I love summer! Who doesn’t? With the (generally) better weather meaning we spend more time outside and holiday time spent with family and friends.
However, I really like summer because it offers not just a chance to refresh ourselves physically (I have written about the importance holidays for startup founders and business owners before) but the chance to refresh ourselves mentally too. Lying on a beach or by the swimming pool is greatly improved if you also have the company of a good book – and if that book offers you new ideas, challenges your thoughts and offers new approaches to try, so much the better!
It’s all too easy to get in “head down” mode, to be busy working in the business rather than working on the business.
I’ve been doing what I do for 5 years now and I really recognise the need to refresh and revitalise my business and I’m taking a 6 week sabbatical to do just that. Whilst I will be allowing myself some time off with my family, I will also be stimulating my business brain through reading.
To develop a wide-ranging reading list (not too focused on the things I automatically lean towards), I asked around my entrepreneurial contacts and founders of other businesses to hear what they recommend.
In case you’d also like to do some revitalising reading this summer, here’s what they recommended – and why:
Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel H Pink
Given motivation is at the start of everything, this feels like a good place to start.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E Gerber
The E myth books have been around for a while but they are still an essential read for business owners demonstrating really clearly why you have to have more than a good idea to make a business work.
24 Assets by Daniel Priestly
If E Myth gets you thinking, then this book provides a methodology for building the components that make a business scaleable and sustainable.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Is another book particularly recommended to me for its methodology for startup businesses. The founder who recommended this has used the 7 point thesis outlined in the book to shape his own startup. The book has almost 300 reviews on Amazon (not all positive) but most seem to agree it offers a different perspective – which is what I’m looking for!
Dear Female Founder: 66 Letters of Advice from Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Made $1 Billion in Revenue by Lu Li
I’m really interested in the particular challenges facing female founders so this book had to be included in my summer reading but, looking at the reviews, I’m expecting that some of the insights will cross gender barriers and offer advice to all startup founders.
High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil
If you are beyond the startup phase and going for growth then this recommendation is for you.
Inspired by Marty Cagan
Is also for those working through the challenges of scaling. It came recommended to me as “a fantastic book on product and scaling” and looks at the role of the product manager and product teams in meeting customer needs, and developing a product that does this. Its particular focus is on software products. Find the book on Amazon
Another software product focused book – but which came recommended from two different sources – is Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps by Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble. What the person recommending this book liked is that the book uses evidence to create best practise – it’s not just another person’s theory.
ReWork: Change the Way you work forever by David Hansson and Jason Fried
Is certainly not a new book but in the opinion of the friend recommending it to me it’s “outstanding and important” – and you have to accept the title tempts you to read on!
If you happen to suffer from “long hours syndrome” you might also fancy It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work also by Jason Fried. Find the book on Amazon
Don’t have time to read a full book?
If, like so many founders, you are struggling to find sufficient time to read an entire book why not try some of these shorter blog posts to stimulate the grey cells instead?
The Do’s and Don’ts of Rapid Scaling for Startups by Bob Sutton Read the blog
Is Drag Holding Your Business Back by Kevin Sheldrake Read the blog
Traction Is The Very Heart of a Startup by The Startup Team Read the blog
Why We All Need to Invest in Female Founders by Sacha Waters Read the blog
Your business needs investment. You are out there networking and pitching like crazy but despite your best efforts investors remain elusive. It’s a familiar story. How do you get investors “on the hook”? The AllBright Academy, which supports female entrepreneurs, approached Hatty Fawcett, Founder of Focused For Business and an AllBright Academy Ambassador, to ask her advice for finding, approaching and pitching to investors. Here Hatty shares her top tips.
Always be ready to pitch
Investors can be almost anyone. When I raised investment for my business my investors included customers, suppliers, professional investors and even people who knew me through a shared hobby. The point is, almost anyone can be an investor, so you need to be ready to pitch at any point.
Approach people you know first – people who see firsthand the hard work you are putting into your business. Why not approach friends, family, employers, suppliers to the business and even your customers. They can help you get an investment round started. It’s a lot easier to attract new investors when you already have your first few on board!
Keep it short and sweet
Professional investors – sometimes called Business Angels – tend to be busy people; it can be difficult to find these people and even harder to get their attention. You will need to have a short pitch (sometimes called an “elevator pitch”) that you can use – in either written or spoken form – to quickly give investors an introduction to your business, giving them enough information to pique their interest.
Get an introduction
It is often easier to get a meeting with a business angel if you have a mutual connection to introduce you. If you have someone in mind that you’d like to approach, use your network (and LinkedIn) to try and find someone that can make that introduction. If you’re not sure who you want to approach, another way of getting started is to reach out to your network explaining what you are doing and asking for any suggestions they have as to potential investors.
Have a short prepared summary
A one-page executive summary of the investment opportunity (not of your business plan) is a key tool in your investor toolkit. Written well, this should give investors the information they need to make a decision as to whether this is an opportunity for them. Whatever you do, don’t send your pitch deck. A pitch deck should be presented and isn’t a standalone introduction to your business, save that for when you actually meet the investor.
All investors are individuals – they have their own particular interests, focus and areas of activity. Professional investors (such as business angels, private offices and equity funds) will often not agree to meet you – or perhaps even to talk to you – until they have seen something of the opportunity first.
Arrange a meeting
Don’t expect professional investors to back you after just one conversation. They will need to get to know you and your business. This is best done face-to-face so your initial aim should be to get a meeting or a skype session in the diary.
Follow up every lead
Professional investors are busy people. Don’t assume they will get back to you. You need to take the initiative and keep the conversation alive by following up with them. After every conversation, meeting or pitch, schedule time to follow-up with the people you have spoken to and get their feedback on your investment opportunity. Ask if they have any questions or concerns and – of course – whether they are interested in investing.
Keep the story moving
Professional investors back businesses that are going places, so you need to demonstrate that your business is evolving and growing every day. When following up with a business angel be ready with a juicy piece of new information that demonstrates your business is continuing to grow. This could be news that you have secured a new contract, delivered a key partnership, or the results of a new marketing campaign.
