One of the single most contested topics in any entrepreneurial discussion is funding.
- Is there enough?
- Can business owners access it?
- Do you really need external funding to grow?
Raymond Ndlovu, an investment executive at venture capitalist firm Invenfin offers growing businesses three key pieces of advice when it comes to funding a growing business.
Understand when you need funding – and when you don’t
Before you do anything else, evaluate why you think you need funding. Is it to grow? Will the influx of capital allow sustainable growth, or will the growth simply burn more cash than you make.
We often see business owners who bite off more than they can chew in the name of growth. Investing in new products, machinery, staff or office space is all fine and well, as long as the additional income covers the investment. In many cases it doesn’t, and a business that was doing well is suddenly in dangerous territory.
My advice? Stop worrying about where you want to be and focus on where you are.
Allow growth to happen when the business and market conditions are right, not before. Once conditions are right, you can either fund the growth internally, or approach an investor with a clear and sustainable investment opportunity, or safe and sustainable loan application.
Concentrate on making more sales
Find the right customers at the right price point and your profits will naturally increase. Manage your money wisely and you’ll often be able to fund growth internally, without outside funding – or at the very least you’ll be able to merely supplement growth with outside investment. So, how do you concentrate on increasing sales?
Have you been studying your clients and potential clients? Have you evaluated where their potential value leakages are? Approaching a client and saying, “I’ve noticed your business has value leakage in this area, and here’s how we can help you improve your systems,” is a very different conversation to a straight product or service pitch. Your company exists because it adds value to something – you need to show this through the context of their business, not yours.
There is a significant pool of under-utilised, investible capital on corporate balance sheets, and a policy environment that encourages enterprise development and preferential procurement.
If you have the right idea, product or service, and you can present it to big corporates in such a way that it suits their mandates and speaks to their needs, that capital is readily accessible. There is a huge opportunity here, but again, it needs to be viewed from the perspective of the corporate. Always start by understanding their burning need, and then developing a solution that solves that need.
- What are their headaches?
- How can you solve them?
If you switch your thinking from what you need to what they need, opportunities will open, sales will increase, and growth will follow.
- Player: Raymond Ndlovu
- Company: Invenfin
- Expertise: Venture capital funder
- Connect: www.invenfin.com
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Fitbit And Adidas Know Something That Venture Capital Doesn’t
Your startup might accelerate growth by forming a strategic partnership with established businesses — not just VCs.
The media would have you believe that securing venture capital support and funding is the epitome of “making it” in the startup world. But, leaving aside the influx of much-needed capital, what many fail to realise is that VC partners aren’t always a good strategic fit.
So, when Fitbit was looking to light a spark under its fledgling line of smartwatches earlier this year, it didn’t tap another VC. Instead, it turned to Adidas, the shoe and apparel giant known for reinventing itself.
The product – the Adidas-branded Fitbit Ionic – dropped at the end of March and seems to have reinvigorated interest in Fitbit’s Ionic model, which made its tepid debut last year.
Not only did Adidas lend financial support to Fitbit, but it also lent the smaller company the fashionable, influential fan base that Adidas has carefully cultivated in the past few years.
Even though the collaboration hasn’t yet propelled Fitbit past Apple in the smartwatch space, the lesson here is clear: Your startup might accelerate growth by forming a strategic partnership with bigger, established businesses — not just VCs — to access financial backing, mentorship and expert guidance.
The sum is greater than the parts
Companies across a wide range of industries, from technology and retail to media and telecommunications, are investing in startup partnerships. In 2014, Wells Fargo created its own startup incubator to nurture new clean-tech businesses in the marketplace. The incubator, known as IN2, has invested nearly $6 million in 20 companies since its inception.
In successful collaborations, the relationship is symbiotic, with many layers of engagement. We saw a successful example of this at the Ameren Accelerator in St. Louis. Rebate Bus, one of the startups in our 2017 cohort, used the investment and mentorship to get off the ground and scale growth.
During its accelerator phase, Rebate Bus received funding and mentorship and has since secured a partnership with a large company to run a 90-day trial. The large company, for its part, added Rebate Bus’s valuable new technology to its arsenal to stay competitive in the marketplace.
One unintended benefit was that Rebate Bus added five new jobs to the St. Louis market, as well.
