You've been working on this concept for months. Or maybe you've already launched, and grown into a full-fledged startup businesses. Whether post- or pre-revenue, thousands of companies decide to seek outside funding to help their businesses reach the next level.
What does it take to get funding? And where do you start? These are some of the many questions founders face at this critical stage. Before you launch your fundraising campaign, think about the following in relation to your business.
A Quick Cautionary Tale
It’s easy to mess this up. Most people think, "I need some funding. Let me call that guy Joe I met a few months ago, and see if he's interested." Joe asks for the company pitch deck, and the founder has to scramble to throw something together. Then Joe asks him to come in and tell him more about it, so the founder shows up and fumbles through an explanation of the company and its value. He hasn't planned a compelling way to pitch it, and he's nervous because he’s not used to talking to a room full of people. Joe passes, because things just "don't seem like they are put together enough for investment at this time." Which is terrible, because the founder has a great investment opportunity, it's just that he wasn’t able to clearly explain it. What a waste.
Don’t let this happen to you. Be proactive and prepared with your fundraising!
Know Your Strengths
This is about you and your baby. You’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into this business. Now you have to bare it all to the world to attract investors and mentors. That’s a scary proposition. You need money to make your company grow, and your investors need your company to help them make their money grow. In theory it's a symbiotic relationship—that is, once you find the right investors.
While it's hard to pinpoint exactly what each investor is looking for, there are some generalizations that we can make. Firstly, no investor (except maybe your grandma) is going to invest unless they think there is some financial gain to be made. So focus on the parts of your business thus far that prove your ability to take their money and succeed with it.
Develop Compelling Collateral
You're going to need a pitch deck. A startup pitch deck helps you put your company and customer experience into a clear visual and informational format. Like any good marketing collateral, it needs to have a good company behind it, and it needs to be communicating the message through clear graphics and minimal text.
(Psst! Click here to learn more about our pitch deck creation process.)
Different audiences and venues might need different types of pitch decks, so it's good to know your investor strategy to make sure you are getting the right collateral developed. This is usually the first major marketing effort the company will engage in, and all subsequent marketing efforts can use what you develop during your pitch deck creation. Ideally the marketing is holistic between investor and customer groups. Both groups use the same brand, logo, and design style—the messaging will be similar, but will be tailored to the needs and perspectives of each audience in very different ways.
Traction and Customer Proof Are Key
Having a solid plan in place to get early traction is a huge asset to companies raising funds. Here’s the big catch-22: Organic growth largely eliminates the need for fundraising, but the safest bets for investors are companies that already show a lot of organic growth. Thus, the companies that don’t need a lot of funding typically have the easiest time getting it.
Frustrating? Sure. But knowing this phenomenon exists and planning accordingly can give you an edge. That means wise financial management, and a solid plan on how to reach your target customers. Anyone can talk about the cool product they built, but when you talk about your product in relation the customer's experience with you, you create a strong underlying message to your investor audience about the validity of your company. Keep your operations lean at the beginning and don't depend on investment to pay off outstanding debts that the business has incurred. That's going to be a hard sell. Every investor wants their money to contribute to forward movement and growth-oriented activities, like further product development, marketing, and customer acquisition.
Strategies for Perfecting Your Verbal Pitch
While you may often be sending your pitch deck as a PDF or visual document to a potential investor, you may also very likely pitch it live to them and their team. Be prepared for this. These meetings are hard to get, and every opportunity matters!
We find the best way to lock down your pitch is with a great pitch deck to start. Then practice telling the story and answering anticipated questions at least 10-20 times. This will give you a chance to not only fine tune your pitch, but also to learn your pitch inside and out before you ever get in front of deal makers.
Sign up for pitch competitions or pitch events in your area for a chance to secure prize money, early traction through pre-sales, generate buzz about your company, ignite investor interest, and most importantly to Practice! Practice! Practice! These events will be nerve-wracking, and you can learn a lot about yourself and your ability to deliver in heated situations. Even if you don't win, you will still be practicing for an audience and learning your strengths. You can also better understand what works and what doesn't from other pitches in the competition. Do they engage the audience differently than you? Do they lay out their pitch differently? The judges’ questions will also help you prepare for real questions potential investors may pose.
(Psst! Click here to learn more about our pitch review services.)
When getting ready for your seed round, remember: don’t get caught unprepared! Every opportunity is important. So make sure you know your company’s strengths, have a plan to develop traction, get a stellar pitch deck, and practice that pitch!