Don’t take “no” personally
Not everyone you talk to will back your business. Get used to hearing the word “no” and moving on. It’s better to know that someone isn’t interested in your opportunity than to waste time talking to them when they have no intention of investing. Move on!
Ask for feedback
Use every interaction as a chance to learn something. Ask everyone you speak to for feedback – even if they are not interested in investing. Their feedback can improve your understanding of how others perceive your business and can help you adapt your positioning, if necessary. Ask for help from the people you speak to too – who do they know who would be interested in this opportunity? Will they introduce you?
Positivity is key
Raising investment is hard work. It can feel relentless and if you have a run of “nos” it can bruise your confidence. Do what it takes to stay positive and keep your energy up – take an afternoon off and do something you love to boost your morale. Then get back to it, refreshed, revitalised and believing good things come to those who persevere!
In many ways, raising investment is a confidence game. Not only will investors want to get to know the founding team and the business plan so that they have confidence in your abilities, but investors will look for external validation too. They may hold back on committing to investing until they see that someone else believes in the idea sufficiently to invest in it. Once you have your first investor – or your cornerstone investment – it becomes easier to raise the remainder of the investment. But how do you find your first investor? It can feel like a catch 22 situation! Hatty Fawcett of Focused For Business asked four founders who have recently raised – or are in the process of raising – investment how they went about it.
Where did you find your investors?
It can be a daunting task, wondering where you will
find investors but these founders were full of practical suggestions.
Kevin Jackson, founder of Blueprints an investment platform for
economic development projects, put it frankly
“All the years of experience and contacts have to be used. You have to go back to everyone. Everyone you’ve ever met – if they aren’t investors they will know someone who is, get that introduction too.”
Shon Alam, founder of Bidweg which offers a new way to exchange foreign currency, also left no stone unturned in his search for investment
tried all the standard stuff you would expect banks, business startup loans,
family, private equity and crowdfunding.”
Marco Scotti, founder of Figaroo which allows members to
book and share VIP tables in the best nightclubs worldwide, talked more
specifically about the channels he used to find investors
used LinkedIn, I approached personal connections and asked for introductions, I
went on financial TV shows, got into the financial newspapers and spoke at lots
All the founders agreed that LinkedIn was key, as were personal introductions. Ian
Dibb, founder of Once
I’ve Gone which ensures family members and
guardians have access to vital documents, insurance policies and files once
their loved ones have passed, put it like this
“A warm introduction really does make things easier, and will normally get you a phone call. It’s then up to you to get a meeting with them.”
How do you opening the conversation with investors?
Personal connections are useful not just in finding
investors but in actually opening the conversation with them too. All the
founders I interviewed had found key investors as a result of an introduction –
Shon and Ian both found Chairman that way too.
Kevin stresses the importance of the phone in making
first contact with investors, and he advises against relying on email.
you are passionate about your product, pick up the phone and do a good pitch.
You will get there. It’s all about people connecting with people!”
Once you’ve made initial contact you will need to supply supporting documentation. Marco recommends
investment ready! That means having a performing deck, a clear “ask” and
valuation and being ready to explain how you will use the funds you raise to
achieve clear goals.”
Shon agrees and suggests you also need a good dose
need all the usual stuff – business plan, video, meeting after meeting. Tugging
your forelock and walking around with a permanent grin on your face, trying to
sound intelligent and trying to get investors to understand the concept, what
makes you different, etc. etc. etc. Investors balk at anything and everything!”
But whilst the process of talking to investor after
investor can try the patience of a saint, Shon urges keeping the faith – you
never know when you will have that magical conversation that changes
everything. For Shon it was recruiting his chairman
“Our Chair has been great at helping to raise funds. I meet him in Costa Coffee and within 30 secs he said “Yep got it.” – and we haven’t looked back.”
How to overcome barriers when talking to investors
There is no doubt that the constant conversations with investors can feel like hardwork. You will need self-belief, persistence and energy.
I asked Marco what he found the hardest about the
process and how he overcame this. His answer was simple and telling
overcome the amount of no. You just have to keep doing that”
Shon talks of having to overcome his shyness and to
put aside being in awe – or afraid – of the people he was speaking to
can get intimidated by these industry leaders, but the goo goo eyes went after
the second round of meets and you just accept it as a normal part of the day
and business. Don’t be frightened, or they will eat you up! Remember they are
Ian talks about the importance of personalising
things where ever possible
decent investors will receive 100’s of approaches each week from the next ‘Big
Thing’, so it’s hard to get their attention. What we have found is that making
the connection request on Linkedin really personal to the investor, will
normally get the investor to connect. Focus
on getting them interested enough to have a phone call or meeting.”
What Kevin found hardest was understanding exactly what investors were looking for. He started by stressing how quickly the business could scale but it turned out investors were more interested in what the business had already achieved. Getting the story right and stressing the facts of what had been achieved to date was the key to overcoming investors’ barriers.
And finally…Top Tips for winning investors
Each of the founders I interviewed had an
interesting – and sometimes surprising – piece of advice to offer for winning
Kevin offered a practical suggestion which led to a
surprising outcome. He instigated a weekly investor telephone get-together
every Friday at 5pm. On one session he asked each investor to pick up the phone
and speak to one contact explaining why they had backed the business and why
they thought it would interest their contact. That exercise resulted in an
investment of £150K that afternoon. As Kevin put it
right pitch to the right person will release the money.”
you clearly present your company, with no ego, just as an excellent investment
vehicle, investors will come to you and not the opposite.”
Shon and Ian both stressed that it isn’t just the
money that is important. As Shon put it
definitely as much about the chemistry as about the money. If you can’t get on with
your investor at this crucial startup phase, then you are in trouble.”
Ian agreed with Shon
have walked away from a couple of investors as we felt that they were not the
right fit for the company. At the time it was hard, but we fully believe that
it’s the right thing for the company in the long run.”
Finding your cornerstone investment – or your lead investor – takes hard work and persistence but making sure you are “investor ready”, reaching out to all your contacts and making personal requests are three key steps that deliver results. Good luck!
