I was talking with an old friend on Friday about the fundraising pitch for his startup and how his conversations with VCs were progressing. He’s got a great business and I think he will get his round away, but he felt that he was losing some potential investors because they weren’t buying into the upside of his story.
We discussed how he could add a slide making a better link from his impressive recent results to his vision of the endgame and I hope that will make a difference. We also talked about his personal style. He’s low-key and likes to present plans he feels sure he can deliver, and he has a tendency to caveat the upside. The danger with this approach is that investors are used to a punchier presentation style and assume that if the entrepreneur isn’t punchy, the upside is less likely to be realised. As an investor I feel the same way. I know that there are some founders who successfully under-promise and over-deliver, but the majority of successful founders are the other way around – they have a tendency to over-promise.
Since then I’ve been thinking about how aggressive founders should make their business plans. Here are some guidelines:
- VCs want to back aggressive plans. That means your growth should be as rapid as possible.
- The plan must be believable – you must believe it is deliverable.
- Investors expect most of their investments to fail, and that nearly all under-achieve initial plans. If when you look at it objectively you have a 30-50% chance of hitting yours that’s more than enough – although you should believe in your gut that it’s much more certain than that.
- You should believe more strongly in the first couple of years than in the out years. If you deliver over 24 months opportunities will almost certainly open up.
- It’s important to show the path from today to the big upside. A series of big steps with no risky big leaps works best.
- Increasing your financial projections in the expectation that investors will discount them falls foul of the earlier points, and undermines trust.
It’s common for entrepreneurs to start with a big endgame that they think will work for VCs and then work backwards to build a plan that gets there. If you’re going to take that approach then make sure the plan is credible, as per the advice above. If not think about a smaller goal and perhaps different types of investors.