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Venture Capital

Venture Capital Funding: The Right Guys for the Job

Domain experience and market knowledge made these two entrepreneurs an attractive investment for funders.

Entrepreneur

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THE INVESTEES
NIC HARALAMBOUS AND VINCE MAHER, MOTRIBE

Nic Haralambous and Vince Maher did not launch Motribe until they knew that they were absolutely ready. They were both permanently employed, and they knew that launching a start-up would mean a big shift in their lives. As much as they wanted external funders to enable the business to put new products out quickly and learn from the market, they wanted to be a lean start-up that would grow organically. They wanted to cover their bases.

The result? They created a lean start-up that they have kept lean, despite an injection of funds, which has enabled them to focus on developing new products and getting them to market quickly.

“We were able to prove that we could generate interest – and revenue – before we started expanding, which is invaluable for potential investors to see,” says Nic. “Together, Vince and I have a lot of experience and knowledge of the mobile market, its needs, gaps and consumers. We used this to develop our business idea, and it gave our investors confidence.”

In order for Motribe to grow even bigger – particularly into the global market, Nic recognises that the company needs to attract the interests of a foreign investor as well. “4Di focuses primarily on seed funding. Having an investor already on board makes it easier to find additional investors who want to see that the risk is spread out. But to break into the oversees market, we need to have offices based there as well, so that’s what we are currently focusing on.”

What investers want

Attracting 4Di’s attention, and now working on creating relationships with US-based VC funders, has given Nic and Vince a strong sense of the VC world and what investors look for. Here’s their advice for fellow entrepreneurs:

  • VCs like to hold your hand and guide you through the process. If you are unwilling to accept this involvement in your business, you shouldn’t be looking for venture capital funding.
  • There is a big difference between bootstrapping a business and having cash in pocket. As an entrepreneur, you need to know how to spend money from investors – and involve them.
  • Do your due diligence. You need to break down your financial models and prove them. You can’t just quote figures – you need to show how you reached those figures, and you can only be convincing if you really know what you’re talking about and you’ve done your research.
  • VC is not a loan – you don’t pay the money back. The investor will eventually be bought out, and that requires the business to have a certain growth path. Milestones will need to be met before you receive further funding, so be sure you can reach those milestones – or can explain why you missed them.
  • VC money can effectively be used for growth. You will need to explain exactly what you need the funds for, where every cent will be spent, and how this will help your business grow.
  • VCs are typically looking for a return on investment of between four and ten times their initial investment over a period of five years. Can you prove this is what they will get?
  • You need to show an exit strategy for either you or the VC from the word go – they are looking for a return on investment. How will they get it?
  • A profitable, income generating business will raise funding. If you don’t have that, you won’t get the cash. Go back to the drawing board and figure out what’s wrong. Are you approaching the wrong funder? Is there a problem with your business model? Do you understand your market? Have you done enough research?

THE INVESTOR

4Di

As an organisation that focuses on providing seed funding, 4Di is made up of early-stage specialists who focus on deploying smaller amounts of capital.

So how did the Motribe team attract 4Di? “I was already well aware of Vince and Nic and their activities in the mobile sector, so we connected through mutual circles,” says Justin Staford of 4Di. “The real trick is to be visible. We made contact by a private message exchange online, followed by an in-person chat, but Motribe was already networking, and that helped us get started.”

For 4Di, Motribe demonstrated domain experience and had recognised a gap in the market. The combination pointed towards a business that would work – which is of course what investors are looking for: will they get their money back, with interest? “Nic and Vince demonstrated passion, domain expertise and insight into the market,” says Justin.

“They wanted to tackle mobile platforms in growing emerging markets based on their hands-on experience in the field, which we agreed was a growing market opportunity waiting to be tapped. They also showed that they had the skills, knowledge and networks to build the technology and market it. This combination proved credible enough to move forward.”

When looking for a business to back, here are Justin’s top five things that investors look for:

  • An attractive founder team. The core characteristics of hungry commitment, passion and dedication, appropriate skills and domain expertise/experience are a must.
  • A sound business thesis and business model with appropriate potential are paramount. Can you demonstrate low costs, high leverage, the ability to scale exponentially, and how you will tap large, hungry growing, markets?
  • The ability to demonstrate why you can best execute on the business thesis. Do your research and consider every angle.
  • There will always be possible deal-breakers, so be aware of them. IP issues can pose a big problem. VC investors want to invest where the IP is owned and developed, for instance, and not in a pure operating entity, and they typically don’t want to invest in any IP that is encumbered in any way. VC investors also prefer clean entities without legacy encumbrances. Be prepared to answer these questions in your pitch.
  • Different VC firms have different focuses. If you pitch to the wrong firm, and your business does not suit their mandate, you will get a no – and a poor reputation to boot. – nadine von moltke

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Venture Capital

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.

Dan Lauer

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fitbit

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.

Take Fitbit, a company that VCs poured millions into just a few years ago. Unfortunately, the funding couldn’t stop Apple from overtaking Fitbit in the wearable market last year.

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.

Related: Developing Partnerships With Fintech Innovators

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.

Related: Win-Win: Strategically Partner With Your Top Competitors

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.

Related: 5 Things to Do Before Saying ‘I Do’ to a Business Partner

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.

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Company Posts

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.

Matt Brown

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clive-butkow

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.”

Related: What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

2. Founder’s Mindset

benji-coetzee

“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.”

Related: 3 Start-up Funding Tips To Help Launch Your Company

 

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Venture Capital

You’ve Raised Early-Stage Funding! Now What?

Four ways to set yourself up for success with your new high-maintenance stakeholders.

Candace Sjogren

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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.

Related: 6 Money Management Tips For First-Time Entrepreneurs

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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