Today at the Rise of the Rest Summit in Washington DC, 120 or so venture capitalists, including my firm Valor Ventures from Atlanta, are connecting and comparing notes. It's thanks to Steve Case and his new Revolution $150 million seed fund, which looks to co-invest with investors in the so-called "fly-over states." As Steve points out, last year, just 3 states got 75% of all venture capital funding in the U.S. Or, as he brings the thought home, 47 states fought over just 25% of venture capital last year. Ouch.
Clearly, raising money is hard.
It's much harder when you're not prepared for the gauntlet of the fundraising process. Here's a nugget: 70% of VC-backed companies fail or stall, according to the latest analysis from CB Insights. (And when you do show failure warning signs, many VCs bail.)
Would you bet your beloved company on a strategy with a 30% success rate? Likely not. Today's investing climate for first time funding rounds is also tougher than it has been in recent years. Seed rounds are down across the country as the larger funds put their attention on the bigger companies and bigger rounds.
Ask yourself these questions before raising money this year:
1. Am I ready to put money to work making more money?
Are you comfortable that your company is at a stage where you can defend your ability to take a dollar in and turn it into multiples of that dollar in a time frame? Explaining this basic transformation is the core of convincing quality VCs to partner with you.
Often, it looks like a track record and a financial model, with one or two substantial customer success stories that illustrate the story. Investors look at your business as a money-making machine. If your machine needs some warming up, tune it before you pitch for venture. It should be worth the wait in valuation. For every recurring revenue dollar of tuning you can do before you raise capital, it'll count 5 or 6 times in the valuation you can negotiate.
2. Do I have a solid financial reporting system?
When your company is growing, creating a financial reporting structure can seem like unrewarding additional work. Lots of founders show me their books in Excel and use banking statements to share how the business is doing. I've done plenty of my own accounting and payroll over the years, so I get it. It may even be relatively easy to do so for the first million or so of revenue. But to scale, you need financial structure.
The time to lay that foundation is before you're pitching a sophisticated investor. Investors will ask for things like statements of cash flow, profit and loss statements, financial projections, and the like. Having that on tap matters. It's another signal you are prepared to grow and know how to put tools in place.
3. Am I great at pitching?
You can talk about your business--you know it inside and out. And that's part of the problem. Investors have specific points of interest and not much time to get to the points they're looking for. Delivering the information investors care about in a coherent, memorable story is called pitching. It's a skill you develop with practice.
Pitching well shows an investor you're ready for scale in part because you've learned to package information. Information only gets more "packaged" as your company grows. Think about how rigorously packaged the story is for a CEO for a publicly backed company. Polish your pitching skills because potentially, it'll never stop. Persistence in pitching also matters. At the Rise of the Rest Summit yesterday, Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein, who's raised over $200 billion dollars in his career in private equity, shared that he took a "no" from someone who became one of his best investors nine times. That's persistent.
4. Is this the journey I want?
This last question is really the first. Getting venture capital is a big decision. For the entrepreneur, it's analogous to deciding which college to attend, or which man to marry, or whether to have children or not. Once you make it, it's made for a long time and has ripple effects you can't foresee today--hopefully good ones.
There's no right or wrong decision: if you have a venture-backable business model like software or SaaS, the decision to raise capital comes down to you and the journey you want to be on. Maybe there's a window of opportunity where you need to be among the first to market at scale. Maybe not. The best way to answer the "do I? don't I?" question for yourself is not talking to venture capitalists like me, who are generally helpful, experienced folks who want to see entrepreneurs win.
The smart way to is to talk to lots of venture-backed founders at various stages, a few years out from their first raise. Most founders who are only a couple years in haven't seen "the full ride." They'll tell you raising money and tending your investors takes an incredible amount of time--and may not have been worth it. Others will tell you it was the best decision they've ever made. Trust yourself to collect points of view that matter in your world to arm yourself to make the fierce decisions that build your dreams even better. That, after all, should be the point of a venture adventure anyway--building the best you can.