Given the economic climate, and the implications for startups, Series B financings are going to be tough to get done; here are some substantive and “beauty” reasons.
Series B financings happen at a vulnerable stage of a startup. The company has generally proven its core value proposition, has demonstrated it knows where to find customers, acquire them, and has begun to monetize them. The operative term here is “begun” – they haven’t generated enough revenue to cover their burn, and likely will need another 12-24 months to do so.
What the company or the investors don’t know yet is how scalable and predictable the revenue is. How broadly into the target market the problem really exists (and whether or not they just got lucky with those first customers in the A round), and if/where the source of explosive leverage in the business is.
But the confidence of that revenue forecast, that can matter a lot. Startups can run out of cash more quickly than they expect because the revenue forecast shows net cash needs going down over time…which is true only if the revenue comes in as planned. So it’s easy to get a nasty surprise here if you miss your revenue forecast; all of a sudden you’re not managing to a break-even date, but a cash-out date that’s coming at you like a locomotive.
Series B financings may have less engineering or product risk, but they can have loads of revenue and market execution risk that can be hard to get your arms around.
There are also some beauty reasons why Series B financings are nuanced. It’s precisely because they’re not Series A financings and they’re not Series C financings. Let me explain.
Series A financings are attractive for VCs because they’re a product of your relationships and your deal flow – a result of personal, proprietary value. The best deals involve shiny and bold unblemished ideas, are looked at by a small number of firms, and can be highly competitive.
Series C financings are attractive for VCs because a lot of times they involve companies who have figured out how to scale revenue and have some clarity on the leverage in their model. The engineering/product risk is generally behind them as is the revenue unpredictability; they need capital to expand and get to break-even. These deals can also be highly competitive, and are shiny and old, old in a good way – they’re much closer to being sold (exiting).
What about Series B? Well, a lot of times they’re just not as pretty. They’ve been out in the market enough to success and have some warts and have already been seen by a lot of VC firms. There’s still all that revenue and sales/marketing execution risk. Series B deals are tweeners – neither a shiny Series A deal with a promising unblemished future, nor a “we’re just a few years away from an exit” Series C deal. Picking a good one is tough.
What if you’re raising a B round?
You’ve got to embrace the reality of where you’re at. You should expect to have a fair amount of “longitudinal” metrics supporting your revenue forecast. Metrics you’ve been tracking for quite some time that communicate fact-based clarity in generating reliable revenue.
A closely related area is to have data that examines where in your business model the leverage comes from, and how that affects the economics of your business. This too is best done longitudinally with data collected over time (like showing a strong network effect).
Finally, you need an operating plan that spends behind revenue; increasing expenses only after revenue has increased, reliably. This means having some clarity around the context of expense increases, tying them to product or customer initiatives; “tear-off” plans that overlay onto your base revenue/expense plan.
B rounds are nuanced, and thoughtful planning and analysis can help you navigate the nuance.