One of the most common complaints I hear from new business owners and startups is about the pain and difficulty raising capital. The “venture capital” model is the only option they know, where they feel they get no mercy, giving up equity and control. Based on my experience with startups, I’m a strong believer that there are far better alternatives available, if you think outside the box.
The key is to look hard outside the world of “professional investors,” to regular people who share your vision and dreams, friends and family who believe in you, and crowd funding your ideas that have a popular appeal. Of course, none of these sources should be approached casually, and none will give you the relationship and terms you are looking for without proper win-win planning.
I just finished a new book, “Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: How to Fund Your Business Without Selling Your Soul,” by Jenny Kassan, who has been in the business for over 20 years as an attorney and fund raiser. I agree with her recommended steps for every new venture, to find the alternatives that match your requirements, prepare for the process, and close on your terms:
- Define your personal goals and values for investor alignment. Finding the right investor is like finding the right spouse – it likely won’t work unless you share the same goals and values. In your business, how much control are you willing to give up, how fast and far are you determined to grow, and are you willing to sell or stay for the long term?
- Create the ideal investor profile for your unique business. Some investors are all about making money, while others care more about changing the world, advancing technology, or curing a disease that has ravaged their family. Your ideal investor is someone who will really value the benefits that come from advancing your business.
- Document the investment types you are willing to consider. The basic categories include equity, straight debt, convertible debt, services, and agreements for future equity. If you project a sense of desperation, or ignorance of the options and implications, no potential investor will give you the credibility to be your partner in a business.
- Complete and heed fund-raising legal compliance requirements. Many aspiring entrepreneurs try to raise capital, without first understanding and complying with government and state rules for disclosure, securities registration, private offerings, and accredited investors. The rules for crowdfunding and non-profits are even more specific.
- Prepare properly for meeting and closing with investors. This includes investor pitching preparation, how to ask for investor meetings, what to say in the meetings, and follow-up. Generally, as a new business advisor, I recommend advance preparation of an executive summary, a pitch deck, short business plan, and lots of practice and passion.
- Methodically address every obstacle head on. Fund raising is hard, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated. Obstacles are abundant, including the scarcity of warm introductions, enough traction to satisfy investors, and unending due diligence requirements. Maintain a positive mindset, and don’t get discouraged by every “no.”
- Block out sufficient time on your calendar for raising capital. Many entrepreneurs see fund raising as a part-time task, behind high-priority solution development efforts. Prepare to spend as much as 80 percent of your time for a couple of months looking for and following up with investors. Building and maintaining momentum is key to success.
Unless you are happy with bootstrapping your new business, I recommend that you ignore conventional funding myths, and first seek investors who share your goals and values. You can find these in your professional circle and your sphere of influence, rather than angel groups and venture capitalists. For example, if you are a doctor, look for funding from the medical world.
Also, it pays to be more creative with your investment offer. Rather than simply exchanging equity for cash, explore partnership arrangements where qualified partners contribute services for equity. For example, rather than getting cash from professional investors and hiring programmers, find qualified developers who are willing to work for equity or deferred payments.
In my experience, smart and determined entrepreneurs are usually able to avoid the whole capital raising nightmare, and associated cash-flow and control risks, by simply broadening their definition of investors to include regular people who are willing to share the risk to accomplish common objectives and impacts. Make your business a shared labor of love, rather than a battle.