- Seed funding is the initial capital raised by a startup. Seed fundraising, therefore, refers to campaigning to convince investors to place money in your startup to help it grow.
- There are numerous ways to raise money for a startup, such as through crowdfunding, angel investors, venture capital funds and using intermediaries such as brokers to help you raise. They each have varying degrees of benefits and disadvantages to consider depending on your company.
- Our step-by-step process to raising a seed round during a recession involves: making introductions before officially fundraising, taking advantage of storytelling, forming an investor pipeline, beginning seed fundraising, and finally, sealing the deal.
- If you would like help accelerating your company or want expert advice regarding funding stages or growing a business, please book a free consultation call to learn more about how NUOPTIMA can help.
What is Seed Fundraising and Why is it Important?
Running a startup company and helping it grow involves a lot of finances, such as money to rent an office space, hire employees, and buy necessary equipment. The majority of companies cannot do this alone and need outside help. Seed funding, also referred to as seed money, is the initial capital that has been raised by a startup business which is vital to getting a company off the ground.
Unfortunately, a huge proportion of startups will not survive without the funding to support them. Plus, the finances required to help a startup become successful are generally far beyond the realms of company founders or their relatives and friends to pay for. Therefore, many startups go down the avenue of fundraising. The pro is that there are countless investors looking to provide a great startup with money. But the con is that fundraising can be a complicated and laborious task, especially in a challenging environment such as a recession.
|While a recession can make investors more frugal and need more convincing to part with their money, it can also be a great opportunity for startups as investors may look to invest in startups as a sensible way of making money during uncertain times.
For this reason, we have created a simple step-by-step guide to help you conduct seed fundraising effectively so you can increase the chances of clinching that seed funding for your startup. Before we go through this process, let’s go through some of the basics of fundraising.
Just An Idea Is Not Enough
A common mistake of founders looking for funding is that they have little more than just an idea to offer. It is extremely challenging to get funding this way unless you have been previously successful with a company startup. With investors spoilt for choice for companies to invest in, possessing only an idea can exclude you from their interest. Therefore, it is sensible to take the time to produce a product prototype and trial it with customers. A prototype and evidence of customer use is a great way to garner interest.
It is also a good idea to present investors with metrics that demonstrate the potential of your company, also known as traction. Here are some metrics that are beneficial to show in order of importance:
- Profit – Unsurprisingly, this is rare for beginner-stage startups.
- Revenue – Recurring revenue is a particularly strong metric. If it is not possible to show revenue, you could present your product’s active users and a strategy for generating revenue in the future.
- If you are a SaaS business, metrics such as the total number of signups, waiting-list signups, and application downloads can be useful to present. But, revenue or active users are stronger metrics to show if possible.
Your growth rate, however, is the optimum way to impress. If you can display your company is growing fast and consistently, this is a surefire way to interest an investor.
Crowdfunding is defined as using small amounts of capital from a vast amount of individuals to support a business venture financially. This is usually done by accessing huge networks via crowdfunding sites and social media to bring investors and founders together. It can be a good way of connecting with your community and early customer base. Indeed, if you have a prototype product, it can be a great way to allow customers to assist with constructive criticism and engage them in your company. If you are accessible and communicate well with these customers, they should become your strongest advocates and supporters. You can keep crowdfunding as an option to discuss with the lead VC (venture capitalist). It might be a good idea to keep some money aside if you believe you have a product that will do well with crowdfunding.
However, take into account that while it is seen as an efficient way of raising funds, it is difficult, slow, and pricey, especially if you have difficulty raising VC funding.
You might think it is a good idea to hire an investment advisor to run the investment process. Investment advisors can offer assistance such as making introductions to applicable investors, negotiating essential terms, and compiling pitch decks. However, generally speaking, investment advisors should be avoided.
Many premium companies raise funds without the help of advisors. In fact, using them can be a red flag to investors, as typically, only weaker companies need them. All the assistance offered by investment advisors can be found elsewhere, such as using existing VC or angel investors to help with pitches and introductions. Having said that, for later stage rounds, it is much more common to use advisory firms to talk to as many potential investors as possible to maximise valuation and the reach.
