Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

ROI versus Market Traction – Which is the Real Differentiator to Potential Investors?

Most entrepreneurs realize that their potential investors require a substantial return on investment (ROI) for the money they put at risk by investing in their start-up company. This is a given, and even to the most naive entrepreneur this makes sense.  On the other hand, what these same entrepreneurs do not often realize that it is market traction and not ROI that is the real differentiator for potential investors.  Gaining market traction early can definitively make the difference between a successful start-up company and one that languishes on and on, continuing to spend investor’s monies, with no real return in sight.  This article addresses some of the reasons why market traction is the real differentiator for your potential investors.

Is Developing a ROI for Your Company’s Sufficient to Secure Funding?

As part of promoting your start-up company to prospective investors, you need to determine what the potential financial return on investment is for these same investors.  This concept, although not foreign to most potential entrepreneurs, does cause pause for most first time entrepreneurs, as they rarely understand corporate financials and often leave this task for last, expending little effort to develop representative, defendable financial statements.   In general, it is well understood that to get the attention of potential venture investors it is necessary to present a return on investment opportunity that provides at least 5 to 10 times return on their invested capital in a 3 to 5 year period, respectively.  These numbers reflect expected venture-based financial returns and should be only used as a reference point, as venture investors seldom receive these types of returns on their investments. Some venture investors expect more, some will take less, but the key here is to develop financial pro forma statements that necessarily meet the expected returns of potential investors and at the same time are defendable.  Therefore, developing a ROI that represents these traditional industry accepted investment return norms is necessary for any entrepreneur expecting to get the attention of potential investors, but on the other hand your start-up company’s ROI may not be sufficient to secure an investment from these same investors. The reason for this is that these expected financial returns are only one baseline component for opening the door to secure investors attention and in general are not considered a real differentiator when considering the various investment opportunities that are available to your potential investors.

 ROI Projections May Not Stand-up to Financial Due Diligence?

As stated, ROI projections are expected by all potential investors when considering any start-up company as an investment opportunity.  Depending on the entrepreneur’s research and diligence in putting together their ROI projections, many times these same financial pro forma statements will not stand up to the scrutiny of a sophisticated investor.  Too often the financial projections, put together by inexperienced entrepreneurs, are unrealistic in their market penetration objectives, too optimistic in their gross margin projections, and more often than not, do not represent typical industry standards when compared to the market leaders in the same given market space. As an entrepreneur, you must realize, as a matter of first priority, by potential investors, that your financial pro forma statements will be subjected to a significant amount of financial scrutiny by these same sophisticated venture investors.  This should cause you to pause, as by not passing this initial financial review bar can make the difference between receiving a pass from potential investors or receiving an invitation for an initial meeting.

 It should be also noted that during their financial due diligence process most investors discount an entrepreneur’s start-up company financial projections by at least 40%, from the presented projected returns.  This discounting reflects their expected financial risk, the market risk, development risk, etc.  Therefore, your financial pro forma statements, as presented, are often deemed “rudimentary projections” by these same investors, and they will rely on their own financial management expertise and financial models to determine the potential expected returns for your start-up company. This financial due diligence analysis may cause your pro forma statement to not pass the smell test for these same investors. Therefore, again ROI statements are only used as one component in considering your start-up company as a potential investment opportunity, and more often than not are not a true differentiator.

Market Traction is a Key Differentiator for Potential Investors

Unlike financial projections that are based on an underlying set of assumptions that can be arguably acceptable or unacceptable to your potential investors, securing market traction with a customer base is one item that gets investors attention.  The fact that you have secured a paying customer or multiple paying customers gives investors some hard evidence, based on the realities of the market, in which to make an investment decision.  On the other hand, only relying on financial projections, based on a given set of assumptions, requires these same potential investors to take a leap of faith in the investment decision making process.  By securing customers early on, this gives your potential investors much more assurance that there is demand for your technology, product or service offering in the market and substantially reduces the investment risk, if only in their minds.  Therefore, as an entrepreneur, looking to secure funding for your start-up company, the one key differentiator that will set you apart from the competition is securing a customer or multiple customers early on in the funding process.    

