In our recent survey of startups in the UK and USA raising investment was raised as the number one challenge they faced, emerging from the pandemic. In the first of our new series of expert advice articles, David Pattison, experienced angel investor and leading media agency PHD founder, gives his top tips for those raising investment for the first time.
I have spent a lot of time chairing/advising young businesses and founders on how to approach fundraising.
It has always struck me that, at the very point when young businesses and their founders are looking for funding, you are at your most inexperienced and vulnerable. You are often in a negotiation dealing with very experienced deal makers. This negotiation is often pivotal to the future of your business. One bad clause signed up to in an early negotiation can magnify in size as time and fundraising rounds go on.
What can you do to try and even up the negotiation?
Before you start remember these three things:Investors only care about one thing and that is their money. In the case of Venture Capital and Private Equity that is how they are measured. They have clients who fund their funds and financial success is how they are judged and how they can then raise more funds. They want you to make money for them.
Raising money is hard. Right now there is a lot of money in the investment market, but you have to have a good business and a really strong offering to raise money. Young businesses seem to be lulled into believing there is a money tree at the bottom of the garden that just needs a shake. There really isn’t.
Raising money is really distracting. It takes focus away from the business and most companies suffer a slight drop in performance through this process. Just at the point where it’s not wanted. Share the load around and take advice from trusted sources.
Once you have got your head around that, what else can you do before and during the process?
Here are five of the many things you should do:
1. BE THE BEST BUSINESS YOU CAN BE
It sounds obvious I know, but investors are looking harder and deeper into prospective investments. You will need to present yourselves as the best business you can be. Showing that you understand all aspects of your company and your markets.
You need to be a well balanced and appropriately experienced team with a shared view of the future. Have a proof of concept (does it work?), ideally some revenue (is someone prepared to buy it?) and will they buy it more than once. A good understanding of the competitive set. If appropriate some IP protections. Most importantly that you are in control of the finances of the business and have good quality finance resource.
If some of these points describe your business, then you are well prepared for the questions the prospective investor will expect you to answer.
2. do not get close to running out of money
Never leave it too late to raise funds. Investors will sense if you are running out of money and will try and delay the completion so that they can ‘chip’ the deal just before closure.
Leave yourself plenty of time. Never underestimate how long it takes to raise money, allow 6-9 months if you are looking for serious money. Try to give yourselves options. Taking money from the least worst option is never good.
3. RUN YOUR BUSINESS AS IF YOU ARE ALWAYS ABOUT TO ENTER DUE DILIGENCE
Prepare, prepare, prepare. It sounds obvious but make sure you know your business and your market better than anyone. Do not take fundraising lightly. In the digital age it is easy to set up a data room that has all the company data in one place. Have good governance in place. Get the financials and the legals in order. Remember that DD is not a one-way street when you are raising funds then check out the potential investors.
4. be clear on what you want to achieve
This works in two ways. Firstly, be clear amongst the team on what you want for the business moving forward. Are you all aligned on the future strategy and exit points? Mixed messages to investors don’t travel well.
Secondly, when the time comes to raise the money be very clear to the investors what the money is for and what success looks like. Not many investors want to fund cash shortfalls and saving the business, and if they do it usually comes at a massive cost to you. They are called investors for a reason.
5. beware of deal fatigue
When you are in the fundraising process be aware of deal fatigue. Investors, and particularly the institutional investors rely on you running out of steam. If your chosen investor is a significant shareholder, they will be a big part of your business life. You don’t have to love them but make sure you respect them and their motives.
Very often management get to a stage in the process where they just want it done. They agree to a deal without looking at every last detail. This is where investors can add the hidden clauses that bite you in the future. Stay attentive and on the way through make sure you share out the workload amongst the team.
One final piece of advice. Everyone I speak to who is involved in fundraising says the same thing, ‘get the best lawyer you can afford’. Don’t be afraid to upgrade as you go through the investment stages. A good lawyer should be seen as an investment and not a cost. They will also do a lot of the legwork on the legal documents for you and keep you focussed and avoid a lot of the pitfalls.
As I said right at the start of this, fundraising is not easy, and you should take all the constructive help you can find. I have been involved in a lot of fundraising.
If this blog has been of any help, then you might be interested in reading my book: The Money Train: 10 Things young businesses need to know about investors. It’s a guide to preparing for the investment process from seed capital to Series A, with lots of real-world examples. Whatever route you take to raise funds I wish you good luck and success.
David Pattison has had a long and illustrious career in the advertising industry and as an angel investor. He co-founded PHD in 1990 and more recently he has been involved in a number of startups in a range of industries including, marketing, publishing, construction, motorsport, AdTech, MarTech, FinTech, production and broadcasting. He was recently announced chairman of Conversational media platform Octaive.