Building the Best Investment Pitch Deck

Early Pitch Decks Of 10 Startups Before They Became Billion-Dollar  Companies | Robin Hood Ventures Philadelphia

This is a Guest blog post by William E. Dyess, “Pitchmaster General” and Principal at TXN Advisors, a Washington, DC-region business consulting firm that provides corporate development, marketing and strategic advisory services.

This post is an analysis of the last 50 pitch decks we received at The Dyess Group’s deck review portal and our strategy on building a winning deck.

The Basics of Deck Building

At The Dyess Group (TDG) we generally follow the Sequoia Pitch Template when building decks for clients, but with our own spin. Whether you use the Sequoia template or not, it is important to follow a thoughtful narrative flow that induces and compels the reader to take the desired action. There are several effective, proven models and suggestions such as the Dale Carnegie Transactional Selling Steps from the 1950s:

  1. Attention (What is the sizzle?)
  2. Interest (Why does it matter? Why does the world need you? )
  3. Desire (Are you better than a traditional solutions to the same problem?)
  4. Conviction (How do you handle objections, what’s the traction?)
  5. Action (Ask for the order, go for the close!)

The important practice here is to design a narrative flow that you believe fits your company the best and make it yours. Below we will present what we have found are the elements often forgotten, missed, or misunderstood when building an effective narrative flow. We do this using the first three slides of the Sequoia model.

Tip #1: Make sure people understand what you do, as quickly as possible (Don’t Waste Your Title Slide!)

We usually don’t hear about what the product or service does until the 5th slide.

The single most important thing you can do in your deck is to make sure people understand what you do. It needs to be in layman’s terms — meaning without using a lot of “marketing speak” and it needs to happen immediately.

When an investor, or any audience, clearly understands what you do, it provides much needed context to the rest of your story. The following is a front slide example from a deck The Dyess Group created for its client company Guac.

An example front slide from a Dyess Group deck

Here is another example illustrating how a very small amount of information immediately helps the reader (e.g., investor, partner, customer) orient themselves properly for the rest of the deck. This is for our customer, Socrates.

Tip #2: Find ways to combine key information into your narrative to make your deck more concise

Roughly 20% of the decks we review have the “Market Size” slide as the one of the first 3 slides.

And it almost always says one thing…the market is big. Unfortunately, putting this information so early is often disruptive to an effective narrative flow. Although Market Size is important and relevant, it is tangential information that can be a distraction at odds with understanding the opportunity. An alternative technique for getting attention with the size of the market is to combine the information with more important aspects of the narrative flow.

Tip #3: Combine traction and the solution to drive conviction to invest early

Only 15% of the decks we review feature customer referrals or actual market traction in the first three slides.

A solution without traction is really just an idea. You haven’t proven that you’ve solved anything. You want to eliminate as much risk from your offering as early as possible by enhancing the reader’s conviction. Introducing your product without any supporting traction in the same slide, or soon thereafter, doesn’t help the reader understand how far you’ve come in solving your problem. Inline with embedding statistics into the narrative, consider including some of the following along with your product:

  • Customer Testimonials
  • Success Rates
  • Total Users
  • Growth Rates

Applying lessons from User Experience (UX) research techniques to your pitch deck

UX research is the unsung hero of your favorite apps. A world leader in research-based UX consulting, Nielsen Norman Group have researched and documented the effectiveness of many UX techniques. We apply their forward-thinking UX methodologies to pitch decks we build for our clients.

UX Techniques

VCs only spend about three minutes reading your deck before a meeting. People can only keep seven things (plus or minus two) in their working memory. You have limited time and space to make your point, so raise the bar with respect to what information makes the cut. Key things to keep in mind through the body of your deck:

  • Reduce the hard work for consuming key information (Rate of Gain)
  • Don’t over-burden the reader with information (Cognitive Load)
  • Be as succinct with your messaging as possible (“BLUF”)
  • Organize information for max understanding (Progressive Disclosure)
  • Give the deck some design basics for strong ethos (Halo Effect)

Each of these is discussed in greater detail below.

Rate of Gain

The Rate of Gain is the value a reader gets from new information divided by how much work that user needs to do to get it.

A measurement used in User Experience to measure ease of use and value to users

In the case of your pitch deck, the user is an investor, partner, or customer, and Rate of Gain measures how valuable the information on each page is divided by how many words are on the page.

This would mean that a good slide would have the most valuable information possible in the least amount of words.

How to have a high Rate of Gain in your content

One of our partners hired a highly coveted speech writer for a Series B raise and the main piece of advice — delete more words.