************* If you want help in finding investors, building a relationship with them and closing an investment deal then take a look at the no nonsense online masterclass “How to find and win investors”. It provides inspiration and practical step-by-step advice on where to find investors, how to get their attention and offers a proven process for building relationships with investors that deliver investment commitments. Read more about the masterclass
The number of accelerators has grown rapidly in recent years in the wake of big success stories from startups that have attended acceleartors – including AirBnB, Dropbox and Stripe. Crunchbasenow lists 534 Accelerator programmes in Europe alone. Is an accelerator your fast track to success? To get to the answer, I interviewed startup founders who have attended accelerators – and programme managers and mentors on accelerator programmes. They generously shares their views so you can make the right decision for your business.
The term “accelerator” was originally applied to a programme designed to bring together a cohort of startups focused on developing their business over a fixed time period (usually 3 to 4 months) with an aim of raising investment. Such an accelerator offered a range of benefits from a structured business education, mentorship, networking and introductions, usually culminating with a pitch day (often called Demo Day).
Over time, accelerators have morphed to cover a wide range of programmes encompassing the traditional model but also including bootcamps and co-working arrangements with access to special events and mentors.
“It’s really important to first define what an accelerator is because they come in lots of guises. An accelerator is defined as something that helps a person or thing develop more quickly. Some accelerators offer desk space, workshops, educational events and networking, some offer coaching, mentors, partners, a community, networks and much more. Any business, can benefit from an accelerator but they need to pick the right one for them at the right time in their journey.”
The benefits of an accelerator programme
The traditional accelerator model can provide startups with vital seed investment (perhaps up to £150,000) at start of programme, giving them some initial run way to focus on their minimum viable product (MVP).
Adam Beveridge, Co-founder and CEO at Hollabox has attended two acceleators including Just Eat Ventures, agrees
“The programme granted access to various fundraising schemes and companies. It meant we achieved our fundraising targets.”
Brian Smith CEO and Founder of DebtCase Ltd who attended Ignite’s accelerator, points out
“The initial investment was a great help to allow us to focus on our start-up, without the need to keep contracting on the side, but of course that amount wasn’t going to last for long.”
All of the founders I interviewed agreed that a key benefit of an accelerator was the network you gained access to in terms of mentors, former alumni, partners or investors– and the introductions that stemmed from these
Csaba Toth Founder of ICQ Global who attended NatWest’s
accelerator stressed that a key reason he joined an accelerator was for
“Guidance and introduction to mentors, as well as, potential business partners and clients”
And Brian Smith agreed
“By the end of the programme we wanted to have met with a lot of potentiali nvestors and be in a much better position to raise more funds”
Sue Frost, Co-Founder and CEO at Curamicus who attended Creative England’s First Bourne accelerator went further
“We were most attracted by the mentorship – even though we’d run businesses before. We were returning to the UK after working abroad and wanted to hear a widerange of views about how to achieve our plans in the UK.”
Adam Beveridge added
“I’d say the connections could be made yourself, but having warm intros and even better, having these connections made in a structured environment saves a lot of leg work and increases the likelihood of you being seen by the people you want to get in front of.”
Everyone I interviewed spoke about the positive benefits and energy that comes from focusing on your business for a fixed period of time. Sue Frost described the intensity of the accelerator experience and felt the stimulation and focus that derives from this was palpable and powerful.
Brian Smith added
“The intensity of all being in one place, with direct access to the team and building up relationships with investors, purely because you’d see them more often, obviously works.”
Sue Frost also found that the structured input, guidance, informal discussions and feedback from mentors was another key benefit. She noted that the tools and techniques introducedon the accelerator were very helpful in structuring a strategy for her startup.
Brian Smith also highlighted the importance of pitching and getting feedback
“I’ve run businesses in the past but never a ‘start-up’ so taking on investment, having monthly meetings with advisors, having to stand up and pitch in front of a room full of people, etc, was all an amazing experience… if a little scary.”
Being on an accelerator brings PR opportunities and can help build brand recognition. Depending
on the calibre of the accelerator this can set you apart from other startups –
and give you unrivalled access to mentors and investor.
Csaba Toth spoke of being accepted onto an
“a confidence booster and confirmation that I was on the right path.”
Brian Smith goes further
“Some of the mentors we spoke to you couldn’t pay to get access to, so that alone was worth it.”
Adam Beveridge says
“I’d certainly say that the credibility factor meant we found fundraising much easier.”
He goes on to say
“The greatest outcome was exposure. Making the most of every introduction, and taking part in numerous pitching and showcasing opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to us.”
Jodie Hughes explains that attending an acceleratoris about changing mindsets. She believes that if can often be the entrepreneur that holds back a business.
“We constantly get entrepreneurs to tap into their mindset to make sure they are continually developing and changing so they don’t hold their business back.”
Are there any disadvantages to accelerator programmes?
Depending on the flexibility of your personal circumstance – and your family commitment in particular – one downside of anaccelerator programme can be the need to relocate. Not all accelerators do require you to move but often there willbe an expectation that you will attend classes and events in a particular geographic location – although more non-geography specific options are beginning to emerge.
Close scrutiny of the costs that can be involved with accelerators,particular if the accelerator takes equity as part of the programme, is also advisable.
Aristos Peters founder of D-Risk It, offering data led investment tools for startups, accelerators and investors, who has been a mentor on a number of accelerator programmes (including CollectiveGlobal Accelerator, Microsoft Ventures, Oxygen and Entrepreneurial Spark) urges founders to be very clear about the costs involved in participating in accelerators that offer cash in exchange for equity.
“The equity stake taken can really vary and there can be “hidden costs” in terms of fees that need to be paid to meet accounting and reporting requirements.”
Brian Smith recognises this too
“If you are thinking of joining an accelerator I’d shop around, as the equity versus investment ranges considerably…then there will be programme charges on top, so check the small print before accepting any offer.”
