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Friday, December 25, 2009

2010 Entrepreneurship And the Realities Of Self-Funding

Entrepreneurs enter the business world with many preconceptions. My previous blog on the "Value Of An Idea" and the subsequent feedback reinforced the fact that entrepreneurs hold a diverse set of opinions about the true nature of the business environment as it relates to ideas, valuation and funding. One of the most debated topics for new ventures in the current economic climate is sources of funding for early stage companies. The climate has made it exceedingly difficult to find investment capital forcing entrepreneurs to be creative in the financing of their businesses.

The necessity to self-fund a business has become almost mandatory for startup ventures. The current economic climate exacerbates the financing challenge. However, even in relatively good economic conditions an entrepreneur will most likely have to self fund the early stage of business formation.

I have started or participated in the formation of many businesses and there has never been a time when the early stage of the business did not require some level of self funding. This is an important point because many startups believe that the current economic environment is unique in its stingy attitude towards funding early stage companies. In my experience this is not necessarily the case. It is a matter of how you define "early stage". The current economic climate is stretching the definition of what early stage means resulting in financiers expecting far more product and business development before they express interest in putting money into a business.

So how should an entrepreneur approach the early funding of a company? How does the current economy make this period of business development different than in years past?

1.) There Are No White Knights - Do not approach a business assuming that a white knight or bank is going to invest until substantial progress has been made with the business. The current economy has made this more apparent.

2.) Friends And Family - If the current economy has significantly changed one aspect of fund raising it has been friends and family as a source of early stage working capital. The economy has hit individuals more so then many institutional investors resulting in this sector of funding being an unlikely place to find funding.

3.) How Much Money Do You Need? - Do not underestimate the investment required to start a business. Make a calculated assessment on how much money you are going to need/invest. A common mistake is making an investment too small to make enough progress before external funding or profitability. Current economic conditions require a business to show much more progress than in the past before financing can be secured.

4.) Business Planning - Create a business plan even if you are self funded. The plan will help guide the business and act as a benchmark to determine if the business is viable at certain points in the business life cycle. Certainly reality very rarely tracks a plan. However, the plan is a good guide for how far you veer from your original plan and what additional funding will be required to reach you business goals.

5.) Know Your Limits - Many enthusiastic entrepreneurs will continue to invest their own funds beyond the initial planned investment. This is dangerous and potentially damaging to your family and your personal finances. Make a decision on how much you are going to invest and hold to that decision. Any investment beyond the initial plan should be thoroughly evaluated. If an additional investment is made there should be clear goals and objective associated with that investment.

6.) Early Investor Commitment - Although an institutional investor will very rarely invest in the early stage of a company they should be consulted prior to the start of a business to determine investor interest. There is no reason to invest your own personal funds in a business if there is no institutional interest in your idea or business. An important business milestone is an investor's expressed interest in investing in a business based on a set criteria. Investors are great sources of information about the business categories that investors are interested in. Your idea and company may or may not fit into one of these categories. If it does not you should reconsider and attempt to reposition the business in such a way that it fits the investor profile.

7.) Spread Financial Risk - Form a team of individuals to start a business. Do not go it alone. This approach has many benefits but for the purpose of this subject it spreads financial risk. The disbursement of risk reduces the pressure on you to carry the company on the back of just your wallet and makes for a much easier sell to your family and supporters.

8.) Get Family Buy In - Any investment of personal funds should be vetted with family members. Your decision will have a big impact on your family requiring buy in before moving forward.

9.) Live To Fight Another Day - New business ventures are tough sledding and the majority of them do not reach their intended goal. Set specific milestones that allow you to determine if the business is on the road to success. If it is not have the courage to move on. If the business does not work out you will certainly learn useful lessons that will come in handy when starting and managing future ventures. Very rarely does an entrepreneur come out of a business venture without some positive life and business experiences.

The current economic climate makes it difficult to obtain early stage funding. Some self funding is going to be required to get a business to a stage where an external investor will participate.

The funding environment for 2010 will improve but will continue to be challenging. There are key business areas that will attract "early" stage funding. Make sure you know what those are and position yourself to take advantage of the opportunity.


1 comment:

lkg said...

Thnaks Kevin for these clear, concrete, sensible steps. as an angel investor myself, i wish more of the deals we see had followed this advice before they come to us.