By Joanne Lang (Founder & CEO, AboutOne)
It’s been an amazing journey to get AboutOne where it is today. Through the process of developing an award winning app and raising an over-subscribed Series A with lead investors Golden Seeds, I’ve navigated quite a few hurdles and learned many lessons while juggling my roles as tech start up founder and mom to my four young boys.
As I celebrate the closing of my first series A funded by Golden Seeds and MAG, I thought I would give you a sneak peak at five lessons I’ve learned about the funding process.
Lesson #1 – Find a local funding mentor.
I started pitching from day one of my idea; not because I thought I could raise money, but because as a first time fundraiser, I needed to learn what investors wanted.
My first step was joining Philly Startup Leaders (PSL), a local entrepreneur group that told me about Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures. I applied to MADV and was surprised when I was accepted for screening. I was accepted to present and I did have to pay to pitch (around $300) but it was worth every penny as they assigned a mentor to walk me through my pitch. I then asked a local investor to review my pitch and give feedback, hearing his feedback was a major step forward in refining my pitch.
With hindsight, instead of trying to navigate and learn the process myself, I would approach another entrepreneur who had successfully raised funds in my geographic area and offer to pay them to mentor me. I think that would have saved me a lot of time.
I recommend finding a local entrepreneur because I discovered that seed and series A investors want to be close to their entrepreneurs (which I think is wise). Another entrepreneur should be able to recommend or introduce you to local angel groups or VCs and help you prepare the right six minute pitch content (I’ll share the reason for six minutes in my book.).
My final step in the funding process was to investigate local seed stage investors who had credibility. I selected Ben Franklin SEP. My contact Alan Kraus took the time to mentor me through the various steps to be eligible for their funding. He also helped me though their 12 week due diligence program, which really validated that I was doing the right things. The Ben Franklin funding came with a network, contacts and support – all invaluable when growing a series A company.
Lesson #2 – Cash is king.
The funding timeline is unpredictable and having cash is absolutely critical. It may seem obvious, but know your cash flow, burn rates, and how many months your team can last without the additional funding as you never know what will happen!
When I started fundraising for my series A, I was told the process could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. Give yourself enough time.
My AboutOne series A with Golden Seeds from pitch to cash in the bank was July 14th – Nov 30th: 139 days, 20 weeks, or 5 months. I did not anticipate the hurricane with evacuation, tornado, earthquake, and hospitalized child that all occurred in the middle of the funding process, causing a 4 week delay which then pushed me into August, the month when many investors go on vacation.
Luckily, my lead investors worked on their vacations to keep us on track, but in general, my advice would be to avoid fundraising in August. There are always exceptions, but this was my lesson here on the east coast.
Lesson #3 – Research and understand term sheets.
Research term sheets before you start fundraising; you need to understand the whole process. I attended a training session held by PSL (Philly Start Up Leaders) and PACT called “I Signed What?” Understanding Term Sheets and Financing Terms by Farid Naib.
One example of this process that never made sense to me was the option pool reserved for future use. In an institutional funding round, these future options will dilute your current valuation while adding no increase in your valuation, even though the options will have a strike price. Research this so you understand how to size your option pool so it is effective for you in your hiring but has a sensible dilution.
Your startup attorney and accounting team should advise you about these matters during term sheet discussions. Perhaps you can negotiate different terms from the beginning, but when I researched, this seemed to be common practice. My attorney was Reed Smith LLP and my accountant was Fesnak & Associates.
Lesson #4 – Have a backup plan with a funnel of investors.
Get used to the idea that investors can soft circle an amount for you and then pull out. You will feel emotionally let down, especially if you get to like your prospective investors, so prepare yourself.
This is business. It’s very rarely about you as a person. When they choose to walk away, it’s just the end of their part in your journey. Let them go gracefully and stay in touch with them. You never know if they will help you in other ways in the future.
I had investors drop out, and I removed investors from my list as I learned more about them.
If you have a backup plan, that will ease the stress.
Lesson #5 – Breathe!
One of my Golden Seeds investors emailed me this during the due diligence process: “Just Breathe!” It was good advice.
Give yourself some time to go for a walk, get some exercise, and take a break. I managed the process by trying to make it fun.
I looked at finding investors like finding a husband; I interviewed the investors to be my life partner. I wanted someone who had a portfolio that fit mine and was genuinely interested in my market. I wanted them to believe in me unconditionally, for better or worse, in sickness and in health – like my family.
At this point in time, I feel I found that in my perfect investors with Golden Seeds and MAG, and I hope you do too.
This post was originally posted at About One’s blog.
About the guest blogger: Joanne Lang is the Founder and CEO of AboutOne, an online organizer that not only replaces the file cabinets, notebooks, and various tools that families use to store household information, but also saves time by automatically organizing that information so it’s useful and readily available. She is a former software company executive specializing in cloud technology. Follow her on Twitter at @AboutOneCEO.