Raising startup money is never easy. For women, minorities and entrepreneurs located between the coasts, it can be like weightlifting on Venus.
These seven proven strategies will help elevate your startup in the eyes of potential investors.
1. Field a strong core team
Investors bet on the jockeys. If you can recruit top talent on a shoestring, that shows you’ve got leadership ability. Investors also look for domain expertise, and for prior entrepreneurial experience among the founding team. Teams that have worked together before are preferred-;this should not be your first rodeo. Likewise, teams that have generated prior successful exits for their investors generally get funded more quickly and at higher valuations.
2. Fill an unmet need for a billion dollar market
Investors look for “must-have” rather than “nice-to-have” solutions to big market problems. Big markets mean you have room to succeed despite mistakes, and that your solution will be more attractive to potential acquirers. Make sure to accurately calculate your addressable market, and to build sales projections from the bottom up. Statements such as “This is a three billion dollar market, so once we get five percent of it, we’ll have $150 million in revenues,” just aren’t credible. Few companies achieve even one percent market penetration.
3. Fill the gaps in your management team with experienced board and advisory members, and use the best professional service providers.
A good startup board has three members: the CEO, a seed investor representative, and an independent industry expert. The latter two should be making customer/strategic partner and investor introductions. Your advisory council should be comprised of a mixture of industry and domain experts.
Adding successful entrepreneurs can also give you invaluable insights and cachet. Sign them on for two to three years and pay them with stock options. Engage top law firms (general and intellectual property) and financial advisors (CPA, taxes, auditor). Forming a strong board and hiring top professional service providers shows investors you know what you’re doing, and showcases your value proposition before you can pay much in the way of fees.
4. Demonstrate sales traction with your reference customers
Nothing smells like success like sales to big-name customers. If your product or service is still being tested, sign market-leading customers to paid pilots, get them to agree in advance to success metrics, and ask them to serve as references for investors and other potential customers.
5. Form strategic partnerships that give you competitive advantages or economies of scale
The best capital is the capital you don’t have to raise. Seek transformative partnerships that help you get to market faster, distribute more widely or manufacture more cost-effectively. Then structure a deal that tightly weaves your startup into the fabric of your partner.
6. Show how your business will make money and achieve scale
Investors want to know how they will make money. Eighty percent of investor exits come from mergers or acquisitions of less than $200 million; 50 percent are under $50 million. Early stage investors want to make 10 to 20 times their investment within five years. Show how your startup will make money, how it will scale, and cite investments in comparable companies at comparable stages to illustrate the potential returns to investors.
7. Develop a detailed financial model and capital plan
Build your financial model from the bottom up. Try to project monthly cash flows for the first two years, and quarterly cash flows for the next three years. Estimate how much cash you will need to get to each major value driver before you reach cash flow breakeven. You need to be able to answer the key investor question: How much total capital is required to get your startup to exit?
Make sure you’re targeting investors interested in your market segment, but don’t let “no” slow you down. Your skin will get thicker and your pitch more persuasive. Keep on hunting until you find the right investor fit.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.