Should you raise startup funding from friends and family?

So you think you need to raise funding for your startup? You may be right, but before you being to raise startup funding from friends and family, take a moment to assess whether your startup is ready for investment. It is so much easier to raise investment when you have traction.

Should you raise startup investment from family and friends

There comes a point when all startups need investment. As Founders, we do what it takes to build our startups, to make our vision a reality. We use our savings, we load up the credit card and we bootstrap to fund our startups but if this isn’t enough to get the business to “traction” the next best option may be to raise startup funding from family and friends.

Startup investment is very likely to come from people you know

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that a startup’s first funding round will come, predominately, from people known to the business. So speaking to friends and family isn’t a bad idea in itself. People who know you, your skills, strengths and experience, are more likely to believe you can take your startup to the next stage. They know your abilities. They trust you. They are, in effect, backing you.

But, should you do it? Should you raise startup funding from friends and family?  Should you take money from your nearest and dearest when there is, inevitably, risk involved. If things don’t go to plan with your startup, will you regret mixing business and personal relationships?

What does it mean to raise startup funding from friends and family?

Before we explore the emotions that arise when you raise startup funding from friends and family, let’s consider the different forms this type of funding might take. Friends and family funding could be:

  • a gift – with no expectation that the money will be paid back
  • a loan – perhaps with low or no interest and a long loan period
  • a commercial arrangement where you offer shares (equity) in your startup in exchange for the cash.

All of these options could give you the cash injection your startup needs but, with the possible exception of money offered as a gift, the money comes with expectations – some of which may be explicit, but not all!

Relationships with friends and family run deep. When you raise startup funding from friends and family the people who back you trust you – with their hard earned cash. Depending on their education, career and financial situation they may not realise the risk they are taking. The implications can be far-reaching.

I know one founder whose father invested in his startup and – when that business failed – the father lost all the money he had invested. As a result father and son didn’t talk for years. Worse still, the father almost refused to attend his son’s wedding. A betrayal of trust isn’t easily forgotten so proceed with caution when raising startup funding from friends and family!

Be clear about the risks

Approach any conversation with friends and family with frankness and honesty. Nine out of ten businesses fail in the first two years of trading. Running a business is challenging and influenced by some factors beyond the Founders control. Make sure anyone making an investment in your startup realises this. Business Angel investors know the risks and are usually in a position to spread their risk across a number of investments. Your friends and family may not be in a position to do this. They may only be backing your startup.

Explain this is a long term investment

There is no quick return on an investment in a startup either. Indeed, if you raise startup funding from friends and family, they are unlikely to see any of that money back for a good few years. Startups don’t pay dividends. Early investors, and this includes friends and family, don’t get their money back until there is an “exit”. That generally means until the startup has grown to such an extent that another business (or other investors) want to buy the business. It takes time (between 5-10years generally) to get to an “exit”. Can your friends and family wait that long for their money back?

Consider the impact of future raises – and don’t over-value today

Then there is the issue of valuation. Valuing any early-stage business is complex but valuing a fledgling startup is very difficult. It is often difficult to know where you start. There is also a risk. If you get the valuation wrong you could end up selling too much of your business at too early a stage. This can then hamper your ability to raise further rounds. As new investors come on board, the Founder and other shareholders become “diluted”. Depending what proportion of shares were sold originally, you may find you no longer own enough of the company to take on new investors and maintain control of the business.

To raise startup funding from family and friends can be a good route

Nevertheless, raising startup funding from friends and family can still be a good option – and may be your only option. But, if you want to stay friends, full transparency and honesty are essential. You have to be responsible about what people are getting involved in. Be open about the risks.

You can enthuse about the opportunity – but you must also level with everyone about the risk. The decision to invest is then theirs to take, or not. It gives your friends and family the opportunity to choose whether or not to invest and at a level that hopefully won’t sour your relationship if things don’t go to plan. It moves the transaction onto a business footing.

Being honest in this way creates space for personal choice, without any feeling of pressure that family and friends might feel to support you at all costs. As the Founder, you must also be willing to accept any answer with good grace, especially if that answer is a “no”.

If you can do that without ranker or grudge it gives you freedom. Freedom to ask almost anyone to consider an investment in your business. And that opens a world of potential investors to you.