Angel investors — sometimes referred to as seed investors, angel funders, or private investors — are individuals of a high-net-worth that give financial support to entrepreneurs or modest startups. This is usually done in return for business ownership equity. Angel investors are commonly found among the friends or family of an entrepreneur. They sometimes have a history of being founders or members of a successful startup brand. Funds from angel investors can be a one-time injection to get a company running or a regular provision of money to support a company through the early stages. There are no specific parameters on funding amounts. An angel investor might offer £5,000 to £50,000, although some ‘super-angels’ can invest millions.
Angel investors can be wise, as they can make friendly introductions to VCs if you get numerous angel investments early on when seed fundraising. They can also offer helpful business advice to the benefit of your startup.
An angel syndicate is a group of investors that have agreed to invest in a project together. Typically, these are angels wanting to invest small amounts of money, so they find it hard attaining allocation individually. Therefore, they pool their money together and invest as an angel syndicate. This can be beneficial as the syndicate lead’s signature is the only one required.
There are two innovative ways of getting angel investors on board:
- Pitch to angel investors early on (before VCs) and try to get several onside to assist you in making introductions.
- Alternatively, set aside a portion of the round for angel investors after receiving a term sheet. Then you can pick the ones you deem most beneficial to your startup.
Secondary Share Sales (Secondaries)
When a VC invests in your business, it is often called a primary investment, which usually involves:
- Making new shares in the business
- Diluting current shareholders
- The investor pays the money straight to the business, which you can then spend on expanding to increase the company value.
Secondaries are different; this is when founders, angels, or early employees sell a portion of their existing shares straight to the new investors. No new shares are formed, existing investors are not diluted, and the funds go to the individual selling shares and not the business itself.
This can be beneficial but should only be done after a sufficient primary investment has been raised so you can happily run the business for at least 18 months. Secondaries should only be done when existing shareholders no longer wish to be diluted and when there is considerable demand from investors for more company shares. Here are a couple of examples of scenarios where secondaries can be a good idea:
- If founders or early employees have worked on the business for numerous years with reasonably small salaries, and the company is witnessing the beginnings of success, this can be a good option to retain motivation to work hard.
- If you are looking to subtly remove an angel investor, cofounder, or early employee leaving the company, letting them sell some or all of their shares can smooth out difficult conversations.
However, bear in mind that founders selling shares early on in a company’s journey can be an indication to investors that you do not have faith in the brand’s future. Furthermore, it is important that if you are considering secondaries, you have a term sheet that has been signed for primary investment beforehand to confirm the business has enough funding. Then you can bring it up with the new investor (and in this conversation, consider a small discount for purchasing secondary shares).
Step-by-Step Guide to Seed Fundraising in a Recession
Before we get stuck in with our seed fundraising guide, first of all, it is important to mention the time it takes to fundraise. A common misconception is that raising a round takes at least six months. However, this is simply not true. Raising a round can very viably be accomplished within a month if done correctly. It can actually prove to be detrimental to stretch out raising funds because the more time you have been fundraising on the market, the more likely it will be seen as a warning sign to potential investors.
Therefore, to ensure that your fundraising has the best chance of success (and fast), you should ensure that somebody at your startup is spending the vast majority of their time working on fundraising. Additionally, you should make sure there is competition for your seed round, as this can give other investors the boost and encouragement needed to give you funds. The key is to ensure that you have conducted thorough preparation before you officially fundraise, so there is nothing to hold you back or slow the process down. Remember, the longer you take to fundraise, the more prospective investors will be turned off. Without further ado, let’s consider how to tactically raise seed funding, especially in the uncertain times of a recession.
1. Make Introductions and Form Relationships Before Fundraising
This first step may sound obvious and goes without saying, but its importance cannot be overestimated. Making introductions with people in the ecosystem and forming relationships can be key to getting that seed funding. However, it is highly recommended that this step is undertaken before you officially begin fundraising. Why? Firstly, it puts less pressure on trying to make connections when you are already looking for funding. Plus, it can create a strong network around you to simplify the fundraising process once you are ready to embark upon it. Secondly, it is less off-putting to the investor. If you announce to an investor when introduced that you are fundraising, it automatically puts the prospective investor into a position where they know you will be asking for funding and can put them on edge.
