You've Raised Early-Stage Funding! Now What?
Four ways to set yourself up for success with your new high-maintenance stakeholders
I had 225 conversations and pitched 95 separate investors in order to raise my first $2.2 million. I remember applying for every possible pitch competition, attending every startup event and chamber meeting, tracking down every high net worth individual I could find - anyone willing to listen to my 30-second, 5-minute and hour-long presentations. It was a full-time job raising money, and it took me more than a year before the final investor closed.
But then, on that fateful spring day in 2012, the seed stage fundraise was complete. Then the real work began. It is one thing to paint a vision and promise a movement. It is entirely another to meet milestones, generate revenue, and keep the company on track for an exit. The one thing that I could have never prepared myself for was the pressure that I’d feel from the investors after the money had been raised.
If you are gearing up for a fund raise or are in the midst of one, you may think that you are undergoing the toughest part of your journey. And if you can prepare appropriately and build good habits early on, you will be.
Here are four tips for managing the investor’s expectations before you create cause for concern:
1. Communicate early, often and to everyone.
When I first began interacting with investors, I made the (incorrect) assumption that they invested in me because they expected me to know what I was doing, and that they only wanted to hear from me if I had dividends to pay. This could not be further from the truth. As a (now) early-stage investor, I invest in businesses when I believe that 1) the founder has the passion and fortitude to stick with it through the tough times; 2) I have experience that can be helpful in propelling the business to first revenue, cash flow positive or exit; and 3) I will be engaged throughout the early days of the company.
To engage your investors, whether current or future, you want to be consistent and honest. If you are sending a prospective investor email and a current investor email each month, continue to send both. If you are undergoing a colossal failure or your burn rate has grown to three times what you had projected, your investors should be the first to know.
The biggest failure in building a relationship with your investors is not sharing everything that might affect them. An investor never wants to be surprised, but if you hit a wall, they would much rather hear the news from you and as quickly as possible.
2. Structure board meetings before you have a board.
One way to structure communication formally and in a way that investors will appreciate is to schedule monthly board meetings before you have a formal board of directors. Invite all current investors to join this meeting/call, send an agenda in advance, and ensure that any items discussed during the meeting are followed upon in as timely a fashion as possible. Show your investors that you know how to work with them, value their time, and heed their direction.
3. Engage your investors for assistance.
I enjoy being engaged by my companies. If I have a connection that could be useful to a sale, additional investment or a decreased expense, I expect that you will ask me for an endorsement and introduction. If I have modeled financial projections for several previous companies, ask me for help in modeling yours (if relevant). If my home would serve as a great venue for a client dinner, ask me to host.
By engaging your investors for operational assistance, you build stronger champions for your vision, and empower them to better advocate on your behalf with the outside world. If they invested in your company, they have likely found personal and/or professional success themselves, and appreciate using their credibility to propel your company forward.
4. Know when to say "no."
Perhaps the most difficult lesson I learned in my early days of investor interaction was learning to differentiate when to heed investor advice and when to respectfully disagree. Your investors come from all walks of life and have varying motivations for involving themselves with your company - not all selfless. Often, you will receive guidance that does not agree with your business model, other valued opinions, or common sense. In these moments, it is important to voice your opinion, backed by evidence, to ensure that the direction you ultimately take is a sound one for the company.
Humility and coachability are important, but you raised the money because you know, inherently, something that others don’t. Be sure to use that experience of yours to guide your investors, and use their experience, where appropriate, in turn.