A while back I received a discouraging note from an entrepreneur with a patent and a medical software application who couldn’t find a dime of investment and was grousing that seed funding just wasn’t available anymore. After exchanging a couple of notes, I concluded that she was more likely a victim of item number one on my reject list below, rather than a drought on seed funding.
Too many people still believe the urban myth that you can sketch your idea on a napkin and people will throw money at you. Fundraising is indeed brutally tough at all stages, and the seed funding is the hardest to find. The simple answer is that if you need funding, do your homework early and completely.
I seem to see common threads in the stories from people who don’t get money, so I checked my list against ones quoted in a book by Barry H. Cohen and Michael Rybarski titled “Start-Up Smarts.” We agree on issues we see sabotaging most funding efforts, in decreasing priority sequence:
- Lack of a compelling story. That story has to begin with a painful problem shared by a large collection of viable customers and end with your competitive solution. Additionally, you need to be able to communicate the essence of that story and value to investors in a couple of sentences–your elevator pitch.
- Lack of clear objectives/goals. Often, the number one question that entrepreneurs fail to address is: “How much money do you need, and what valuation do you place on your company?” Then you have to have evidence to support your request. I’ve asked this question many times of presenters in angel meetings and often get a blank look.
- Failure to prepare for due diligence. Any serious investor will perform a thorough review of your business and personal background before signing the check. They don’t like surprises, so you should explain any possible issues first, in the best possible light, before being asked.
- Lack of understanding of the funding process/rules. The key here is to create a win-win partner situation for your investors. Discussion of risks and rewards in an open fashion, without sleight-of-hand or shortcuts, will convince investors that they can count on you and will avoid shareholder lawsuits later.
- Reliance on inappropriate business professionals. Using well-respected professionals to bolster your endeavor is key. If you can attract well-known advisors, attorneys and accountants, it will give potential investors comfort that you have been able to get implied endorsement of your concept, as well as your integrity.
- Poor choice of funding sources. It is not helpful to you for funders to love an idea that does not fit the criteria for their investing capability. Don’t waste time talking to VCs for requests less than $1M or very early-stage, and don’t expect professional investors to jump in if you have no skin in the game.
- Not doing due diligence on the funding source. You need to complete due diligence on your prospective funders as they complete due diligence on you. Find out what they have invested in recently, what stage, and what their track record is in terms of expectations and follow-through. You don’t need surprises or disappointments either.
- Being unprepared for the next steps. After a good elevator pitch or initial presentation, investors will ask for your formal business plan and financial projections. Don’t derail their enthusiasm or risk your professional image by not having these materials immediately available. The same thing goes for incorporating your company, having key hires lined up and facilities arranged as required.
There are many other opportunities for you to shoot yourself in the foot. Rather than play the victim, you can be proactive on all these items and stay one step ahead of your “competitors” in professionalism, timing and preparation. The resources are out there to help you, like the book mentioned, this blog and many more. Use them and win.