If you are not yet at the fundraising juncture, making introductions can be much simpler and easier as it removes the pressure on the investor. It also means that because you have taken the time to build a network prior to seed fundraising, you can speed up the whole fundraising process when you do begin. This can be a particularly beneficial step during a recession as investors may be less willing to part with their money. So, by forming relationships before asking for money, you can build stronger connections and increase the chance of an investor providing seed money for your startup.
Here are a handful of tips for making strong introductions and connections:
- Be open-minded and do not just target prospective investors that are perfect for you right now. Consider the long term as well.
- Focus on relationship building and not just potential investment. If you focus on the transaction alone and show no interest in a connection, they will see right through you.
- Use social media. Platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter are fantastic for connecting with investors.
- Create a face-to-face presence too by attending conferences and events. It can help you to stand out further (more so than a name on a social media platform).
- Do your research on prospective investors so that you are more likely to impress them with your knowledge and increase the chances of a stronger connection.
A fantastic approach is to develop strong relationships with a handful of investors you are most interested in. Aim to meet up with them every couple of months and discuss your plans (and make a point of saying you are not raising yet). This opportunity allows you to share demos of your product, customer numbers, and interest on social media. You can even CC them into your regular shareholder emails to help illustrate your improving metrics and significant moments in your company’s journey.
2. Take Advantage of Storytelling
In relation to fundraising, storytelling is important because it allows the listener to feel emotions. Why is this significant? To make a decision, it is important that investors feel something toward your brand and your story. This is why you should consider how you will craft your narrative before you even consider fundraising. It is crucial that your storytelling is concise and that you explain key points succinctly and convincingly. Below are five points you should ensure you accomplish when storytelling:
- Communicate what your business does in basic terminology. If, off the bat, you delve into the complex facets of your business, then investors can quickly lose interest. Keep the information simple and to the point, as you can always elaborate more later on.
- Give a convincing reason why an investor should choose your startup. To get an investor’s interest, you must excite them with your brand. And to do this, you need to give one overarching reason why they should choose your company. Therefore, consider your biggest benefits and strengths when finding this reason. For instance, if you have already witnessed very positive customer support, it might be a good idea to present positive feedback from customers to show you satisfy their demand and that they enjoy the product. This shows investors that there is interest in the market for your product.
- Explain how you have removed business risks and will continue to remove risks in the future. A point of hesitation on behalf of investors is the many risks associated with startups. Therefore, you must reassure the investors that these risks are being handled. You need to be honest and realistic with prospective investors about the big risks that your company may have to face. After all, they will already know that if startups had zero risks, founders would just get a bank loan rather than seeking fundraising elsewhere. Explain the significant risks and how you intend to remove them.
- Convey your vision for the future if the startup is successful. For this point, it is encouraged that you are opinionated about your vision for the future to convince the investor of the company’s potential. The investor will want to know if it could be a $1 billion business if successful. Ensure the storytelling is transparent yet compelling and convey what you aim to accomplish and how the startup has the potential to be highly successful in the future. This helps investors determine if a business is a good fit for them. Remember, especially in a recession, investors need to be convinced that parting with their money is in their best interest.
- If you are talking relentlessly at the investors for more than several minutes, this is a mistake. The goal is to tell your story and then turn it into a dynamic conversation by engaging investors, such as by asking them questions about aspects of your company. Otherwise, you risk boring them which can make them lose interest.
3. Form an Investor Pipeline
It is necessary that before you begin to fundraise that you have an investor pipeline. As per step one, you should already be forming relationships with potential investors you are interested in, but it is important to have an investor pipeline. It is also vital that you are creating relationships that can help you today as you can weigh up how valuable somebody could be to your business in the future. By asking them for help with a particular challenge, you can strengthen the connection and get them more emotionally invested. Presenting the results of how their advice or action helped can persuade investors to throw some money at your startup.
