How to Go From Bootstrapped to Funded
When Vadim Vladimirskiy launched Chicago-based cloud-computing company Adar IT in 2005, outside funding wasn't even on the radar. Instead, he focused on bootstrapping his way to a solid product and building lasting relationships with his customers. Vladimirskiy was wiling to risk his own funds and resources to get his big idea off the ground; a move that would later net his company $2.4 million from future funding partner MK Capital.
"When I first met Vadim, I was quite impressed with how he had built Adar IT, with essentially no paid in capital, into a managed-services provider with over 100 customers around the globe," says Bret Maxwell, general partner at MK Capital. Even more impressive was that Vladimirskiy's vision for providing a state-of-the-art, cloud-based product serving the small and medium-size marketplace was both cost effective and of high quality.
While many founders believe that their revolutionary idea is enough to secure venture capital, this is simply not true. Vladimirskiy didn't make that mistake. "In a world where entrepreneurs chase Series A funding with marginal revenues and no profits, it's refreshing to see someone like Vadim build a thriving high-growth company with substantial profits first," says Charlie McClary, CEO of BOSI Global, Adar's operating partner. "He is a smart, driven entrepreneur. We were immediately energized to partner with him."
Vladimirskiy advises entrepreneurs to have a well thought out plan when they are ready to seek funding. Here are the eight strategies that he followed to make the climb up from bootstrapped.
Start with a game-changing idea.
Private investors are introduced to hundreds of deals a month. They are looking for something that stands out. Long before they get to dig in and learn about you and your plans, the idea has to catch their attention, or they'll pass over to the next one.
Build it, don't just talk about it.
A great idea may get their attention but there's a long way to go before they wire the funds. Focus on building a business, not raising money. Getting your company off the ground, successful, and profitable makes you much more attractive to financiers.
Satisfy customers, again and again.
Capital sources want to know you have real customers who love what you're doing--and demonstrate that love with their wallets. If your pitch is all about "potential" customers, your odds of getting high-quality human and financial capital are much lower.
Demonstrate marketing savvy.
The best products and innovations sit in warehouses and on hard drives when a company cannot target and engage suspects and turn them into prospects and customers. It sounds so elementary, but you have to show that your customer-acquisition strategy is viable and scalable. The fact that your first few customers came from personal contacts and social networking isn't very impressive to investors. They want to see a repeatable, scalable customer-acquisition machine already up and running.
Build a rock-star team.
VCs know that great ideas are worthless without a team with a proven track record in scaling businesses. Adar did something unique and innovative by engaging an operating partner rather than hiring a full suite of executives. That protected cash and gave the company a higher pedigree of operator to build investor confidence.
Package, present, and pitch to the right VC.
Not every funding source is ideal for you. Target the money source that specializes in your space and has already made money in that space. Don't fall for the trap of going to pitch contests hoping the right investor is sitting in the seat. Target funding sources the same way you target customers. Ask yourself this question: "Who is the investor and situation for my type of business?" If the VC made their money in real estate, you're barking up the wrong tree pitching them a mobile app for salespeople.
Make the deal happen.
A great idea + market traction + rock-star team + scalable growth plan = high likelihood of funding. Skip an ingredient and the odds change exponentially. When you have all the ingredients in place, you can go after funding with confidence. More importantly, you can negotiate from a position of equal (or higher) power with the funding source. Never lose sight of the fact that funding sources are starving for good deals. There's no shortage of deals, but really good ones are something they fight over.
Keep the momentum going.
Getting funded is not the summit of the entrepreneurial journey. It's just a milestone. Make sure that you are serious about five to 10 years of backbreaking work or don't do it at all. Don't be part of the class of wannabe entrepreneurs hoping to build something in a weekend and get a million bucks the next week. That's not real business. Demonstrate to yourself, your team, and your investors that you are in this to build a real business, not just get funded.