The best piece of free advice we can give you about your deck is to delete more words.

Cognitive Load

It’s well documented that there are limitations of one’s ability to remember things while doing a task, aka working memory. People have a very finite working memory to consume the content of your pitch. This is why you should use techniques to be as succinct as possible to convey the most value.

A reader may naturally try and determine what information they need to know in order to preserve their working memory. This means giving the reader the ability to triage a page to decide whether or not they need all of the information is a good technique for keeping a user’s memory free to remember the main points.

This really forces you to boil down the words on a page to the point where you keep track of the cost and benefit of each word. Each additional word adds additional cost to the reader to try and understand.

Bottom Line Up Front (“BLUF”)

There is a concept in journalism called the Bottom Line Up Front, you can also think of this as TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read). It’s the same reason that we put an abstract at the beginning of a research paper, or an executive summary at the beginning of a business plan. Respect the reader’s time and tell them the main point up-front so they can triage the page and decide if they need to look at the details or not.

If you use a “headline” based approach you will allow readers to skim the page and decide if it’s something that they think they need to invest the effort to further investigate. If the reader avoids taking in more information than they need, they can arrive at the end of the deck quickly having only read the information they cared about. This will reduce frustration and increase retention and overall satisfaction.

Progressive Disclosure

The concept of progressive disclosure in apps defers advanced or rarely used features to a secondary screen, making the learning process easier and less error-prone. For applications, this means showing the most important features front-and-center and leaving the seldom used, or less important features to be shown later or at the users request. This removes added complexity of needing to understand more features than may be necessary.

Take Google for example. The home page is literally just a search box, and the ability to search (or click I’m Feeling Lucky like I always do).

Now you’ve given the user the option, should they want more information, to go find it. In deck-writing, progressive disclosure serves two ends: keeping the deck clean and succinct, but also allowing the user ready access to any information they would need — perhaps even in an appendix.

Halo Effect

The halo effect is a phenomenon that causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes. In the case of decks, the overall aesthetic and cleanliness of the deck will set the sense of sophistication to your reader. The easiest way to create this is to be concise; use abundant white space and be consistent throughout.

  • Consistent margins (white space is your friend)
  • Consistent use of font sizes (we use 32pt and 18pt fonts for everything)
  • Consistent messaging (Whatever you call it, call it that every time)

We’ll cover this topic in more depth later in the series.

Pulling It All Together

The slide design below does a good job implementing the UX techniques we just covered.

  • Rate of Gain: With only two to three lines (tops!) for the main message, the value of the information is high, and the workload to obtain it is low.
  • Cognitive Load: By using the headline approach, we allow readers to triage whether supporting information below the headline is worth further investigation.
  • Progressive Design: Byincluding the path to more information, you let users know that there is a way to learn more. In doing this you also free their minds to focus on the slide at hand.

Fundraising is always hard. Fundraising in the current climate is harder. There has never been a better time to make sure your company can stand out, effectively deliver its message, and spark the interest of investors who will be more selective than ever before. Use the Sequoia Pitch Template and our techniques outlined here to make it easy for them to understand what you do and why your company deserves to be at the top of the stack.

William E. Dyess is “Pitchmaster General” and Principal at TXN Advisors, a Washington, DC-region business consulting firm that provides corporate development, marketing and strategic advisory services. We work in partnership with executive management to save them time and advance the corporate mission by helping them create killer pitch decks, management and investor presentations, board reports, corporate dashboards and the underlying business strategy and messaging to maximize growth and value. William can be reached at wdyess@thedyessgroup.com

Email your deck to deck@thedyessgroup.com for a free deck review.

Words Have Power: Concise Pitch Decks Pack More Punch

This is a Guest Post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner, Ines LeBow of Enterprise Transformation Solutons.

Every. Word. Counts.

So does every second during your funding pitch to potential investors. On average, you’ve got less than three minutes to make your case before your audience gives a mental thumbs-up or thumbs-down on your business idea.

Do the Math

If you’re looking to raise $1 million in seed funding, a pitch deck with 10 slides averaging 55 words per slide puts the value of each word at $1,818. For $10 million in Series A funding, each word is worth more than $18,000. For $55 million in funding, each word is worth $100,000.

Packing more words and details into your pitch isn’t going to make it more appealing or more valuable to your audience. The opposite occurs: it actually devalues the most important information. In essence, you end up burying the treasure.

