Firstly, I want to thank Springboard and Inc.com for the opportunity to write my first blog. I was fortunate to be selected in the first Australian Springboard group of eight women-led entrepreneurial ventures with high growth potential. The sense of "entrepreneurial solidarity" that Springboard helped me find has made a big difference to my ability to dig deep through the crazy process that is trying to build a sustainable, scalable, profitable venture from an idea.
In this spirit, hopefully, the lessons I've learned can help you fast track your pathway through the 'entrepreneurial Valley of Death' (eVOD). So here's my eVOD Survival Tip #1 - Choosing the right investors.
Business school teaches you that you need to stratify your target market, understand the problem you are solving with your offer and ensure that you are targeting people with the means and motivation to make a choice to buy what you are selling. Well, I must have been enjoying a beer and a game of pool at the bar at University the day our lecturers taught us that you need to do the same thing with your potential investors.
A bit like the 4Ps of marketing -- Product, Promotion, Price, and Place -- here's my 4Ms of investor selection:
I'm not sure if it's an Australian thing, but a lot of people talk big about what they have, but surprisingly, few actually can live up to the means that they present. In the case of investors, some have intermediaries who talk big on their behalf, when in reality, they are just pitching for a retainer. So cut to the chase and directly research if the investor you are looking to target has the means to match your business's investment needs. If not, move on.
Next, make sure that the potential investors' 'rules' for funding are aligned with what you are doing and your stage of business. Make sure you know if they have special interests such as: web applications, a focus on business to consumer and not business to business, or only investing in companies at a particular stage, for example, post-revenue. So before organizing to meet with an investor, ask directly if they have a mandate to invest in what you are doing at the stage you are doing it at? If the answer is no, move on.
Investor motivation can change over time. When things are new and interesting, an investor might be happy to have a small stake in a new opportunity which is great because these guys help you seed your business. If the investors are entrepreneurs themselves, they may have some useful insights that help you on your journey. However, once you move down the pathway towards nailing your scalable business model, it might be that you need a different type of investor that is motivated to be a more active part of the scale-up phase. When you meet with your potential investor for the first time, ask them why they would want to be involved. If what you hear does not align with your vision, move on.
Sometimes you can find an investor with money, who has the mandate to invest in what you are doing at the stage you are doing it and they are motivated to get behind you with more than money. However, they may have personal stuff going on that will limit their commitment, making it a bad time to invest in your company. This is probably the hardest of the 4Ms because you think you have finally found the right investor but for whatever the reason, it's just not the right timing. It's tempting to think it might be the right moment soon, but if the timing doesn't line up, just move on.
I've wasted time, money, and energy getting in front of investors when they don't have the money, mandate, or motivation - or they do, but it's just the wrong moment. Take my four M's and fast-track your pathway to finding the right investors.
Good luck, fellow travelers, and thanks for being out there.
Fiona Waterhouse is a production engineer by trade, owning and advising engineering/technology related ventures over the past 20 years. In 2010 she founded biogas energy developer Utilitas Pty Ltd to bring together the most capable and motivated people on the planet to unleash the power of biogas to fuel industry, support energy networks and energise communities. Disrupting the traditional utility business model is a tough gig but the market is definitely shifting and Utilitas is now in its "Nail it before you scale it" phase with the view to becoming a dominant player in the Asian biogas market. Fiona's passion for regional communities, farming and food production started as a border at Hurlstone Agriculture High School in Western Sydney, Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Manufacturing Management from the University of Technology Sydney, a Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Studies from Macquarie University and a Graduate Diploma in Business from the Queensland University of Technology.