August 5th, 2008

Ten things to think about before pursuing funding for your startup


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend “Lunch with a VC” hosted by Carolynn Duncan of FundingUniverse and Epic Ventures. Carolynn took the time to field questions from a number of Portland startups and consultants on what it really takes to get a venture capitalist interested in investing in your company.

(If you’re interested in all the gory details about wooing a VC, Carolynn has a great post called “Checklists: What kind of funding are you eligible for?“)

I thought I’d hit the high points, to help you get your head around what it’s going to take.

Think about these 10 things before you think about pursuing outside funding for your startup

  1. Have you really solved a problem? Just because you see a problem doesn’t mean you’re the person to solve the problem. It’s far easier to criticize existing solutions than it is to invent your own solution. And even if you do invent a solution to that problem, there’s no guarantee that that’s a business.
  2. Are you mentally prepared? Pursuing VC funding isn’t about self esteem. It’s about business. If you want someone to review what you’re doing and give you positive feedback, Silicon Florist may be a better candidate than a VC. A VC isn’t here to build you up or inflate your ego. A VC is here to figure out how you’re going to make money so that the investment firm can make money.
  3. Are you ready for the oversight? Angels invest their own money. VCs invest other people’s money. As such, they’re going to have different types of involvement. And different kinds of goals. What kind of involvement and what kind of goals? Read on, gentle reader. Read on.
  4. Can you deliver on the promise? Angels look for incremental gains. VCs look for exponential gain. But, rest assured, when it comes to investing, everyone’s goal is to make money. Angels are looking to invest time and money to get more money than they had. VCs are looking to invest far larger sums to make an exponential amount on their investment. Why? To make up the for the other crappy companies they picked that are failing to return anything.
  5. Can you give up control? Angels are going to want more control because it’s their money. Why? Well, VCs invest other people’s money. Angels invest their own money. While both of those parties are going to be extremely interested in what you’re doing with their money, it’s highly likely that the Angel is going to be more involved—because Angels will be especially interested in keeping an eye on their personal money.
  6. Can you tell the story of the money? The old adage hold true: It takes money to get money. As a rule, VCs don’t fund ideas. They generally fund things that are already making money. For VCs, an investment is an accelerator. They invest money in order to help the company make more money faster. Not making money yet? A VC might not be the right target.
  7. Are you ready to make the VC pitch? To an investor, the “product” the investor is buying is the business. Not the actual product that the company sells. If you’re thinking of pitching a VC, don’t do the usual “show up and throw up” product demo of features and functionality. Give the potential investor a pitch on your business, moreso than that the product, itself.
  8. Are you planning ahead or are you too late? Always pursue funding before you get desperate. Why? Well, two reasons. First, no one likes the stench of desperation. And second, it takes 3-6 months to do the due diligence on the deal before you can get stuff going. Don’t wait until it’s too late to begin the conversation. Better yet, begin the conversation before you need anything, at all. Work on your pitch and test drive it.
  9. Are you ready to play the numbers game? How much of the final entity do you want to own? Take this into consideration… do you want to own 100% of a $1 million company, or do you want to own 51% of a $500 million company? If additional investment is going to make for an exponentially larger pie, then it might be wise to take a cut of the bigger pie, rather than try to horde the smaller pie. Angels and VC are interested in helping you build that bigger pie, so that everyone wins.
  10. Are you foregoing a “great” funded company in favor of a “good” company that you control? A dead company doesn’t help anyone. The longer you can reasonably put off funding, the better off you will be. But don’t kill your company to retain control (see #9). If garnering additional funding ensures the fulfillment of your idea—even at a loss of control—funding may be the way to go. Bootstrap what you can, but not if it means the loss of your pursuits.

And that’s what I took away. But as always, that’s the high-level. For the deep dive, see Carolynn’s post.

Hopefully this overview helps. Interested in getting more feedback or answering different questions? Carolynn is planning to do this on a regular basis, here in Portland.

It would be great to have you at one of the future events.

Background that may help (or may not)

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