Perhaps perversely given the majority of founders joined accelerators in order to meet people, one disadvantage that emerged frommy interviews is that there are so many different people giving feedback onyour business (in mentoring session, at pitch days and in informal conversations) that too many alternative viewpoints can lead to confusion and indecision.
There was also mention of all the events, classes and mentor sessions providing conflicts of time – most founders recognised there was a point when they had to tak edecisions and focus on building their business and that the constant round of events and meeting could begin to feel like a distraction.
All the founders I interviewed also recognised and felt a degree of pressure that comes from the competitive climax of Pitch/Demo Day and the desire to want to demonstrate tangible progress by this point. But then, running a startup is never stress-free!
Csaba Toth was frank
“What you put in you get back. You need to make the most of an accelerator experience to get the most from it and that takes time. I wish I had put more energy into getting more involved besides focusing on my business. I could have put more effort into networking.”
Brian Smith relates to this to
“We should have been more proactive during the programme and really asked and hustled”
And what did the founders find most beneficial?
Ultimately, when reflecting on their accelerator experience, all the founders I interviewed agreed they would do an accelerator again. They all agreed on the greatest benefit too:
Sue Frost stressed
“It’s the people that really make it. Meeting and exchanging ideas with other entrepreneurs is stimulating and powerful”
Brian Smith was quick to agree
“First and foremost it’s the cohort of founders we went through the accelerator with. Being able to support each other, bounce ideas, share knowledge and experience was invaluable. We’ve made some lifetime friends. The other benefit was the credits and free access to various online platforms, such AWS and Stripe, which cut down on our overheads and helped to extend our runway. Every little helps”
The one caveat?
Be clear on your objective in doing an accelerator
and do your research to be sure you pick the right programme for you. That way,
you can be sure you’ll get what you need.
Focused for Business offers two different accelerator programmes:
Crowdfunding Accelerator is an eight week onlineprogramme designed to make it quicker and easier to prepare for successful crowdfunding.
Entrepreneur Board is a dedicated peer forum for founders and business owners focused on fast growth through the launch of new products or business models, scaling for fast growth or who are raising investment.
Anyone can come up with a “brilliant business idea” but it is quite another thing to put your money where your mouth is, take the plunge, give up your job and commit to making your idea a reality. For many founders of startups, taking the decision to leave your job – and a predictable salary – to commit to building your startup full-time can be terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to prove you have a viable startup which reduces the risk, builds your confidence and makes it easier to attract funding.
David Toscano of Cin Cin Italian Bar & Kitchen did just that and Hatty Fawcett of Focused For Business asked him to share the steps he took to build his successful restaurant business – and what gave him the confidence to give up his profession as a lawyer to follow his passion for Italian food.
Hatty: How long had you been thinking about your business idea before you decided to take the first steps in getting your business off the ground?
David: About 10 years. I qualified as a lawyer back in 2001 but was bored of that career about two years in so I started to look for a way out. I spent a lot of time thinking I was not capable of doing anything else.
“I had always had a passion for food and when a friend left law to go into wine, it gave me that little bit of confidence that maybe I could have a second career in something completely different.”
Hatty: Who or what pushed you to take action in creating your business?
“I just did not want to spend the next 20+ years of my life in a job I did not enjoy or care about. I needed to be putting my time and effort into something I had a real passion for”
Having grown up in an Italian family, food was always central to my childhood and something I had always felt comfortable with.
Hatty: What initial steps did you take and why did you choose these steps?
David: The very initial steps were saying yes to catering parties and dinners for family and friends in 2010, even though I had no chef training or experience.
“I did a lot of research about opening a restaurant and quickly discovered it was an enterprise with a high set up cost and high risk of early failure. Given I had never even worked in a restaurant before, this made the jump to restauranteur feel even more precarious.”
So in 2012, I bought a vintage Fiat van and converted it into a street food van which in 2013 I launched as Cin Cin, an Italian street food and event catering business. I started trading at festivals and fairs, as well as taking private bookings to cater weddings, parties, celebrations; all while still working as a lawyer in London.
“Testing my offering in this way was very low risk because I was not reliant on income from the new business to pay my bills and I had set up the business with my own funds.”
I was also aware that I was moving into a completely new sector that I had no experience in so I had no idea whether I would even enjoy working in food & drink. Thankfully, I immediately loved it!
“I spent 2013 testing the business in various street food and private catering events, doing all the cooking myself and calling on family and friends as staff.”
I was enjoying event catering and starting to pick up bigger events which meant I was turning some good profit but by 2014, I was sure that I wanted to open a restaurant so started to look for a chef to work with to put on supper club/pop up restaurant events. This was because I wanted to take the food beyond the limitations of the van and make the Cin Cin offering more refined. That summer I met Jamie Halsall, who is now my head chef in the business, and we started putting on supper clubs in Brighton, London and Kent. This step helped bridge the gap between the van business I had started and the restaurant business I wanted it to become.
Hatty: What did you learn by taking these initial steps?
David: These initial steps allowed me to test the development of the offering in low risk scenarios – I was still working as a lawyer so was not reliant on the income from the fledgling business to fund my lifestyle.
“I still approached each event with the aim of making a profit, but at that stage it was more about getting feedback on what customers wanted and expected from a new restaurant and more importantly, their feedback showed me that there was a gap in the market that we could fill.”
Hatty: Was there a specific event or turning point that gave you the confidence to commit working full-time in your business?
David: In Spring 2015, the business had grown to the point where I no longer had enough leave days from my job as a lawyer to cater all of the events I was being offered.
“I was turning down work and was extremely tired given I was using all my leave for events. So I made a plan to quit law at the end of 2015 and chase my restaurant dream full time. I have never looked back.”
Hatty: What influenced your decision to raise investment?
David: I opened my first restaurant in November 2016 with my own funds. It was a small 20 seat restaurant, all housed in one room which meant the set up costs were relatively low. By Spring 2017, we were constantly full so I began looking for a second larger restaurant site.
“I needed the investment because I could not grow the business without it. While there was cash in the business given the success of the first restaurant, I did not have enough to build and open the second larger site so I raised finance through a mix of bank finance and asset finance on the new kit we needed to open the new restaurant.”
