A guest blog by Georgia Stewart, Co-founder of Tumelo
In August 2019, I raised a seed investment round for our wonderful wee ‘early seed stage’ start-up, Tumelo. The process resulted in a £1 million, a stellar set of supportive angels and an extensive runway to build cool tech that will likely change the world for investors. Joy! But lord almighty, it took 8 months of pain to get there.
What follows is the fundraising guide I needed then. The path I never followed but wish I did. I present to you here, the beauty of hindsight.
- Set your business up to run itself without you. Give things you are not passionate about to others (like accounts…). This is where your crazy co-founder(s) become God’s Gift. Organise a place to stay in London for half the week — ideally not a sofa. Seek out a compassionate friend — or a boyfriend on the jubilee line (thanks Aly xoxo). Tinder won’t cut it. Leave outfits there and find a decent running route.
- Embark on a physical challenge. Aside from the trips in between tube stations, raising money is a mental game. You need to balance the extremities your mind will endure with some kind of “relaxation”. I trained for the Edinburgh marathon throughout our raise which guaranteed me at least 5 hours a week of the closest thing I will ever get to ‘meditation’. It picks you up after a crappy day. Plus, even when you’re super nervous about a VC pitch in the morning or when your mind is racing over all those unanswered emails, you still zonk out like a baby because your body is toast.
- Find a base between Mayfair and Shoreditch where you can host investors and work between meetings — I joined The Conduit Club. VCs will make you go to them but angels don’t always have offices — if you have a base you’ll save hella time by avoiding travel, steer clear of loud cafes where you can’t find a seat, gain a new network and save money on food & travel — make a point of explaining the last part to the investors you meet there (or just compare the price to a WeWork desk).
- Read Venture Deals.
- Reach out to every founder you know to talk about fundraising — don’t ask for investor intros, they won’t do it & they are good for more than that. Ask about strategy, narratives, timelines, investor Q&A. If they are impressed by you then they might offer intros.
- Talk through your plans with corporate finance people — they won’t help you in practice but they are great folks to verbalise early plans to and receive early feedback from.
- Read everything on fundraising from Y Combinator (just read everything on everything from Y Combinator). If it chimes, stick it on your bedroom wall. Copy some of Paul Graham’s deep & sweet words into the inside of your notebook: “Don’t let rejections pile up as a depressing, undifferentiated heap. Sort them and analyze them, and then instead of thinking “no one likes us,” you’ll know precisely how big a problem you have, and what to do about it.”
- Write a business plan summary. Ambitious but not ridiculous. If you don’t believe it then don’t write it down. You must be able to say it out loud without a shadow of a doubt that you & your team could achieve it if given the opportunity (where opportunity = $). If you cringe when you tell your friends you probably went too far. You don’t need a lengthy write-up (unless you apply to old-school angel syndicates which — unless you have sick IP — I’m pretty sure is a waste of time). If you’re doing market research then keep a note of your references or save them into a single folder. Some investors might ask.
- Don’t kid yourself with a “worst-case” business model. The worst case is no business model. However, it will probably be useful to know your “OK” case. Think about a relatively disappointing outcome and decide, realistically, what you would need to get there. This plan is probably not pitchable so don’t go framing it as “Plan B” or doing a write-up or a model. But, if your round goes tits up, at least now you have something to convince those investors who are in so far to stick with you because “we can still do this.. like this.. don’t worry”.
- Build a flexible financial model that you can a) send to investors and b) use yourself to test scenarios. It doesn’t need to be crazy complicated, just get it done. Investors will understand you are tight on money (e.g. have no FD) and tight on time. BUT it needs to be decent. If excel is not your forte, you need to find some help. Once it’s there, you need to know what you wrote and why. Especially where assumptions come into play e.g. CAC metrics and growth rates. (Therefore, you can’t get someone to do it for you, only to help). Again, if you don’t believe it, you’ll find it hard to talk about and look stupid, so don’t put it down.
- Create your pitch deck. For this, you need a strong narrative. Write your start-up story. What’s your purpose? I hope you are not considering this, but you definitely do not need a consultancy. Ask friends why theythink you started the business — they will have created a narrative in their heads if you haven’t given them one already. (Warning: you might not like their version). Why are you doing this instead of that other stuff your mates are doing? What have you achieved? Where are you going? How is the future different because your startup is in it? FYI You don’t need to change the future of the entire world. You only need to change a small thing big enough to make a significant difference in the future fortunes or lives of a subset of people or businesses (your target audience). Hopefully, your business makes the world a better place. This will make your conversations easier because you can connect on an emotional as well as commercial level. Remember your pitch deck is a sales deck. It needs to sell your story, not just explain it.
- Create a Pitch List. A list of people you can pitch to (friends, family, co-founders, friendly advisors, scary advisors, founders, current investors, angels, VCs, family offices, institutions). You must find some people who have never heard of your business before; who do not know you. Ask your list for their advisory buddies, colleagues, brothers & sisters, husbands & wives… List them in priority order (of who you want money from) and start from the bottom.