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Why raising investment for a startup is as simple as baking a cake

Your startup is hungry! It needs cash for product development, marketing and building the team. You’re probably hungry too. You see the opportunity. You have a vision for growing your business but it won’t even make the (metaphorical) oven – let alone get cooked – if you don’t succeed in raising investment for your startup.

Raising investment for a startup is as simple as baking a cake

Raising investment for a startup is like baking a cake.

Gather the ingredients

First you will want to gather together all the ingredients that are needed for successfully raising investment. What does the business do? What evidence supports this? What have you already achieved in the business? You will also need to tell the story of how your business grows using a compelling financial forecast. Investors like to know what they get in return for their investment so you will need to value your startup too.

Craft the recipe

Ingredients in themselves are not enough. You need to put them together in such a way that potential investors can see the opportunity and are excited about it as you are. You need a recipe.

Bake the cake

No one likes raw egg in their cake! You have to cook a cake for the right length of time. It’s the same with investors, they don’t back ideas or hunches. They need to see that business is “cooked”. Investors call this “traction”. It’s how you demonstrate what the business has already achieved and prove this is more than a hunch.

Conduct taste test on the recipe

Different people like different cakes. Do you prefer chocolate cake or fruit cake?

Different investors like different deals for different reasons but, just as most cakes have four key ingredients (flour, sugar, butter and eggs), so investors look for four main ingredients:

  • Opportunity – what’s the problem your startup solves for customers? How big is the market?
  • Team – who is behind the startup? Can they deliver on the market opportunity?
  • Traction – how far has the business got to becoming a reality?
  • Deal – what is on offer in exchange for investment? Is this fair and realistic?

Once you are happy you have built a compelling narrative around these basic elements, check others agree with you by conducting “taste tests”. Speak to trusted advisors, other founders who have raised investment and – when you feel ready – potential investors. Are they excited by what is on offer? Is your “cake” cooked to perfection? 

Ice the cake

No one likes a “soggy bottom” to their cake – and you can expect investors to look beyond the icing. Investors will do their due diligence. Metaphorically, this means investors will prod and poke your cake as if they were judges at a bake-off. You can expect them to test your product, develop their own view of the market opportunity, interrogate your business model and financial forecast and get to know your startup team – and that’s before you get into the nitty gritty of valuation and term sheet.

Offer investors a slice

Raising investment doesn’t happen overnight. You need to get out there, have lots of “cups of tea” with potential investors and show off your “cake”. You will want to work your network, pitch at investor events and get introductions to investors in order to find the investors who want a slice of what’s on offer.

Will you share your cake?

Once you have a queue of investors lined up to take a slice of your delicious “cake”, you’re in a position to choose who you’d like to share the cake with. Consider what each potential investor brings to the conversation. Who can make the biggest difference in your startup based on their skills, experience or contact book? It’s not just about the cash. Who do you want with you for the journey?

Don’t forget the washing up!

Baking isn’t finished until you’ve washed up and put everything back in the kitchen cupboards. It’s the same with raising investment for a startup. The deal isn’t done until the money is in the bank. There are term sheets to agree and valuations to negotiate.

As easy as pie?

Perhaps, baking a cake isn’t quite as easy as it first seems! So much can go wrong in the mix or the cooking. Raising investment for a startup is similar. It’s a process – and requires a chemical reaction – just like baking. It takes time to perfect. You may need to practise and improve to avoid that “soggy bottom” feeling. You can also have fun – in the making and eating of your “cake”. When you understand the process, and surround yourself with people who can support you on the journey, you can settle into enjoying the all those cups of tea with potential investors and raising investment for your startup.

Find out whether your startup is ready to raise investment by taking the Startup Investment Score card

For the full recipe on what investors look for in a “cake”, read 7 Essentials that unlock startup equity investment

7 Essentials that unlock Start-up equity investment

Different people like different things. Take cakes for example. Would you choose chocolate or fruit cake? It’s worth remembering this when it comes to raising start-up equity investment. Different investors like different opportunities for different reasons.

Image of a cage dollar bill with the words 7 Essentials that unlock Startup equity investment

For some investors it’s all about sector – what’s hot, disruptive or growing fast? For others it’s about the stage of development. Some investors like to get in early, others like to wait till the business is scaling. For many investors the management team behind the business really matters. The point is, you can’t predict the individual preferences and foibles of investors.

