Fast Guide for first-Time Entrepreneurs Looking to Raise Their 1st Round of Investment
A few weeks ago a I received a call from a friend. He had seen I was working at a seed-stage investment fund and wanted some advice on fundraising. He told me:
- “Enzo, I have this great idea I’ve been working on with some friends and need to raise some funds to launch our company. I’d like your help modeling our free cash flows.”
I said: “Hold on” and asked:
- “Do you have customers?” — No.
- “Do you have an MVP?” — No.
- “Then why are we having this conversation?” — We need the funds; and isn’t a financial model what investors ask for?
They were even willing to pay for it!So I decided to write down the little piece of advice I gave to my cousin as a first-time founder. The question has 2 sections:
1. When should I raise funds?
This is all about timing and needs. Identifying when is the appropriate time to raise the funds your startup needs to get to the next stage is key.
In my cousin’s case, his startup idea was still being incubated. It probably wasn’t the best time since he had almost no traction. An investor would’ve suggested more bootstrapping and applying for grants from public or private institutions.
Bad timing could mean running out of cash (if it’s too late) or having trouble raising funds (if it’s too early) in the form of a low valuation or many no’s from investors requiring further traction.
As a general rule of thumb, raise funds when you have an MVP, some early traction (users or buyers) and a robust diagnosis of what are your startup’s scalability challenges. Then, raise funds and use them wisely to address those challenges.
For example, Geoff Ralston, Y Combinator’s new president, says “you should raise your 1st round when you can make a persuasive case that your startup will become a billion dollar company”. Startup investors would not bet on you unless they see a possible outsized return. Building that case requires having strong arguments like an innovative MVP and traction.
If your well thought answer to 1) was “Now”, then proceed:
2. Do potential investors really ask for a financial model?
This is all about the investor’s profile. As a seed-stage startup you could approach your Friends and Family, an Angel Investor or an Accelerator. Each of them has a different background, education and experience investing in startups. Thus they will probably ask for different things.
Angels and Accelerators usually understand that the decision process behind investing in a startup is quite different from the one for a mature company. The last one usually has enough historical data to back a fundamental analysis (aka Financial Model), in comparison to the first one. Venture Capital funds also understand this. Thus they might not ask for a financial model, but will definitely ask for:
- Revenue in the last 3, 6 or 12 months (rapid growth month over month is persuasive)
- Unit Economics like CAC and CLTV (you can Google both terms, but here’s a fast guide)
- Use of Funds and Milestones, where you show how money will be spend monthly vs the key tasks you expect to achieve
Since startups have little traction, the assessment of qualitative aspects like the team, the problem and the solution tend to weigh more in the decision.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have angels or venture capitalists among your Friends and Family — in which case you wouldn’t be reading this — , the loved-ones who would bet money on you will probably have little experience investing in startups. If any.
In this case, a financial model could have 2 effects:
- Illustrate your growth plans and use of funds: If the target investor has some degree of expertise in traditional finance.
- Show you thought well about your business idea: If the target investor has little business background.
Bear in mind that since these investors tend to be less used to risky investments, confidence and belief in you rather than in your idea is key to a successful fundraising. So even if you were 1st place in college and had a great job, some crystal clear financial projections will make you sound more credible.
Take Away: Focus + Simplicity
As a first-time entrepreneur on the first 6 to 12 months, you should focus on figuring out what’s most important for a strong startup thesis: an MVP, some recurrent customers, and how to scale. (I love this article on founders’ focus)
Don’t spend your precious time and money worrying about fundraising requirements like a financial model for a first round. You don’t need to hire a financial advisor nor a CFO. Be simple.
A one-page spreadsheet with simple and well formatted monthly projections like revenue, cost of sales, selling and administrative expenses is more than enough. If your solution, business model and market are good enough, then the spreadsheet will reflect just that and the investor will believe the numbers. No financial engineering required.
Enzo Cavalie is an investment professional at Winnipeg Capital Startup Fund. He’s passionate about solving fundamental problems in Latin America. An insider’s view, stories and advice are his tools.