Hatty: Did the steps you had taken to prove your business model make it easier to raise funding for your business?
David: Absolutely. As above, I used the Enterprise Finance Guarantee [EFG] scheme to access bank finance because the business did not have fixed assets to borrow against. In order to access that finance, I had to submit a business plan with costed financials to show that this step to growth was sustainable.
“All of the testing of my business model and offering went into that business plan and was a key part of the data that convinced the bank and asset finance agency to lend me the money I needed.”
Hatty: Do you have any advice or tips for entrepreneurs thinking about starting their own business?
David: Lean testing – there are a lot of ways to try out what you think you’d like your business to be without risking your personal finances with a loan or spending a lot of your savings. But just as important is that it’s also the best and least risky way to get feedback from potential customers about whether your business model and offering is actually what people want. Be prepared to listen and adjust your offering to suit the market.
Passion – I worked hard to become a lawyer but never had a passion for it. Working on something you do not care about is a recipe for mediocrity or even worse, failure.
“So if you are going to start a business, make sure there is something within it you are passionate about. That passion will drive you through fatigue, disappointment, and little failures while also making success all the more sweet as you’ll have created something you can be proud of. And isn’t that why we become entrepreneurs in the first place?!”
Do it now – you can come up with a million reasons why you should not to take a chance on starting your own business or pushing it forward. I spent the best part of 10 years telling myself I could not do it. But rather than saying ‘I wish I’d done it earlier’, I have always just tried to grow the business day by day and make decisions for growth as promptly as I can.
“There is no point waiting around wondering whether you could be great at something. Do it now.”
So the kids have broken up from school and the sunshine has put everyone in holiday mode. Perhaps it even feels like you are the only person left at your desk working!
Let’s face it, founders and entrepreneurs are hard workers. Running businesses isn’t easy and we get used to thriving on problem solving and stress. This probably also means we are a group of individuals that most need a holiday. But, perhaps like me, you are thinking “can I really spare the time?”
I asked three founders whether they thought holidays were worth it and what they do to “switch off” when on holiday. All three had a different approach to holidays and offered interesting tips and advice on how to relax. I hope these will give you the break you deserve.
Laura Meehan, Founder of Squijit recognises how hard it can be to take time off, but she also knows it is important. Speaking about holidays, she said
“They give definition to time. When you work for yourself time ‘merges’ into one – by having a ‘holiday’ it forces you to ‘allocate time’ to not working! Or at least trying to not work!”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ildiko Scurr Founder of Life Retuning thinks holidays are vital.
“It is important to give our systems a chance to de-stress from the busy, ‘doing’ lives that many of us lead. Getting away from the overload of information and outside stimuli gives your mind a chance to clear down, which has a direct impact on re-balancing the stress hormones which are likely to be flooding your body in your day-to-day life.”
Ildiko also believes holidays offer you a fresh perspective
“Being in a different environment can give you a chance to reassess what is really important. Getting away from it all, allows you to regenerate, review and relax”
Robert Smallwood, founder of of Job N Part recognises this too but goes further. He believes holidays provide important benefits for your business – as well as for you. Holidays offer
“The chance to recover and think. Often the best ideas come during time off. When you are in the midst of everything, typically you get too close to the nitty gritty – getting a bit of distance creates perspective and opens your eyes to new ideas and provides insight into what previously appeared to be insurmountable problems.”
If you are anything like me, in the weeks running up to going on holiday you work twice as hard to clear your “To do” list so you can leave things with a clear conscience. The trouble is this can mean you start the holiday exhausted and find it hard to relax and “switch off”. By the time you have finally relaxed it’s time to go back to work!
Laura recognised this behaviour and admitted she found it very hard to “switch off” but was trying to
“Be more ‘mindful’ of the here and now – especially with regards to time with the kids. They’re not kids for very long!”
Robert also finds it hard to do nothing.
“The idea of sitting on a beach is an anathema to my slightly hyper active nature!”
Instead, he looks for displacement activities such as
“site seeing, taking part in some reckless sport or simply spending time with family and doing what they want to do…anything so long as the activity is all consuming.”
Ildiko is strict with herself
“I leave my Mac behind and only look at my phone at designated times that I set for myself. I also make sure that I do not open any emails, files or projects on my phone while I am on holiday and that I focus fully on the people I am with. A great way to make this easier, is to learn how to listen intentionally. That means intending to make any conversation you have with someone, or anything you are reading or watching, the sole focus of your attention. This in itself is a holiday for your mind, which helps your body to relax and switch off too.”
How to make time for holidays
If you are still wondering whether you can spare the time for a holiday this summer, take heed!
If, like Laura, you find it difficult to take a proper break then, at least, plan is some downtime
“If you really need to, you can plan what work is do-able on holiday. Be careful to select work that won’t affect your enjoyment of the holiday too much.”
Ildiko also recognises how important it is to plan a holiday into your schedule, she recommends
“Book out ‘me time’ for a holiday in your diary and recognise that it is vitally important for your personal maintenance. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity for your well-being in the long term. Most of us consider it important to book our car in for a service, so isn’t it even more important for the driver to be in top shape too?”
Robert is more adamant still
“Nothing is really more important than your health – relaxation and stress relief is key to maintaining your health. A holiday can be a day, a weekend or longer. A successful business is not much use if you are dead or too sick to enjoy it.”
If you are still believe a holiday is not worth having because you won’t be able to switch off, then you could always find out more about Ildiko’s Re-Minding process, and book a “Beyond MindFULLness” masterclass which teaches how to put your thoughts into silence so that you really can “switch off”.
You’ve got a great start-up, the businesses is getting traction or – better still – its showing strong growth but you need to find investors to make the most of the opportunity. You’ve written the business plan, you’ve perfected the financial forecast and you are ready to pitch but who are you going to pitch too? Where are you going to find investors and “business angels” to back your investment opportunity? It’s a question almost every founder and entrepreneur will have asked themselves at some stage.
