story, a big story and an emotive one that goes hand-in-hand with our proposal and separates us from others.”
Zuko offers these top tips for start-up funding success:
How do you get people to care enough about your idea to invest?
1. Be very clear about how assisting you benefits them
Human nature is selfish. Win-win is not enough. Think more 51% to 49% — give more than you get. How is your sponsor going to be the winner of the day by supporting you? Always bring it back to the bottom-line. Whether it’s tax benefits, market exposure or adding value to their supply chain, be careful not to oversell because it can close an opportunity before it even opens. Do your homework to find gaps to fulfil or to enhance existing projects. Once you have emailed a specific request, lay out end-to-end how you will use the money and how it will benefit them.
2. Be persistent not pestering
Sending mails to busy stakeholders without response is a norm — try to find other stakeholders, who are more junior and would also have an interest in your project, to assist. Tasteful persistence is mostly rewarded — be delicate but direct in what you want; keep demonstrating you can add value and deserve the sponsorship.
3. Make the vision big and the ask small
It’s important to gain and build trust so take what you are given and build on that.
What steps can your start-up apply when approaching corporates for funding?
1. New is hard to sell and often has tentative buyers in the beginning
However, it’s worse to enter an over-saturated market where differentiation is difficult to see. A lot of entrepreneurs focus on the complete market and say things such as, ‘It’s a $10 billion industry’. Can you skew your value proposition to make a buyer believe it’s unique? And can you capture an upcoming market such as Generation Z (the coming economically empowered generation) in your offering?
2. Paper trails
If you are looking at partnering with a corporate find out where they have put their money before, and what it took for the start-up to gain access to those funds. Also look at the companies similar to yours that are succeeding — where is the money in your sector? This will also inform where you will be wasting your time.
3. It’s all seasonal
Keep a tight watch on when budgets are allocated. A lot of companies will inform you that they’re not in a good position to allocate money. Find a non-financial resource that you can be offered and leverage their partnership to gain financial support with another sponsor.
4. Know the lay of the land
The winner is the one who has the most information. If you are trying to tap into being a supplier for a corporate, know the decision-makers; know the key influencers. Your business is reliant on relationships.
As connection with anyone becomes easier, it’s easier to create solid relationships with decision-makers who can help your business with a signature. But always ensure your proposal offers the greatest value and that you do not only know the decision-maker, but everyone else who is part of supporting the sponsorship.
If You Have A Great Business Idea, Who Ya Gonna Call? Hint: Not A VC
As customer development expert Bob Dorf advises, “For as long as humanly possible, avoid investors as best you can.”
If you have the next billion dollar start-up business idea that is going to change, even revolutionise, an industry, what is your next step? Should you:
- Formulate a business plan/canvas model?
- Do extensive market research?
- Bootstrap and spend your own savings to build a minimum viable product (MVP)?
- Get a cofounder?
- Talk to an investor?
Say you’re an experienced entrepreneur who has already thought about all the important metrics for starting a business.
Those metrics might include:
- Barriers to entry for rivals
- Initial start-up costs
- The regulatory environment
- Questions as to whether/how to patent your idea
Once you’ve got the answers to these questions, how do you start?
Here’s a tip: The first step is not to think about money. Instead, next time you find yourself ruminating over a particular idea, first validate audience demand.
Related: Is Venture Capital Right For You?
Why it’s important to think about your audience as your first step
Raising VC money has been all the rage and hype for the last decade or so. And, with so many up-and-coming start-ups getting funding each month, people may think venture capital is the obvious path to take.
I’ve often seen people on Quora saying, I have this great business idea; how should I approach potential investors? Whom can I speak with about my idea?
One of the answers to that question, which was upvoted, caught my eye. That commentor wrote, “Talk to your ‘potential’ consumers or your target audience.” Potential consumers, the writer pointed out, will help you:
- Understand your idea better
- Find mistakes and areas of improvement
- Evaluate customer interest and willingness to pay
- Understand market potential and size
- Understand the buyer persona better.
All these things will help you at later stages, the writer continued, in reference to fund-raising and shaping your business.
Why you shouldn’t talk to a venture capitalist first
VCs can be useful and smart. If you run in entrepreneurial circles – like networks and conferences – you may find it useful to talk to VCs because they’ve probably already entertained 20 different businesses pitches before your idea arrived this morning. Undoubtedly, too, VCs are in a position to offer a diverse perspective.
So, if you get the chance to meet one, talk to him or her without an agenda. Your only goal is to learn something new.
In fact, you can get amazing insights, such as marketing practices going on around you, what’s working and what’s not; operational nightmares, expansion difficulties, hiring disasters.
A great VC will have an interesting story or two on practically every single facet of business, including starting, scaling and managing a startup. Even more important will be the fact that a VC investor can help you get the pulse of market/investor sentiments.
Yet, despite these positive attributes, VCs are not your first call. In fact, I would not recommend at all that you talk to a VC at the outset about your nascent business idea – and not because the VC will steal your precious concept or not fund your “idea” since it’s just that – an idea.
When you have a proven concept that is based on actual numbers rather than projections, it may then be time to talk to VC investors. But before that point, first talk to your potential consumers and get some traction.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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