You don’t have to have a lot of money to start a business.
Starbucks started with about $4,000. Apple began with $1,500. Michael Dell founded his company with $1,000.
Each of these companies grew from these small investments to multimillion (or billion) dollar empires, employing hundreds of thousands and providing goods for millions worldwide.
But there’s a long road between point A and point B. Along the way, almost all companies rely on help from outside sources to move them from bootstrap to powerhouse – investors. Whether investments come from venture capitalists, angel investors, or friends and family, the cash infusions that they provide help millions of businesses reach and exceed their goals.
Competition for those dollars is fierce. The Small Business Administration estimates that there are more than 29 million startups and small businesses in the U.S. alone and more are founded each day. Competition for funding is fierce. What can you do to attract investors’ attention?
When you ask for thousands or millions of dollars, you must be prepared. You need to prove why you deserve the money, that you have a sound business plan, and that you can prudently use the capital to grow your business.
Investors will ask questions such as:
What’s the size of the market and does it need your product or service?
What makes you stand out from companies with the same or similar offerings?
How do you make money and how will you make money in the future?
How much can your company grow?
What do prospects and customers think about your products or services?
How long is your sales cycle?
What are your barriers to entry?
What’s the exit strategy?
And on and on and on.
You’ll need to have a plan – either a detailed business plan or a financial model. You’ll also need a pitch. If you are raising venture capital, these pitches are typically slide decks. It should include a crisp executive summary, details on the market and competition, a discussion of your product or service’s competitive advantage, your company’s goals, and a financial plan on how you’ll reach those goals.
Get a firm grip on the numbers.
Your vision may intrigue investors. But numbers close the deal.
Investors will ask for financial data such as revenue, expenses, debt, current ownership structure and projections. Investors what to see that you have a plan for how you’ll use the capital, so if you don’t have a firm grasp on where you’ll spend the money your pitch will fall flat.
Don’t forget that you have resources to help you. Most accountants can easily assist with gathering this data and making sure you understand it. Experienced startup accountants can often help you create a financial model that you can use, and can even run you through mock Q&A sessions for further preparation.
Evaluate your team.
The earlier the stage of your company, the more the investors are investing in your team. You can have the best product in the world, but you won’t gain investors’ attention if you have a weak team. Investors are keen to learn how your business will execute towards its goals. A key component of that lies in your management team. Do they have industry experience? What have they accomplished prior to joining your company? Do they have the mettle to meet timelines and projections? Illustrating your management’s strengths will support your cause and understanding where you’ll need to hire to overcome growth challenges will help show the investors you are ready to take the company to the next level.
Research the investors.
Don’t offer steak to a vegetarian.
Research investors and investment firms to determine if your company aligns with their interests. Many different types of funding exist for businesses in the United States. Some companies are best served by raising debt from their local bank – others are likely to be a fit for venture capital. Determine what types of investors companies like yours typically go to. Then research the investment firms to understand the companies they normally invest in (for example, specific industries or size of business), how much they typically invest, and what companies they’ve invested in before. That way, you know you’re a fit before you make first contact.
How to find investors
Multiple resources exist to help you find investors.
The best introductions to potential investors are made by successful entrepreneurs who can vouch for you. Entrepreneurs and mentors who have been through the funding process can advise you on what to expect and how to respond. They may also have insight into specific investors that will help you tailor your presentations. Ask them for introductions! Investors prefer businesses that come recommended – particularly introductions from other entrepreneurs who they respect – over cold calls.
As mentioned above, accountants can coach you through the financial reports and data needed for investor presentations. They may even have contacts with investors. Take the time to ask for their feedback and if they can make any introductions. Other service providers, like experienced startup attorneys, can make warm introductions.
The Small Business Administration and local chambers of commerce serve as good resources as well. The SBA lists investors by geography and local chambers of commerce make great networking platforms. Other startups or small businesses will turn to a business capital broker, which acts as a matchmaking service between companies and investors.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of social media. Information and outreach through LinkedIn or Twitter can create useful connections.
Funding can evolve your business from a basement-run operation to a sizeable and impactful presence. Good luck and happy hunting.