Word Power

Some of the most successful people have harnessed the power of words to vault themselves to prominence in their respective fields:

  • Rick Rubin, 8x Grammy Award Winner: “There’s a tremendous power in using the least amount of information to get a point across.”
  • Dianna Booher, Prolific Author and Communications Expert: “People aren’t likely to be influenced by a message they can’t remember. Be clear, concise, and clever.”
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Renowned Architect: “Lack of clarity is the No. 1 time-waster.”
  • Rudyard Kipling, Nobel Prize-Winning Author: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Be Epically Focused

Investors want your presentation to be brief and on point, but they also want to hear an epic story. Remember, these are people who listen to dozens of pitches each week that are too long, too boring, and too scattershot in their approach. They want you to draw them in and dazzle them with a narrative that is clear, concise, and compelling. So inspire them, inform and educate them, and, most importantly, connect with them.

To start shaping your epic story, consider what prompted the idea for your product or service and what inspired you to start your company. Weave these concepts into a vivid movie trailer-like story that elicits excitement, emotion, and eagerness for what comes next, with the investor playing a starring role in the production.

Funding Pitch Opportunity

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding and would like to present to potential investors through CONNECTpreneur, please reach out to me.

For more on funding success, here are links to some recent posts I’ve written on the topic:

·        Be Unique, Get Funded

·        Get Funded in 2021: Super Angels

·        7 Factors for Startup Success

·        5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Be Unique, Get Funded

Be Unique, Get Funded

This is Guest Blog post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner Ines LeBow.

Attracting investors to get your business funded is all about being unique, even if the product you’re presenting isn’t a new invention or innovation. Earlier this year, I highlighted 7 Factors for Startup Success based on the philosophies of Shark Tank star Mark Cuban.

He believes that you need to find a way to make at least one aspect of your product or service uniquely your own. You can do so by thinking about the special characteristics your product will have, to whom you will market it, and how you differentiate it from the entrenched competitors. Trying to be the same results in competition based on price, which is not how you want to compete.

In Mr. Cuban’s own words about being unique:

Creating opportunities means looking where others are not

and

When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?

Not Just Socks

Socks have been around for a long time. Even the athletic sock category has been pretty saturated, but that didn’t stop Bombas from their start-up business focused on making a better athletic sock. I covered the case of Bombas in an earlier article entitled 5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money.

They invested a lot of time and effort into identifying what made athletes, fitness junkies, hikers, runners, speed walkers, and other heavy users of athletic hosiery disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed about their existing sock of choice. They designed and produced their socks to address those issues, conducting significant product testing to ensure the user feedback hit the bullseye.

Successful Close

If you are an early Shark Tank devotee, you’ll know that the founders of Bombas went on the show and left with $200,000 in funding. That’s right…$200,000 of someone else’s money to launch an athletic sock. So it wasn’t about an exciting new technology product but about a unique take on a product for which there was already a defined, established market with committed customers who are continually looking to improve the equipment and accessories they use to perform their activity.

So what is unique about your product? Perhaps you can approach real-life users who are enthusiasts and get their perspective on the unique benefits your product offers. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact to your target audience, which translates to how you differentiate yourself to potential investors.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Get Your Business Funded in 2021: A Look at Super Angels

This is a Guest blog post frim Ines LeBow, a CONNECTpreneur strategic partner and Coach. She has prepped dozens of successful presenting companies who have successfully raised capital.

The year (2020) that will be forever defined as the year of the Covid pandemic brought about significant upheaval and change in many areas of private and professional life across the globe. It also sparked tremendous shifts in the start-up investment world. One class of investors emerging is what we call “Super Angels”.

What Are Super Angels?

Super Angels in the business investment world are best described as a hybrid between traditional angel investors and venture capitalists. They tend to invest early in the seed round of funding at startups at levels that are above what gets raised in the friends-and-family round but less than a typical venture round of funding. However, when it comes to how they raise funds, they approach the process much like a typical VC would.

Super Angels are not just serial start-up investors; they invest in businesses as their full-time gig and tend to have a large and growing portfolio in which they take an active interest. They don’t tend to be interested in long-term investments or board roles, thus they like to look for business investments in which the principals are experienced entrepreneurs.

Why Should I Consider Super Angels?

As a result of financial, economic, and market trends, institutional venture capital activity is still on the rebound. Some rode the wave of growth and allowed for a bloated infrastructure and high fees that are now preventing them from being nimble in the market. Others have their portfolio tied up in businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic, and they’re not yet willing to exit those investments.

These changes with traditional VCs open up opportunities with angel investors and super angels, especially as the investment model is changing to one of funding more startups but with less cash invested in each business. One added advantage of this investment approach is that super angels have a broad reach to the kind of talent, investment contacts, and potential M&A opportunities that can go beyond the access a traditional investor can provide.

