Easy Money, Cozy Deals

Comfy_ChairMaybe it’s the fault of the BBC’s Dragons Den for sitting down a handful of business angel investors in cosy chairs whilst they quiz a few entrepreneurs. With the investors making some sort of deal judgement after 20 minutes, the programme makes ‘deal chasing’ look so easy and gives the impression that you’ve just got to be passionate, convincing and have the ability to trott off some well rehearsed numbers and information. Maybe that’s being a bit unfair on a program that has overall given quite a helpful tutorial into how to prepare your business for angel investors. The problem is that it does somewhat skew the perception of the real world realities of early-stage investment fundraising because it makes it look so instant, so cosy and so easy. The reality is far from this and even for the most experienced serial entrepreneurs find themselves entangled in long drawn out deal conversations and due diligence that can span upwards of six months. Chasing an investor, or series of investors, can be umpteen times more challenging (and long winded) than achieving a sales milestone, or winning a prized client.

I’ve had a run of entrepreneurs recently that I’ve agreed to work with who either feel that the investor has lacked serious intent because of their propensity to ask too many questions or take too long, or on the other hand have presumed that there is an unlimited supply of suitable investors to which they can talk to. The current climate is extremely challenging for startups (I’ve even had fundraising requests for help from US west coast startups).

Accelerators provide a well structured path, not only towards early-stage growth but also presentation to investors, with higher ratios of fundraising success. The reality that many are realising, even entrepreneurs that have raised successfully before, is that there is no easy money and that there are no easy deals being done out there. It’s darn hard work fundraising and founders are being unsuccessful not because of a lack of money in the system but more because their deals are not ready to put in front of investors. Even when a founder is ready, the competition for that money has become so intense. Investors have a batch of great opportunities to choose from. I know investors that have given up on startups for a while because they can’t find a well crafted deal with a good founding team behind it. Don’t tell me that there’s not enough cash out there. There is. There just aren’t enough good deals to match the cash.

Getting your deal ready before talking to investors is key and hence the reason for me creating the startup fundraising and valuation tool, D RISK IT (www.drisk.it). The project will launch sometime in the summer and is also currently crowd funding at:  https://www.crowdbnk.com/p/d-risk-it For a limited time, CrowdBnk are 50% matching any contributions (if you reserved a reward, do let me know).

6 Key Thoughts Along The Fundraising Journey (Summaries)

This article summaries the recent  set of 6 articles that I put together under the above title.angelinvestor

No1 – You Think You’re Ready To Talk To Investors But You’re Not

A lack of understanding, training and experience as to how to configure your business to attract investment is a very real issue and the main stumbling block for entrepreneurs and founders as they seek finance from business angels.  Knowing how to configure and execute an investment proposition is the key component missing from most founder approaches to investors. The solution is two-fold. Firstly, in your executive summary or pitch deck, ensure you tell your investment story and not just your business story. Secondly, get some help from someone who has previously been through the process and who can make you ‘investment ready.’

No2 – Investor Criticism Now Can Lead To Investor Funding Later

It is a kind and helpful investor who despite their busy workload, chooses to give feedback and their thoughts as to why they do not want to look further or invest. This information or advice can almost be worth paying for because in the long run it could save time, effort and financial resources. Think about working with the feedback to see if some strategic changes can be made, or take their comments and try to find a way to de-risk your opportunity for the sake of any future investor conversation. If you are fortunate to have put yourself in front of several angels but received a rejection at each turn, see if there are any common criticisms. If they are all saying similar things then you have good food for thought as to why you might not be getting funded.

No3 – It’s Not All About Your Business Idea

The statistics show that the odds are heavily stacked against every milestone of business success that you are hoping to hit. From staying in business more than 3 years to procuring angel investment, the odds are not in your favour. Business ideas that have not developed into an investment proposition just won’t catch investor eye-balls. My belief is that founders often feel that if they can just hook the investor with the opportunity then all other considerations will take care of themselves. Most investors are not looking for good ideas per se but for ideas that have begun to prove themselves by gaining some form of validation and/or traction. The potential of the opportunity does not override all other considerations. There is always an abundance of investment opportunity out there for investors but an ‘investment proposition’ is different, it’s an idea or an opportunity wrapped up in as much tangible market place proofs as possible.

No4 – Validation & Traction – Two Crucial Words When Looking For Investment

Providing proof points to show that potential customers are both interested and then likely to buy is vital in gaining investor interest. These two proof points are called validation and traction and achieving them can both significantly de-risk the opportunity for the investor and increase the possibility of a deal being struck. Validation is about proving that there is market interest. Engaging a little bit with that audience and getting early feedback helps your investor see that real people or real customers believe in your offering also. Traction is about giving your investor an early and mini demonstration that real people will pay for what ever it is that you are offering.

No5 – Investor Contact – A One-Hit Pitch or Contact, Not an Unfolding Mystery

A frequent frustration when receiving incoming investment enquiries is when the enquiry is drip-fed or trickles across the internet to me via a string of emails. You may not like it but you will be sifted and most likely moved on quite quickly. Remember, investors are looking for the best of the bunch, as soon as they see the investment opportunity, if it’s not in the top bracket, then they need to drop it quickly and move on. You get one shot, so make sure it’s your best. Be prepared, be focused and be thorough.

No6 – Don’t Treat Fundraising As Just An Access Issue

I get many requests from company founders asking if I can introduce them to angel investor. The problem is that there are several assumptions usually being made when someone says this to me and they broadly fall into two categories.

1) They believe they are ready to speak to investors, overwhelmingly, they rarely are. Even if they are investment ready, they still might not be  ‘deal ready.’ This means configuring the deal opportunity with the aim of de-risking it as much as possible to make it easier for an investor to say ‘yes’ to.

2) The deal is good enough and if they had access then they could do a deal. A broker (including angel groups and networks) is also a gatekeeper and deal sifter. Before they will give access, a review of the proposition is needed. If it’s not ripe for an introduction then it will be rejected. I see many founders wandering around from angel to angel or angel network to angel network, hoping that eventually someone will believe in them and their propositions and say yes.

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.