Securing financing is a journey that takes months, sometimes even years, for many entrepreneurs. It requires a mix of humility, perseverance and skill. I’ve worked on both sides of the table – as an entrepreneur seeking financing and as an investor evaluating equity opportunities. Here are some tips for success.
- Be prepared. Many investors consider 100 or more opportunities for every investment they make. They’re busy people, so be ready to answer their questions and provide the information they need to make a decision. There is some information you can assume nearly all investors will want, such as an understanding of the market, a competitive analysis, your go-to-market strategy, financial projections and details about your management team. While all of this may be addressed in your executive summary (1-2 pages max) and your pitch deck (8-15 slides), you should be able to discuss them without referring to your written information.
- Be confident, not cocky. As an entrepreneur, you appropriately have a sense of pride in your company. Passion and confidence are important attributes for a successful entrepreneur, but make sure these do not manifest themselves as arrogance, which will be interpreted that you are un-coachable. This designation, whether fair or not, will ruin your chances with potential investors – it is also a turn-off to prospective employees and customers.
- Be thick-skinned. Most entrepreneurs hear “no” significantly more than “yes” when they are seeking early-stage capital. Don’t take it personal, that’s just the nature of the beast. As noted above, investors have many options in terms of companies to invest in. They are trying to achieve the maximum return for themselves and their limited partners and depending upon where they are in their fund cycle, it’s possible that all of their remaining funds are being reserved for follow-on funding from their previous investments. As an entrepreneur, you have to take “nos” in stride and consider that each “no” gets you that much closer to the right investor who is going to say “yes.”
- Be wary. All investors are not created equal. Just as they are going to conduct due diligence on you and your company, you need to do the same with them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for references from their prior investments. If they are offended by this request, your diligence is now complete – thank them for their time and move on to the next funding prospect. The worst scenario for an entrepreneur is to get into a business relationship with a lousy investment partner. Not only will they make life miserable for you and distract you from building your company, but they will also keep other potential investors from getting in the deal.
Navigating the investor landscape is a complicated process. The longer you can bootstrap the business and show traction for your new company, the better your chances of securing investment capital from solid partners seeking a win/win relationship. It’s a good time in Tennessee for entrepreneurs in that there are more early-stage capital sources within the state in addition to the increased interest being attracted from out-of-state investors. We need to continue to build these capital sources to support entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and bringing transformation to their companies, the communities in which they operate and the state.
Charlie Brock is CEO of Launch Tennessee (www.launchtn.org), a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies in Tennessee with the ultimate goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 place in the Southeast for entrepreneurs to start and grow a company.