How to Get Super Angels to Invest

Many of the top super angels don’t just take an appointment from anyone off the street. They require a referral from someone they trust, so cultivating a good network in the start-up world is going to be important. But don’t give up hope if you aren’t well networked. This isn’t just about who you know, although it helps. These are smart, experienced investors looking for good people and great ideas behind which to put their money. If you employ a sound strategy and disciplined approach, you can be successful in getting funded by a super angel. Here are a few articles you can review to ensure you’re prepared to engage with a super angel investor:

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in presenting at CONNECTpreneur.org, or would like to learn more about how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You can find me on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or my ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

This is a guest blog post by Ines Lebow.

Even if you’re too young (or too old?) to know where the line “show me the money!” comes from, everyone knows the phrase “follow the money”. When it comes to attracting investors and getting them on board with your vision, it’s all about the money potential.

Many entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field, are under the mistaken impression that it’s all about the product. If the product is sexy, fresh, or disruptive, investors will be falling over themselves to put their money behind it. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider the case of Bombas. What was their big idea? Socks. Hardly disruptive, right? Yet the co-founders of Bombas went onto the show Shark Tank and secured $200,000 in funding to launch their idea. Yes, they presented some nice ideas about making a better athletic sock, but they were still trying to pitch a sock. So what made Bombas so attractive to invest in?

Laser Focus

The co-founders of Bombas had a laser-focus on their product and market. From personal experience and lots of interaction with potential consumers, they understood that people were generally unhappy with the comfort of socks, especially for athletic activities. After lots of product testing and user feedback, they identified several areas of improvement for their future products.

Sales Record

By the time Bombas reached Shark Tank, they had already been through two funding rounds. Before their official launch, they secured more than $140,000 through crowdfunding. In the year after their launch, they raised $1 million from friends and family. They also had a track record of sales to show to eventual investor Daymond John, offering a better understanding of the potential return on investment.

Unique Business Model

At the core of Bombas is a business model committed to giving back. It’s not a marketing gimmick but part of the guiding principles of the company and its founders. For every pair of Bombas socks sold, one pair is given to the homeless. Not only does this uplift the spirits of consumers who are willing to pay $12 for a comfortable pair of socks, but it addresses a real need in the community, as socks tend to be the single most requested item at homeless shelters.

Take a Punch

Bombas proved that they were ready to take a punch, from consumers and in the market. Their extensive work in market research before even creating a product provided them with a network of targeted consumers who were willing to give detailed opinions and feedback on a product and how it was delivered. When the Bombas team created their initial prototypes, they were applauded for creating a better sock, but willing to listen and make changes to the product. Their team of consumers didn’t disappoint, but came back punching hard. As a result of the critical market feedback, Bombas made two additional improvements to their products before a general market launch.

Leadership Team

The co-founders of Bombas were able to convince investors of their ability and dedication to execute on the business vision. So while the product was “just socks”, the co-founders had a vision they were able to articulate to investors that made them consider “but look at what socks can do.”

Through these five areas, Bombas was able to convey who was driving the bus, who the competition was in the market, the investor’s potential for a financial return, and how consumers would relate to the product, their company, and their marketing model. As a result, Bombas grew from zero in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2015 to $46.6 million in 2017. In 2019, Bombas exceeded $100 million in revenue. By April 2020, they have donated 35 million pairs of socks.

What will your story be?

To learn more about creating an epic fundraising story for investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Getting Funded: Now is the Time

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow

 

Napoleon Hill Quote: “Are you waiting for success to arrive, or ...

 

It’s still happening. We hear about companies that are shutting down, laying off workers, or filing for bankruptcy because of Covid-19 or our sputtering economic re-launch. What we don’t often hear is that investors are still looking to put their money into action.

Even if your product or service isn’t targeting the “Covid economy”, this still may be the best time to get your business funded. Your competition for investor dollars may be back on their heels or simply waiting for what they perceive as a better environment to secure funding.

In recent articles, I outlined a Blueprint on How to Open Doors to Start-Up and Next-Stage Growth Funding and a companion piece on Telling an Epic Fundraising Story, Starting with the Value Proposition. The basic principles to getting funded remain the same, but there are some additional considerations you’ll want to address in your fundraising pitch:

  • Prepare (and practice) your pitch using digital solutions.
  • Include information on the business and financial impacts of extended government mandates related to Covid (work or school shutdowns, travel restrictions, economic depression, unemployment, supply chain shortages, etc.).
  • Consider ways your product or service can disrupt the existing market.
  • Highlight members of the executive team or advisory board who have experience helping companies to navigate and thrive during tumultuous times.
  • Showcase the market opportunity presented by changes to the competitive landscape or potential changes from government or industry regulations.