Finding investors is a numbers game
When I was raising investment for my own start-up (Seek & Adore), I remember the best piece of advice I was given was “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince (or princess)”. This phrase stuck in my mind as I fixed meetings, grabbed a quick cup of coffee or attended pitch meetings with investors. It certainly helps if you enjoy meeting people and it can sometimes help to think of it as a game – “how many new potential investors did I meet this week?”.
Start with people who know you All three founders agree that the best place to find investors is to start with people you know.
Shon Alam of BidWeg whose crowdfunding campaign for the community-based currency exchange will launch imminently is clear that it is worth talking to almost everyone you know
“The personal route is very much the first route. People that you know will often give you time and even if they do not invest, you are using the time to get your message in the correct order so others can understand it.”
Jason Kirk of Kirk and Kirk who raised £150,000 for his eyewear design company was a bit more selective in his approach
“We approached people who knew our history and background and had previously expressed an interest in our company.”
Whilst for Dominic Wong of BoRo Experiences who raised £100,000 for his eco-tourism business, an informal meeting with a former colleague he knew well bore unexpected results
“Finding an investor was pure luck. I arranged a meeting with a contact who I have an existing, long-term relationship with. I went into the meeting hoping he would be my mentor, and he believed in the business idea so much he offered the money to me. I was overwhelmed and flabbergasted with the way the meeting turned out!”
Relationships matter Whilst you will talk to many people whilst raising investment, for those conversations to result in investment they need to be anything but superficial. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. Generally, you want to get to know someone, find out what you have in common – and what you don’t – and reach a point where you trust and respect each other before making any lasting commitment. So it is with investors.
Dominic expanded on where the “luck” of finding his investor, seemingly by chance, came from
“I truly believe in long-term relationships. In fact my mentor once told me that the Hindu way of doing things is people first, business second. In other words develop deep relationships and business will sprout from it. It is about being constantly genuine over a long period to gain trust, which in turn makes people know you deeper than what’s on the outside.”
Be open to feedback – and benefit from others experience and knowledge True relationships are two-sided. You have to give and receive – another useful premise to have in mind as you start finding investors.
Dominic used this as one of his goals when speaking to investors and sought feedback on his business when talking to investors
“Bounce ideas and thoughts off other people. It is really isolating and lonely when you are working on your [business] idea on your own. I found it really useful to take sounding from other ‘can-do’ people to get different perspectives. This helped shape my ideas and crafted the words I used to explain my business”
Shon recognises this too
“People you know will often give you time and, even if they do not invest, you are using the time to get your message in the correct order so others can understand it.”
Jason felt that the best advice came from those he had been talking to for a while, those with whom he had built a strong relationship
“Those with whom we had a relationship of trust gave us honest, open feedback from a potential investment point of view.”
It was a result of asking for feedback that Jason found his investor
“Our investor came quite by chance. I had asked somebody well-placed in finance to read our investment proposal to advise us and he ended up asking to be involved.”
Contact potential investors in a way that is consistent with wanting to build a long term relationship
We’ve all been on the receiving end of “spam” – communications from people who know nothing about us, offering something that we’re not even sure we want to know about. How well do you react to such approaches? Investors feel the same.
Shon was rigorous in trying lots of different routes to find investors and he knows which he would use again
“If I was to do it again, I would be talking to more potential investors, rather than just connecting with them via LinkedIn.”
“Personal contact by mail or phone is far more effective than blanket, impersonal approaches.”
“We created attractive literature that reflected our brand and our intentions. This helped identify our company and its unique aspects in a sea of companies seeking finance. It is rare that a potential investor will have more than a cursory look at the headlines of your opportunity. Make it simple. If they are interested they will delve deeper.”
Closing a deal requires mutual trust and a fair exchange…
The aim of all your conversations with investors is to create a shared strategic vision, trust and mutual respect. Ideally this should be founded on a sense of equal worth, reciprocal value being offered by the founder and the investor – and yet so often people talk about an imbalance of power between investors and founders. The founders I interviewed certainly felt this.
Jason is very clear on this point
“Finding the right partners and striking the right balance in the relationship from the first meeting is imperative. You are bringing an opportunity and investors are bringing money/strategy so the relationship needs to be balanced or it will not work. Investors try to assume a position of strength from day one to strengthen their negotiation position.”
Shon too is clear that the objectives of both founder and investor need to align
“I set out wanting to put together a team that could give me clear advise as and when I needed it, without holding my hand. Therefore, the people I wanted to work with also had to understand the philosophy behind Bidweg project. That having been said, I also wanted them to have a vested interest – but it was not money at any cost!”
Dominic recognises that reaching a deal with investors is not just about the money
“It wasn’t just the money which would help me, but experience and knowledge in the field. Essentially, I was also identifying strategic and tactical options which would propel the business after the initial capital.”
…and a clear route to exciting financial return
Investors are not altruistic. They expect a commercial return in exchange for their investment. The founders I interviewed felt this was expressed in a range of ways
Jason was clear it boiled down to
““How much money am I going to make from this?” in various forms.”
Shon felt investors were focused on intellectual property (IP) as the basis of value
“Investors wanted to know what IP does it have – but not all opportunities can be protected through IP. It doesn’t mean it’s not a sound business”
Jason felt the best way to close the deal with an investor is to
“Ask the right questions [of investors] and LISTEN to the answers. People invest for all sorts of varied reasons and you need to understand the motivation of the person you are sitting opposite if you are to make your opportunity appeal to them.”
Tips for maintaining your motivation Raising investment is time-consuming and it can – at times – be soul-destroying. All three founders recognised the need to manage your motivation and energy levels so that you stay positive throughout the process.
Dominic stressed the need to look for positives in every meeting – even if it doesn’t result in an investment
“Hear the positivity in their voice or see their smile when they ‘get it’.”
Jason emphasised the need for focus
“Try to pick and choose where you direct your energies. Make it genuine prospects or people from whom you can learn. Seeking independent help to find finance can be very useful, especially if you are a small business with limited resources.”
