The decision to raise capital requires a solid understanding of what investors will be looking for in their assessment of a business. Our firm occasionally meets with management teams that don’t have this understanding. This becomes obvious fairly quickly based on the answers to some standard questions.
Below are examples of wrong answers we’ve received with tips on how to better answer these important questions for the best reception and valuation from potential investors.
1. Market size? That is a good question!
If you don’t know your market, you can’t communicate the full opportunity to an investor. By thoroughly researching your market, you can articulate not only the total size, but also the subset of your addressable market and how your company differentiates from direct and indirect competitors.
Build a market map illustrating competitors and how your offering compares in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Discuss the sales cycle, how buying decisions are made and who the decision makers are. Showing an investor the runway to build a bigger company and giving them a sense of the time and effort required to increase sales is important for any capital raise.
2. Our team is awesome. We don’t need anyone else to hit our growth plans.
A company’s talent is a key component of its success and can be a major factor that drives an investor’s decision. Talent is also a moving target in terms of what you need and when you need it. While earlier-stage companies need more vision and product development, later-stage growth will require skills related to process, effective execution and duplicating sales results.
Before you engage with investors, consider the gaps you need to fill or positions you may need to upgrade. Most companies begin with an entrepreneurial, founder-dominated leadership team. However, it is important for investors to see you are open to building a different leadership team to truly scale your business.
3. We handle our legal and accounting in-house.
Long before fundraising begins, surround yourself with advisors who understand your type of business and the stage at which you are operating. Obviously, a corporate lawyer with a Fortune 500 practice doesn’t understand the unique issues facing a venture or growth stage company.
Each region of the country typically has a small community of top attorneys, fractional chief financial officers, accountants and other professionals focused on growth-stage companies. Not only are they a valuable source of advice, but the right advisors can add credibility and make valuable introductions to potential investors and board members.
4. I am not sure how much incremental revenue we can drive from additional investment in sales and marketing.
Learn key performance indicators that build value for your business and show you can provide timely financial reporting that is informative and easy-to-understand.
Be prepared to discuss how additional sales investment can drive bookings and how your gross margins will improve with scale. You don’t need a 10-year projection that looks like a hockey stick, but do build a bottom-up forecast with credible projections for at least the next 24 months. Investors willing to fund growth plans want to be confident their investments will be deployed in an efficient manner -- so make sure you give them sufficient visibility into your financial performance.
5. We know we want a high valuation. Other than that, we aren’t sure what else we need in a partner.
Many investors are eager to meet companies long before they decide to seek capital. Take advantage of this. Most of the companies we invest in are run by teams we have been tracking for months or even years. This is a big decision, so a cultivated investment process versus a spot transaction is better for everyone.
You need to consider many factors, including the investor’s level of engagement, past experience and references as well as overall chemistry. You also need be on the same page in terms of alignment and expectations. These factors are difficult to assess in just one meeting.
What answers are you giving your potential investors?