Preparation is key to raising your startup’s first or next round.. During our 20-week accelerator program our startup founders get access to an extensive network of experts as well as mentorship from in-house investors like Stonly Baptiste. Stonly is a partner at Urban Us as well as a consultant and lecturer at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. During our recent Sprint Week, Stonly presented our founders with four critical questions you have to ask yourself before you ask others for money.
IS THIS IDEA AUDACIOUS ENOUGH?
Investors want to be excited about your company’s potential scale and how your product changes the status quo.u. Stonly adds that “venture capital is not designed to invest in incremental growth companies.” Founders must ask themselves: what’s amazing, maybe even hard to believe, about what we’re creating?
“There is a significant difference between trying to shoot for the moon compared to building an entire civilization on Mars.”
“Provided you have credibility, investors are likely to take a risk on the slingshot headed to Mars,” Stonly says.
DO I HAVE MOMENTUM?
Before founders start making audacious claims, startups must have the momentum to support such predictions. Some companies can show a formula for increasing demand and just need money to scale. Some companies already have sales and need funding to support increased production. Many startups don’t have a working product yet, but they have committed customers or waiting lists. Momentum can be defined with a track record, pipeline, sales, or significant product development.
Adding a number or date to your momentum can turn a potentially great company into an investable one. For example, if a company has improved water quality in over 10,000 homes in six months, it could feasibly claim to eradicate poor water quality across the United States in 10 years.
“You want to think of momentum not just in the trail of breadcrumbs you can point to, but also what you are targeting as the ultimate outcome.”
“You want an investor to think: ‘I need to figure out how to get a seat on this rocketship so that I don’t miss out,’ rather than you trying to convince them that you need a few dollars from them to survive,” Stonly adds. “They need to believe you are going to make it with or without them.”
CAN I BUILD TRUST?
Investors want to know if founders have what it takes to lead the mission. Has previous experiences, education or research made you passionate about the cause and uniquely qualified to execute? Have you succeeded in this sector before? Are you a serial entrepreneur with a track record of success? Are you earnest and tenacious? Successful founders show why they are the right person to turn this idea into a scalable business. Startup founders must be able to convey to investors what makes them a safe bet among the many high risk variables in a startup.
Some of this can be conveyed subtly. “Think of when you walk into your doctor’s or lawyer’s offices and they have degrees and their awards on the wall,” Stonly says. “They don’t have to sit down and tell you about their degrees. Your subconscious will absorb that and believe what they have to say.”
HAVE I MADE TIME TO FUNDRAISE?
If founders can confidently answer ‘yes’ to the previous three questions, it’s time to come up with a fundraising plan. Stonly explains that fundraising should be a full-time job — not a weekend hustle. A full fundraising cycle in today’s environment can take up to six months. A founder needs two to three months of lead time, because it may take a few months before investors commit to funding the company. And that’s just the start of term sheet negotiations and full due diligence. Each investor or VC has a different process. It is helpful if founders are familiar with what that process and timeline might be to ensure the company manages cashflow appropriately . This level of commitment means that founders may have to delegate most day-to-day responsibilities to make time to fundraise. Leaner teams may feel the strain. However, if founders don’t make time to run a proper fundraise process, the company could stall perpetually.
Stonly explains that fundraising can be a lot like dating. “It’s a numbers game. You’re looking for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If it’s a ‘no’, move on. You don’t want to date a person who is halfway out the door,” Stonly says. “Part of the process includes facing a lot of rejection. The feeling of embarrassment may creep in, but that’s the first thing you have to accept.”
“Don’t let opinions take you off course. Investors are not demigods. They are people — just like you.”
Written by Jennifer Jefferson
URBAN-X is an accelerator for startups reimagining city life. Every six months we select up to 10 urbantech startups and invest $150,000 per company. Our 20-week accelerator program equips startups facing the unique challenges of working with and in cities. Built by MINI and Urban Us.