All Encompassing Startup Fundraising Guide
Startups are in constant competition for two resources: capital and talent. Without capital, a business fails to exist. Without talent, a business fails to flourish.
This guide is intended to help you understand the venture markets and improve your likelihood of raising venture capital. We will cover the history of venture capital, the investor thought process, finding and pitching investors, sharing data and documents, closing your new investors, and building strong relationships to help with future fundraises. Note: You can find the resources (blogs, podcasts, videos, books, etc.) used to fuel this guide in the resources tab located in the top right.
If you’ve raised venture capital before, you already have some combination of a great product, a highly functioning team, and a growing market. Before we jump into these aspects, we need to take a step back and study the history of venture capital.
As recent as the 1990s, the venture capital space was dominated by a few large firms that did incredibly well. Capital was enough of a scarcity that it was a differentiator for these large firms. As the internet skyrocketed in the 90s and early 2000s, in turn the cost of starting a company started to decline (and still is today). Fast forward to 2005, and Y Combinator is started. Y Combinator cracked the code on scaling entrepreneurship and used their founder and investor network to help more companies succeed.
Since the inception of Y Combinator, thousands of VC firms have started and have drastically changed the space. Capital alone is no longer a sufficient differentiator for a VC firm. Firms have started to specialize in specific verticals, offer extensive resources to their portfolio companies, and have created their own “secret sauce” for yielding the best returns.
That brings us to today, where it is easier to start a company, yet harder to build a company than ever before. Access to capital can be the difference maker between a startup thriving or joining the startup graveyard. Below we will share the tips and tricks to systemize your fundraising process to better increase your odds of raising venture capital.
Further reading and resources to help you learn more about venture capital:
- Our Favorite Blog Posts for Getting Started with Fundraising
- [Video] The Founder’s Guide to Investor Communication and Fundraising
- Types of Venture Capital Funds: Understanding VC Stages, Financing Methods, Risks, and More
Are you ready to raise capital?
First things first, you need to ask yourself, “are we ready to raise venture capital?” Or better yet, “what do I have to offer a potential investor?” As we previously mentioned, to raise venture capital you need some sort of combination of a compelling market, qualified team, or strong product.
Understanding How VCs Work
To understand if you’re ready to raise venture capital, you need to understand how VC firms function and how you can fit into their larger vision. In simplest terms, VCs go through a consistent life cycle that goes something like this: raise capital from LPs, generate returns through risky venture investments, generate returns in 10-12 years, and do it again.
Easy, right? Actually, quite the opposite. A median VC fund is generally not a great investment for limited partners. Just as companies are in competition for venture capital, venture capitalists are in competition for capital from limited partners. In short, LPs are institutional investors (University endowments, foundations, pension funds, insurance companies, family offices, sovereign wealth funds, etc.) looking to create excess returns by investing in VC firms (generally a small % of their overall investment strategy).
According to Scott Kupor, “If you invested in the median returning VC firm, you would have tied up your money for a long time and have generated worse results that the same investment in Nasdaq or S&P 500.” So why would an LP invest in a VC firm at all? Because VC returns follow a power law curve; a small % of firms capture a large % of industry returns. In simpler terms, LPs are in pursuit of VCs generating excess returns who are in pursuit of investing in companies that can offer huge returns. Which brings us to our next point…
A Compelling Market
VC fund returns are not the only place we see a power law curve throughout the fundraising process. The breakdown of a VC funds individual investment returns follows a power law curve as well. It might look something like this. Long story short, VCs are in search of home runs, not singles and doubles, to create the excess returns for their LPs.
The best chance of being one of these companies that creates the huge returns for a fund, have a compelling market. As Scott Kupor, Managing Director at a16z puts it, “Everything starts and ends with addressable market.” As a founder, it is your duty to model the total addressable market and paint a picture of how you will penetrate the market to become a “home run” investment. Without a compelling market, a VC fund will have a tough time justifying making an investment in your company. With that being said, if a market is not big enough right now, strong and innovative companies can find and create new ones (E.g. Uber’s TAM).
Markets fluctuate and you may have an investor that invests in specific products or teams to differentiate themselves.
On the flip side, there are investors who will base their investment decision of the product. No matter how big the market or strong the team, some investors will tout that a strong product is all that matters. The idea being that a strong and innovative product will sell itself and will have the ability to create new markets. As Peter Thiel states, “If your product requires advertising or salespeople to sell it, it’s not good enough.”