- Test your deck with a smattering of people on your list. Tell them to ignore design (you haven’t done that yet) and focus purely on content. Everyone will have an opinion. Ignore most of them. Is the story clear? Is the story compelling? At some point, stop asking. People will still tell you. At some point, stop listening.
- Create the Risk List. Write a note of every risk your business faces. If you are at an early stage, your list will be very long. Examples: CAC is sky high; can’t find talent; recession; fall out with co-founders; growth is slower; competition get ahead. Every question that gets asked by an investor/mentor/friend (such as those to whom you sent your deck) should land on this list. This list will form the basis of your investor Q&A. So, you should set about thinking of answers, running tests, de-risking as many points as you can. By the way, de-risking is good for you as well as investors. It’s like a game: Each risk is one point. First to zero wins the prize.
- Once your pitch deck has substance, make it slick. Unless you are a 1-in-a-zillion, no-questions-asked, hands-down, will-clearly-be-unicorn, line-up-here-to-invest start-up then it needs to be pretty. Beauty sells.
- Now practice your pitch out loud to friends, family, co-founders, friendly advisors, scary advisors and other founders. Practise presentation style (old-school) and conversation style (more common). Give your audience the Risk List & demand Q&A. Think of it like an Oxbridge interview. The stats say it all: the kids that practice get in. You are pitching for your future here — it’s no different. Ask to record the meetings, listen back. Send some pitch decks ahead of time. Do other pitches blind. Fifteen in-person/video pitches sounds like a good number.
- Organise an informal summer drinks with a quick company update presentation. Invite key partners, suppliers, employees, advisors, founders, current investors and future investors (everyone on your priority list). This is all about giving back to the community who has supported you thus far; tell them what you have learned and changed; about your plans going forward; answer the questions they have. Ask your team to present some of their amazing work and to talk about the great culture. Say you are looking to raise funds in the next six months. Don’t ask anyone for money.
- Decide on a target valuation. Don’t fuss about this. It’s finger in the air for most of us. Hold off telling anyone for as long as possible. You don’t need it to pitch and the feel you get from investors will steer you towards the higher or lower end of what you believe is acceptable.
- Get your ducks in a row. Engage lawyers. Start drafting legal docs in case people ask for them (AG are awesome lawyers — whoever said it didn’t feel good to pay for friends?). Engage Crowdcube or Seedrs now if you’re crowdfunding — speak to other founders first to get a good deal.
- Launch Part 1: email your existing/friendly investors announcing your raise. Attach your deck. Tell them you want them on board because they add value so will reserve space for four weeks max. Get meetings. Don’t assume they want you, this is still a sell.
- Sort out pre-emption. After the four-week window has passed, have existing investors confirm they are willing (“really, are you sure?! There’s no going back”) to pass up their pre-emption rights. Now you have to start approaching others.
- Launch Part 2: Email your Pitch List all at once. A few emails should go to everyone. One for friends/family/advisors (“tell investors your know”) and one for angels and one for VCs. Personalise it for some if it makes more sense to do so. Give them dates, times and a place to meet. Make it easy for them to take a meeting. Give them a close date (12 weeks). Tell them if your existing/friendly investors are in. Tell them you are taking meetings for the next 4 weeks and reserving 8 weeks for the rest of the investment faff.
- Treat VCs the same way you treat angels, they are not superior because they are richer. They are not always richer, anyway. Except, where angels tend not to have a published strategy, VCs do. That’s the business model they’ve sold to their investors, so they stick to it. If you don’t fit the bill, don’t waste your time. Especially if you are on the early side of early (like we were). If they are willing to meet, you could use the opportunity for pitch practice (see above).
- Seek out quick “no’s”. Add the reason to the Risk List. You shouldn’t have to meet anyone more than twice before they have given you a preliminary yes. We met some angels more than twice — none of them invested.
- Start raising on LinkedIn once you’ve got “real life” investor traction. This sounds mad — I know. I am not a sales-y person. The very idea of this makes me want to die. However, we found, met and received investment from some brilliant angels via LinkedIn (£100k of our raise, but we only started right at the end). We took two approaches in parallel: shotgun (add/message every angel you can find) and bespoke (write nice messages to people who look like they could genuinely be interested/aligned). Again, provide a date, time and place for a meeting (or zoom call), make it easy!
- Overfund. “Close” and “on target” is not enough. Go over. Someone will have a divorce or need a new car or have a medical emergency that will suck up their ‘start-up capital’. Tell investors you are maxed out but you want them on board before closing so you go over your target.
- Celebrate. I was so exasperated and our team so stretched by the end of our raise that I don’t even remember celebrating. If you have just sold a concept and a few lines of code for hundreds of thousands of pounds, I reckon you deserve a drink.
All in all, our raise took about 8 months. We had all the commitments by the start of summer (~month 5) but signing documents takes longer when investors are on safari (no surprises there). Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain (yeah — that’s 50 Cent). Nevertheless, let’s hope this guide maximises the first & minimises the latter. Questions below!
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