How to Avoid the Series A Crunch

Brock Benefiel

By now, it’s obvious to most experts: the Series A crunch is a reality and a burden on many founders in need of a capital boost. The boom in seed funding and the stagnation in Series A funding has created greater competition when founders return for the next round. Quick and easy results can set false expectations—especially for first-time founders—for just how hard it might be to succeed in future fundraising efforts. Couple this distorted view with the false belief that startups are getting cheaper and a cash-strapped business could be cooking up a recipe for disaster. Is it any wonder then that about two-thirds of startups fail to raise a Series A round?

To best prepare for your future round, consider the following tips to stand out from the competition:

Prepare strong unit economics early

If seed rounds are more about inspiration, Series A rounds are closer to an interrogation. You’re no longer able to coast on an ambitious vision and a smart team to get a deal done. As a founder, it’s essential to provide proof that your unit economics are working and the model will work at scale once the business receives its next capital infusion.

Being able to share your current customer acquisition costs and lifetime value and demonstrate how those numbers have tracked over time will earn you an advantage over many of your Series A startup competitors. You’re placed with the burden of proving your model is solid, so start financial planning early so you’re not surprised when you’re hit with questions about metrics when it’s time to raise.

Get investors interested before you raise

If you’re ready to raise a Series A but you haven’t established any relationships with VCs that can make it happen, it could be too late. You may have outlined a strong path for scaling your business, but it’ll tough to earn attention quickly unless you’re already on an investor’s radar. Take informal meetings regularly when you’re not fundraising. Share your story with investors before you ever start looking for Series A cash.

Partners and associates at VC firms are hunting for their next deal. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them directly if you feel your business isn’t getting the attention it deserves after its seed round. By familiarizing VCs with your offering, you could be lining up potential suitors if the time is right. Just make sure to preface each meeting as an informal “informational” session, so they know you’re not looking to raise already.

Call on your angels

Your current crop of angel investors should be able to connect you to eager VC firms if you have trouble drumming up interest on your own. Rely on their network as much as yours.

Founders who don't update investors on their progress & problems never engage their biggest supporters — & fail 95% of the time. #realtalk

— jason ? ?? ❤️ (@Jason) October 30, 2016

But don’t just keep your investor’s Series A responsibilities to introductions. Make sure your regular updates provide an opportunity for investor to challenge your company’s metrics and help you reach important milestones that will make your business an attractive target when it comes to the Series A round. Your monthly and quarterly updates can serve as a vetting exercise that prepares you for the investors you don’t have yet. As Jason Calacanis tweeted recently, “Founders who don’t update investors on their progress & problems never engage their biggest supporters — & fail 95% of the time.”

Maintain proper expectations

Many investors caution against aiming your sights too high early. This could set you up for failure in the future. “A simple piece of advice: It’s much easier to increase a round size than to decrease it,” Josh Kopelman wrote.

Setting a fundraising amount at $10 million and subsequently reducing the round to $5 million will send a signal to investors that something isn’t right with your company and could quickly cool their interest. Unfortunately, too many founders worry about what other companies are raising instead of focusing on what their business truly needs and determining with their investors’ advice the right number to go after. Losing ideal terms on improper expectations is an unforced error.

Set a timeline and stick to it

Attracting interest from investors doesn’t mean raising money on their timeline. It’s their job to spot the next great startup and get in on deals early in the process to wedge out their own competitors. As a result, investors will often pressure founders (with their kindness, of course) to meet before they start an official fundraising process. Not only can that decrease their competition, but it likely puts them in a position for the most VC-friendly deal. Don’t let it happen. Talking terms before you need the cash can compromise your business, as your company may not have earned enough traction to receive the offer you’ll ultimately deserve when the time is right to raise.

In fact, not only should you delay serious fundraising conversations until you’re ready for term sheets, you should be thinking of creating greater time restrictions as well. When you’re ready to raise your Series A, set a firm deadline for the process so investors know how long they have to secure a deal and that you’re serious about getting it done quickly. Meet with all interested parties (if possible with your schedule) over a two-to-three week period and schedule second meetings quickly after. It’s not an unreasonable ask, nor will your deadline be arbitrary. The business got where it is today because you worked on the business instead of spending unnecessary amounts of time on fundraising. You don’t need to have flexible timeline. Plus, if you’ve driven enough interest in your company, adding a time restraint will increase the competitive atmosphere in the round and provide you better leverage in the process. Get them to agree the timeline if they are interested in moving forward in the process.

Prove that now is the time

If you can demonstrate strong unit economics, have the right amount of interest and a solid timeline, now it’s back to the basics: painting a picture of future success. Fundraising will always mix a little art into the science. In order to demonstrate that your startup is at an inflection point and ready for major scale, share your vision for how your startup will continue to grow in the market over time. Share examples of how your software has become an invaluable tool that’s saved your clients 10x what they paid. Lay out a plan that gets investors excited that you’re well on your way to hitting future milestones.

In a Series A round, these intangibles won’t be worth more than hard metrics, but don’t forget that you’re adding members to your team when attracting investors. Part of closing any deal will always rely on convincing them that they should bet on you.

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