Finance

The Golden Rule of Startup Capital: Don't Waste Money

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Golden rule of business: Increase shareholder value.

Golden rule of investing: Buy low, sell high.

Most entrepreneurs know these golden rules. To a great extent, they are (or should be) obvious and self evident. They are "rules" because they set the foundation for business mission statements, goals and decisions.

Related: The 10 Most Reliable Ways to Fund a Startup

There is another important golden rule that many entrepreneurs overlook, specifically startup entrepreneurs. It was recently driven home to me in an email from Mike Schroll, the founder of Startup.SC, a South Carolina business incubator with which I am currently working to develop my own startup idea. Working late one evening last week, my computer inbox "pinged" with his single-sentence message:

"I challenge you to achieve what you are doing with less capital."

Granted, my first reaction was that this was obvious. Of course, all businesses should try to do more with less. But as I started to consider my proposal in its current iteration, I did notice that I had built a "perfect-world" scenario for my capital-raise ask, which was significantly high. I have an ambitious goal, or BHAG, but I was treading dangerously close to a trap that many entrepreneurs fall into.

I estimated exactly how much money I needed to succeed.

The problem with this is that the "perfect" amount of money is a fallacy. Indeed, if you have a unique, revolutionary and proprietary idea, combined with the right amount of money it stands a significantly better chance of becoming a success. But most of us do not have this type of idea -- we just have an idea -- and investors have many investment choices and typically want to spread their risk around to many startups.

Ultimately, what investors want to see and what you need to consider is the amount of money needed to achieve two goals:

1. Getting your idea to market.

2. Growing your customer base as quickly as possible.

Because capital is scarce, startup capital that goes to anything else will be considered wasteful. For instance:

Personnel 

About the only thing that is critical for success is personnel needed to get the startup launched. Engineers and programmers are expensive, and they are well worth the money in terms of developing the right minimum viable product or prototype. What should not be considered is a founders’ lucrative salary.

Related: Have Funding? Great. Now Stop Burning Through Your Cash.

Unless you are a well known and sought-after founder (most of you are not), investors do not want valuable startup capital going to line your pocket. Be prepared to put in time and sweat to show your commitment, for which you will be rewarded with an investment.

Marketing and advertising

Customer acquisition cost is a key consideration for investors. If your strategy is just to spend money on advertising for the sake of spending money, then revisit your strategy. Approximating your return on marketing budget is critical, and though there is no way to be exact, demonstrating your critical thinking and understanding of its importance will make you appear much more credible.

Overhead

Precious startup capital should not be wasted on things such as offices, furniture, foosball tables and coffee bars, unless these things are critical for retaining key talent. Unless you are a sought-after founder with existing partnership with established venture capitalists, however, be prepared to bootstrap your way through development and launch.

Everything else 

Everything else needed to get started, from legal to accounting to utilities to janitorial, needs to be kept at an absolute minimum. No founder is beyond sitting in a hot office or taking Clorox to the toilet bowl. If your dollars are not going to build your product and gain customers, then they are being wasted.

While this concept may be obvious, I personally have spoken to countless entrepreneurs who visualize the launch of their idea with a complete misunderstanding. Many mistakenly believe that they need a Google-esque officeunlimited vacation days and full benefits, when in reality a cinder block desk, Internet access and the unwavering commitment of an ambitious entrepreneur is really all you need.

Agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts below.

Related: Starting a Business? When to Scrimp vs. Splurge.