 Market Traction Proves You Know the Market

Securing market traction early proves one thing to your potential investors – that you know the market.  Unlike financial ROI projections, securing paying customers is not based on assumptions, it is based on real interaction with your target customer base and can be used as a lynch pin to secure funding from venture investors.  This shows your investors that there is “perceived” value for your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering in the market.  By securing paying customers early, you have proved to these same investors, at a first level due diligence that you have at least indentified a market “need” and/or solved a “problem” in the market, and at the same time, customers are willing to purchase your start-up company’s same product offering. Determining the long term market trends and whether your technology, product or service offering provides a sustainable competitive advantage in the market must still be reviewed by your investors, but by securing customers early you have proven that your technology, product or service offering, as a minimum addresses a market need and can then be used as basis to secure additional market traction and expand your customer base.

Market Traction Necessarily Facilitates Your Start-up Company’s ROI

Securing market traction also necessarily facilitates your start-up company’s return on investment projections.  More often than not, start-up companies are unable to secure paying customers as early on as originally projected in their financial pro forma statements.  Given that ROI projections are all about generating revenue early in time, by securing market traction with your technology, product or service offering you are necessarily facilitating your start-up company’s ROI projections.  This is essential and a true differentiator, as having the ability to sustain your start-up company’s projected financial returns, in a timely manner, is the most important risk consideration for your potential investors.  Too often start-up companies get caught in the “Catch 22” in which they need to secure customers, but the market has not developed – both of which will have a detrimental effect on their financial projections.  Therefore, by securing customers early you can gain the necessary market traction in which to validate your start-up company’s projected financial returns and secure funding from investors. This is a true differentiator for your potential investors and substantially reduces investment risk.

As discussed, developing ROI financial pro forma statements are necessary to present your start-up company to potential venture investors.  But, due to the nature of financial pro forma statements, they may not sufficient to secure funding from these same venture investors.  On the other hand, securing paying customers early and proving you can gain market traction is a key differentiator for investors as it validates to these same investors that you know the market.  At the same time, securing customers facilitates your start-up company’s projected ROI and substantially reduces the investment risk for your potential investors. Therefore, if you want to get the attention of venture investors and differentiate your start-up company from the crowd, prove you can get early market traction with your customer base.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to http://www.carlsbadpublishing.com

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Customers, Market Traction, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Seeking Venture Funding Don’t Forget to Focus on Your Business

The process of securing venture capital or any other type of private equity funding is very time consuming.  With all of the preparation, travel, presentations and required follow-up, entrepreneurs often forget to focus on their business.  This article reminds entrepreneurs that while focusing on their venture fund raising activities is important to move their start-up company forward, they need to remember to focus on their business and to move it forward, as this is just as important of an activity as is venture funding is for their start-up company.

Fund Raising is a Time Consuming Activity.

Ask any entrepreneur that has secured venture funding, and they will tell you that it is a very time consuming activity.  First, there is the materials preparation, including the development of your start-up company’s:

  • Executive Summary,
  • Business Plan, and
  • Road Show Materials.

Each of these documents, individually, can take substantial development time, working and then re-working to get them to the level of being investor-quality documentation.  As such, it usually takes several months of research, due diligence, creation, writing and then re-writing to develop the appropriate investor documentation.  Also, getting the attention venture funding investors (e.g., venture capitalists), just to schedule a meeting, can be very laborious and challenging for entrepreneurs.  This is especially true if you do not have a lawyer or some other person to provide your start-up company with the appropriate “soft” introduction to the investor community. Then, there is the required travel, presentations and follow-up with each of the individual venture investment groups, just to get to the next level of potential investor interest.  So, as can be described by seasoned entrepreneurs, venture fund raising is a very time consuming and difficult task that can take all of your available time, if you let it. This leaves little time to focus on your start-up company’s day-to-day business related activities.  This is not a recipe for a successful start-up business as there a multitude of issues that need to be addressed daily to ensure your start-up company in moving in the right direction and at the same time creating value for your company.