As mentioned, you must also communicate with numerous investors at once and not just make contact with one at a time. Do not feel as though you have to wait for a response from one before approaching another. A good ballpark is to have a list of roughly 10 relevant prospective investors that you know have interests in the industry you are in, your location, and the stage of your business. If they are not relevant to your business, you are wasting time. There are countless investors, so which ones do you think could be an excellent fit for a partnership in the long term? Plus, what will they bring to the startup aside from investment? Investors offer different monetary amounts as well as have various reasons for investing. For instance, you could be talking with angel investors or VCs. Ask yourself, who do you want for seed fundraising and why? Think about the motivation of the various investors and whether they complement your aims.
Generally speaking, there are two investor groups that you will be communicating with in the beginning stages, and you really need to take the time to consider your best choice:
- Venture Capitalists: These include VCs that are pre-seed, seed, solo, micro, multi-stage, and corporate venture funds (CVCs).
- Angels: These include high-net-worth individuals, family offices, aspiring VC angels, professional angels, and operator angels.
It is also sensible to have numerous prospective investors competing for each spot on your capitalisation table. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three investors for every spot available who are undergoing final diligence. Then, you can build your pipeline by working backwards from that point. Why? With numerous investors in competition, you are in a powerful position. Below we offer a template of suggested numbers of prospective investors to have at each stage of the fundraising process:
- Prospects: You should have roughly 20 prospects for each cap table position available.
- Initial Meetings: You should aim for about 10 for each position.
- Final Diligence: As aforementioned, you should have three investors in final diligence for each available spot.
- Closed: At the end, you will need just one investor who will take the open position.
To demonstrate, if you had 10 spots available at the cap table, you would need approximately 200 prospects, 100 initial meetings, and 30 investors in final diligence.
When creating your ideal cap table composition, bear in mind the limitations of investors, such as their proposed investment amount or ownership goals. Of course, this plan is just a draft and will likely be altered down the road, but it’s good to have a starting point.
But, how can you find so many potential investors? There are a couple of effective ways to mention:
- Locate prospects from other founders ahead of you. This option is more likely to generate high-quality leads. By building relationships with founders ahead of you in their startup business, you can benefit from their knowledge and experience. As they have already been through what you are going through, they can provide advice and current information on investors. They can also assist you in creating a list of prospects.
- Locate prospects by conducting research online. Another way to increase your compilation of potential investors is through raw research, such as on Pitchbook, AngelList and Crunchbase. These can allow you to find investors with similarities to you, such as location, school history, and more, so you can find those with beneficial qualities for your business.
Finally, do not look for particular companies to help you but actual people. It is naive to focus on a company because of your perception of them. At the end of the day, fundraising is related to building relationships, and it is individuals that will be helping you, not a company.
Top tip: Once your pipeline is full, organise your investors from low to high priority, and once you are ready to interact, begin by meeting with the lowest priority investors first. This is so you can use these meetings as a practice run and finetune your approach so you can then really impress high-priority investors. Demo your pitch on lower-value investors and use the opportunity to request feedback and observe what sort of questions they ask. This allows you to strengthen your pitch when meeting higher-value investors. Also, try to have as many first meetings in as short a period as possible as this can help create an air of competitiveness with investors.
4. Begin Seed Fundraising
As you prepare to begin fundraising, ensure you have everything in order. As mentioned earlier, it is important to have speed so that there are no unnecessary delays or inconveniences. Your house should be in order before you begin. Here are a few tips for how to start fundraising effectively:
- It is an excellent idea to build momentum by signing up smaller investors before approaching larger investors. This puts you further ahead when you decide to start officially fundraising with the big guns. Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to clinch a lead investor first. This rarely happens in reality; instead, it is better to work your way up by starting with smaller investors and progressing to larger ones. By waiting for a lead investor, your fundraising aims can slow down and momentum can be lost. By starting with small investors, you can convince larger ones that there is interest in your firm and drum up their curiosity and engagement.