Now is the time, because if not now, when? As the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing said, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” Or, as Napoleon Hill, the controversial self-help author on success, said, “Are you waiting for success to arrive, or are you going out to find where it is hiding?”

To learn more on how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Overview of Financial Instruments for Startup Funding

 

This is another awesome Guest blog post from Andre Averbug.

In a previous post I discussed the different types of investors available to entrepreneurs. But choosing the right investor depends also on the types of financial commitment you are willing to take on. Therefore, in this post I will discuss the main financial instruments used to fund startups – equity, debt, grants, and convertibles – and their pros and cons.

EQUITY

Equity fundraising is when a firm raises capital through the sale of shares in the company. For example, a startup raises $50,000 by selling a 10% ownership to the equity investor (e.g.: angel investorVC fund), representing a post-money valuation for the startup of $500,000. The investor gets the return on the investment through an exit event (e.g.: buyout from another investor at a higher valuation, IPO) and sometimes through dividend payments.

Pros:

– No obligation to pay back:  The equity investor becomes a partner and takes on the risk of the business. Differently from debt, you have no obligation to pay back. An equity investment, therefore, capitalizes your firm without limiting your future cash flow.

– Accessibility: Equity investors do not expect you to necessarily have revenues, creditworthiness, or collateral. They are betting on you and your business venture and their dollars should be accessible as long as you have an attractive and solid business proposition. For this reason, equity is often the ideal type of investment instrument for startups.

– Interests aligned: Because these investors become partners, their interests overall are aligned with yours. All parties want to see the business prosper in the medium to long term, differently from creditors, who might only be interested in your ability to pay back the debt regardless of the broader success of the business.

– Non-monetary support: Because incentives are aligned, equity investors often bring a lot more than money to the table. They may help you with mentoring, moral support, connections in the industry, introductions to strategic partners, and pulling in more investors in the future.

– Signaling: Receiving equity investment, especially from institutional investors such as VC funds, serves as seal of approval. It signals to the market that your business has been validated by a professional (and demanding) player. This brings status and opens doors when it comes to sales, negotiations, contracts, and further fundraising.

Cons:

– Loss of control: When you sell shares of your company you are also giving away part of your control. The extent varies according to how much the shares sold represent of the total equity, but first-round investors might typically ask for anywhere between 10-30% ownership. This normally comes with a sit at the Board and the right to participate in key business decisions.

– Share success: Well, this is more of a reminder than a “con” per se, but obviously, the more partners you have the more you will have to share the profits of the business and returns from a potential exit. This is normally not a problem, though, because hopefully investors help you “grow the pie”. As the saying goes, “it’s better to have 20% of the Empire State building than 80% of an old shack” (or maybe I just made this up?)

– Binding relationship: Equity investment is similar to a marriage. When entrepreneurs and investors become partners, they are tied in an open-ended relationship. The investors do want to exit at some point but, differently from a loan, which has clear terms and an end date, one never knows how long and how rough the partnership ride will be. If all goes well, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if the relationship becomes difficult, which is not uncommon given all the risks and stress involved, it can turn into a debilitating factor to the business.

DEBT

Debt is when a firm takes a loan from a backer (e.g.: bank, person, government institution) with the obligation of repaying principal and interest in a defined schedule. For example, a startup might take on a $50,000 loan from a commercial bank, at 10% annual interest to be paid monthly, with principal (i.e., the original $50,000 borrowed) to be repaid in 2 years, after a 6-month grace period (i.e., no interest payment is due in the first 6 months).

Pros:

– Ownership: With a loan you are not giving shares of your company to the creditors, you are simply borrowing money. This means that, differently from equity investors, creditors do not become your partners, do not dilute your ownership, and will not have a saying in how you run your business – you keep the control.

– Predictability: When you take a loan, you know all the terms of the relationship in advance. For example, you will have to pay X dollars every month, for 24 months, and then repay the principal after that. After repayment, the relationship with the lender ends. This makes it straightforward to incorporate the liability into your cash-flow plan and the broader corporate strategy and goals, without major uncertainties.

– Discipline: The obligation to pay back debt tends to make entrepreneurs more careful with the way they manage their resources. When you know you need to honor monthly payments and return the amount borrowed at the end of the period, you become more careful with the way you handle your expenses, procure suppliers, manage your costs, and go after your goals more broadly. This often brings positive lasting results in terms of financial management and corporate strategy.

