Fundraising is hard until it isn't

YCombinator recently did a study of their graduating teams to understand the statistics of their fundraising process. You can read the article to learn more but I'll give you the headline: it takes roughly 30 investor meetings to get a single term sheet.

What's interesting about the fundraising process, especially for early-stage companies is that it can be extremely grueling until one day it isn't. For some companies they figure out the recipe that completely changes the process.

Overnight you become the most popular girl at the dance. You go from struggling to get introductions to struggling just to find time for all of the investor calls. It becomes less of a question of how do you get this person to write you a check to a question of whose check should you take? It sounds like the stuff of dreams for many early-stage entrepreneurs but for those that get things just right, it can become your reality.

I tell all of the founders we work with, if you are a truly venture backable business, then all else being equal there are three things to focus on that are going to get you funded.

  1. An investable team
  2. A proven repeatable scalable growth model
  3. Meaningful traction either through monthly revenue growth numbers, marquee customers, or signing a large enterprise contract

An investable team is one that has proven to investors "we're the people that are going to win this market." Experience can be an important factor but it's not everything. It's crucial that the founders are sales focused, coachable, open minded but driven, make data driven decisions, understand people and contracts, and know how to build an army behind them. A team too focused on product, to arrogant about their own beliefs to test them against data, and lacking the people skills to sell, recruit, and lead is not going to dominate the market.

Proving out a repeatable scalable growth model is something I've talked about extensively on this blog. The goal is that that investor don't just want to see that you can close a customer or 10 customers. They want to see that you've created a proven process that will lead you to closing 100 customers or 1000 customers.

Number three however is what turns an "I'm interested" into a "Can you save me a spot in your round?" The first two build your case but the third point creates the sense of urgency. "The train is leaving the station. Are you on or off?" Why? Because traction is what changes the investor's own calculation from "do I think this will work" to "if I wait are they going to be three times more valuable the next time I speak with them?" Check out Bessemer Venture Partners story about Airbnb to see an extreme example of when this happens. Entrepreneurs must have relentless focus on proving early market traction from day one. No one invests in ideas, they invest in businesses. Sign a large contract and it will feel like you've gone from the kid who asks his cousin to the prom to the rockstar on stage that can't handle all of the groupies.

James Shomar
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