Ben Malka is a venture capitalist -- a partner with F-Prime Capital, the venture capital arm of Fidelity Investments, in Boston -- with an unusual background. And his five tips for entrepreneurs seeking capital reflects that unusual background -- yielding practical insights based on years of working with startups.
Malka invests in early-stage Enterprise IT and FinTech companies for F-Prime Capital -- which he joined in 2015. He earned degrees in Quantitative Economics and Political Science from Stanford University and an MBA from University of Chicago.
He was a consultant at McKinsey, a risk analyst at Bank of America, and a consultant at Boston Consulting Group in Chicago where he worked with consumer brands, financial institutions and companies that sold software vendors to the financial services industry.
After BCG, Malka joined Capital One/North Hill Ventures where he spent nearly two decades investing in the financial services industry before joining F-Prime.
As he explained in a July 21 interview, his portion of the F-Prime fund has over $100 million in capital. And the odds of a startup getting some of that capital are pretty slim. "We get about 120 proposals per partner then narrow down to 12 per partner and then will do about one deal per year per partner," said Malka.
Here are Malka's five tips for entrepreneurs who aspire to be one of those deals.
1. Pick a partner who shares your vision
When you raise venture capital, you are not simply getting a check. You are also doing something far more important -- you are entering a business marriage that could last 15 years.
That's because venture capital firms generally demand and get seats on your company's board of directors.
I think you owe it to yourself and your company's future to make sure that the general partner from the venture capital firm not only shares your vision for the industry and the company, but will also try to help you succeed when times are tough.
Before you close the deal, check references by talking with other startup CEOs who have worked with the general partner in the past. Find out how the partner reacted when they encountered difficulties.
You will want a partner who pitches in to help when you need it most.
2. Play the long game
Malka has found that entrepreneurs tend to get hung up on minute details of financing contracts.
He advises against this kind of haggling. "When we invest in companies, we are in it for the long haul. You should be investing in building relationships and thinking about what matters most" over a five to 10 year time frame.
3. Don't give investors a term sheet or exit analysis
Malka has noticed that entrepreneurs may have been coached to appear to be taking the initiative in the negotiating process by giving investors a term sheet and presenting an analysis of how much the company will be worth when it goes public or is acquired.
As Malka explained, "This might be good advice for pitching to a private equity firm. But entrepreneurs should know that venture capitalists know their industry well and are very familiar with the terms and exit valuations of comparable companies."
Therefore providing term sheets and exit valuations to potential investors is likely to backfire -- by revealing the entrepreneurs relative ignorance of the market.
4. Don't blur the line between accomplishment and aspirations
Entrepreneurs are optimistic -- but they should not let their optimism lead to word choices that cost them investor's trust.
"Founders should avoid blurring the line between what they have actually accomplished and what they hope they can achieve. A thoughtful venture capitalist will do the research and discover the difference," said Malka.
Losing an investor's trust -- in this and other ways -- could cause serious damage to a founder's relationship with the venture capital firm and turn a chance to raise capital and hire a great business partner into a sudden thumbs down.
5. Acknowledging business challenges right away
Finally, Malka recommends that if a founder runs into a business challenge that will affect the value of the company or relationships with people connected to the company -- she should share the challenge with the venture capitalist in a timely way.
After all, while the entrepreneur may view it as something she ought to be able to solve on her own -- the challenge might well be due to factors like changing regulations, a customer getting cold feet, or the emergence of a new technology -- the venture capitalist may be able to draw on deeper experience to help develop solutions.
As Malka said, "The venture capital firm wants the entrepreneur to succeed. Even though discussing a business challenge may be uncoplaceholdermfortable, it is always better to tell the venture capitalist about it right away and suggest possible solutions. The venture capitalist has a strong incentive to help solve the problem in the best way possible."
Malka's advice will not only help you when you are trying to raise capital -- it will also be useful as you work with your board to use the capital to grow.