- Player: Clive Butkow
- Company: Grotech Venture Capital Company, Grovest
- Claim to Fame: Previous COO of Accenture South Africa, with 28 years’ experience in the organisation, encompassing numerous leadership roles, including MD of Accenture’s Technology business.
- Visit: grovest.co.za/grotech/
Do business owners have funding misconceptions that will stop them in their tracks?
Absolutely. Too many entrepreneurs believe that raising funding validates their business model. The only thing that validates your business model is customers. If you aren’t selling what you’re offering, no amount of funding in the world is going to fix it. Go back to your customers. Listen to what they’re saying. Don’t fall back on the assumption that your problem is lack of finance.
Another important point to remember is that strategic funding comes with partners. The right partners add value to the business beyond the cash injection. In general, funders should provide four types of capital: Mentorship capital; social or relationship capital, which provides access to a network of new customers, new markets and peers; human capital, which provides access to the best people you will need to hire as you scale; and financial capital, the actual funding required to grow your business.
Too many business owners only focus on the fourth type of capital, forgetting about the other three. On the one hand, this means that funders bring so much more to the table than mere cash.
Many business owners who have entered into successful relationships with VC or PE partners understand that often the other three types of capital are even more valuable than the cash. However, the opposite is also true.
If you’re a business owner who isn’t coachable, who can’t accept the idea that someone else might be better at executing your company’s growth strategy than you, or who doesn’t want to be held accountable to anyone, then strategic capital is not a good avenue for you.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a good business, or you aren’t a good entrepreneur. It just means that the funding relationship won’t work for you or the funder.
Capital is not the same irrespective of where you raise it from. You’re entering into a partnership with someone who has their own business model, shareholders, goals and mandates. If their goals and values are not aligned with yours, it’s not going to be a pleasant or rewarding experience, nor will it be good for the business.
Who should be considering funding as a growth strategy for their business?
You need to carefully consider why you’re looking for funding in the first place. If you have a strategic reason for the injection of funds, then it makes sense to look for funding. If it’s just so that you can live the high life, invest in expensive offices, imported coffee machines, a pool table and take a large salary, then the capital is likely to do more harm than good.
We’ve seen too many entrepreneurs with money burning holes in their pockets. They forget where they came from and their frugal approach to running the business, and the result is wastage and often unhappy customers, not to mention the fact that funders don’t receive their returns.
Ask yourself these questions before choosing the funding route:
1. Do I need funding, and what will I use the cash for?
You need to be able to confirm that funding will help you achieve certain milestones quicker or more effectively than without funding, not only because you’ll need to be able to demonstrate this to the funder, but because it’s just good business practice.
I believe that businesses should bootstrap for as long as possible before raising capital to prevent too much dilution from their capital raise. They also need to clearly understand how much runway the capital would provide. For example, we like to see our capital last for a minimum of 12 to 18 months based on the predicted burn rate before they run out of cash.
2. Is this smart capital that will help me achieve my business objectives far quicker with the support of the capital provider?
Too often business owners are so desperate for funding that they take the first offer that comes along, irrespective of whether it’s the best offer, the best source of capital for their type of business and stage of growth, or if their values align with those of the funders.
Is there a specific personality type that is easier to fund than others?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to business, and the same is true of funding, however, there are a few rules of thumb that we stick to, most notably, do the skills required to run a growing business reside in a team, is the business owner coachable, are they aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and would they be willing to step down or into a different role if it was for the good of the business.
First, in the founding team, is there someone who can sell? If you can’t sell it, you don’t have a business. Someone has to make the stuff, and someone has to sell the stuff. More often than not, this requires at least two different people, with very different skill sets. Think Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
Someone has to understand channel to market, marketing, where you’ll find traction and so on. Many companies are started by an industry expert who really understands their product, but not how to sell. This will only get you so far. VC funders in particular are looking for exponential growth, so it’s difficult for them to fund a founder who only understands product and not sales. If you’re looking for funding, make sure you have both.
Next, and this is perhaps the most critical but also the toughest part of being a ‘funding ready’ entrepreneur:
Do you have the skills to take your business to the next level? The answer is not automatically yes. In fact, it’s most likely no.