– Cost: If your startup is successful, and the terms of the loan are aligned with market rates, debt is probably cheaper for you than selling equity. The value of early-stage startup shares can increase multiple-fold over just a couple of years. Therefore, if you believe in your startup and manage to get a loan instead of selling stocks, this will likely (hopefully!) cost less than selling equity prematurely.

Cons:

– Accessibility: Banks and other lenders are notoriously risk averse. This means that they will only lend to companies that can prove they can pay back. This is often a challenge for startups, which may not have steady revenues yet, little or no collateral to guarantee the loan, and limited receivables. Therefore, even if this seems like the best option, it might be hard to get.

– Obligation: With a loan, you either honor your payments “or else”… Depending on the laws of the country and what you used as guarantee, if you fail to pay back you may end up having issues liquidating the business, facing legal consequences, or even losing personal assets such as your house. The lender, differently from the equity investor, is not willing to share the risk of the business with you. Therefore, you must feel confident that you will be able to pay back the loan and understand the legal consequences before embracing this commitment.

– Discipline: The same discipline that can be an advantage can also be a limiting factor. For a startup, depending on how the business goes, servicing a loan monthly can mean that you need to tighten up your budget, cut your expenses, and even reduce investments to ensure you honor your obligations.

GRANTS

A grant is when a firm gets funds, normally to be used in particular functions, without the obligation to pay back or give shares of the company in exchange. For example, a company is awarded a $50,000 government grant as part of a program to support innovation and R&D. The startup’s only obligation is to use the funds as agreed and report on its progress.

Pros:

– Ownership and no obligation to pay back: A grant offers the best of both worlds in terms of the advantages of equity and debt. You don’t have to pay back and you don’t give away any control. Simply put, grant is free money!

– Accessibility: If a grant targets startups, much like equity, it usually does not require the company to prove creditworthiness, to have revenues, or collateral. It should be accessible to most startups that fit the profile the grant is meant to support.

– Signaling: Much like equity, receiving a grant also serves as seal of approval. Grants have highly competitive processes (who doesn’t want free money!) and winners are often praised publicly and receive good publicity. Winning a grant also places you favorably to win future ones from the same or complementary funders, as donors want to see you succeed to justify their programs.

Cons:

– Competitive: As mentioned, a grant attracts a lot of attention and normally gets thousands of applications. It is usually not something you can count on winning and incorporate into your business planning. At the end of the day, depending on the market, it might easier (or at least more predictable) to raise equity or get a loan. The grant would be seen as the icing on the cake.

– Time consuming: Well, nothing is really free. Applying for grants is very time consuming as the application processes are usually lengthy and bureaucratic. It requires a lot of time and focus and therefore it has a high opportunity cost. Also, if you win, usually there are thorough reporting commitments and you need to produce detailed periodic reports and show how every penny has been spent.

– Strings attached: Grant money is usually earmarked to certain types of investments or expenses. Therefore, you may not be able to spend the money as you wish. For example, even if you land a large grant of say $500,000, if it is part of an R&D program, you may not be able to spend a penny of it on what you might need the most at the time, say payroll or marketing and sales.

CONVERTIBLES

A convertible note (or debt, or bond) is a hybrid instrument, with debt and equity features. The firm borrows money from an investor (e.g.: angel investor, seed fund) and the intention of both parties is to convert the debt to equity at a later date. Typically, the note will be converted into equity in the subsequent round of equity investment, at a discounted valuation. For example, a company raises $50,000 in convertible debt, for 2 years, annual interest rate of 5%, and a 20% conversion discount. If a new round of investment (e.g.: VC fund) occurs within 2 years and shares are valued at $1, the convertible investor will purchase them for $0.80, buying 62,500 shares instead of 50,000. However, if after 2 years no new investment is made, the company needs to repay investors the $50,000.

Pros:

– Fairness: Convertibles solve a major problem in early-stage funding: valuation. It is very hard to come up with a sensible valuation for early-stage startups, especially those in ideation and pre-revenue stages. Convertibles solve this problem by pushing the valuation conversation forward in time, for only when/if the business is more developed and a professional investor is able to make a more educated assessment.

– Win-win: This is a financial instrument both entrepreneurs and investors are quite comfortable with, especially given the fairness argument above. Entrepreneurs are not giving out equity sooner than needed and investors are not running the full equity risk.

– Most equity pros: Most equity pros discussed above – except, before conversion, for the “no obligation to pay back” – apply here.

– Some debt pros: The debt pros of “predictability” and “discipline” also apply here.