Communicate what is on offer

You can’t predict, but you can communicate clearly what is on offer. The quicker an investor understands what is on offer, the quicker they can decide if they will back you, or not. Raising investment is time consuming. It’s a distraction from your real job of growing your business. You don’t want to waste time talking to people who are not interested in what you have to offer – so make sure you are clear and succinct in your communication. Give people the information they need to make the right choice for them.

The ingredients of success

Most cakes have four essential ingredients (flour, butter, sugar and eggs). Similarly, most investors taste test the appeal of a start-up equity investment against four ingredients:

  1. Opportunity – what is the problem the business solves for its customers? How big is the market? Are there many competitors in the sector?
  2. Traction – investors don’t back hunches or ideas. They want evidence that demonstrates how effectively the business develops products and recruits and monetises customers. They want to know how established the product range and marketing strategy are?
  3. Team – who is behind the business? What motivates them? Do they have the skills, experience and relationships to deliver a successful business?
  4. Deal – how much investment does the business need and what equity is offered in exchange for that investment? Is that realistic and fair?

7 Essential Ingredients

When you dig into the detail of what investors look for in order to make a start-up equity investment, there are 7 Essential ingredients investors look for to unlock start-up equity investment:

1. The problem your business solves for customers

Customers don’t buy products. They buy solutions to problems they face. What problem does your business solve for its customers? How does it do this better than anyone else?

2. The market size and targeting approach

This is usually addressed in terms of the Total Addressable Market (TAM), the Serviceable Available Market (SAM) and the Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM).

The Total Addressable Market is the number of people who could buy your product. This show investors the ultimate size of the market and is usually demonstrated with industry sector research reports.

The Serviceable Available Market draws a picture of the customer segments your business can reach given your geographic/financial/product constraints.

The Serviceable Obtainable Market – or your target market – identifies the customer segments you intend to target first. Given all businesses have limits to their marketing budget you have to focus somewhere, even if you will extend to other segments at a later date. Different customer segments have different needs and most start-ups choose to focus their attention on customers who have the strongest need and ability to pay.

3. Monetising the market and growing revenue over time

How does your start-up make money? Investors expect to see clear revenue streams. Ideally more than one as this de-risks the opportunity. A detailed 3 year (or sometime 5 year) forecast should tell the story of your start-up’s growth trajectory in numbers.  

4. Traction

Traction provides evidence – or proof, if you will – of what the business has achieved so far. Traction is an equation . It isn’t something that happens over night. It is an iterative process which showcases not just your start-up’s ability to deliver, but that you have the grit and determination to perform over the long term. Running a start-up is a marathon not a sprint!

5. Brilliant team

However good your business strategy and executional plan, it is people who make things happen. Does the team behind your start-up have the skills, experience and relationships to deliver the strategic drivers that will make your start-up thrive?

6. Ask

Cash is king, right? Investors need to understand how much money your business needs to succeed. They are not interested only in what X or Y costs, but that you have also thought about how much time it will take you to achieve key milestones in your start-ups development. There is nothing worse than the cash running out before you have reached a critical milestone that unlocks the next stage of start-up equity investment.

7. Valuation and term sheet

If all the elements of your start-up strategy are in place, then investors will assess the deal. What are you offering in exchange for investment? Does that taste good or not? Most founders focus on valuation (the percentage of equity (shares) they are offering in exchange for a cash investment), but the detail in the term sheet is important too. What type of shares are on offer? When do they vest? Who will sit on the board to represent shareholders? It all influences the appeal of the deal.

Investors are busy – the 7 Essentials help you communicate quickly & succinctly

It’s important to recognise investors are busy people. They are short on time and have lots to distract them from looking at your opportunity. The 7 Essentials give investors the information they need but you must also be succinct in conveying this. Go on for too long and a potential investor will drift away.  No one like stale cake!

Everything you prepare needs to be short, to the point and focused on giving investors the information they need. Nothing more and nothing less! It’s a good exercise to convey the 7 Essentials on just one page of A4. One page can usually be read in 5 minutes which is how long most investors take to make up their mind whether this is the cake for them, or not!

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To find out if your start-up is ready to attract investors, take the Start-up Investment Scorecard

Funding Accelerator is designed to speed up the process of preparing your start-up for equity investment.