 Fund Raising Takes Time.

Many entrepreneurs assume that they can secure venture funding in two months or less.  This is not realistic.  Even in a good economy, it takes a typical start-up company 6 to 12 months to secure venture funding for the development of their technology, product or service offering.  This time table assumes that you have contacts in the funding community, and can set up your initial meetings with investors fairly early in the funding process.  If this is not the case, then you can add on a few months to just schedule your initial meetings with targeted investors.  Also, in today’s economy, this funding time table is even longer, given the fact that in slow economic times, investors tend to stick with their current investments, making it just that much more difficult for entrepreneurs to secure funding, from these same investors, than it would be in a strong economy.  Therefore, as an entrepreneur, you need to look at a realistic time table for securing venture funds, and often the resulting time table is much longer than originally anticipated.  This can make the funding process and the associated time frame can be even more detrimental to the overall development of your start-up company.

You are in Business to Create Value for Your Company.

As an entrepreneur, you are in business to create value for your company.  This means that in addition to securing venture funding, you must work diligently to move your company forward, with or without funding, such that you are creating value for your company every day.  This should be your personal expectation and it surely is the expectation of your investors.  They have to believe that even without funding that you and your executive team can continue to use creative ways to move your company forward and at the same time creating underlying value for your company in the market.  This can include:

  • Securing customers,
  • Aligning with strategic partners,
  • Developing your sales channels,
  • Continue to market your company to target customers,
  • Working with early “beta” test customers,
  • Moving product development forward to the next level, and
  • Other.

All of these activities and many others can create inherent value for your start-up company, both in the market and to your potential investors.  So remember, that securing venture funding is only one vehicle that can be used to move your company to the next significant value level. There are many other things you can do on your own through securing customers, the development of a strategic partnership, or bootstrapping that can also create near term value for your start-up company, and at the same time prove to your investors that you have the ability to move your start-up company’s business forward, even in non-ideal financial circumstances.

Continuing to Focus on Your Company’s Business is Often Beneficial.

During the venture funding process, focusing on your company’s business can take you away from the everyday hassles associated with venture funding.  This can be a good thing. By continuing to simultaneously focusing on your company’s day-to-day business activities, you can move your company forward to the next level and accomplish significant milestones that will be beneficial to your company.  This business focus can also create new opportunities that were not originally available to you and your company at the beginning of the venture funding process.  Remember, the venture funding road is a long one, and continuing to knock down significant development milestones, securing customers, or developing strategic partnerships, etc. can be just the ticket to get the attention of your investors.  Also, often, significant business opportunities often take time to develop and by continuing to focus on your business, while your are raising funding, can often provide the required time period for such opportunities to develop and take hold for your start-up company. 

Focusing on Your Business Can Facilitate Funding.

In the end, by focusing on your business while working to secure venture funding may be the vehicle that facilities the funding for your company.  No company can go for 6 to 12 months, without focusing on their business.  In addition, by developing new business opportunities during the funding process, you continue to create value for your company and its potential investors.  One or all of these business activities together, may be just the ticket that gives your potential investors the proof that your company is the one they are willing to risk their monies on to provide the types of returns they require.  Therefore, continue to focus on your company’s business and your investors will recognize the value you are creating during for your start-up company, even before you secure funding from third party investors.

Focusing on venture funding is just one phase of your start-up company’s development.  But, your company’s business is the real item that needs to be developed to create value for your company.  Therefore, while you are trying to secure funding for your start-up company do not forget to focus on your business.  By doing so, you can create significant value along the way and at the same time help facilitate the venture funding of your start-up company.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | Business Planning, Finance, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , | 1 Comment