The past few years have been a golden age for venture capital, with an increasing number of brands outside of the traditional tech space (from toilet paper to breakfast cereal) raising millions in funding in promise of massive returns. With press releases around exciting new fundraises hitting the news at a breakneck pace, it can be tough to remember that venture capital is far from the only method to fund your growing company.
With my own business, I felt a lot of pressure to raise venture capital to support our expansion. The popular theory was that the only way to turn my company into a "real business" was via an aggressive fundraise and growth strategy. In the end, I decided to hold off on the VC track -- at least for now.
As it turns out, I'm not alone. There's a growing movement in consumer brands leaning on bootstrapping, crowdfunding, loans, or angel-only investment deals to finance growth. And while there's nothing wrong with an aggressive approach to scaling, the venture-backed trajectory isn't necessarily a good fit for everyone. As an investor once told me, "The venture track is very easy to get onto, and extremely difficult to get off."
If you're not sure where you land, here are a few signs to take note of:
1. You're not ready to guarantee a big return.
Venture capital funds work by investing the money of their LPs (limited partners) with the goal of delivering a strong return. The reality of these early-stage investments is that they're inherently high-risk -- on average, about one third of a VC's portfolio businesses will inevitably fail, while another third will return only the capital invested. That means the remaining third of portfolio companies that do succeed need to do so by windfall proportions in order to make up for any losses. Typical VC funds look for a return of 10x or more on their investment.
2. You want to focus on profitability.
The venture capital model operates on the assumption of "burning cash" -- at least for the first few years. Many successful venture-backed startups make it all the way through acquisitions (and massive paydays) without ever turning a profit. The goal is to grow at lightning-fast rates, at (nearly) any cost, with the understanding that at scale your business will eventually turn a profit. If sustainable, profitable growth is what you're after, your vision won't align much with that of venture capital investors.
3. You're an operator at heart.
Investors on the venture track will tell you that as a founder you have two jobs: running the company and raising money. Fundraising can be pretty close to a full-time job, with some founders committing their entire days to investor meetings for months at a time in order to close a round. If your reason for starting a business is because you want to be the one running it every single day, you'll need to find a co-founder or trusted consultant who can lead the fundraising process for you.
There's no shame in following the venture-backed path to big success. That said, it pays to consider where your aspirations are focused, and whether VC money is the best way to get you there. Keep an open mind on your entrepreneurial journey, and make sure you find the funding source that's right for you and your business.