Many business leaders say they think strategically and long-term, but their capital decisions say otherwise. Unfortunately, those decisions can have a dramatic, lasting impact on employees, stakeholders, and leadership alike.
That's not to imply there are absolute right or wrong ways to look at your capital stack. After all, what works well for Company A could be a disaster for Company B.
As a Silicon Valley outsider, though, I've learned leadership is usually best served by starting with a single simple question: Do you really need to take outside money?
Understand your business and industry.
First and foremost, it's important to remember that every industry is different. For example, a professional services firm like Embark has the time horizon and business model to build low and slow, although making the Inc 5000 the past four years might indicate otherwise.
However, most tech startups need to ramp up and scale as quickly as possible, making venture capital money essential to their success.
Therefore, deciding if you should pursue outside money begins with your short-term objectives. Are you a tech company looking for rapid growth to attract a suitor like Google or Amazon? If so, then outside money beats a bootstrapped approach all day, every day.
At Embark, we've had the luxury of generating more than enough organic growth to support our deliberate pace. But I understand many companies aren't in such a position.
Just don't let headlines or what other companies do influence your decision. With only 0.62 percent of startups relying on VC funding, you're obviously not alone if you stay on the capital market sidelines.
The consequences of outside money.
No matter the outside funding source--VC, PE, IPO, or angel investors--there are always critical issues to keep in mind before signing on the dotted line.
VC and private equity firms cannot afford to wait for your enterprise to evolve and find its place in the world. Once again, they need to show growth quickly, meaning you need to hit the ground running.
That condensed time frame can carry significant execution risks, affecting everything from your overall company culture to lax governance. Simply put, when you're so focused on short-term metrics, there isn't much left to devote to your people and long-term stability.
The view from outside the capital market chaos.
I'm not against outside investors by any means. In fact, I'm open to the idea for Embark if the ideal opportunity and team should arise.
But leadership shouldn't feel like it's missing the funding boat by staying outside the capital market chaos. Instead, I would argue an enterprise should begin by assuming it can succeed without VC and PE money, at least until proved otherwise.
That perspective has made all the difference for Embark. By maintaining complete autonomy, we can invest in our people with an eye toward the distant horizon. Granted, we might not realize the dividends for another five or 10 years, maybe even more. But that's perfectly fine by me.
Ultimately, I want Embark to reach its long-term potential. That notion hinges on our ability to maintain a people-first, hospitality-driven approach to client service, something that outside money doesn't often afford. And I bet many other leaders see things the same way.