Posts Tagged ‘business model’

The nuance of Series B financings

March 5, 2009

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. 

Substantive 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.

Beauty reasons

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.

Five ways you can tell if the VC you’re talking to is being straight with you

November 28, 2008

One dose of humility I try and keep at the front of my mind is that before I went into venture capital, I was in startup companies, and I had to raise money myself. This means I also had to develop and hone the pitch deck, and meet with venture capitalists.

It’s a good place to put your mind when you’re hearing a pitch from someone. To remember what it felt like to try so hard, and be so eager to hear the good or the bad, to get some feedback, some guidance, some hope.

But something I think we’ve all learned as VCs is how hard it can be to say “no” to someone, and to do it in a way that respects the entrepreneur’s role in the transaction. We look at 400+ deals a year, and fund fewer than four. Saying “no” happens a lot, and happen for a range of reasons, generally not because the company is bad or the idea is bad, but because to fit through our filter, a whole lot needs to line up really well.

So, if you walk into your meeting with a VC cognizant of the fact it’s 100 times more likely you will be turned down than not, well, you better get something back for your time, don’t you think?

So here are the five ways you can tell of the VC you’re dealing with is NOT being as fair with you as you’re being with them:

  1. They took more than they gave in the first meeting. VCs see tons of deals and have relevant experience. Meeting with you should be an opportunity for them to help you. If they view the meeting as a way to feed them, time to move on.
  2. They’ve met with you more than two times without setting expectations. Remember, your time is valuable, and you can’t waste it with folks who can’t articulate a process and put you on a timeline. The process can be “Let me track you for the next year”, which tells you no funding in the meantime. But if you’re trying to raise money now, then you need to know within two meetings if you’re on a path to that, and where that path leads.
  3. They want you to extract all the risk. It’s totally chicken for a Series A VC to tell you they’ll be ready to invest once you’ve proven the business works at scale. Go to a bank instead (assuming you can find one that is lending).  It’s fair of them to ask you to show you’ve validated the value proposition and core assumptions, but that’s different.
  4. They want someone else to lead. What does this mean? “I will give you money if someone else says they will invest first?” This is kind of helpful, but in the end moves you not a whole lot further down the road.  You need someone to lead the round, and firms that wait for another to lead are making essentially a non-commitment, and are leaving a great deal of work for someone else to do.
  5. They didn’t tell you why they said no. This is really important. VCs pass for specific reasons that they discuss in their Monday meetings. Reasons might be “the team has never done this before” or “I think this is a feature of someone else’s platform”. Don’t you think this is important information to know if you’re the CEO? Yeppers, it sure is. You’ll know when you’re dealing with a quality VC when they tell you why they passed, because they know this is information that will help you.

So, a quality VC understands your time is valuable, that they’re in the business of making risky investments, and most importantly, that “no” is an opportunity to impart advice/feedback to help the entrepreneur raise money from someone else where the fit is better.  Whether you raise money from a particular VC or not, it’s the process of the interaction that’s valuable and important.  Success or failure has meaning here, and the high quality VC firms not only acknowledge this, they focus on it.