Entrepreneurship is hard work. I've been in the trenches of founding technology companies since 2001 and have raised over $40 million in funding for my two companies SVOX and Pixability. I've learned that one of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is managing an investor's expectations for you and your company. But through clear, honest, and frequent communication with investors, you as the entrepreneur can ensure the continued their support of your vision.
Here are 6 tips that worked well for me when I was fundraising:
1. Prep well
Managing investor expectations begins with preparing well. Your business model should dissect the market in depth. It can be difficult, but investors will expect your model to be thorough in estimating your addressable market. For example, investors get irritated if you claim to be going after a billion-dollar market and then claim "we only need to capture 5% of the enormous market" without showing what 5% of the market you will concentrate on.
2. Boil it down
However, investors don't want to get into the weeds immediately -- you first need to be able to describe your business potential succinctly. By coming to the table prepared with a detailed, comprehensive business model, but one that you can summarize effectively, you can manage how investors begin to think about investing in your company.
3. Don't expect a check immediately
Don't expect a check after the first meeting, or even the next. Investors are trying to get a read on you and how you conduct your business. When meeting with investors make sure to listen and write down their input. When going out for fundraising, I've always adhered to the maxim "ask for advice first, money second." You don't have to take all of their advice, but if you do, thank them for it -- people love to hear that their advice was valuable. Then keep that conversation going. At Pixability, I kept in touch with an investor for 3 years (since our A round) before they eventually invested in our $18 million C round.
4. Once the money hits, the management doesn't stop
Once an investor cuts that check, managing expectations only becomes more critical. Get in the habit of updating your numbers regularly. It's never too early to be disciplined about your company's metrics -- not only are they important to you as a benchmark of progress, they're important to your investors as well. Also, while sharing good news with your investors is essential to managing expectations, it's important to report difficulties as well. For example at Pixability, I maintain communications with our largest investors with frequent calls plus a monthly written investor check-in, with a rundown of what's working and what's not.
5. Don't communicate when you are down in the dumps
When communicating with investors, it's important to be clear and level-headed. As entrepreneurs, we're often riding the emotional ups and downs of the "entrepreneurial roller coaster."
But when managing investor expectations, the tone of your reports should be steady and honest. Also, take care to address what you're going to do to improve your business. At Pixability we learned a few years after our founding that our video marketing data was actually more useful and monetizable when we used it to place video advertising. That was a scary pivot into a - for us - unknown market but our investors backed the change because we had frequently communicated our thinking along the way. Investors won't be disappointed if you have to change direction as long as you don't change direction every week. While you're keeping your investors informed, don't forget about courting new investors for the next investment round. Prospective investors want to understand how your company is evolving long before you ask for their money.
6. Be clear when you will need more money
Lastly, clear and frequent communication is important when you need more money. Start fundraising early, at least six months before you need the cash. Nothing is worse than having to turn to investors with no runway left. By staying proactive in understanding and communicating your runway, you should be able to jump start the next phase of fundraising.
Bettina Hein is Pixability's Founder and Chief Executive Officer. In 2014, the World Economic Forum named Bettina a Young Global Leader. In 2012, Bettina received the L'Oreal NEXT Generation Award, an entrepreneurial award that honors the top five women leading groundbreaking digital companies, and The Boston Business Journal's "40 Under 40 Award." In 2016, Bettina received the Advertising Women of New York's No Apologies award, and Pixability was named the Fastest-Growing Private Company in Massachusetts by the Boston Business Journal. Prior to Pixability, Bettina co-founded SVOX, the Swiss-based speech technology company which was acquired by Nuance Communications (NUAN) for $125 million. Bettina holds an MS degree from MIT, a law degree from the University of Konstanz, and a business degree from the University of St. Gallen.