One of the most difficult, yet exciting times in a young company's history is when the founders realize that, in order to succeed, they're going to need more money than they can generate on their own. If you think that's true of you and your company, let's begin by making sure you're not reaching that conclusion prematurely.
First, why do you think you need to raise outside capital? One of the biggest mistakes a young company can make is to raise outside capital before they really need to. If your company is young and has a great future, it's always best to delay raising any money from outsiders until you've done all you can on your own to establish the highest possible value. If you look for outside investors too soon, you'll be selling at too low a price. Instead, if you just sacrifice a bit longer and bring the company up to a higher level of performance, the price will be much better.
Here are some rules of thumb you can use for deciding if it's the right time for you to raise money:
1. How much money do you need? If you only need $50,000 to $250,000, I'd strongly encourage you to find a way to "beg, borrow or steal" your way to get that amount on your own, especially if your company has yet to generate any revenue. Non-revenue generating companies are the hardest to get investors excited about.
2. Have you exhausted all your options? If you're the only one who's put any hard cash into your business, then conduct a sanity check immediately. If no one else on your team, your board or your family will join you by writing a check, then how real is this dream? Friends, family, team members and clients should not only believe in you enough to invest, but they're the easiest with whom to negotiate a fair deal.
3. What would you have to give up now vs. later? Companies that continue growing and meeting or exceeding milestones also increase in value. So selling stock in them too early means you may sell that stock for a lot less now than it will go for later. The challenge is in knowing when to sell and not wait too long or be too greedy.
Once you've decided it's time, what's the best way to prepare? Seeking funding is a complicated and arduous task. There's no absolute guarantee that any company will ever get funded. After all, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. However, here are a few tips that have proven to work in most situations:
- Be absolutely certain you have act together. We live in a polite society, and most of the time, people won't tell you what they really think of your idea. This is especially true of investors. Pay to get a professional organization to review your plan and comment on where you need to "fill in the gaps."
- Do what you say and say what you do. The best due diligence an investor can--and will--do is to validate that what you said you'd do in the past got done when and how you said it would. A team that can't execute on their commitments will not get funded.
- Don't be an island. Whether it's due to a lack of trust or an inability to recruit believers, any entrepreneur who tries to do it all on their own will fail. Investors look for entrepreneurs who can infect others with their vision and passion.
- Whenever possible, have an idea you can protect. Patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets add extraordinary value to a company. Investors believe that, even if a company's management fails, if the intellectual property (IP) is good, they can still get a return by selling the IP.
- Make us believe you're committed. Investors will always look to see how long an entrepreneur has struggled and how much of their own money they've put at risk. Just having the idea is never enough.
Jim Casparie is the "Raising Money" coach at Entrepreneur.com and the founder and CEO of The Venture Alliance, a national firm based in Irvine, California, that's dedicated to getting companies funded. Elliot Reiff, COO of The Venture Alliance, contributed to this article.