Wednesday, March 27, 2013

10 startup fundraising tips from North Bridge VC Michael Skok

by Kyle Alspach
Boston Business Journal

Michael Skok, partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, on Tuesday evening continued the third edition of his popular "Startup Secrets" workshops with a session on "Raising Money from Seed to Exit."

After introducing the topic by saying that "raising money is like sex" — "everyone wants to know about it, but few people want to talk about it openly" — Skok and several guest speakers offered insights on how to think about raising funding for your startup.

Here are 10 takeaways from the event, held at the Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston:

1. In some cases you should not raise money. Great entrepreneurs, in many cases, don't even think about raising money until they've exhausted all of their own resources.

2. One great time to raise money is when you are brand new and have lots of potential. Startups are attractive at this stage if the opportunity seems exciting enough. Plus, there is nothing that can be disproved at this point. The key here is having the perfect pitch.

3. Another great time for fundraising is when you have proof. When investors do their due diligence on your company, and there is plenty of proof that the business is working, investment will be a no-brainer. Investors will often create their own theory about how your business will evolve at this point.

4. Validate the opportunity before raising seed. The worst thing you can do is spend months building a product, only to find that you haven't validated whether it meets a need or solves a problem — that is not a seed investment that's going to succeed.

5. Time intensity is more important than capital intensity up front. Entrepreneurs must be willing to put in the time early on to build a business before even thinking about raising money.

6. Decide how committed you really are before raising a Series A. Even if someone writes you a Series A check, you may not want to spend years of your life building that business. Typically it takes six to seven years to create real value in a company. Are you ready to go the distance?

7. Before working with a VC, decide what sort of attributes you want in them. Are you looking for somebody who has operating experience, or someone who's a pure investment professional? Do you want someone who is hands-on, or not? Will you be looking to them to help with team building or with removing roadblocks to your business?

8. Don't try to fit too much into the first meeting with an investor. Tell your story, but don't spew out your entire business plan in one mouthful — that can be tough for an investor to digest. Just tell the investor enough to get them interested and get to the next step.

9. Be wary of the term sheet that arrives before due diligence is done. This doesn't represent much of a commitment, because an investor's feelings can change after due diligence. A term sheet that arrives after due diligence, however, strongly suggests a deal is going to close.

10. Do a quick wrap-up with the investor at the end of each meeting. Ask them, was this a good meeting? And do you want to move forward? If you don't get a good sense that the investor wants to continue, it might be time to move on to someone else. Your biggest cost is your opportunity cost.

Read more: North Bridge VC Michael Skok on Boston's startup mentor gap (and how to close it)

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