So you have a profitable business idea that could, if executed as you see it, also produce social impact. But what about higher cost of goods that force tougher pricing, and finding investors who will let your mission color all aspects of operations?
Actually, the prognosis is good for you. Millennials notice socially responsible businesses, and are willing to pay a premium for good products made by good hearts. Fortunately, the generation of the "dollar vote" is the largest in history, according to a 2016 Goldman Sachs report. And the guidance on finding investors without losing your moral compass exists.
Adnan Durrani founded Vermont Pure water, used a 1999 equity stake investment from Carl Icahn's Icahn Associates, and was a partner in Stonyfield Farms when Group Danone came knocking in 2001. Now he's connecting individual values to food choices by mainstreaming halal via his Saffron Road brand. Durrani spoke at natural foods industry conference NOSH Live last November, to share lessons in financing a socially responsible business. The difference between traditional profit-minded businesses and mission-driven businesses, he explained to an audience that also took lessons from Neil Grimmer and former Annie's Homegrown CEO John Foraker, is thinking not only about shareholders, but all community stakeholders.
That's not to say shareholders can't be happy. You'll have higher cost of goods, but Durani says consumers are willing to pay 20 to 50 percent more for socially conscious products, and you will acquire brand loyalty that is 50 to 300 percent higher.
When interested VCs appear, remember:
1. You can perform due diligence, too.
How long has the VC been in business? Are there a few funds within the fund, and if so, which one will invest in you? Who are the partners? Talk to not only founders, but any partners who exited the business, and ask why.
You don't have to rely on public information or talk among your network. Ask for the latest offering memorandum provided to private partners.
2. Talk timeline.
While you of course want investors that embrace your values, you have to remember you're still doing business and must think about the duration of the relationship. Ask about time horizon for exit, and, if there is any sourcing from pension funds, ask about the life of those funds.
3. Retain equity control.
Create for your founders super voting shares at inception. Assign yourselves three to 20 times the voting rights.
You can also retain control with board seats for founders exerting 2:1 votes by incorporating those seats and what is in effect twice the vote into bylaws.
Avoid fixed equity stakes, in both preferred and common stock.
4. Be sure to codify elements of your company's operation that relate to mission and values.
Be it labor-friendly manufacturing, humane food sourcing, or sustainable shipping methods, the how of your business could be subject to changes if you don't specify every standard up front.
5. You can limit VCs' veto rights.
Develop voting terms that limit VCs' rights in mergers and acquisitions and/or follow-on (next round of funders) investment.
6. Protect your leadership.
Whether existing leadership or in-sourced executives from the fund, you must be on the same page with your executives, and you must craft indestructible employment contracts and shareholder agreements to outline their roles, scope of work, performance standards, and compensation packages.