The entrepreneur and investor often view the quality of a deal very differently. The inexperienced entrepreneur often makes the mistake of not realizing that the investor will judge the quality of his or her deal relative to other deals the investor is considering. Entrepreneurs should be cognizant of the fact that raising money is not simply an exercise in selling yourself and your deal to win a scarce amount of investment capital. Rather, it is truly a competition against other start-ups to win the “mind-share” of the investor. Entrepreneurs who are the most successful at raising capital understand this fundamental point, and strategically market their deals based on this knowledge.
Taking a large and growing market opportunity as a given, this guide describes some of the other factors an entrepreneur should consider when pitching an idea or early-stage company to an investor. We call it “what can make or break a deal.”
1. Management, Management, Management: Do you have the athletes?
“Location” is to real estate as “management” is to start-ups. If you don’t have, or can’t attract, the right management team, you’ll never maximize the opportunity. Investors want to make sure the team has the relevant experience and innate ability to execute on the plan, and “turn-on-a-dime” if necessary to make changes or hard decisions to get the business on course. The startup must have, or be able to recruit, the skill-sets necessary to achieve key milestones over the long term. If you can’t meet your milestones, you won’t be able to justify a crucial step-up in valuation at the next round of financing.
2. Sustainable Competitive Advantage: What about the 800-pound gorilla?
Surprisingly too many, entrepreneurs direct their competitive focus solely at new entrants and not enough on the “old-economy” behemoths. But these companies usually have the cash, patent portfolios, research programs, distribution networks, and relationships to easily kill off any entrepreneurial dream. The days of “first-mover” as the sole competitive advantage are over; entrepreneurs need to build defensible and sustainable competitive barriers into their business strategy.
3. Business Model: If you don’t have paying customers, you don’t have a business!
So you have a great idea and a big market opportunity. Now the question is: “how do you make money?” In order to make your financial plan “believable” in the eyes of an investor, you can do one of two things: compare your financials to a comparable public company in its early years or, prove your pricing structure by demonstrating what end-users will pay and what distributors will charge (to do this, you have to thoroughly understand the value-chain and conduct research by talking with real customers.)
4. Momentum: Are you giving Investors more reasons to say “yes”?
Don’t stop executing while you’re raising money. New customers/sales, partnership deals, reports by analysts on the company, etc. help validate the business opportunity and build confidence in the management team. If you can make progress and good things happen during the fundraising process, you’ll have a higher probability of closing a deal and closing it faster.
5. Recruiting: A measure of quality!
If really good people commit to joining a start-up once it’s funded, that’s a good sign. If really good people join a start-up before it’s funded, that’s a great sign. Anything short of that, and the investor will have doubts about the quality of the deal and will be less inclined to invest. It is the entrepreneur’s responsibility to convince the investor that he or she can build a team that can execute on the plan.
6. Executive Summary: Your first and often only impression!
The executive summary should be the entrepreneur’s main sales document, while the rest of the business plan should only serve to support the material in the executive summary. A voluminous business plan is a sign to an investor that the entrepreneur is spending far too much time analyzing and not enough time executing.
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