And Shon urged resilience
“When you get rejected – and remember investors will find hundreds of reasons to reject – do not take it personally. Move on – if your business is investable someone will invest.”
This might seem an odd question. You go for investment when you need money, right? Wrong! Not only does it take time to raise investment – so you want to start raising investment at least 6 months before you need the money – but there are stages in every business’ life-cycle when it will be easier to raise external investment. Going for investment just because you need the money could mean you’ll waste time and energy. Worse still, the distraction of raising investment may mean your business suffers – making it harder still to raise investment. So, when is the right time to raise investment for your startup?
Hatty Fawcett, Founder of Focused For Business, interviewed two founders who have successfully raised investment in the last year and asked them whether there is a “right” time to raise investment.
Adam Beveridge, Co-founder of Hollabox, started his startup in 2016 and raised investment the same year and went on to raise a second seed round a year later. Hollabox is a social media that makes it easy to see inside the best venues, restaurants and places in real time so you can decide where to go for a great night out.
Sue Frost, Founder and CEO of Curamicus started her startup in 2015 with founder investment and a startup loan. She went on to raise seed investment in 2017. Curamicus provides wearable assistive technology for elders and vulnerable people that detects and reduces the risks of falls.
Hatty: Let’s start with the big question, is there a “right time” for a startup to raise investment?
Adam: This is a tough question to answer, as each business case is subjective and each investor has their own investment criteria. From my experience, I would say the most sought after criteria investors want is revenue from a proven business model.
“The earlier a start-up can prove it will make money, the more this de-risks the investment for the investor.”
The next “expected” criteria, would be a dedicated, full time founding team and a strong vision. A team breaths confidence, a strong vision helps form a path that people want to join you on. It’s a minimum starting point for any venture, I would say.
Sue: I think from a startup point of view it’s best to raise investment when you have a developed true business concept to the point that you’re able to prepare a detailed business plan. Preparing a business plan takes you through the process of self-examination as to the viability of the business for yourself and also clarifies what you’re offering in return for investment.
Hatty: Do you think a startup can go for investment too soon – or leave it too late?
Adam: A start-up can certainly try and raise too early.
“Raising money is so time consuming, to the point that founders can often neglect the core operations of their startup.”
Because of this, you want to make sure when you’ve finally got in front of the right people, and it will take a lot of intros and knocking on doors to get there, you have the right things to say. Otherwise you’ll get a “no” and realise you’ve wasted months of your precious runway.
To avoid wasting time, build credibility with an industry relevant advisory board, make powerful connections and partnerships, (with brands, accelerators and entrepreneurs) and focus on proving your market and concept as cheaply and efficiently as possible before you go for investment. But be wary of leaving it too late or investors may question your startup’s speed to market and scalability.
“The sweet spot is when you think you gathered enough data and evidence on a small scale, to prove there’s potential and a bigger picture.”
Sue: There are different stages to business investment applicable as a business grows.
“Recognise the right stage or type of investment applicable to your business when planning to approach investors.”
Hatty: Thinking about all the times you have raised investment, have you ever found it easier or more difficult to raise investment and what do you attribute that to?
Sue: “To secure a first investment is challenging. However, once we secured the first investor it made it easier for subsequent investors to consider us.”
From the subsequent investors viewpoint, we had already been through the due diligence process with the first investor and this provided some level of confidence to subsequent investors.
Adam: It’s a lot easier when you already have capital committed, and brands or credible investors on board. Investors take notice of what you’re doing. It was much easier for us to raise when Just Eat invested in Hollabox – it’s a name everyone knows.
“The earlier you try and raise in your businesses life-cycle, the more you risk showing naivety, inexperience and have less proof of concept.”
We tried to raise 3-4 months into the start of our journey. It was too soon. Twelve months later, we had developed, learnt best practices and understood the investor landscape. Our pitches were better, we had a more mature product and a better understanding of our users. That, and a clear road map, meant we successfully raised.
Hatty: As you prepared to raise investment, what were you excited about and what concerns did you have?
Sue: I was excited about the prospect of being able to realise our business dream and bring our product to market so that we could make a difference in people’s lives.
I was concerned at the length of time the financing took as we had to deal with two organisations (three if you include the grant we took) and individual angels. However, I understood the need for due diligence on both sides of each transaction.
“Bringing in third party investors is a big step for any startup. We had to be sure we had the right fit for us as a team”
I needn’t have worried. We’re very happy with the group of seed investors we are working with now. Collectively and individually they are all very willing to help us with our business goals without becoming too involved in the business which is a good balance.
Adam: I was excited about meeting successful entrepreneurs and people who had a vast knowledge of start-ups and business. People who could open doors and give advice. Getting their time was precious, even if it didn’t lead to investment. I found people are willing to help and offer advice, even if they don’t invest.
I was understandably concerned about getting rejected by investors. We received many “nos”. It’s very common for startups on an investment journey but, naturally, the first few always hurt.
“The key with rejections is to quickly use each as a learning curve. Accept that raising capital takes time and keep working smartly to get in front of the right people.”
There’s a book I’d recommend – “Rejection Proof” by Jia Jiang. It helped me develop my investment armour and mindset.
Hatty: Did you have a “lead investor”? Did that make the process of raising investment any harder or easier?
Sue: We did have a lead investor and it was very helpful in the seed round as this provided additional confidence to other investors.
Adam: At first, no we didn’t. We secured a place on a couple of accelerators, including Just Eat. Through this we found a lead investor, the founder and CEO of Tossed.
“The support and connections received from our lead investor where amazing, but also, mentioning the lead investor to other stakeholders and investors, opened doors and made raising from other investors easier.”
Securing a lead investor meant we had terms sheets in place, a committed valuation and share price and a high percentage of investment target committed. That certainly makes raising investment easier.
Hatty: What practical advice or tips would you offer to anyone preparing their business for investment?
Sue: Have a clear idea of how you’re going to make money and what the projected return on investment will be for the investor.
“As an entrepreneur when you have a business idea it becomes very personal to you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re in business to make money.”
Investors are somewhat comforted to see your passion and vision but you also need to know where you want the business to be in 3 – 5 years’ time.