Cons:

– “Worst” of both worlds: While grants get you the best of both worlds of equity and debt, convertibles, in a way, may get you the worst. This is because, if the business is being successful and you raise more funding, you will be selling your valued equity at a discounted rate. Alternatively, if the business is not going well, or even fails completely, you will still need to pay the investor back. The former scenario is certainly less of an issue because the investor surely deserves the discounted valuation for having backed you early in the process. But the latter might put you in the “or else” situation discussed above for debt, exactly in a moment your company might not be doing well.

– Equity cons: All equity cons apply here in case the note converts.

– Debt cons: All debt cons apply here, except for what regards principal repayment in case the note converts to equity.

Choosing the right financing instrument is a key strategic decision for any startup. Stay tuned because, in the next post, I will discuss the main questions entrepreneurs need to ask themselves when it comes to making this decision.

 

 

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

DC “Networking Jackpot” – Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum, September 13, Tysons Corner

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host our quarterly Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on September 13, 2012 at the Tysons Corner Marriott.

InTheCapital called our June Forum “The Best Networking Event in DC.”

We also appreciate InTheCapital’s latest article on our upcoming Fall Forum: “Three Reasons Why You Should Attend the Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum.”

Please come out!  CLICK HERE to Register via the Eventbrite link.

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur FALL Forum is a “NETWORKING MASHUP” of 210+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.  Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.

Presented by LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our program and unprecedented networking.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

Program Highlights:
  • Over 210 attendees, includng 120+ CEOs/Presidents and 40 angels/VCs
  • Conversation with CEO, VC Advisor, & Angel Investor Christopher M. Schroeder
  • Discussion with UBER Tech Entrepreneur David A. Steinberg
  • SHOWCASE of Emerging tech companies
  • NETWORKING sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tysons Corner MARRIOTT.  A plated breakfast and unlimited coffee are included.

FINAL AGENDA
7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / NETWORKING
 
8:00 – 8:10 am – WELCOME
 
8:10 – 8:45 am – Conversation with Christopher Schroeder,
Renaissance Man, Entrepreneur, CEO, Advisor, Angel Investor, and Author
Author, Arab Inc(ubate)
Co-Founder and CEO, HealthCentral, formerly DrKoop.com (an InterActiveCorp company)
CEO, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
CEO, LEGI-SLATE
 
8:50 – 9:25 am  –  Conversation with David A. Steinberg,
UBER Tech and Marketing Entrepreneur
Chairman & CEO, CAIVIS Acquisition Corp.
Founder, Chairman & CEO, InPhonic / Simplexity (NASDAQ:INPC)
9:30 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:50 – 11:15 am – COMPANY SHOWCASE
11:30 am – NETWORKING
CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
Over 120 CEOs/Presidents, plus 40+ angel and VC investors including New Enterprise Associates, Novak Biddle, Core Capital, CIT, Blu Venture Investors, Blue Water Capital, Dingman Center Angels, Neuberger & Co. Ventures, Saratoga Investment Corp., Washington DC Archangels, Angel Venture Forum, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Maryland Venture Fund, National Capital Companies, Enhanced Capital, White Hall Capital,  MTECH Ventures, Mosaic Capital, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, Starise Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Duncaster Investments, Private Capital Network, Next-Stage Development Group, Berman Enterprises, Grindstone Partners, Next Stage Development Group, Atlantic Capital Group, Lancaster Angel Network, Harrell Partners, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, Skada Capital, Great Falls Capital, Bayberry Capital, Hafezi Capital, Keiretsu Forum, and CADRE.
EVENT SPONSORS:  
 
LORE Systems
BDO
Wilson Sonsini
Deloitte.
Cooley LLP
Meltzer Group
AH&T Insurance
McBride Real Estate
Ryan & Wetmore
Washington, DC Archangels
Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
Angel Venture Forum
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“The Best Networking Event in DC” – Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum, June 6, Tysons Corner, VA

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host our quarterly Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on June 6, 2011 at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, VA.

InTheCapital calls this Forum “The Best Networking Event in DC.”

Please come out!  CLICK HERE to Register via the Eventbrite link.

EVENT IS NEARLY SOLD OUT!!

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum is a “NETWORKING MASHUP” of 165+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.  Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.

