Now that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) picnic is almost over, the really difficult conversations are about to start. For an entrepreneur, it's actually pretty easy to ask a bank to lend you some of somebody else's money (thank you, SBA), especially when no one really expects you to pay it back. Apart from the confusing and constantly changing requirements and regulations, the lack of government and bank process preparation, and the ethical dilemmas, it's been a lot like the old TV show Supermarket Sweep. You run around like crazy, grab as much as you can, spend it as fast as you can, and hope somehow -- even if it's way too little and too late -- that the "free" money helps you hang on to some of your people and keep your doors open.
But, in all honesty, we pretty much know that these belated and limited funds alone won't be enough to save tens of thousands of businesses and likely millions of jobs. Congress will have to do much more and even that won't get us there. There aren't going to be a lot of winners. The new normal looks pretty grim all around, and the key for every business now is to be a survivor. The pain is going to be felt across the board and, unless it's promptly and fully shared by all the players, there's not much chance of seeing things through to the other side.
So, what does that really mean for you and your team?
It means that you're gonna have to go back to the well for additional funding -- hat in hand, even though it's not really your fault -- if you hope to make ends meet and to keep your company afloat. And it's much, much harder to have to return to your existing investors when the business itself is in limbo for nobody knows how long, and show them good faith models (but really only best guesses) at what the future will bring and then ask them to pony up follow-on dollars. Your goal is to make it to year-end or to break even -- whichever comes first. There is nothing less fun in tough times than being invited to a pro rata party that no one wants to attend. Nothing at these meetings is ever good news because nobody wants to be the turkey invited for Thanksgiving dinner.
But, if you're one of the millions of entrepreneurs who knows that the cash in the bank, the PPP funds, the draconian headcount cuts, and whatever slow-to-rematerialize revenue may appear in the near term combined still aren't gonna be sufficient to get you through the upcoming "L" trough and into next year, you need to start planning your pitch and your approach right now. Because there will be a long line of sad and sorry faces at these investors' doors starting very soon.
There's no guarantee that you'll be successful, but unless you're fully prepared with a strategy and a plan, you can count on being the one holding the short straw when the new dollars get doled out. Some of us have been to this movie many times and lived -- albeit sometimes pretty beaten up -- to tell the tale. Here are five of the most important things that I've learned over the years.
1. Set a dollar goal that is higher than you are necessarily comfortable with, and which leans toward worst-case scenarios.
a. You won't get a second chance to ask for money again from these folks, so you need to get all that's available;
b. you won't get money from all the investors who could contribute, and you don't have a lot of time to wait around for people to make up their minds; and
c. painting a rosy or overly optimistic picture right now is a waste of time and will not be believed. You're selling survival right now, not short-term success or a quick turnaround.
2. Set a per-share price for the new dollars that comes out of a simple, mathematical formula that expects every investor to pay its pro rata share of the dollar amount to be raised.
a. If you need to raise $1,000,000 and there are a million shares outstanding, the price per share is a buck a share. For everyone. No side deals. No special deals. And no negotiation. It's a formula and not a free-for-all.
b. If everyone participates at their appropriate percentage, the company has more funding and the relative ownership positions of the cash investors inter se are unchanged. If you do not play, you will be penalized.
c. It's a hard pill for management and employees to swallow, but their relative overall ownership (through options, etc.) will be reduced when the company takes in the new funds. This is probably essential to demonstrating the extent of their own commitments to the company and its ultimate success. Lots of ways to fix this issue down the line, but you've got to get down the line first.
3. Set a short funding date in stone and stick to it. No excuses and no extensions.
a. You need the money now. Actually, you needed it a few months ago.
b. You need to keep the pressure on the players, or they will drag their feet.
c. You need to be prepared to penalize everyone who does not participate by the deadline. See below.
d. You may have to step on a few toes. Get used to it. You are working hard to save the whole business -- hard feelings are par for the course. Everyone's "disappointed." Get in line.
4. Set up a simple penalty system.
a. The shares that would have been allocated to any investor who declines to participate (unclaimed shares) are reallocated.
b. Each participating investor receives its adjusted pro rata proportion of the unclaimed shares.
c. The adjusted pro rata percentage number for each participating investor that will determine its proportion of the unclaimed shares is a simple fraction that compares the amount of each investor's new investment with the total amount of new funds invested.
d. If Bob is adding $25,000 of a total new raise of $250,000, then Bob will get 10 percent (25/250) of the unclaimed and reallocated shares of stock.
5. Stick to your guns and get it done.
a. Don't waste time in conversations with investors complaining about what they were promised, what might have been, and how disappointed they are. Don't apologize -- no one said life was fair or that venture investing was easy or risk-free.
b. It's a simple question: Are you in and with us or would you prefer to sit on the sidelines?
c. And remember, above all, that as professionals, every one of these investors knew or should have known what the risks were, and no one forced them to invest. They're grown-ups and they should act like it. Especially since in 99 cases out of 100, it's not their money anyway. But it is your livelihood.
Bottom line: The future isn't guaranteed or promised to anyone. It's what you make of it and make it into every day. Pick yourself up (it's not easy), dust yourself off, get the dollars and support you need, and get on with building the best business you can build.