Do you want your new company to get VC funding for the long haul? It's all in the approach, says David Politis, founder and CEO of BetterCloud, an IT management platform for cloud applications. Politis is in a position to know-BetterCloud, his third start-up, recently closed its fourth round of funding for a total of $40 million in three years.
If you want that kind of money for your own start-up, here's Politis' advice:
1. Get ready to be unavailable
You already need to prepare extensively for investor meetings-learning all you can about the investors you'll be meeting with, and also assembling every possible data point about your company, your industry, and your competition.
But there's another important piece of preparation that founders often forget, Politis says. "What many people, including myself, didn't appreciate is how distracted you are during a fundraising process and how that can affect your team and the day-to-day operations."
Many venture capital firms have offices in multiple locations, and investors in several different places for you to meet with. That means you may spend the two months or more either traveling or preparing for a trip, particularly if your business is located away from the major VC centers, Politis says. "You could be meeting with dozens of investors, and they may be in New York, California, Boston, Austin, and other places."
How do you keep your company running smoothly when you're not there to participate, particularly if you don't have a partner to make decisions in your absence? "It's spending extra time up front with the team, setting up some initiatives, and making sure there's someone on hand who can make decisions," Politis says. And while it can be grueling to put in that extra time at the same time as you're gathering information for investor meetings and running the company day-to-day, it's necessary if you want to keep momentum going while you're away, he adds.
2. Get to 'no' as quickly as you can.
Choosing the right investors to work with is a make-or-break decision, Politis says. He learned the hard way. At one of his earlier start-ups, investors provided extra funds during the financial crisis but used that leverage to gain control of the company. They forced the founders into a strategy they disagreed with. It was a frustrating time, Politis says, but the story had a happy ending. The investors' strategy failed, and the company survived anyhow.
Now he says finding the right investors is much like dating-through a series of encounters you determine whether the two of you are a good match for a long-term relationship. Because meeting with investors is time-consuming and takes you away from your business, you want to narrow that field of likely candidates as quickly as you can-but investors can be slow to turn founders down.
"Many VCs don't say no, they say, 'This is interesting, come back to me when you have a little more traction,'" Politis says. Sometimes that really means, "No, but just in case you do extremely well, I want to leave a door open." You need to push to find out, he says-otherwise you could waste a tremendous amount of time and energy meeting with not-really-interested investors for no good reason.
3. Ask for a timeline.
To many founders, asking investors when they'll make a decision can feel a little pushy. "The assumption is that they have a fiduciary duty to their investors so they're going to do their due diligence and it will take as long as it takes," Politis says. But in fact, VCs actually welcome questions about timing, he says. "I wish I had known that during our first and second round."
So go ahead and ask, because the more you understand the process, the better off you are. "It's good to ask, 'What is your due diligence process? How many customers do you need to talk to? How many partners?'" Politis says. "Knowing that information allows you to prepare for the final stage going from interest to close." It lets you tell your employees what to expect as well.
4. Don't be too stubborn about valuation.
"If you're building a software company, you will need to raise multiple rounds of funding," Politis says. "In the grand scheme of things, if you're very successful, the difference in valuation in one round could have an effect-but it's still better to get it done quickly at a fair price, and then go back to running the business."
In other words, he says, don't let a small difference between their idea of valuation and yours be a deal breaker. "I have seen people fight over those numbers and say, 'This is it-I'm not budging,'" Politis says. "Is it worth losing a great investor over? I've heard people say yes and my belief is no. If you build a good business, the outcome will be good one way or another."