If you’re a startup and not already generating a profit, getting funded is definitely one of the main goals for your business, especially during the early stage. It sounds like a norm that everyone has to do. However, it’s no easy task.
The best guidance comes from those who’ve been there and done that. That’s why I talked to seven stand-out startup founders in Thailand to get seven great tips that younger startups can learn from. You’ll find input from Natsakon ‘Nats’ Kiatsuranon (from ShopSpot), Martin Toft Sørensen (WearYouWant), Natavudh ‘Moo’ Pungcharoenpong (Ookbee), Thanawat ‘Wai’ Malabuppha (Priceza), Kavin ‘Mickey’ Asavanant (Noonswoon), Vachara Aemavat (Computerlogy), and Yod Chinsupakul (Wongnai).
1. Do not talk to only one investor but explore your opportunities
This could be a “duh” tip for some, but many newcomers don’t realize fail to explore their options. All seven entrepreneurs agree you should never put all your eggs in one basket. But that doesn’t mean you should just reach out to about anyone. Priceza founder Wai recommends that startups should search for investors that are interested in the field or industry the startup is in. In addition, reaching out to too many VCs means too many meetings. That can cost startups valuable time that could be spent doing something else.
However, connecting to a lot of people also benefit startups in term of feedback regarding their products. Hearing comments on your product is a good way to learn where to improve.
2. Do your homework
Certainly, venture capitalists do some research about their startups before they meet or invest. The same principle applies the other way around, too. Basically, startups need to know how good the investors are, how many deals the company does per year, and the phase that the venture capital normally invest in. There are other areas too.
VCs are businesses that need to deliver a return at some point too. If a specific VC group is in the harvest time or running out of cash, a startup probably want to steer clear of it. But sometimes, even without money, VCs can help as a strategic partner. So do your homework.
As for the timeline, Nats from ShopSpot explains:
It’s quite common that you will have to meet 20-plus investors for 50-plus meetings before you can pick the top five investors and focus solely on them. Then it would normally take two to three months from the first meeting to get the term sheet, and three to six months from the term sheet to get the deal done.
3. Superstar team, awesome product, and monetization are keys
What investors look for in a startup varies based on the state of the investment. However, all founders agree that the team itself is the core. It’s important that investors and venture capitalists trust that the team can grow the business, specifically the founding team if the deal is at the seed stage. When talking about “the team”, this covers all aspects of the people involved: passion, leadership style, experience, and the culture of that team.
Besides showing how much it loves the product, the startup must be able to show, with good reasons, why this team is the best to tackle the problem that the company aims to solve. VCs would be asking themselves why this team should be the one to tackle the problem, why not other team or startup? Thus, the startup needs to ask themselves this question also and show your answer to VCs.
It’s also important for startups to show that with a good team it also has good product that solves the real problem and has the potential to capture a sizeable market. If a startup is going to solve a problem that’s too small, there’s not much potential to hit the 10 times growth for the investment.
When it comes to money, typical VCs will be looking for a startup with potential for super high growth and a big exit in a short period of time. So scalability and a good monetization model are a must.
4. Only talk to VCs when you’re ready
In Thailand, Ookbee suspects that there’s a competitive pressure for VCs to move down to smaller rounds. This could be the result of a lack of superstar startups in the country. VCs start approaching smaller startups first. This could confuse founders. Then startups start pitching to VCs when they probably shouldn’t. According to Moo, grooming yourself takes time so you probably want to delay your first chat with VCs for as long as possible. He says he met a lot of entrepreneurs who are great but they’re just not VC material – at least not yet.
5. Join an incubator or an accelerator program to learn more
Some might not be ready for a real pitch, or just have no idea how things work. Joining an incubator or accelerator program can help. It’s important to learn about how to build a startup and how to raise funding from people who have actually done it.
Shopspot joined JFDI and went from zero to over 30 interested parties in five months. It finally secured seed funding from SingTel Innov8, Jungle Ventures, and Thai Angels led by Kris Nalamlieng.
6. Don’t be sloppy
Admit it, startups normally work from home or at a co-working space, so the dress code is normally T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers – or sometimes flip-flops. However, talking to investors is also about making yourself the coolest guy in the block so you probably want to dress up nicely for a meeting. Startups also need to understand that it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s about getting the momentum going and getting the deal closed quickly. Thus, first impressions are really important.
7. It’s okay to fail. Chin up and try again
Before succeeding, these founders have faced failures and letdowns. The reason could be that their business is “too early-stage”, “not the right fit”, or simply just “not meeting the right person”. It’s okay if you don’t get invested at first; learn from the mistakes. Here are some quick tips on this important psychological aspect:
Moo: I used to send my deck to [VCs] with the first email, which I’ve stop doing now. First, it’s not the best way to deliver your message. It’s also recommended to ask for an introduction to the firm’s decision makers whenever possible. Your chance of success is much higher. Remember, VCs need you as much as you need them. Both parties benefit from each other. So there’s no need to be shy.
Martin: Optimize the tracking and focus a lot on successful achievements in the presentation deck.
Wai: Some VCs might just want to learn more about the startup’s business and strategies. It happened to [Priceza]. So I moved on quickly and declined their offers that were not good for us. In another case, the conditions were not good and flexible for us, so I declined their offer. From several VCs pitching and talking, I can feel who are serious and really want to work and support us. My suggestion is to looking for those VCs who show high interest in you. Trust your gut on this one.
Mickey: We got several rejections for several reasons. Just keep going and hang your heads high!
Yod: I did learn a lot from talking with investors even though they did not invest. It forces you to plan and lay out everything about your business. It gives you great feedback about your business from very talented people. Nothing to lose!
Young startups, check out Techlist.Asia, the newest site from us here at Tech in Asia. It’s a platform that brings startups and investors together.
(Image credit: Flickr user epSos.de)
(Editing by Steven Millward)