- You should also think about the best way to reach out, whether a cold outreach or a warm intro. Both can prove to be effective if undertaken properly. Of course, warm introductions have more chances of success, but cold outreach should not be entirely disregarded. If you are convinced an investor is a perfect fit, but there is no way to have a warm intro, use cold outreach instead. However, spend time on cold outreach and take the time to make sure your communication is as strong and engaging as possible.
- Do not wait around for an answer from investors if they don’t commit straight away. It is generally not in an investor’s interest to say no outright, as more often than not, it is in their interest to sit back and observe your company before committing to it. Therefore, you should not expect them to say ‘no’, nor should you wait around for this. If an investor doesn’t express eager interest, move on and continue searching for somebody else who is more interested. It might be worth sending a follow-up email but beyond that there is little point in chasing. Speed is your advantage, so don’t let hesitant prospects slow you down or delay the process. While rejection can be hard to take, remember it is part of the process and many companies get ‘no’ many times before they clinch a deal. It is more a cause for concern if you have been fundraising for several months and have dozens of reputable investors display a total lack of interest. In this case, work on changing your tactics based on the feedback.
5. Seal the Deal
Now that you are meeting with investors, there are several questions you should be able to answer at the end of each meeting:
- Are they engaged and interested in my startup company? These meetings are prime opportunities for instilling excitement and interest in your business. If you come out of the meeting and feel like the investor isn’t leaving excited, then there will be no continuation of the process. Getting interest is crucial in these meetings.
- How fast does this investor make decisions? By determining how quickly an investor makes a decision, you can evaluate whether they are a good choice for you. You would not want somebody who draws decision-making out and takes forever to get back to you. Ideally, an investor should be fast and efficient at making decisions. If you feel you will get slowed down due to their decision-making approach, it is a big red flag.
- Do our goals match? This should be a simple yes or no answer. If the answer is no, there is no point in continuing on communication about investment for your startup.
|Did you know? Some funds allow a single partner to invest if they believe in your company. Others need unanimous agreement or a majority vote from the partners. Funds you should avoid, if possible, are those with a hierarchy and the only way the deal can be sealed is if the person at the top of the hierarchical ladder signs off on it.
Here are some top tips to give you the best chance of a successful meeting:
- When organising these meetings, be flexible. Suggest numerous times you are free to meet as investors have dozens of monthly meetings. Being available to them for multiple dates shows your enthusiasm, flexibility, and eagerness to come together.
- Aim to meet with the most relevant investment executive and attempt to get introduced to a full partner if you can as they have more sway.
- Due to the after-effects of COVID, many initial meetings still take place via video call. Therefore, ensuring you have a good camera, microphone, and internet connection is a smart idea to avoid putting off investors.
- Be conscious of phrasing. For instance, if you go into a meeting and tell the investor that you’ve had discussions with numerous other prospects that are deeply interested, and that investor happens to be in communication with these prospects and establishes that they only have a vague interest, their trust in you will deteriorate. And trust is imperative for an investor. The best approach is to be realistic and tactful.
- Prepare questions to ask before you pitch. Because most of the meeting involves your pitch, you may not get a chance to ask questions unless you do so beforehand. This is also a good idea as it levels out your relationship and can give you further confidence by dispersing the power balance.
- Embrace questions from investors. Investors are turned off by people who struggle with answering questions or fail to give a direct answer. Remember, it is their job to ask tough questions to determine if it is a good fit for them. After all, they are potentially investing a lot of money, which is an even more significant decision during a recession. Therefore, practise and prepare for challenging questions. If answered efficiently and confidently, you can truly impress.
- After a meeting, if an investor has a follow-up request, make sure you fulfil them promptly. This shows the investor that you are diligent, trustworthy, and reliable. Keep track of all requests and when they need to be done in a spreadsheet. If you do not respond in a timely manner, this can instantly put off investors.
- If a prospective investor is keen to invest, they will present a term sheet to be the lead investor. If you sign it, you are not allowed to get investment elsewhere, generally for 30-45 days. Bear in mind a term sheet is not binding for the investor, and they can still withdraw. It is frowned upon to share term sheets with other investors, although you can let prospective investors know that you have received one. Term sheets can be a great way to churn up competition and force other investors into action.
