How Many Frogs Can You Kiss In 6 Months? Early Stage Fundraising

(Written for iBusiness Angel)

Fundraising is not for the fainthearted. Anyone who has ever tried and been successful in courting angel investment will know only too well that the process of attracting investment into your company can be slow, time consuming and energy sapping. It can be an all-consuming task that can keep a person engrossed full time over a number of months. The fastest I have ever managed is 3 months (from agreeing to fundraise, to cheque in the bank for the company). Others may have been fortunate to have got funded quicker, most will be familiar with a 6-12 month fundraising period but either way you’d best assess your ability to handle the task in-house.

(Image Courtesy of 123rf.com)

It may seem obvious to state but if you are considering raising angel finance for the first time, it might be helpful to accept that you are entering a new and foreign landscape. A landscape that has its own rules and ways of working that will be different from other forms of finance that you may have accessed to date (which may have only consisted of raising a bank loan and/or some form of government grant). Imagine I had a sales job in b2c retail but then moved over to b2b software sales. I would have to familiarise myself with the differences in ways of operating and would have to get my head around all sorts of adjustments in terms of product shipping cycles, profit margins and cash flow issues. Similarly, in the equity investment sector where business angels look to part with their money for a scaleable opportunity, approaching angels for investment is not the same as approaching a bank for a loan. Just because you and your investment proposition may seem to meet all the likely criteria that an investor would look for, you can still be far far away from gaining interest and you’re stuck not really knowing why. You may feel that you have all the boxes ticked that in pre-recession times would probably get you a bank loan, but with angel investors, even if you did supposedly have all the boxes ticked with your mouth watering ‘hockey stick’ of an investment opportunity, there are a million and one reasons why you may not get funded. The general consensus is that over 95% of businesses seeking angel funding are not successful in raising early stage angel investment. Still want to give it a go?

• Do you have the resource capacity and capability to fundraise?

The fundraising process can suck you in and you may soon find that as the main force of driving your business forward growth or development suddenly take a back seat as your time and energy get deflected towards the task of courting investors. As it is often said, you first fundraise is likely to be the ‘hardest deal’ you’ll ever have to do. It’s not just the kissing of numerous frogs that is the drain but also the subsequent dating process with the ones that show interest. As I said above, try to think 6-12 months of near enough full-time activity but beware of taking your eye off the ball, i.e. the businesses development or sales targets. You may find yourself losing credibility and having to explain to investors why sales have dipped or progress has stalled. If you are an established business, be careful that the fundraising process does not put stress on the businesses cash flow position.

• There is free stuff out there – Make use of it.

For those of us in the UK, we are fortunate in that through local government business support, we currently have the ‘Business Link’ support network across the country. Make use of them as you may be able to get free, or at least discounted support. There is of course a wealth of online material that can be read and accessed for free. There are also websites that can be subscribed to via RSS feeds, as well as informative podcasts that can be downloaded via iTunes. Call this your research phase and start it early.

• Investors talk and investors remember.

It is quite common for me to send out an executive summary to an investor or investment group only for them to say something like, “Yes, I know of this company. Are they still looking? We took a look at this last year and told them to come back once they have a little more traction. Have they got any sales yet/did they get the product out?”

You don’t have unlimited ability to approach the market place. Think and act as though you only have one chance and that means don’t ‘knock out’ a business plan or executive summary with the notion that the business is best explained in a conversation. It might well be true but if your business plan does not set up your shop clearly and succinctly you may not be given the opportunity to have that phone call or meeting about your business proposal. Remember, your first shot is your best shot. You may be lucky and subsequently squeeze an investor out of nowhere but by and large, once you are in the investor domain (landscape), your name and company often get discussed (perhaps at an investment network) and in some cases investors have already come across you as your executive summary might have been emailed from one angel colleague to another.

• What are the implications if you don’t succeed?

Coming up short of the funds at the end of this process can make you seriously question whether you really have a business on your hands worth pursuing and that folding it might be a very real consideration. If you are fortunate and have the time, money to live on and inclination, you could possibly regroup and reconfigure by asking for less, changing to a different revenue model or chasing a different target audience, etc.

Or, if you can wait for the slower sales trajectory and decide instead to dig your heels in deeper, roll up your selves and resolve to grow slower via organic revenues, then maybe you can skip the ‘seed’ round and go on a year or so later to a VC or super angel A-Round (£1-4m ish). This should allow you to keep more equity for a longer period than if you’d also done the seed round first. Sometimes this is not a poor second option. It is worth noting though that businesses with some sort of traction or validation (in terms of established turnover or a decent audience size), usually come with a higher investor desirability. You may therefore find that if you tried again in 12-18 months with some ‘proof points’ ticked off, you may bring in that investment capital and expertise.

• Are there any additional fundraising options?

“Options for what?” Should be your first question because fundraising is a process and not just a question of someone opening their contact book to investors. My view is that investment readiness (IR – very often means preparing your written and numerical data) and fund-raising (FR – the activity of linking business to investment source with a view to discussing a deal’s potential) are two different specialisms but this is a whole other subject that I have blogged on elsewhere. I have a colleague who feels that between the IR and FR comes something called being ‘Deal Ready’ and I would agree with him. The problem is that the investment ready and fundraising get mixed together in the fog of the angel investment networks. These networks are a genuine route for companies to chase the skirts of business angels, some fine deals are done in these environments but there can also be an awful lot of spillage.  So, back to the point: some options you may want to consider can be found in the British Business Angels Association (BBAA) website. Look at their Directory for either Angel Networks or Professional Service Providers. If your opportunity is deemed of good quality and potential investor desirability, then you may get a fundraiser such as myself to work on success fee only. If you’re not quite ready and prossibly in the 95+% group, then be prepared to spend to get yourself into shape.

• And finally. Don’t underestimate investor feedback?

It’s not much fun if you find yourself in the 95+% bracket of business trudging round the networks hoping to spark some interest. And the reason you are t in the 95+% group? Well, something is probably wrong. It could just be that investors don’t feel that excited enough by the opportunity or its returns. It could be that they think you have overdressed the proposition and don’t give straight answers. As above… “a million and one reasons.” An investor’s “this one is not for me because …” feedback is very valuable. “Not one for me” feedback from 5 investors is immensely invaluable. If they all say similar things, then your lack of cash on the table is probably to be found somewhere in their feedback.

As always, please leave a comment. I always like to hear feedback.

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About Aristos Peters
I work rest and play in the digital space, with particular interest in digital startup companies and their need for seed, angel and VC investment. As a NED, I have worked with several start-ups, taking them through funding rounds and also work on investment acceleration and business growth helping companies to become investment ready. Currently about to launch the startup fundraising app D RISK IT (www.drisk.it).

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