In addition to providing financial support, collaborations with bigger companies provide an opportunity to tap into a deep well of knowledge and senior-level management expertise that only a more established brand can provide.
And, because the larger company will likely share a common mission with your startup, it will be concerned about more than just return on investment – something you can’t always say about a VC.
Cultivating a successful partnership
Just like any healthy relationship, this sort of collaboration won’t be successful without care and attention. Here are three ways to build and sustain successful relationships with larger companies.
1. Don’t use a partnership as a crutch. Business relationships are fragile. In fact, statistics from The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals show that nearly half of business alliances fail. That’s why it’s extremely important to set relationships up for success from the outset.
One of the best ways to do this is to approach the partnership as only one facet of your overall strategy for your business’s growth, not its make-or-break point.
While corporations want to create an environment that spurs growth for everyone, they don’t want startups to become dependent on them. Show potential partners that you can stand on your own two feet and leverage a partnership to everyone’s benefit.
Related: The Foundations Of Growth
2. Don’t paint your partnership into a corner. So many venture-backed startups expect to see 12 years of growth in 12 months. These impossible expectations can hamstring a business partnership from day one. Instead, set time lines and goals with your potential partner that are specific and challenging, but also realistic.
Research from the American Psychological Association shows that setting these types of goals led to higher performance 90 percent of the time in the companies examined.
It’s critical to set these expectations early to ensure you and your partner are aligned from the start. The good news is that established companies whose sole purpose for a partnership isn’t ROI should be more open to realistic financial benchmarks.
3. Practice reciprocity. For startups seeking investment, landing capital can begin to feel like the endgame. But remember: Established companies are expecting something out of a partnership, too.
Older companies, meanwhile, are always looking for fresh perspectives; and startups usually have innovative ideas to contribute. It’s important to clearly communicate what each partner brings to the table.
Take the career-finding solution PathSource, for example. Co-founder and CEO Aaron Michel didn’t even consider partnering with a company that didn’t share PathSource’s goal to help people find better jobs. That’s why the company finally landed on a partnership with the GED Testing Service, the country’s high school equivalency testing administrator.
As Michel wrote in The Next Web: “A great relationship is a balance of give and take. When you approach a potential partner, don’t bother contacting them unless you know why they would want to speak with you. Know what you have to offer them.”
Legacy companies have a tremendous amount to contribute to entrepreneurs; often, these companies have even more to offer than a venture capital firm.
When both partners know what they want out of the relationship and know what they’re willing to give, the end result for both can be more lucrative than what each would reach on his or her own.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Is Your Business Ready To Be Funded?
A venture capitalist and an entrepreneur who has secured funding weigh in on what you need to become funding-ready.
1. Ability to Scale
According to Clive Butkow, CEO of VC firm, Kalon Venture Partners, there are many important criteria VC firms evaluate when making an investment decision, but the ability to scale is the most important.
“At Kalon Venture Partners we only invest in businesses if we believe we can make a 10X return on our investment when we exit the company. If we do not believe the business can scale, both in South Africa and globally, we will not invest,” he says.
“Scalability can swing an investor valuation discussion towards a ‘blue sky’ scenario, presenting an endless opportunity for revenue multiples on an initial capital cost-base,” agrees Benji Coetzee, founder and CEO of EmptyTrips.
“However, unless the potential is paired with execution capability it remains irrelevant,” she warns. “As a founder you need the perseverance and commitment to prove that your product will be scalable. In other words, you need to demonstrate your capability to replicate the offering to unlock upside, clients and product growth.”
2. Founder’s Mindset
“The founders and CEOs of businesses are the visionaries. They are the fuel in the engine and the Lieutenant General on the front line fighting fires. A founder’s attitude, resilience and ability to rally their troops is therefore paramount,” says Benji.
“Before a company can scale it needs to go through painful growing pains. The product evolves, customer orientation flips, the team matures and competition increases. To navigate this changing multi-faceted journey, the CEO is critical in the fight. Founders create the strategy, rally the army and lead the effort, in both the tough times and the victorious ones. Without a good fight-plan, and consistent implementation of it toward the objective, the company cannot scale.”
