How to raise startup venture capital
Few moments are more exciting in the startup lifecycle than fundraising. The big investment is what founders dream of, and it occupies an inordinate amount of their time and focus. It's also incredibly hard to predict, and tricky to plan for. But that doesn't mean you can't.
Fundraising is different for every company depending on your business sector, market, timing, and what VCs you’re aiming for. But there are a few best practices that apply regardless of the specifics of each business. In this article, we're going to look at how a few smart businesses executed their big fundraising rounds. And we're particularly focus on the CFO's role in all this.
Fundraising is a very enriching experience for any CFO. Often, companies will recruit a Financial Director to structure the financial side of their fundraising, especially when it comes to series B funding rounds. There’s nothing better than getting advice from those who have already gone through the process!
Our CFO Connect meetup #5 on July 11th 2018 brought us stories from three fascinating voices:
- Elodie Hadjidakis: Having worked in auditing and Transaction Services (TS), Elodie joined 360Learning in January 2016 as CFO. Her role was to encourage and structure the company’s rapid growth.
- Romain Bichet: CFO of Aircall since January 2017, Romain already had four years’ experience working in consulting at Bain & Company. The startup, a market leader in business phone solutions established in 2014, finished its fourth round of funding at €25m in 2018 with Draper Esprit, Balderton Capital, NextWorld Capital and Newfund, bringing the startup’s total funding to €36m.
- Eléonore Crespo: Having worked as Product Analyst and Financial Analyst at Google, Eléonore became an investor at venture capital firm Index Ventures in May 2017. The VC firm has invested in leading startups such as Dropbox, Etsy, SoundCloud, BlaBlaCar, Criteo, and Spendesk (series A funding of €8m in January 2018).
1. How long does the fundraising process actually take?
Having gone through the process several times, Eléonore breaks it down into three fundraising categories:
1. Peer: The CEO meets with several funding firms and establishes strong working relationships with a few. The process can be made shorter and more straightforward when one of the funding outfits opts to get involved at this early stage.
“It makes the whole process very smooth and, in particular, cuts down on work for the startup in terms of the roadshow,” Eléonore said. This is how Spendesk raised funds with Index Ventures!
2. Standard: This is the most common process (and was the case for 360Learning and Aircall respectively on their most recent funding rounds). It involves meticulous preparation followed by a substantial roadshow that goes on for several months.
“From the moment we decided with the CEO that it was the right time to raise funds, the process took seven months,“ explained Romain. ”There were two months of preparation, two to three months of roadshow and two months dedicated to auditing, PR, and receipt of funds. That might seem long but it’s actually quite standard!”
3. Fast: This type of fundraising is less common and usually the reserve of companies with particularly strong profiles, a relatively non-competitive business, and an obvious appeal for investors.
After two months of intense preparation, the roadshow is capped at two weeks to make the process as efficient as possible (examples: Alan and Front). “With a short timeframe like this, you run the risk of coming up empty handed and of losing face if you have to start over once the two weeks are up,“Romain cautioned. ”It’s also quite a tight timeframe and you have to be confident of your company’s growth.”
“Which process you decide to go with will depend first and foremost on your business, but also on your preparation,” Elodie summed up.
- Encourage your CEO to spend time with the best funding firms. Getting to know them and building a solid working relationship is a key step in the process. “As an investor, the way we work is pretty simple, Eléonore began. “We like to go with a company we’re familiar with and whose story we understand so we can easily work out where they are on the learning curve. If the CEO hasn’t put in the time to build a relationship beforehand then everything will take longer because there’ll be no foundation in place to build on when the fundraising process gets underway.”
- It’s a good idea for CFOs to go along to a few pre-funding meetings. Often CFOs step back and leave it to the CEO to attend alone, but they’re missing out on a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how fundraising works.
2. What key documents and information do you need to provide?
VC firms need specific details to be able to come to a decision. Eléonore outlined two vital preparatory steps:
1. Q&A. Make a list of all your company's biggest issues, and put together all the details necessary to address them satisfactorily. You need to anticipate what questions VCs will have concerning your business, from the most basic to the most complex.
These issues include: the product market fit, market size, existing competition, what sets you apart, and what you’re offering. “Some forget to go into detail on basic questions. It’s so important to get across exactly what makes your company valuable,” Eléonore advised.
2. Data. Get a great data room ready ahead of time. From series-B funding onwards, VCs want to know if the business will scale. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, you need to supply all the most relevant information to that end: cohort analysis, churn rate, information on revenues, clients, and your main KPIs. “Having all the necessary information ready in advance will make life much easier later on!” Eléonore said.
It involves a considerable amount of work, but it gives the CFO a great overview of how the business is doing.
“You have to go over the figures one by one and be able to explain every line. If you’re used to justifying every cost bracket, then you’re in an even better position. The VC will try to ascertain on the one hand if the KPIs are properly calculated and on the other if you have a good handle on your business,” Elodie shared, speaking from her own experience with 360Learning.
