As a VC, we spend a lot of time thinking about where we want to invest our money. Last night, I was with my friend Pedro Torres-Pincon who recently presented “How to Build an Investment Thesis” providing good insight into determining how and where you decide to invest your money.
But writing the check is the easy part. The real challenge in entrepreneurship is to build a meaningful and sustainable company. To that end, one of the things we like to discuss at Scout with our founders is how to avoid the pitfalls that can kill an early stage company.
(1) Don’t run out of money. I know this seems like a simple rule but it’s amazing how many entrepreneurs under estimate how much time and money they will need to build their business. In most case, we see financial projections that too aggressively forecast revenue growth, while underestimating the cost of building a scalable product. The other issue that tends to crush entrepreneurs is not allocating enough time to raise the next round of capital; fundraising is time consuming and requires a focused effort. So beware – forecast more conservatively and budget more time to raise your next round of capital.
(2) Don’t make a bad critical hire. We often invest very early in a company when they haven’t hired all their critical team members. In many cases, our capital is being used to expand the team and help the founders grow their vision. If the Company hires a rock star then everything will get much better, but if they hire a dud then the Company is sure to suffer. The two areas that are most often affected are technology and sales. If the company is in the process of building a new product and their new CTO drops the ball, then it’s almost impossible for the company to meet any of their deadlines or achieve the metrics necessary to secure the next tranche of capital. Likewise, if the Company hires a revenue generator like a VP of Sales and they fail to achieve their revenue goals, it’s often a devastating blow to the company’s forecasts and thus also hurts their ability to raise additional capital.
(3) Avoid bad investors. The early stage landscape is much different today than it was when I started in this industry as there is more seed stage money than ever before. Accredited investors are jumping into early stage investing with angel groups, accelerators, and equity crowd funding platforms like SeedInvest. This coupled with significantly lower barriers to entry means that it’s easier than ever to start a new company and raise a small amount of capital. The resulting increased competition among early stage companies has created a shortage of follow-on funding as described by Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital. But more hazardous than the shortage of Series A capital, is the impact inexperienced investors, often from other industries who are looking to dabble in venture as an alternative asset class, can have on an early stage company. The worst case scenario for a young entrepreneur is to get lured by an investor who is offering capital but wants to add terms and provisions inconsistent with standard early stage venture rounds. These terms vary greatly but the most dangerous are the right to ask to get paid back, asking for too much control and/or the need for the investor to consent to future financing, etc. It breaks my heart when a young team is crushing it only to have a disgruntled early investor call their $100,000 note – which represents a significant chunk of operating capital. Smart money is always the best way to go.