But if your company is able to reach a true growth phase, the rules around how to approach fundraising in a Series B, C or D round will change drastically.
Early-stage financing is all about communicating your big idea and demonstrating to an audience of VCs and angel investors that you have the product/market fit, stellar team and legitimate proof of life to one day become a real thing.
Securing serious growth capital during later rounds requires much more. At this stage, you've got to lay out the early results of your now-quite-real business, while demonstrating how those outcomes will result in the kind of scaling moment that gets institutional investors out of bed in the morning.
All of a sudden, success isn't about convincing the world that you're capable of real growth. It's about achieving early evidence of that potential and showing how you plan to fully capitalize on the leverage it provides to achieve true efficiency and scale.
If you're the founder of a growth company approaching these high-stakes funding rounds, here are seven strategies for getting the result you want.
Show your revenue pulling away from expenses.
One of the first things investors will focus on during growth-phase fundraising is whether your revenue is beginning to outpace your operating expenses. If it is, this difference is called your contribution margin-the source of the proverbial "hockey stick" you're after and one of the most important business narratives you need to illustrate.
The essential story your contribution margin tells is that your business will start needing fewer people relative to each dollar of revenue growth than you've needed up to that point. This increasing revenue will birth another important moment in your company's development: the cost-of-goods line within your operating expenses. This is the portion of your expenditures directly related to sales, and showing the difference between this type of spending and run-of-the-mill overhead represents another important business arc for you to manage.
The electricity and rent in your home office? That's overhead. But a call center directly supporting all the new users of your platform? That's cost of goods. Favoring expenditures in the latter category is not only sound business strategy, but indicates to investors that you're thoughtfully moving toward a real growth moment accompanied by accounting discipline and a solid understanding of how to support that growth from a fiscal perspective.
Don't short your capital expenditures.
Capital expenditures are big, expensive, one-time investments that require serious financial and logistical planning-pretty much the business version of buying a house.
For these reasons, you may feel a very human desire to hold back on detailing for investors all the money you think you'll need to address this part of your business.
That would be a huge mistake.
Not only can capital investments generally be amortized over a long period of time, but at this stage of the game, smart investors fully understand (and expect) that you're going to need to address some serious infrastructure needs to grow your business properly. In fact, they might negatively judge your prospects should you fail to demonstrate your understanding of this reality.
In truth, right now is the ideal time to detail the full breadth of your projected capital expenditures-and to make sure you don't leave anything out. After all, you're telling investors the size of the funding wave you'll need to carry you to other side of your company's biggest growth moment. If you fail to properly convey the amount of water you want pumped across the pool, your chances of sinking are high indeed.
Point is, you're not going to scare a smart investor away by outlining the sizeable investments you need to make relative to your projected growth moment. But they better be investments that you have some line of sight on having a big payoff.
Break out your revenue lines.
Another important scaling moment a business needs to demonstrate is an ability to start breaking out separate sources of revenue from its initial one. For example, the initial fundraising rounds for my company, Fair, generally revolved around the idea that we could get a certain number of drivers on the road through our vehicle subscription platform, generating monthly revenue for each one.
That's a cool enough mousetrap for an early-stage startup. But for a business looking to achieve truly significant growth, you need to transform this game of revenue checkers into 3D chess by recognizing the natural business adjacencies to this initial line of business and start spawning multiple lines of revenue from them. This is a particularly powerful turn of strategy because these additional revenue lines will ideally come with something truly irresistible for any investor: no additional customer acquisition costs.
In Fair's case, our customer acquisition costs are tied exclusively to our initial business function: getting people into cars. But when someone gets a car, they're also going to have to insure it, repair it, get a warranty-with each of these activities representing a separate potential source of revenue. By bundling these functions into our monthly payments, each of them becomes an offshoot of our primary revenue stream that essentially come free-of-charge.
Being six business lines deep-five with no customer acquisition costs associated with them-means you've got the potential to be hyper-profitable in the very near future. It's literally the business version of splitting aces. Again and again and again.
Treat your markets differently.
Investing heavily in your brand is extremely important for a young company, but it shouldn't be an across-the-board function of the business. An app like Fair, for example, peddles in two main indicators: installs and actual customers. Those are two different steps in your customer acquisition journey that have to be handled separately.
So if there's a market where you're more mature and have a good installed base, you can actually come off the advertising in that market, pulsing it only occasionally when an opportunity arises. But don't try that same strategy in markets where you're still very young. You'll get crickets.
Growth investors are looking for companies with the discipline to understand where they're mature enough to ditch the playbook, the costs and benefits of that, and what that arc looks like over time so they're able to show proof that maturity equals dependable engagement.
Let your financials do the talking.
At the beginning of your journey, you're going to spend a lot of time telling your story. But when you achieve true growth status, your story will be told by your ability to demonstrate discipline in operating your business. In other words, it's time to let the numbers do the talking. Big, growth-phase investors are no longer just interested in what a smart entrepreneur you are or how cleverly compelling your product/market fit is. They're looking at businesses that have the ability to transform markets, and they want concrete evidence of this possibility. Overwhelmingly, this proof will not be found in flowery descriptions of your company's future plans, but in very specific corners of your business documents, such as individual line items in your budget, your balance sheet, your statement of cashflow, your income statement.
For the people who write checks to growth companies for 9 or 10 figures, financial documents are the fish finder they're using to nab the next big catch. And there's nothing that pings that device like cold, hard numbers.
Know how much of your business to sell.
It doesn't matter how much you're raising, you should generally be looking to sell between 10% to 30% of your business. You're not going to sell less than 10% because nobody who puts serious money into something wants to own so little of it. And you should never entertain selling control of your business in a financing, especially if you're a growth company. It's disincentivizing for you and your team-and that's bad business for your investors.
You should, however, be careful to ask for sufficient capital to get to your next big proof point or milestone, however you've defined it. If you know you've got a serious growth phase ahead and will need to invest heavily in capital expenditures, then you better make sure to share that plan with your investors and seek enough capital to make that happen.
If you short your money ask because you don't want to spook potential sources of capital, you could very well end up not having enough money to grow your business-and that's going to spook them a lot more.
Manage your cost of capital.
Not all tech companies will have to deal with this as an overriding concern. But if your business is a capital-intensive one, you'll want to approach a growth financing with a strategy around your weighted average cost of capital over time. Every business has a key that unlocks its ability to generate supply. At my company, Fair, it's having access to inexpensive debt that's flexible enough to let us acquire the many different kinds of cars we need to populate our platform.
For instance, we don't want to be shackled by term-based loans tied only to specific kinds of cars or customers with a certain credit profile. We need access to dynamic and flexible lines of credit at the lowest possible cost so we can go acquire literal warehouses of cars of all makes and models.
Granted, not all businesses will be as capital-intensive as ours. But no matter your industry, later stages of growth should see you getting incredibly efficient at sourcing capital while demonstrating an ability to scale and make your payments. Doing this will allow you to start accessing capital at rates that a younger company could never achieve, which is literally like watching your company get its mojo in real time.