If You’re About To Raise Capital, Read This First
Congratulations! You’ve weathered the storms of starting a new business and you’re now the CEO of a successful startup. After fighting hard to get to this point, your company is probably getting ready to take on outside capital. All the late nights, sleepless weekends, and endless phone calls have paid off. The team is excited, and it finally feels like you’re crossing the finish line.
Not so fast.
This moment is as far from the finish line as you’ve ever been―but don’t feel daunted. The warmup you’ve endured until now has set you up for the most important and rewarding phase of your business. To get there, however, it’s important to consider the many lessons we’ve learned over countless games of high stakes ping-pong. Whether you are raising capital for the first, second, third, or eighth time, we’ve distilled our own takeaways into a playbook of the 10 most important things to consider as you approach outside capital.
1. Your Term Sheet Is Only Your Baseline
The term sheet you have at the negotiating table represents all of your growth to date. Rather than wear this like a medal, understand that your potential investors simply see this as your baseline. This is your floor, the jumping off point from which all future growth must come. Remain humble, get comfortable, and stay honest when it comes to this baseline. Use it as the benchmark from which to measure and prove increased value around every move you make going forward.
2. The Right Investment Partner Is Key
WFIO (pronounced whiff-ee-yo) stands for “we’re [expletive], it’s over.” In Ben Horowitz’ book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he discusses the “life-threatening moments” every company goes through when it appears to be the end. Guess what? It’s rarely as bad as it seems. It might be really bad, but 99.99 percent of the time there is a way out.
What’s really important during these times, is to have teammates and partners you can lean on for guidance. Good partners pick one another up, share the load, and bear collective responsibility for guiding the business according to their areas of expertise. Pick the right investment partner, and you will be reminded daily of your company’s most valuable assets. When growing a business, it’s all about finding the right partner, not the biggest check.
3. Reevaluate Your Operations Strategy
Everything was firing on all cylinders before the capital raise. So, simply do more of what you’ve been doing, right? Wrong. Avoid the temptation to throw the money you’ve just raised at more of the things that got you to this point. Instead, stop, reflect, and pause. For just a moment. Reevaluate your current systems, lean heavily on your peers, and be sure that every bit of infrastructure required is securely in place to facilitate your future acceleration.
Think about it: if you launch a successful Google AdWords campaign but then can’t meet an onslaught of customer needs, all you’ll gain are some very expensive―and potentially unhappy―customers, a negative bank account balance, and some really disappointed investors. As an operator, one of the best things you can learn is patience.
4. Revamp Your Org Chart
You’re beyond lucky to have friends and family who have helped you reach this point. Your mom recommended a friend for the job, one of your past colleagues relocated to your city at just the right time, your uncle happened to know a guy. But now it’s time to take a look at whether or not you have the best possible people working in the best possible positions for your company. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that that talent separates the best companies from the mediocre ones.
Assess your org chart, recruit people to fill any gaps, and promote those who can lead you forward while implementing a strategy that will address your talent needs as they exist in the present, as well as how capital infusions might support them in the future. Get buy-in from your investors and have them poke holes in your hiring plan. Implement interview protocols to ensure those tasked with HR decisions know the skills required for each role and how to determine if the candidate is a great fit for the role and the company culture.
Don’t waste time combing through LinkedIn. Instead, tap a rock star recruiting firm―like Korn Ferry or SPMB―to identify the people who will get your company to the next level. These decisions can no longer be rooted in nepotism or familiarity. In order to set your existing and future employees up for maximum success―and minimum headaches―your hiring decisions must be objective, realistic, and based on verifiable talent.
5. Be Patient
Most entrepreneurs underestimate how long it will take to create results. Whether it is your first big release or the hiring of a new COO, these things take time. Which reminds us of our favorite quote: “It will always cost twice as much as you think and take twice as much time.” No matter how big or how small a company is, this fact always remains true. Whenever you’re creating plans, tomorrow always seems too far away. Finding the balance between patience and hustle is important.
6. Be Cheap
Just because your bank account is now flush with cash doesn’t mean you are free to book first class tickets, stay in penthouse suites, or throw launch parties like you’re Elon Musk rolling out a new Model X. If you find yourself looking at Class A office space, dreaming of a Don Draper-style corner office, stop! Think of Jeff Bezos and his Amazon cofounders who used old wooden doors as desks to remind themselves of their humble roots. Then prioritize what’s really important. Your entire capital infusion has to last until your next fundraising event, and it will always be shrinking. Act like you haven’t arrived. Yet.
7. Build Data Infrastructure That Will Scale
Data isn’t sexy. It isn’t fun. It won’t tell you jokes after a bad meeting, and it won’t woo customers to your brand. But it is everything. It’s the steady heartbeat that keeps your company ticking along, the objective seer in the face of difficult decisions, and the omnipotent caretaker in your company’s virtual environment. Unless you want your next phases of growth to become more complex, expensive, and time-consuming than they need to be, it’s crucial to build a data infrastructure that will scale with your business.
8. Start Onboarding New Customers… Now
Revenue will solve everything, but getting it will take twice as long as you expect. That’s why you need to onboard your next set of customers now. Hustle! But don’t rush. You want to avoid blindly throwing money at customer acquisition. Instead, your team should verify the measurability and trackability of your marketing sources. Free tools such as Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and SEMrush can help convert these efforts into precise customer acquisition costs. Because… data!
Use the tools in your shed effectively and ruthlessly to ensure your data is connected end-to-end before you start. If you’re not certain your tags and trackers are set up correctly, look to an expert to confirm everything for you. Unless a marketing source is measurable, don’t spend money on it. Period! Once you can measure the spend and know how much it will cost to acquire one customer, then continue to invest more dollars as long as the economics make sense.
9. Know Your Numbers Inside And Out
As you scale customer growth, your data sets will grow exponentially. For this reason, it is imperative that your company officers know your numbers forward, backward, sideways and can readily correlate those numbers with growth, revenue, acquisition costs, losses, salaries, and goals.
Consultations with peers and early conversations with your investors will reveal other critical metrics important to your holistic health. Remember, investors have been in this meeting every day for the entirety of their careers. They will ask questions about your numbers that you haven’t even contemplated. Your answers will give investors’ confidence that you know how your business is performing.
10. Prove You Can Run An Effective Board Meeting
You and your loyal partners hired incredible talent; identified measurable and achievable goals for your really cool product; are poised to execute on successful growth, acquisition, and hiring strategies; have mastered zen-like patience and resolve, and now have a bank account growing in balance. Congratulations! You still have one more thing to prove: your ability to conduct a board meeting.
Your investors have likely conducted and attended thousands of board meetings throughout their careers. This meeting is your first, but you don’t need to worry. Your ultra-prepared, objective, data-driven, and patient self has already drafted a deck highlighting company news, developments, stats, and issues. You’ve also reviewed key last quarter results with individual board members before the meeting.
Knowing this is your opportunity to set the tone and establish the dynamics of your board relationship, it’s important to understand that the most effective dialogue comes when all parties have had ample opportunity to parse information. Engage and prepare everyone in advance. If conversations don’t unfold as you’d expected before your meeting, or the council you seek reveals holes in your presentation, don’t hesitate to ask for help or draft additional reports. It is better to over deliver than to under prepare.
Jason Owen is the SVP and general manager at Credit.com. Gavin Christensen is the founder and managing partner at Kickstart Seed Fund.