As SILA turns nine years old this month, we look back on our journey from start-up to an established enterprise. But this accomplishment has not occurred overnight – we understand firsthand the challenges of an up-and-coming company. From navigating a new industry to finding the right manpower, we have seen it all – including raising capital for our brand.
When it comes to getting funded, one needs to understand that stakeholder management is one of the most important roles of a founder. Employees, clients and investors form the three key stakeholders for any startup. In our opinion, each is equally important. This will help shed some light on raising capital, and working with one of the stakeholders, the Investor.
To understand the amount capital required to start a business, one needs to clearly define the uses of capital, and ascertain the operating cash flows once this capital is infused. Often people raise money because ‘it’s available’ - this leads to complacency with costs, and also tends to have startups throwing money at solving problems which is not a sustainable strategy. Clearly-defined sources and uses of the capital is a starting point. Usually, it is a good idea to keep a 20% contingency for unforeseen situations; most people underestimate this contingency number and overestimate their revenue forecasts, leading to a painful cash crunch. When you’re figuring out the amount to raise, it’s a good idea to raise money that will sustain the company for at least two years. Raising capital is very time-consuming for the management team, and it always takes longer than expected for the money to hit your account!
One of the most important decisions is picking your Investors. Today, capital is available for good ideas and strong management teams. If you are unable to get in front of investors, that’s probably the first sign of a chink in your business. A few other points to keep in mind:
1. Don’t only focus on financial valuation; figure out how the investor could add value besides the money they bring to the table
2. Make sure the investors’ investment time horizon and your business plan match. If you are raising institutional capital, try and gauge the life cycle of the fund that it is investing from. If the fund is in its 4th or 5th year of a 7-year tenure, the investor will likely put you under pressure to exit sooner than you anticipated
3. Make sure the investor and you are on the same page with regards to their level of involvement in the company. Investor involvement can be productive for the business, but clear lines should be drawn so that the management team has freedom to build on their vision
4. If you have a choice, fewer investors on the capital table is always better that having a large number of small investors
5. If your business has strong visible cash flows, then using a measured amount of leverage, and going the debt route is also something you should not disregard
Many entrepreneurs get lost with only the negotiating on valuation, however, the boundary conditions are equally important to keep in mind when stitching the deal. A few critical points/clauses to keep in mind and understanding the repercussions of:
1. Voting Rights
2. Board Control
3. Liquidation Preference
4. Tag and Drag Clauses
7. Employee Stock Options: Investors will usually want fully diluted shares, which make it harder to institute an ESOP pool, clarify this upfront
A good idea to prepare for this is to get a sample Share Holder Agreement and review the different clauses. It is also helpful to go through the due diligence checklist of a reputed law firm. These documents and checklists will not only help prepare the data you will need to provide the Investors legal advisors, but also get you thinking about all the points you will need to negotiate and agree upon.
Lastly, once you have raised money from your investors, it is very important to have a transparent relationship and periodic reporting structure with them. Remember, they are a key stakeholder and have an important role to play in the success of your business. It is also useful to pick their brains casually once in a while, get access to their network or just bounce off ideas. If there is a good rapport and transparency in your relationship with your investors, you will find it easier to deliver the bad news when it does need to be delivered. But rest assured, there will be bad news to be delivered at some point!
Good luck, and remember – good things happen to people who hustle!
– SILA Group
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