Steve Blank, who coined the term the lean start-up, draws a clear line of distinction between start-ups and established businesses that has nothing to do with time in the market. As a start-up, you’re looking for something that is repeatable and scalable. Once you find a product with the right product/market fit, you’re no longer a start-up. Now it’s all about execution, and this is where many founders stumble. They’re great at finding product/market fit. They’re innovative. But they hate execution.
MBAs are the opposite. They’re masters of execution. They love numbers and details and processes, and they’re well suited to high growth. But, they’re best when executing a business model that works and has already been stress tested.
Some can do both; most can’t, which is why the ability to know your strengths and weaknesses is so important. We will never expect an entrepreneur to actively try to fix their weaknesses. It takes a lot of time and energy, and you just end up with slightly better weaknesses. Instead, hire the right people. Do you need an ops guy? Someone for the details? That’s how you grow. But it takes maturity to evaluate yourself, realise where the gaps lie, and make the right call. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be coachable and constantly working on areas that are or could be strengths. Coachability is key.
One of the biggest questions that we always ask is this: What if we have to bring someone else in to run things? If the business owner isn’t even willing to discuss this, or if they are uncoachable, we know the partnership is unlikely to be a successful one.
Where do business owners often misstep in their pitch?
Most don’t know their numbers well enough. You can’t outsource the metrics of how your business is run to your accountant. You should only be outsourcing your bookkeeping. Your numbers are the life-blood of your business. You need to know them intimately. Funders understand numbers. They will challenge you on them, and they’ll quickly see how familiar you are with the inner workings of your company.
In terms of growth projections, your numbers should be bottom up, not top down. Telling a VC that the market is $5 billion and you need just 1% of that to make a killing is like waving a red flag at a bull. A hypothesis based on big numbers is worthless. It’s an exercise in creative writing, and not only do I ignore it, but it actually loses you credibility with me.
Bottom up numbers show that you have carefully planned your go-to-market strategy. For example, you start out in five Pick n Pays. As you gain traction in the market you add a certain amount of stores per quarter, and then sign deals with two additional retailers. It’s still part guesswork, but it’s carefully planned guesswork. There’s a growth path that we can discuss, evaluate and add value to.
How much of a role does ‘gut’ play in choosing to fund a business?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust, integrity and gut. Am I buying this? Remember, this is my shareholder’s money, and I have a duty to them. I have to be comfortable investing their money in you, and backing my decision.
When I was at Accenture I was fortunate enough to spend time with Jack Welch because we consulted to General Electric. He taught me the rule of 3 ‘Es’ when hiring: Energy, intellect and integrity. Great candidates ticked all three boxes, but if the third (integrity) was missing, the first two were irrelevant. This has become an invaluable tool now that I’m a VC, and it often does come down to gut. Are you someone with integrity? Are you coachable? Do our values align? Can we embark on a long-term relationship together?
Understand a fund’s mandate before pitching for funding. Alignment is key for a successful funding partnership.
3 Top Tips SMEs Should Be Aware Of When Accessing Funding
Darlene Menzies weighs in on the top three things you should consider when accessing funding.
1. Applying for credit facilities
Apply for credit facilities (such as a bank overdraft or revolving credit facility) when business is going well, which is when a bank is more likely to approve it. This also means you will have the money immediately available if you hit a cash flow challenges. Don’t wait until the business has hit a cash cliff to apply, as you will be less likely to qualify or be in a position to negotiate the best rate/terms.
2. Have critical documentation easily available and kept up-to-date
Create a secure electronic folder, preferably stored online, that house all of your statutory and financial documentation that funders will request from you when you apply for finance.
This includes up to date copies of your company registration documents, shareholder agreement and register, certified copies of member/director IDs and marriage certificates, tax certificate, signed customer contracts, business plan, latest financial statements, up to date management accounts etc. SME lack of finance readiness (i.e. having their documentation available for funders) is a key constraint to being able to access funding.
3. Know your credit score, both your personal credit score as the business owner and your business’s credit score
Our report shows that 61% of entrepreneurs applying for finance don’t know their credit score, yet this is one the primary evaluation components used by funders to determine the risk of lending money to the business.
It’s important that SMEs request their credit scores and address any issues that are negatively affecting them. You are permitted one free credit record per annum from the Credit Bureau. Take time to learn about how the credit system works.
Access to finance
“There are a number of research studies that confirm the link between access to finance and business growth, showing that increased access to funding increases revenue and job growth in SMEs.”— Darlene Menzies, founder of finfind.co.za
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.
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