As consultants who specialize in growth-based decision making, we are regularly asked to help entrepreneurs get their funding “ask” together. Many of our clients initially think requesting funding looks something like Shark Tank, as they imagine standing in front of a severe-looking panel under bright lights.
While the moment of presentation is exciting and challenging, real funding decisions are rarely as dramatic as carefully orchestrated reality television would have you believe. Nevertheless, carefully orchestrating your presentation is a must if you are going to translate your business idea into a relevant investor pitch.
And it’s important to remember getting funding is rarely a one-shot deal. More often, it’s a delicate dance: Both you and your potential funder will have certain steps to execute before agreeing to meet again. A relationship is not likely to materialize in a single meeting.
Even if you generate excitement in 10 slides or less, it’s likely you’ll need to provide your potential funder with more detailed information. Here’s a short list of what you need to make sure that your information is compelling, credible, consistent and flexible to the needs of various funding sources.
Know yourself, your business and your numbers
When thinking about looking for funding, ask yourself: What problem am I solving? How will this business make money? How can I build a business with a sustainable competitive advantage? Why am I the best one to do it? What’s my model and go-to-market plan? What have I done to prove this business is real? Who is working with me to make it happen?
Once you have fully answered the above questions, work on building trust with potential investors and developing confidence you have done the right things to build a strong, differentiated and well-articulated business. Trust and confidence are the two biggest things you want to inspire in your potential investors: trust that your business is viable and a risk-appropriate investment, and confidence that your team has the ability to follow-through, capitalize, and make good on return commitments.
This confidence comes from good, old-fashioned homework. It’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s another to have dug deep and defined what the business brings to the world, why you’re the best one to execute it, and how it will generate returns.
Know what you need funding for
Funding is only one of the pieces that your business needs to grow. First, ensure you have all the other pieces in place (i.e. product, process and people). Also, have a clear understanding of how funds you are requesting will be applied to help your business grow.
Expert tip: Once you are clear on what you are funding, see if you can find “smart money” to sweeten the deal. Smart money is money raised from people that can bring you industry knowledge, key contacts or access to sales channels. This enhances relationship value over and above the dollars you receive. In other words, smart money not only funds growth: It can enhance your firm’s industry relationships and competitive standing as well.
Understand who you need funding from
As noted, sometimes who you obtain funding from is more critical than the amount of money you raise from them. Who you target will also affect your pitch.
Many new companies expect they will be presenting to venture capital shops or sophisticated angel investors who expect a certain return (such as a chance to cash in on a buyout or IPO). And although this may be the case for IT-related start-ups, other audiences may have different investment motivations.
Make the extra effort to understand those motivations. What does the potential investor expect from your business? What are their investment criteria (i.e. industry, expected returns)? How will they structure their involvement (a convertible equity-option note, board participation, using your IP as collateral, etc.)?
By fully understanding potential investors’ motivations and requirements, you will be able to sync your messaging, approach and level of detail to their needs.
Build a clear, modular funding package
Once you’ve answered the preceding questions, you’re ready to develop a compelling, comprehensive and impactful fundraising package to showcase your work and enable your firm to raise the funds to accelerate growth. The five key components your package should include are:
- 2 page teaser: An executive summary that showcases important business points to spark interest. It should be comprehensive enough to provide a full picture of your opportunity but also create a little intrigue about what your new firm offers. If successful, the potential investor would like to meet with you to learn more or even request a formal presentation.
- Investor presentation pitch: Usually 10-15 summary presentation slides (plus an appendix of research supporting your proposition) organized as follows:
- Title: Company name, presenter, title, address, email and cell number
- Problem/opportunity: Problem or verifiable market need the business is addressing
- Business model: How money will be made
- Go-to-market plan: Detailed path to take the company from current state to success
- Competitive analysis: Current landscape and why your idea/company is better
- Management team: Key players that will take this business to the next level, including board of directors or major investors
- Financial projections: A 3-5 year bottom-up forecast of financial and performance metrics
- Status, accomplishments, timeline and use of funds: Current state of your business, what the near future looks like, and how money raised will be used
- Updated business plan for current year and beyond: Typically a 20-page or so MS Word document (content plus appendix) that summarizes your hypothesis in a direct, succinct way. Instead of an intricate plan, use simplified frameworks (i.e. business model canvas). Ensure it includes clear proof of potential, how money will be made, why this is the right moment for funding, the problem funding solves, and your understanding of the industry and its competitive dynamics.
- Supporting financials with key business and investor metrics : A well-articulated .xls file that includes key assumptions, 5-year projected P&L (detailed and summary), performance scenarios based on market assumptions, and how success will be achieved, measured and tracked.
- Suggested terms (Term Sheet): An approximately 5-page Word document of content plus appendix that states funding terms and conditions. This bullet-point document, which implies transaction conditions, should outline the materials, terms and agreement on either a binding or non-binding basis. Once executed, this term sheet will guide final agreement preparation.
And remember, even if you have all these presentation basics, investors will likely execute their own due-diligence to validate your assumptions and facts. Be prepared by ensuring your information is integrated, supported and consistent. Also, be ready to answer difficult, more detailed questions about business viability, team strength, growth milestones and your ability to execute.