While the team may have no direct attribution to how large of returns your company can generate, it can display your ability to execute on the vision. Having a well experienced team is a great way to portray your credibility. Some very early stage investors, such as the Hustle Fund, may even place the most stress on the team when making an investment decision. As Elizabeth Yin of the Hustle Fund puts it, “of the two things I am most interested in for early stage investments is the assessment of the team… how well do they know the market? Are they executing?, etc.”
So the question is not, “are we ready to fundraise?” It should be, “do we have the market, product, or team to warrant an investment from an investor?” If so, it is time to get started on the fundraising process.
Further reading and resources to help you determine if you’re ready to raise venture capital:
- Our Favorite Blog Posts to Determine if You’re Ready to Raise Venture Capital
- [Video] How to Raise Capital in 15 Days: Debt vs. Equity Financing
- The Free Visible Total Addressable Market Template and Evaluation Model
Finding the Right Investors
When you’ve determined you are ready to raise capital, you’ll find that the fundraising process often mirrors a traditional sales process. Like any sales process, the fundraising process starts by finding qualified investors (leads) that you’ll build a relationship with the end goal of them writing a check.
Fundraising is often compared to a cocktail party, when the waiter comes around with a tray of snacks, you should always take one. You’ll never know when the waiter will make it back to you. The same with VC capital. However, it is important to remember that the average VC + Founder relationship is 8-10 years so you’ll want to make sure you’re starting with the right people to build a valuable and long-term relationship.
We suggest starting with your “Ideal Investor Persona.” This is a firm or person, that is highly targeted in all facets of your business. We suggest starting with qualities below:
- Location – Where are you located? Do you need local investors? Or maybe you are looking for connections and networks in strategic geographies.
- Industry Focus – What type of company are you? Where should your future investors/partners be focused? e.g. If you’re a B2B SaaS company don’t waste your time with marketplace focused investors. Mark Suster suggest that it is best to prioritize investors with companies in your space.
- Stage Focus – What size check/round are you raising? e.g. If you’re raising a $1M seed round avoid a firm with $2B AUM. If you’re raising a $30M round avoid a firm with $75M AUM.
- Current Portfolio – How is the rest of their portfolio constructed? If current companies are doing well, there may be less pressure to exit so they can return funds to their LPs. If current companies are performing poorly, there may be more pressure for you to exit so they can return as much as possible their LPs.
- Fund Age — How long ago did they raise their current fund? How many investments have they made? If the fund is young, there will be less pressure to exit and a higher likelihood of them having capital saved for a future round. If the fund is older, they may feel pressure from their LPs and may be looking for an exit as soon as possible.
- Deal Velocity – Are you in need of capital as soon as possible? Or are you taking your time and looking for strategic investors? Varying investor’s have different philosophies for the velocity they’re making deals. Point Nine Capital and Kima ventures are both regarded as top firms in Europe. However, Point Nine makes ~10 investments a year whereas Kima makes 1-2 investments a week.
- Motivators – Who are the firm’s limited partners? What do want to get out of your investors and what do they want to get out of you? Do they need to match your values and culture?
Once you’ve determined someone that meets your “ideal investor persona” you’ll need to do everything in your power to get a meeting with them. In fact, many VCs will use your ability to get their attention and set a meeting as a gage for your “hustler” prowess. Cold emails, your network, and events are all great ways to get a meeting.
Regardless of how you get a meeting, it is vital to do your research beforehand. Start with current connections and do what you can to get an introduction. Other founders and current investors are a great source for finding new investors. Go into the first meeting full of knowledge and ready to question investors.
Further reading and resources for finding the right investors:
- Our Favorite Posts to Help You Find the Right Investors
- Our Free Fundraise Tracking Tool
- [Video] How to Cold Email Investors: A Video by Michael Seibel of YC
- How To Find Private Investors For Startups
- How Rolling Funds Will Impact Fundraising
- Startup Syndicate Funding: Here’s How it Works
Pitching Your Company Effectively
Just landed your first meeting? Great! But the pitching does not start yet. Many founders will walk into their first meeting and immediately start flipping through their deck and give the same presentation to each investor. However, you need to remember you are selling your company and want to make sure your pitch is as tailored as possible to each investor.
The first meeting should be most valuable for you as a founder. This is your opportunity to ask questions so you can figure out their pain points, figure out their motives, and other nuanced things you may not be able to find in internet research to tailor your pitch for future meetings.
As Elizabeth Yin, Founder of the Hustle Fund puts it, “Your job in the first meeting with a potential investor is to ask a lot of questions – ala customer development style – to understand how you might be able to tie your story to their problems and interests. And so your pitch should not be stagnant, and although you may have created a deck before the meeting, it’s important to tie your talking points together as a solution to the problems you learn about in that meeting.”
