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Invest in Success

Entrepreneurs often think that the quickest way to success is a straight path with the least curves. But what if that's not really what they want? Do they want to drive a boring semi down the interstate, or take the riskier, more thrilling route in a sports car through the unpredictable curves of the North Carolina mountains? Really, the question is not about which route is faster—it's about whether you're ready to embrace the unknown, even when you can't see what lies around the corner.

I would always take the corners and explore some areas that are not as well known, but keeping in mind the general direction the company needs to go in to achieve whatever that success goal may be. The corners offer opportunities and often time an early stage company will find a need to pivot. Their intended market may not be as ripe as they expected, or the value proposition may not resonate with their intended customers. Those that have not taken at least some time to explore may miss some opportunities that are larger than the original intended design. Instagram was originally designed to be a credit card processing app. They added the picture sharing and ultimately pivoted into this space when they realized the credit card processing was too similar to Foursquare.

Bumps in the road are inevitable. Potholes are an unfortunate fact of life. And some roads just don’t have anything straight about them. As an entrepreneur you have to be ready to embrace these, even the potholes, as an opportunity. The potholes give you the opportunity to realign your car, which in a start up journey is an exercise that should be done regularly. Are you aligned? Is your team aligned with you? Your board? How about your investors?

So that last question is critical. There is a life cycle to investors. Most startups will have a seed or friends and family round to get started. In this stage things really are not that clear as to what will happen, but the people investing generally have faith in the founder and the commitment to what lies ahead, whatever that may be. These investors are patient and usually investing small amounts that even if they lose that amount, it’s not going to be that significant to them. The next step are angels. These are generally high net worth individuals or angel groups that are looking for a strong return, but also tolerate the high risk of early stage investing. They will need to understand the business model, some proof of concept, and have faith in the company team. These groups tend to be patient, free to offer advice and connections, and understand the challenges that a budding entrepreneur will face. Many of these angels were once an entrepreneur and this can really help align their interests with the founders and CEO.

The investing path continues with larger rounds, series A, B and so forth. Some of these can be additional angel rounds, but often times the size of the round dictates a different type of investor, generally a VC (Venture Capital). Each round bringing in more capital and often times more experienced investors means it is increasingly important to insure these investors are aligned with the company, the CEO, and founders. Some VC groups have earned a bad reputation and have been branded “Vulture Capitalists”. While there may be some bad apples in the bunch, that is not generally the case. What is very important to understand with VC investors is that this is a professional market. These are not hobbyists. They are investing other people’s money with the goal of providing a profitable rate of return past what one could earn conventionally in the open or public market. As such they will raise a fund, deploy the capital, and have a target date for “harvesting” the funds.

It’s important as an entrepreneur to know and understand how these dates work and insure that the timeline the investor is working with aligns with the entrepreneurs goals and expectations. Is the investor likely to come in on a follow on round or at they at the finish line on that round? If an institutional investor has typically financed software apps that are developed and deployed quickly, they may have a rude awakening and become very impatient with a medical device company. To them it seem like centuries past as a medical device company navigates regulatory and reimbursement hurdles. Some VCs can push for fast results as to facilitate their fund schedule just to get a conclusion. Go straight, down the highway, do not turn, but get a result fast; be it good or bad.

Usually the last set of financing is mezzanine or private equity. This is later on where sales are strong, most risks have been removed and the primary purpose is for growth and expansion. This is less about alignment than it is a straightforward financial transaction building upon the success of the company and as such I’ll not dwell on this type of financing.

But in closing one of the most important aspects for an entrepreneur is to understand is insuring they are aligned with their investors. Misalignment can lead to unnecessary challenges for both the investor and entrepreneur. I encourage the companies I work with to do their own due diligence on their potential investors. Are the companies they have invested in similar to their own company? Are the founders and CEO happy to have them as investors and if they have a board seat has that made a positive impact on the company. It needs to be a relationship that will be mutually beneficial and to insure this requires due diligence by both parties.

A good article giving an overview of types of investors is HERE


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