I recently met with one of our holdings – a technology-software startup in Las Vegas, Nevada USA (Headquarters for Tip of the Spear Ventures) and we reviewed why raising capital might not be your best funding strategy. Let me be frank… While being an “entrepreneur” is fashionable these days, Las Vegas was never/is not now a major powerhouse in the tech industry. However, even with its limited entrepreneurial scene Las Vegas would appear to be awash with more capital for funding entrepreneurs than it has ever seen before. Investors are doling out money to promising startups, and major corporate Acquisition Departments at Google, Facebook, and MSN are ready in the wings to acquire interesting technologies and more importantly the smart teams that work therein.
Bootstrapping Your Business
I am an entrepreneur who bootstrapped his first company more than two decades ago, and it has been interesting to see the Las Vegas startup scene mature since forming Tip of the Spear Ventures in 2012. Similarly, the tech-software entrepreneur previously mentioned also bootstrapped his startup. Since we invested and began mentoring the organization five years ago, they now garner more than 40,000 visitors a day to their website, generate revenue of seven figures a year, and are extremely profitable. As such, they’ve had quite a investors and private equity firms approach them with funding, ready to invest in a business with a positive cash flow and pristine reputation in exchange for equity.
Capital Funding Sources
I remember the first time I had the conversation with the leader of the organization (There have been many approaches over the years, all of which seem to follow the same pattern – We’ll give you $XMM in exchange for XX% Equity). As the startups strategic partner, we reviewed each and everyone of the approaches, but elected not to accept any. While most would look at this as unfashionable (Shouldn’t you look at raising capital and ensuing Series A, B, and C rounds of funding as “right of passage” on the road to exit?) While congratulations are in order because most entrepreneurs would consider this as recognition by the business community as having arrived. Most entrepreneurs mistakenly believe at these moments that they’ve got it made (They’ll take a few million, expand the operations, juice up revenue and, within a few years sell out and cash an eight-figure cheque – WINNING!) Isn’t this the 21st -century success story – launch something, build it (They’ll come, right?), gain a bit of traction in the marketplace, get an infusion of cash and then sell, sell, sell as you get on the infamous train!
So why did we not recommending and why did the startup leaders not take any offers of funding? Simple… They retain complete ownership of their company and have never taken a cent in investment money. You see, it’s easy to get swayed by the upside but few entrepreneurs look at what they give up in exchange.
Why Raising Capital Might Not Be Your Best Funding Strategy – 6 Tips!
While in no way against funding (I mentioned that we were one of their original investors, and this is how we make our money at Tip of the Spear Ventures by investing in entrepreneurs), here are six considerations (or tips) that you should similarly consider before accepting funding:
- How badly do you need the cash? If you’ve successfully bootstrapped to profitability, perhaps your company is not in a situation that it cannot meet its financial obligations. You have money in the bank for those rainy days (Hopefully a year), so ask yourself “Do I even need the money?”
- What’s the endgame? The startup world is abuzz about moonshots and unicorns (Those companies valued at a minimum of a billion dollars). But is that something you really want? Do you want to build a disruptor? Or do you want to build a small company that does what it does best and serve the market for a long period of time?
- Are you willing to lose control? As the majority owner of your company, you don’t need to worry about anyone else’s opinions (for better or for worse). You don’t need to worry about keeping investors happy or making sure the board is happy. Keep in mind that the early-days of funding-marriage soon become cantankerous and almost divorce-like as demands placed on the entrepreneurs for ROI and other OKR metric attainment begin. No funding means you are the decision-maker.
- Is your share of the pie big enough? Raise enough capital (especially when your own company’s value is low) and have enough co-founders, and the threshold on how much money the company has to sell for before you make back your money goes up. I think it was one of the Beetles that when asked if they thought they’d ever reunite snarled “and split this tour 4 ways?!?” Sure, 10% of a $100Million exit is bigger than 100% of $5Million, but the reasons unicorns are unicorns is because they are extremely rare! You hear about the moonshot and unicorn success stories, but companies are far more likely to fail in achieving those levels.
- How much time do you have? Venture Capital backed startups are notorious for sucking time. As mentioned in #3 above, control also equates with time. You’re probably already wearing multiple hats as an entrepreneur. Will you be able to wear them all as effectively with less time to do so?
- What are your goals? What do you really want from your business? For most it’s freedom. The ability to go for an hour long walk with your dog during the middle of the day or sneak in that round of golf is appealing. While most entrepreneurs dream of time today it actually is in exchange for time tomorrow because the goal of why they became entrepreneurs in the first place was so appealing.
At the end of the day, most entrepreneurs operate their business to help provide for their lifestyle. Taking external funding would bring into play external forces that would make it harder for entrepreneurs to enjoy their lifestyle.
While most entrepreneurs are content realizing that they can/are here to make a dent and don’t need to dominate. Taking external business funding will limit those lifestyle choices and freedoms in making those dents.