If you’ve done your research and asked the right questions, you’ll be armed with the information you need to effectively pitch your company. At the end of the day, pitching is storytelling and it is your job to figure out how each potential investor fits into the narrative. If done correctly, you’ll be able to control the conversation and better your chances of setting future meetings.
Further reading and resources for pitching your company to investors:
- Our Favorite Posts for Successfully Pitching Potential Investors
- [Video] The Founder’s Guide to Investor Communication and Fundraising
Data, Documents, and Due Diligence
Once you’ve determined an investor is the right fit for your company, you’ll need to share data and different documents with your investors.
Data & Metrics
At some point throughout the process, investors will need to see the metrics behind your business. You should have a deep understanding of your key metrics and have them ready to share at any time. Generally, we’ll see that metrics potential investors want to see fit into one of the following categories:
- Growth & Financials — This more often than not comes in the plan of a business/financial model and historical data. Show them a strong financial model that creates growth for the business and returns for them and their LPs.
- Margins — Margins on your product is a large part of the path to profit and returns for your investors. Investors generally have a % they are looking for in the back of their mind.
- Customers — Your customers are your business. Clearly showing potential investors that you can attract, convert, retain, and engage your customers is vital. This can come in the form of customer satisfaction surveys, net promoter score, and retention rates.
Documents & Due Diligence
Going from “I’d like to close” to actually closing is a big difference. When facing due diligence it is important to be prepared, understand the process, and do your part to speed up the process as much as possible.
There are a number of different corporate documents, protocols, references, etc. that you’ll need during the due diligence process. To learn more about the specific documents head over to our fundraising resources section.
Signaling most certainly matters throughout this process. You’re likely only meeting a few times before jumping into a 8-10 year relationship so everything will be magnified throughout the process. Be prepared and transparent throughout the due diligence to help avoid speed bumps and start your relationship off on the right foot.
Further reading and resources for sharing data, decks, and documents:
- Our Favorite Posts for Sharing Data, Decks, and Documents
- Our Free Guide for Building Your Financial Model
Nurturing for Later Rounds
Inevitably, you’ll hear a slew of “no’s” and maybe’s” throughout the fundraising process. An investor “no” can always be turned into a “yes” at a future date. As you would nurture a lost deal in a sales process, the same should be done with your potential investors.
If you’ve asked the right questions, you should have a good idea of what they’re excited about and be ready to pull the trigger to pick the conversation back up. How exactly do you keep potential investors engaged? We have found it best to send out a short update on the state of the business and industry. Share a promising metric or two showing strong growth in the business and any significant wins/improvements. If possible, address any concerns with the industry, team, product, etc. that you have discussed in the past with numbers. Hundreds of emails land in investor’s inboxes so be sure to include a quick snippet of what your company does and any personal notes.
By building a strong relationship with potential investors, it will make it that much easier when you set out to raise at a future date. Most importantly, make sure you are armed with the right information and data to stay top of mind.
Startup Funding Tracking
We’ve talked with a lot of founders who have raised money, and we continue to hear the same things: Fundraising is a difficult and time-consuming process, one that is often unstructured and chaotic. Done poorly, it can cost startup leaders countless hours of valuable time—not to mention their valuable sanity.
One of the key challenges of the fundraising process is it is non-linear. Seasoned founders will tell you that fundraising is essentially a sales process, requiring a founder to prospect, nurture and move potential investors through a “pipeline.” While this is true, it doesn’t tell the full story.
Most sales interactions have a natural order to them, an order that both sides generally understand. The fundraise process? Not so much. There is no proven playbook for getting funded, because every company is different, and so is every investor. Often, these interactions need to be managed on a case-by-case basis.
When managing a fundraise, a little structure goes a long way. We’ve built our Fundraising CRM to help founders track their fundraise simply, but effectively. Use it properly, and you’ll be on well your way to completing your round.
How the CRM Works
The Fundraising CRM is free for all users. To get started with your raise, login to your Visible account and check out the “Fundraising section”
To help get started, we include generic pipeline stages that are easily customizable to fit the needs of your fundraise. We’ve included what we have found to be the most common stages for an investor:
- Research — Any new investor that you’re prospecting, or has contacted you, but has yet to discuss potential investment.
- Contacted — Any investor that you’ve emailed or called to discuss the opportunity to invest in your business.