Adam: I would say introductions are key. Investors get hundreds of investment opportunities a week. The way to make sure your start-up stands out is to be introduced by someone the investor trusts. To make sure this happens, build out your network. Become part of networks, accelerators, communities and attend meet-ups. Use your network to ask for introductions.
Don’t just go straight in for “the ask” either. Warm up your contacts with regular progress updates, offer help where you can and show an interest in their own ventures or activity. Reaching out cold is harder and comes across selfish. Help your community, and, when the time is right, it will help and reward you.
Hatty: Do you have any advice or tips on how to maintain your energy, motivation and commitment when raising investment?
Adam: Believe in what you’re doing. You started your start-up because you saw an opportunity and you’re one of the few people that got up and decided to do something about it. Believe that others will see that opportunity too and want to help you. It is draining emotionally and time wise, and the sucker punch is that it doesn’t always have a happy ending.
Sue: In my experience to raise investment requires a lot of energy and it can be exhausting physically. If you’re into exercise then obviously this will help with the stress.
“Keep in mind that this is a phase to your business that is necessary to achieve your longer term goals but it is a temporary period which when achieved will enable you to succeed.”
I’ve met some great people along the way who have encouraged me when I needed it the most for which I’m most thankful.
Jason Kirk co-founder of Kirk and Kirk, an upmarket eye-wear brand, is a very credible founder and business owner. He and his business partner Karen built and sold a successful business prior to starting Kirk and Kirk, they both have over 20 years’ experience in their industry, their latest business has made good progress and they have raised investment before (for their first business). You might think that they would find it a breeze to raise investment. And yet, when they were looking to raise investment for Kirk and Kirk they sought external support and advice. Hatty Fawcett of Focused For Business caught up with Jason to find out why.
Hatty: You decided to raise investment from business angels rather than any other source, why was that?
Jason: We didn’t need a huge amount of money, about £150,000. We were eligible for SEIS (Seed Entreprise Investment Scheme) which I knew would make us appealing to angel investors so it felt like a logical place to start. I was also interested to see what sort of angel we might attract and whether they might bring additional value to the business in the form of contacts or skills, as well as their money.
I’d also decided against going to the banks because they tend to be slow and expensive. The amount of work involved measured against the amount of support you end up with from the banks is, at best, frustrating.
Hatty: You had raised investment before, for your previous business, so people might assume you knew what was required. Why did you decide to get external support in preparing for investment?
“I really want to ensure I was speaking investors’ language. I know how time consuming raising investment can be. I wanted to get it right first time and avoid going backwards and forwards with investors and spending too much time on it.”
Jason: Yes. I’d raised investment before but this was a different business. Enlisting the help of someone who knows how to tailor a document to the needs of a specific audience is very time efficient and should lead to better results. I really want to ensure I was speaking investors’ language. I know how time consuming raising investment can be. I wanted to get it right first time and avoid going backwards and forwards with investors and spending too much time on it. Raising investment can be a big distraction from the day-to-day running of your business if you’re not careful!
Hatty: You’re right. Raising investment is a full-time job – on top of the full-time job of running your business! Raising investment gets an awful lot easier when you have a lead investor, someone willing to back your business and say why they are doing so. How did you go about finding a lead investor?
Jason: I didn’t have a huge network of investors so I admit it was daunting knowing where to start! But having worked on what I need to say to investors with you, it gave me confidence to go out and start talking to people. I remember you encouraged me to talk to everyone! Telling them about the business, what we had achieved and what we wanted to do next. I spoke to so many people I began to get board of the sound of my own voice!
“It’s definitely easier to attract other investors once you have a lead investor.”
But it paid off, one of the people I spoke to – looking for their feedback, I wasn’t actually asking for investment – was an active angel investor and he liked what we were doing. He agreed to be our lead investor. It’s definitely easier to attract other investors once you have a lead investor.
Hatty: That’s very true. A lead investor really gets things moving. I know it worked for you and, with the support of your lead investor, you were able to complete the investment round. Thinking back on the process of raising investment, what advice would you offer to anyone preparing for investment today?
Jason: I’d use an experienced pro to help you prepare the documents and figures you need because it saves a great deal of time and makes your investment look more attractive to potential investors.
Hatty: Have there been any surprising outcomes from raising investment?
Jason: The investment has allowed us to make significant progress in a relatively short time frame. In fact, we’ve achieved the milestones we set and are ready for our next round of investment!
If you would like help preparing for investment, book a free funding clinic with Hatty Fawcett or attend a live and interactive, online masterclass that gives you the tools to prepare yourself for investment.
There is no doubt that crowdfunding is a good way to raise investment. What’s interesting is that the reasons people are choosing to crowdfunding are changing. Of course the investment raised is nice – but it isn’t the only reason for undertaking crowdfunding. Below, three different founders share why they choose to do crowdfunding:
“Crowdfunding proved a brilliant way to market test a new product and boost sales.”
Kellie Forbes and Gill Hayward, Co-Founders of YUU World, who have successfully raised two rounds of equity investment, decided to do reward-based crowdfunding to test demand for a new product. They noticed that “wearable tech” products did particularly well on reward-based crowdfunding platforms and they decided to include crowdfunding as a key plank in their marketing strategy. It wasn’t the easy ride they’d hoped but had some surprising results…Read more
“Crowdfunding enabled us to turn a shared vision into a tangible financial commitment.”
Robert Woodford, Marketing Director at Deep Time Walk, turned a shared ethos and vision for the world held by the alumni of Schumacher College to raise funds to create not only a mobile app that takes you on a detailed and dramatised walk through the earth’s history, but also funded educational burseries in the process…Read more
“I loved the idea of having 100+ brand advocates who are emotionally and financially invested in our product.”
Peter Ramsey, Founder of Movem, wanted to put down a marker in his industry by not only raising investment but also establishing brand advocates in the process…Read more
All three founders faced challenges along the way – no one ever said crowdfunding would be easy – and they have been generous in sharing their experience and advice so that you can learn from it.