- Make sure your preparatory work is flawless in order to limit the duration of the roadshow. This is where the CFO comes in. If you haven’t got your data in order or you’re not fully prepared for the Q&A, you can get into some tricky situations like when Aircall ended up having to carry out their analyses during the roadshow. They could see their emails piling up but they didn’t have time to deal with them.
- Even though preparation is key for the roadshow, it has a lot to do with timing too! Pick your moment wisely: make sure you’ve got some momentum going and that your figures are in good shape.
- Limit the number of people involved in fundraising to avoid making the process cumbersome and wasting time.
3. What’s the best way to present your data?
“The most important thing is to make your story your own,” Eléonore shared. In the fundraising process, storytelling is just as important as your raw data. “Writing your story out gives you a good idea of where you’re going and most of all what image you want to give the people you’re pitching to,” Eléonore explained.
The idea is to get your key figures in order and then place them in your story with your conclusion already in mind. Try to anticipate what funds will expect from your business to make sure you’re getting the right message across. For example, if your business is highly risk averse, then VCs will expect a strong profitability profile.
“In our case, when we had good momentum going, we seized the opportunity to step up the pace of the funding process, but at the cost of working on our story. It was only as we moved forward that we realized just how much a fine tuned story can show the data in an even better light,” Romain said.
Keep in mind: there’s a very repetitive side to the fundraising process. By answering the VCs questions and listening to their feedback you’ll be able to hone your pitch as you go along, to draw out certain elements and minimise others. You’ll figure out what VCs respond to and where they find cause for concern, what needs clarification, and what might be seen as sticking points.
- Make sure your story is coherent. The CEO and CFO need to be sure they’re telling the same story and that it doesn’t vary throughout the various meetings and encounters. VCs share their impressions amongst themselves so a lack of coherence can really put them off.
- Focus on a few key KPIs. You need to strike the right balance between giving enough information to reassure investors and not overloading them with information. Presenting huge KPI files is a waste of time and you also run the risk of the most striking information getting lost in a sea of data.
- Streamline your presentation files. Always put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re presenting your business to and make your presentation slides as clear and easy to read as you can. “We tend to want to give lots of information. We think we’re being thorough but when there’s too much information, you end up not getting it all across. There’s nothing worse than an incomprehensible data room, confusion about where to find documents, and having to comb through huge Q&A documents,” Elodie said. “With experience you learn that even if you’re presenting to a financial professional, it really pays to work on how you present your data and it also saves you both time.”
4. How do you compare term sheets?
“When you think term sheet you think valuation, but there’s more to it than that. So many companies forget how important it is to find the right fit. Getting involved with a fund is a bit like getting married!” Eléonore explained.
If the CEO and / or the CFO don’t get along with the VC, things can get complicated fast!
Naturally, valuation is important. But the three players need to get their priorities in line as follows:
- The fit
- The fund’s experience
- The valuation
“We didn’t accept the highest valuation we were offered but we chose the fund we got along with the best and that was the most capable of addressing our issues: scaling in the US, acquiring industry knowledge, etc,” Romain explained.
Whoever you’re talking to, be sure to have a good look at their previous experience, check whether they’ve dealt with companies similar to your own, what kind of network they have in place in the countries you’re interested in, etc.
Call on your own network for advice and listen to the fundraising experiences other entrepreneurs have had.
- Don’t forget about the CFO-VC fit. Even though it’s the CEO who’ll be working most closely with the VC, the CFO’s opinion counts. Since the CFO will need to prepare the board presentation, it’s important they be comfortable with the fundraising strategy.
- Have a valuation bracket in mind and don’t stray from it. That way you can stay true to your goals without closing yourself off to potential trade offs.
5. Post term-sheet audit: Here’s what to expect
The fundraising audit can be more or less involved depending on the company. In the Fintech or insurance sectors for example, it’s a long process because these markets are highly regulated.
Aircall, for example, set out their terms and told the fund there would be no financial or technical audit, only a legal audit which was wrapped up in three weeks. In the case of 360Learning, the three audits were carried out simultaneously.
- Don’t let up on the lawyers. Discussions can go on forever so be explicit and take the lead.
- Be responsive. Sending any requested documents within 24 hours makes a good impression on auditors and helps build trust with the TS.
- Check over everything before sending it. Even though members of the audit team can send documents or the final report directly, it’s always best to have the CFO validate everything. The smallest mistake or data misinterpretation can break the VC’s trust.
What you need to keep in mind is that fundraising is a tedious process that involves a lot of groundwork. That goes as much for building relationships (meetings with funds) as for preparing your data.
But in the long run, your business stands to benefit from putting in the work. Everything you learn from going through the fundraising process - setting up your data room, the feedback you get from VCs - forms a solid foundation and will be a great asset for your company’s growth.