- Meeting — Any investor that has agreed to sit a meeting. From here, you can continue to move through the funnel or move directly to “Keep in Touch” or “Passed” depending on the meeting outcome.
- Light Diligence — Any investor that has expressed serious interest in your business and has started to perform due diligence on your company.
- Partner Meeting — Any investor that would like to bring in the partners of the firm to get sign off from the remaining partners.
- Term Sheet — Congratulations! Any investor that has extended a term sheet to fund your startup.
- Closed — Any investor that has wired the money to your business.
- Keep in Touch — Any investor that has passed on your business for the time being. We suggest keeping these investors in the loop with brief milestone Updates throughout your startup’s journey.
- Passed — Any investor that has permanently passed. This is a firm that you feel is unlikely to invest in the future.
A crucial part of the fundraising process is keeping your eyes on communication and making sure you’re nurturing investors through the funnel, especially if you have a lengthy fundraising cycle. The notes section of each contact can be used to keep tabs on your communication and meetings with different investors. We hope this tool will help simplify your fundraising process and get funded faster.
Startup Fundraising Resources
At certain points in a company’s life, fundraising becomes a full time job for the founders or CEO. That is, of course, in addition to all the other full time jobs that come along with being a startup founder — hiring, selling, cleaning up dirty dishes. Constant outreach, pitching, deck revisions, not to mention the time spent answering diligence requests.
One of our goals at Visible is to improve the fundraising process for companies and there are a ton of other great tools and resources that focus on the same thing. We’ve curated 100s of fundraising articles and resources for our Founders Forward Newsletter. You can find our favorite startup fundraising resources below:
Startup Funding Tools
Product, market and team get a lot of investors excited but not having your numbers down is a dealbreaker and hints at a lack of professionalism. Foresight helps you make sure you know your numbers as well as any CFO or accountant would. By the way, we spoke with Taylor Davidson, founder of Foresight, to get some insight into his best practices for building a great startup financial model.
Hey! That’s us! As we mentioned above, we offer a fundraising CRM to help founders track their fundraise from start to finish. Visible is the best way to report your performance numbers to your potential investors, helping you combine data, visualizations, and narrative to tell a compelling story about the growth of your business.
Startup Fundraising Content
This is, without a doubt, the best book you can read on venture financing. Buy it for yourself and for every single person on your team.
We’ve talked before about the importance of thinking like an investor. This interview podcast gives you a look inside the thought process for investors like Mark Suster, Kanyi Maqubela, and Aaron Harris.
Elizabeth Yin is a co-founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund, a pre-seed fund for software entrepreneurs. Previously, Elizabeth was a partner at 500 Startups where she invested in seed stage companies and ran the Mountain View accelerator. Elizabeth covers the ins and outs of venture fundraising on her blog.
One of our favorite post covering how to run a successfully fundraising process. The post from the team at First Round reviews surveys founders that have raised $18B+ of combined capital. They also introduce the idea of “taking on investors in sets” which we believe to be a key component of running a good process.
While he is known as an investor, Buffett is also an entrepreneur whose Shareholder letters are a masterclass on how to attract and retain long-term investors for your business. For a free compendium of Buffett resources, check out BuffettFAQ
We search the web for the best tips to attract, engage and close investors, then deliver them to thousands of inboxes every week. Subscribe for the Founders Forward Newsletter here.
Startup Fundraising Platforms
For high-growth companies with proven traction, SeedInvest is a great platform to connect with over 14,000 individual accredited investors.
Raising on Angellist – where many top investors run what are known as “Syndicates” – can be a great way to tap into a network of well connected VCs, Entrepreneurs, and Angels.
Seedrs has helped European companies of all sizes – from idea stage to the publicly traded firms – raise capital more efficiently.
If your company is dependent on effective inventory purchasing and management then Kickfurther, where you leverage backers and people who love your brand to fund inventory purchase orders, can be a great place to look.
Since the SEC enacted the Title III of the JOBS Act a majority of the US population can invest in startups for the first time. In order to allow more investors to invest in more startups, the team at Republic built a platform for startups to raise capital from the new found investors.
Earnest Capital provides early-stage funding, resources and a network of experienced advisors to founders building sustainable profitable businesses.
Startup Fundraising Fun
We collect all of the venture fundraising data from the Pro Rata Newsletter. Every month we consolidate this data, add in qualitative data and context, and turn it into a easily digestible venture data report. Check out a recent Venture Data Report here.
“Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A. By Dan Primack, the best-sourced deals reporter on Earth.”
Related Resource: 7 Essential Business Startup Resources