Most startup fundraising advice focuses on having the right metrics to convince investors your business has the potential to scale. While metrics are critical to fundraising success, there’s more to a good business case than just your current numbers: you also need to plan for your next fundraise. That requires an explicit focus on the human element of forecasting, and knowing what makes your company story unique.
In a recent webcast, David Appel, the VP of SaaS verticals at Sage Intacct, spoke with Dave Kellogg, Principal at Dave Kellogg Consulting, and Mihir Jobalia, the managing director and co-head of the Technology Investment Banking Group at KPMG, about their forecasting tips for founders ready to raise.
Tip 1: Understand what investors want from your next round
Closing multiple fundraising rounds requires repeatedly showing investors you have the ability to build a sustainable, scaling company.
While a single venture capital round may only take months, it puts startups on a path that can last years across multiple rounds. So as startups move from seed to growth stage, investors want to know they will be able to raise more capital in the future. The tricky part from a forecasting perspective is anticipating what you’ll need to forecast for future rounds. Breaking this down, the panelists shared basic benchmarks for companies at the Series A and Series B levels.
“The main point of seed to [Series] A is to prove you’ve built something that people want to buy,” said Kellogg, adding that going from Series A to Series B requires validating your customer acquisition model, not just proving initial demand.
Jobalia added founders also have to think not just about sales strategy, but also operations strategy for the next stage. He advised founders to consider questions like, for instance, whether they will outsource customer onboarding to an agency as the business scales or if they plan to hire a customer onboarding team in-house. These questions don’t necessarily need fully fleshed-out answers (especially not at earlier stages), but they are questions investors will want to know you’ve thought about.
Tip 2: Complete what-if scenario planning with humans in mind
While the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that emergency plans need to take into account lean cash burn and go-to-market capabilities, Jobalia and Kellogg said founders also need to account for human considerations in what-if scenarios. In particular, contingency plans need to be unique to your company and account for continued payroll, emergency duties, and what roles might shift or be eliminated.
The other side of your human what-if planning should focus on customers. Shoring up internal operations is one thing, but you also need to show how you can keep customers from churning en masse when or if a crisis hits. This can be demonstrated through things like contract structures or ensuring your product is essential to a customer’s business operations and not just a nice-to-have, but investors will want to see that you’ve planned for how to keep customers when things get tough.
“A leaky bucket really doesn’t doesn’t work longer term,” said Jobalia.
Tip 3: Benchmark your company but don’t ignore its unique story
Appel said founders need to both show company performance relative to peers and how their numbers signal great things to come.
“You want to be able to pass the sniff test on benchmarking, but you also want to be able to tell your individual story about what makes your company special and your trajectory unique,” said Appel.
Both Jobalia and Kellogg recommended looking at revenue-related numbers to tell your unique story, such as contract length, churn, net promoter scores (NPS), and comparing customer segments to competitors. Kellogg added that the unique story might come from novel ways your company can grow revenues – such as cross-selling, or upselling – that competitors may not have access to. These levers help round out your growth story to demonstrate not just initial success, but resilience, future opportunity, and vision.
Growth is a story told many times until it’s true
A few successful growth hacks or guerilla campaigns can get a startup off the ground and draw initial investor attention. But closing multiple fundraising rounds requires repeatedly showing investors you have the ability to build a sustainable, scaling company.
This doesn’t mean having all the answers; given the complex nature of startup growth, most forecasting ends up not being accurate. Instead, make it clear that you’ve worked through critical questions, and the questions after those questions. The exercise of good forecasting not only helps build investor confidence but gives you the groundwork to find the right answers for your business.