Presented by LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our program and unprecedented networking.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

Program Highlights:
  • “TURBOCHARGING Entrepreneurship” Discussion
  • “ART OF THE PIVOT” with “UBER” technology entrepreneur Reggie Aggarwal of CVENT
  • 9 Emerging tech companies seeking funding will briefly tell their stories
  • Networking sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tower Club in Tyson’s Corner, Northern Virginia’s premier private business club.  A plated breakfast and unlimited coffee are included.
AGENDA
7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / NETWORKING

8:00 – 8:05 am – WELCOME

8:05 – 8:45 am – SESSION 1 – “TURBOCHARGING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN THE DC REGION” with Uber entrepreneur and angel investor Doug Humphrey, CEO and Founder, CIDERA;  Co-Founder, DIGEX

8:45 – 9:20 am  –  SESSION 2 – “THE ART OF THE PIVOT” with Uber entrepreneur Reggie Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of CVENT
9:20 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:45 – 11:30 am – SESSION 3 – COMPANY PRESENTATIONS (all confirmed)
AthleticMD
DeviceCloudNetworks
Glimpulse
HITCH
11:30 am – NETWORKING (ATRIUM)
EVENT SPONSORS:  

InvestMaryland Wins Big, Raises $84 million for VC program

Last week, the State of Maryland became the first state in the USA to use an online auction to raise funds for a venture capital program.  The auction yielded $84 million, a whopping 20% more than the original forecasted goal of $70 million.  On September 24, 2011, I wrote a brief summary of the InvestMaryland program.

InvestMaryland will invest in the State’s promising start-up and early stage companies, as early as this summer.  The $84 million raised was generated through an online auction of premium tax credits to 11 insurance companies (including Hartford Insurance, New York Life, Chubb, GEICO, and Met Life) with operations in Maryland.  The inaugural round of investments will be made in innovative companies this summer through several private venture capital firms and the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund (MVF),

Said Governor Martin O’Malley, “Our State is well-positioned to be a leader in the new economy as a global hub of innovation – a leader in science, security, health, discovery and information technology. That’s why last year, together with business leaders from across the State and the General Assembly, we chose to invest in our diverse and highly-educated workforce and the skills and talents of our people for the jobs and opportunity of tomorrow.”  

The InvestMaryland program is being implemented through the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, on which I am very proud to serve, as well as the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).

Earlier this year, the Authority selected Grant Street Group to prepare for and run the tax credit auction and also recently selected Altius Associates, a London-based firm, to oversee the selection of three to four private venture firms to invest the InvestMaryland funds. The private venture firms will be responsible for investing two-thirds of the funds, which will return 100 percent of the principal and 80 percent of the profits to the State’s general fund. The remaining 33 percent will be invested by 17-year-old Maryland Venture Fund (MVF).  The Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority (MSBDFA) will also receive a portion of funds for investment. Returns on the funds invested through the MVF will be reinvested in the program.

InvestMaryland has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Innovation Economy sectors – life sciences and biotechnology, cyber security/IT and clean/green tech and attract billions of follow on capital.

Maryland has an outstanding infrastructure to support an Innovation Economy. The Milken Institute ranks Maryland #2 in the nation for technology and science assets. According to study results, while Maryland received high rankings in human capital investment, research and development inputs, technology and science workforce, and technology concentration and dynamism, it lagged behind other states in risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure, demonstrating the need for InvestMaryland and other programs.

How will Altius select the Venture Capital firms?  Altius will be evaluating venture capital funds based on management experience, firm experience, investment performance and criteria defined in the legislation.

When will the firms be selected?  Venture capital firms will be selected starting June/July 2012 for a projected18-month period and make first round of investments in summer 2012.

What is the investment return to the State? The selected venture firms will return 100 percent of the principal investment by the State before taking any distribution of profits and will then pay 80 percent of the profits to the State.  Any returns on investments made through the Maryland Venture Fund go back into the fund for an evergreen program.

What is the projected average investment with venture capital companies? Investment will likely range from as low as $250,000 upwards to $10M.

Is there investment funding available from MVF?   Maryland Venture Fund will continue to invest in early stage companies (tech, biotech, clean energy) from $50,000 to $500,000 as initial investments.

Maryland Venture Fund Authority (MVFA) will perform a monitoring role to ensure that  investments and reporting meet the legislative guidelines.

In summary, as a member of the MVFA, and as a resident and business owner in Maryland, I am very excited to see this InvestMaryland program being implemented:

  • This program brings great benefit for taxpayers.  It helps create the jobs and companies of tomorrow and builds an economic climate where the most promising ideas and innovations have a chance to mature.
  • This is a win-win for all constituencies within the State of Maryland. Through this initiative, we can:
    • Infuse much needed capital into our seed and early stage companies
    • Recapitalize the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund
    • Ensure no up-front cost to taxpayers
    • Provide a tax benefit to insurance companies who bid today, who can begin claiming credits in 2015.

Thanks for reading.  I’d appreciate any Comments or feedback you may have on InvestMaryland.

Featured image courtesy of Anosmia via Creative Commons.