Clive agrees. “In my experience, what got you here will not necessarily get you there. Meaning the skills that helped you build a R10 million business are not the same required to build a R100 million business. Some founders either have the skills or are able to re-skill themselves and take the business to the next level, while others can’t. Sometimes the founder needs to be replaced with a professional CEO that can scale the business. This does not imply the founder leaves, but rather that they take on a new role that is more aligned with their strengths.”
3. Take Action
Clive doesn’t believe it’s right or wrong to scale a business – instead, it comes down to what the founder wants. “Many founders are happy to grow their businesses organically and maybe only build a lifestyle business,” he says.
“Other founders want to build a business that will change the world. We call these exponential entrepreneurs. The key to scaling a business, in my experience, is having the right skillset, as well as a mindset that embraces a ‘can do’ attitude and has a bias for action.”
“I call it AA or Attitude of Abundance,” says Benji. “Founders are the alphas. They need to lead, aspire to and believe in scale.”
You’ve Raised Early-Stage Funding! Now What?
Four ways to set yourself up for success with your new high-maintenance stakeholders.
I had 225 conversations and pitched 95 separate investors in order to raise my first $2.2 million. I remember applying for every possible pitch competition, attending every startup event and chamber meeting, tracking down every high net worth individual I could find – anyone willing to listen to my 30-second, 5-minute and hour-long presentations. It was a full-time job raising money, and it took me more than a year before the final investor closed.
But then, on that fateful spring day in 2012, the seed stage fundraise was complete. Then the real work began. It is one thing to paint a vision and promise a movement. It is entirely another to meet milestones, generate revenue, and keep the company on track for an exit. The one thing that I could have never prepared myself for was the pressure that I’d feel from the investors after the money had been raised.
If you are gearing up for a fund raise or are in the midst of one, you may think that you are undergoing the toughest part of your journey. And if you can prepare appropriately and build good habits early on, you will be.
Related: The Investor Sourcing Guide
Here are four tips for managing the investor’s expectations before you create cause for concern:
1. Communicate early, often and to everyone
When I first began interacting with investors, I made the (incorrect) assumption that they invested in me because they expected me to know what I was doing, and that they only wanted to hear from me if I had dividends to pay. This could not be further from the truth. As a (now) early-stage investor, I invest in businesses when I believe that 1) the founder has the passion and fortitude to stick with it through the tough times; 2) I have experience that can be helpful in propelling the business to first revenue, cash flow positive or exit; and 3) I will be engaged throughout the early days of the company.
To engage your investors, whether current or future, you want to be consistent and honest. If you are sending a prospective investor email and a current investor email each month, continue to send both. If you are undergoing a colossal failure or your burn rate has grown to three times what you had projected, your investors should be the first to know.
The biggest failure in building a relationship with your investors is not sharing everything that might affect them. An investor never wants to be surprised, but if you hit a wall, they would much rather hear the news from you and as quickly as possible.
2. Structure board meetings before you have a board
One way to structure communication formally and in a way that investors will appreciate is to schedule monthly board meetings before you have a formal board of directors. Invite all current investors to join this meeting/call, send an agenda in advance, and ensure that any items discussed during the meeting are followed upon in as timely a fashion as possible. Show your investors that you know how to work with them, value their time, and heed their direction.
Related: Is Venture Capital Right For You?
3. Engage your investors for assistance
I enjoy being engaged by my companies. If I have a connection that could be useful to a sale, additional investment or a decreased expense, I expect that you will ask me for an endorsement and introduction. If I have modeled financial projections for several previous companies, ask me for help in modeling yours (if relevant). If my home would serve as a great venue for a client dinner, ask me to host.
By engaging your investors for operational assistance, you build stronger champions for your vision, and empower them to better advocate on your behalf with the outside world. If they invested in your company, they have likely found personal and/or professional success themselves, and appreciate using their credibility to propel your company forward.
4. Know when to say “no”
Perhaps the most difficult lesson I learned in my early days of investor interaction was learning to differentiate when to heed investor advice and when to respectfully disagree. Your investors come from all walks of life and have varying motivations for involving themselves with your company – not all selfless. Often, you will receive guidance that does not agree with your business model, other valued opinions, or common sense. In these moments, it is important to voice your opinion, backed by evidence, to ensure that the direction you ultimately take is a sound one for the company.
Humility and coachability are important, but you raised the money because you know, inherently, something that others don’t. Be sure to use that experience of yours to guide your investors, and use their experience, where appropriate, in turn.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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