- Make sure that nothing will hold you back if successful. It is critical that you have everything in order so that if an investor wants to provide funds for your startup, there is nothing that will slow the process down.
Choosing the Right Venture Capital Fund (VC) for You
Below we lay out the general VC process, so you can determine if a VC is efficiently doing their job or dragging their heels:
- The VC begins by screening your company, such as by viewing your website and requesting a teaser deck.
- A one-on-one minute (the initial meeting) will take place.
- The VC will conduct further research into your business.
- The VC will call an internal group meeting where the deal can be discussed.
- Diligence on the business then occurs, with reference checks undertaken on both the founder and the customers.
- Partner meetings then take place with a term sheet generally soon to follow.
If you find yourself with numerous term sheets from competing VCs, you will need to determine how and who you will choose. While the amount of money offered is important to take note of, it is also crucial you consider the person who is leading the investment. After all, you will be spending much time with this individual for several years, so you must have some rapport. To help you decide, think about their behaviour through all previous interactions. Consider their punctuality (or lack thereof), their follow-up time, and their mannerisms and behaviour during your pitch.
It is also imperative that you make some blind reference calls. You need to ascertain a detailed view of the VC firm. Do not just speak to founders that the VC in question has offered, as naturally, they will choose founders who are successful. What is really telling is finding out the VC firm’s behaviour from a company that is or has done poorly. Good questions to ask include:
- Did the VC assist you in finding new investors?
- Have they ever tried to sell (or transfer) their company stake before you were prepared?
- How did they act during the difficult period? Were they helpful or dismissive?
- Have they ever exceeded your expectations?
Reference calls are worthwhile even if you don’t have many competing term sheets. It helps you understand what the relationship between you and the VC would be like.
When you decide to take the plunge and sign a term sheet, it is now up to the lead VC to conduct due diligence on your startup, such as by making calls to previous employers and checking various documents. You will need to hire a lawyer; it is prudent to ask for recommendations from other angels or founders. Prospective investors commonly request that you cover legal costs, which will get taken off the investment amount. The VC’s lawyers will modify the Company’s Articles of Association and compile an Investment Agreement. Your lawyer can then go through them and inform you of potential obstacles. If you have a reputable VC, this should be a basic process.
In terms of the option pool, investors typically ask for it to be topped up to an amount equalling 10% of the post-investment shares to occur right before the new investor inserts money. This means that the new investor is not diluted by the option pool top-up, but the current shareholders are. This is preferably covered in the term sheet but can be left to further on in the process.
This entire process should be completed within two to six weeks, depending on the speed at which it is done. And don’t forget: an investment is only finalised when your bank account receives money.
After the Seed Fundraising Round
Once you have successfully completed the seed fundraising round, there are a few things you need to organise:
- Put your investment documentation in a safe place as it will be needed in the next round for diligence.
- Create a general plan of how you plan on spending the money over the following 18-month period. It is recommended that this is put into a monthly forecast, and then you should compile basic management accounts monthly next to the budget for comparison. This will give you an indication of how your spending is going.
- There is a possibility that investors will want to do a press release about the funding. While this does not usually attract much customer attention, it can bring interest from VCs who missed the opportunity. They may give you a higher valuation or offer more money, but this should typically be disregarded. Instead, if they seem reputable, note down their names to consider at the next round.
- If you get exceptional interest, it might be a good idea to get several million more pounds of investment through uncapped convertible financing.
It is important to have an airtight strategy for seed fundraising, especially during a recession. If you are not well-prepared, the fundraising process can drag on and the longer it takes, the less interest an investor is likely to have. Of course, investors do not want to stop making money in a recession, so investing in startups can be the most sensible way for them to make money. Possessing a solid strategy is the tipping point that convinces investors to take the plunge and invest in a company, so follow our tips to give your company the utmost chance of success. NUOPTIMA is a full-stack growth agency that specialises in accelerating brands. If you need help growing your brand or are seeking further expert advice about fundraising for your company, book a free discovery call with our professional team.