With the number of startups mushrooming all over the world, one would think that investors are just dying to give away money to new business ventures. Take the case of unicorn startups for instance. Once an unheard of phenomenon (hence the name unicorn startups), these are startup firms that are valued at $1 billion or more. Business Insider Australia reports that a new unicorn startup was born every week in 2015. At the time of writing this piece, there are 124 unicorn startups worldwide, with a combined valuation of $ 468 billion.
All of these numbers probably excite a wannabe entrepreneur and spark the hope that their new venture has what it takes to become the next big unicorn. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it looks.
Securing venture capital funding is serious business. Venture capitalists get hundreds of business proposals a week. Of these just a handful even get considered for an initial pitch presentation. So what do these VCs look for in the firms that they shortlist? Here’s some insight.
Solid Business Idea
Go to a VC with a plan to build human colonies on Mars, and chances are you’ll not even be called in to present your thoughts. That does not mean VCs don’t invest in innovative new ideas or cutting edge technology. They do. However, the chances of securing funding are exponentially higher if you are a real business with a real revenue model and a clear path to market.
Your business should be differentiated enough from competition, with a clear USP that makes it attractive to investors.
Strong Leadership Team
Just as “Clothes maketh the man,” a leadership team that knows the business inside out is a bare minimum requirement for any aspiring startup. Venture capital firms essentially give out large sums of money in the hope that your business will keep growing and eventually bring extremely profitable returns. Most VCs don’t involve themselves in the day to day workings of the companies they invest in. Instead they depend on a sound management team to steer the companies in the right direction.
Therefore, having a leadership team that understands the technology behind the business, has the right network of contacts, manages employees beautifully and most importantly, gets along well with each other is a pre-requisite of serious VC funding.
Steady Cash Flow
Just about 1% of all businesses that approach VCs for funding end up getting any money at all. With a failure rate of 99%, it’s vital that you do everything in your power to ensure that your startup does not get the thumbs down in the cut-throat arena of venture capital funding.
A good way to ensure that is by approaching VCs only once you have established a clear revenue model and a steady cash flow to support it. When a venture capitalist sees that your startup is not just another whacky plan, but a living, thriving business, the chances of you receiving a favorable ear are far stronger than otherwise.
A surprisingly large number of businesses that are successful today did not start out doing what they do now. Did you know that YouTube began life as a video dating site? Or that Twitter was not originally a microblogging behemoth, but actually supposed to be a podcast discovery and delivery platform?
A huge reason behind the smashing success that these companies saw was thanks to the fact that they were flexible enough to change course radically when things got tough. I don’t mean that you must bail and move on to something else at the first opportunity, but what you do need is an inherent openness to try new product lines, alternate routes to market or even a major tweak in your core product.
A business is investment-worthy from a venture capital perspective when it is in a constant state of growth and has a visible long upward trajectory ahead of it.
Suppose you have a super successful blog – something that rivals say, TechCrunch. A definite way of growing investor interest in your publishing website is by indicating to them how easily you can turn a key and expand into becoming an e-commerce site. A scalable business that can be expanded to newer markets, product lines or distribution channels offers a venture capitalist hope that their investment will not easily result in a crash and burn situation.
We spoke of scalability of the business earlier. However, no matter how scalable a business may be, if the market it operates in is limited, there is very little hope that a venture capitalist will even touch it with a barge pole. Things like a large, growing industry, a favorable geographic location, high entry barriers to competitors are all positive indicators for a company with strong market potential.
Another important aspect to consider is the regulatory environment of the industry your startup operates in. Businesses that operate in extremely controlled industry segments with a high degree of government oversight (e.g. defense manufacturing, tobacco, pharmaceuticals) stand to have a tough road ahead in terms of VC willingness to invest.
This is probably the most important factor that sways a venture capital firm into investing in a startup. A business that has a proven track record and a strong projected growth rate is a tempting investment avenue for a VC.
Besides generating revenues, other financial indicators that help your case include having few existing investors, a low debt to equity ratio and a P&L statement that has already broken even. A clear and credible timeline that charts out the expected returns on the VC’s investment is a must to ensure your business has a fighting chance.
Starting a new business is pretty simple today. From registering the business to finding the right talent, everything is just a click away. As an entrepreneur seeking VC funding, your job is to make sure that you not only make use of the abundant resources at your disposal, but also package your business pitch in such a way that it stands head and shoulder above those of competing firms that enjoy the same advantages.