The Solely Cheat Sheet You Want for Early-Stage Investor Conferences | by Daniel Kang | Mar, 2022


From a former Softbank investor and YC founder

Photograph generated by Microsoft Phrase by Daniel Kang (Writer)

Cheat sheets have been permitted in a few of my finance programs again in school. The beauty of cheat sheets is that it helps free my mind house from propositional data, so I can deal with fixing complicated issues. After all, understanding all cause-and-effect relationships to derive my very own formulation could be preferrred, however there are time and useful resource restrictions in the true world.

Fundraising from enterprise capitalists is usually a complicated downside, particularly for first-time founders.

Having been on either side of the desk, I need to share my very own cheat sheet behind my thoughts after I go into investor conferences. Keep in mind that each assembly is an investor assembly. There’s no such factor as a purely “informal espresso”. That assembly might be an information level for informing selections. Let’s dive in.

Dozens of concerns are taken under consideration earlier than investing resolution. Elements vary from LP bases to portfolio synergies to funding scope. I’ll boil it down to 2 of the commonest and salient elements.

1. They stability pace and danger

Enterprise capitalists stability two forces which can be typically conflicting: Velocity and Threat Administration.

On the one hand, minimizing time and assets to decide is necessary. Dozens of funds may be competing for a similar deal in aggressive rounds, particularly for early-stage traders. Particularly for early-stage funds with restricted differentiation, pace is usually a highly effective aggressive edge in moving into aggressive rounds.

Then again, traders have to de-risk the funding to keep away from trying like fools. The enterprise capital trade is sufficiently small that investments may be traced again to people slightly than funds. The chance is available in avoiding two kinds of errors:

  • Kind I error: Passing on an funding that seems to be the subsequent trillion-dollar firm — actually, even a billion-dollar firm.
  • Kind II error: Investing that goes to zero, or worse, getting performed Ft. Theranos.

On the danger of oversimplification, the 2 questions an investor solutions to keep away from these errors are (1) Is that this a very good enterprise and (2) Is that this a very good value?

2. They suppose in portfolios

Enterprise capitalists suppose on the portfolio degree, not the corporate degree. They’re in search of uneven outcomes.

I’ve talked at size about uneven outcomes. Basically, the wins are so huge that they make up for all losses.

Graph supply: Correlation Ventures. Slide from Daniel Kang’s (Writer) presentation

For instance, let’s say I’ve $100 and make investments $1 into 100 firms. Let’s additionally say if I’m proper, I get 100x on my funding. Below these situations, even when I’m unsuitable 99% of the time, the 1% covers my losses. If I’m proper 2% of the time, I double my returns. If I’m proper 3% of the time, I triple my returns and so forth and so forth.

Slide from Daniel Kang’s (Writer) presentation

You’ll be able to see why VCs have to consider your organization might be massive earlier than they’ll make investments. Maintain these two fundamental constructions in thoughts.

The cheat sheet locations traders into segments. You may suppose that’s harsh. But it surely’s additionally how traders place you and your organization in buckets with respect to your trade, opponents, and different founders throughout their due diligence course of.

Plus, it’s a simplified mannequin that can assist you BEFORE you be taught extra about traders and adapt your understanding.

Y-Combinator provides to optimize for pace and momentum earlier than hitting goal commitments. Based mostly on my expertise, I’ve additionally discovered pace of decision-making was one of the crucial necessary metrics as a founder, so I’ll order the segments that method. Beneath, I’ll cowl possibly the three commonest segments speaking about Velocity and Funding Measurement together with basic observations.

1. Angel traders

One name. Most angel traders have full decision-making energy relating to investing their very own cash. They need to have a call with one name when you have your materials prepped.

Constructing momentum: $10–20K. I’ve had something from $5K to $100K from a single angel. Most of them hover across the $10–20K mark. However angels can add strategic worth and infrequently construct the momentum required to have a profitable fundraising. Ask for introductions.

  • Certified leads. Be sure your angel listing is extremely certified leads. I normally begin with my mentors, colleagues, and associates, who I do know will get to a sure or no in a short time. Individuals with deep experience in your trade may be useful as angel traders. Don’t take the life financial savings of your family and friends. Angels must be conversant in the chance of start-ups, and it must be a small allocation of their internet price. If individuals are severely doing angel investing, they suppose at a portfolio degree. So in the event that they need to make 20 investments that yr, at $10K, they’d want $200K of liquidity on simply angel investing, ignoring all different asset lessons like public equities, crypto, and actual property.
  • Warning indicators. Some angels will declare to “know” folks or “add worth” after which proceed to ask for a chunk of your organization as a variety of titles from strategic advisors to co-founders. Run, except this can be a particular technique you take note of to construct your advisory community. If you happen to should, probably the most normal benchmark I do know is the FAST settlement. The perfect angels I do know confirmed excessive ranges of curiosity and gave generously earlier than speaking fairness. Li Jin (to be clear, not an investor in my firm), for instance, spent hours brainstorming with me and made helpful introductions. Aaron from Patch.io additionally gave me quite a lot of steering after I first began my pre-seed spherical in early 2021.
  • About syndicates & micro funds. I haven’t had nice experiences with angel syndicates or micro-funds (sometimes beneath $10m). It’s normally a dedication situation. First, they at all times regarded for “lead traders” and cared an excessive amount of about who else was investing with out conviction on the corporate. Second, for syndicates particularly, dedication to funding measurement takes a little bit of time as a result of the deal must be circulated to a whole lot of traders within the community.

2. Pre-seed/ seed funds

Push for pace: 2- 3 calls. Most pre-seed and seed funds have optimized funding processes for quantity and pace of choices. It normally takes 2–3 calls earlier than making that call. You’ll in all probability want some type of the pitch deck, financials, and product demo. Don’t let a single fund take greater than three calls. Don’t allow them to make you assemble an elaborate knowledge room. A stable pitch deck ought to do a lot of the work for the traders anyway.

You’ll be able to push for pace right here. For instance, when you have a name on Monday, you may in all probability have the second mid-late in the identical week. Ask for the weekly funding committee dates.

Sufficient to “lead”: $200–500K. Many pre-seed funds are sufficiently big to “lead” a spherical lately. Within the US, you’ll most probably be elevating on SAFE notes, wherein case, main simply means placing within the largest cheque within the spherical. Except there’s a publicly acknowledged funding precept that claims the fund by no means leads, hesitancy to steer is a foul signal.

If you happen to’re elevating on a SAFE (most probably in the event you’re within the US), it simply means they’ll put within the largest cheque. Except it’s the fund’s specific funding technique to not lead, hesitancy to steer is a foul signal. Buyers hate giving up possibility worth. Buyers will fake they’re . It’s their job. On a associated observe, if communication responses take greater than 48 hours with out trigger, it’s in all probability a lifeless finish. Transfer on.

  • Valuation sensitivity. As a result of pre-seed and seed funds can’t observe on in your bigger rounds, the one factor left for them is dilution in possession. This implies they nearly have to safe sufficient possession to start with in order that by the point you’re in your Collection-C, they nonetheless personal a significant quantity of your organization.
  • Execution vs. IPO story. Associated to the above, many pre-seed funds grow to be “within the cash” or make an unrealized revenue by the point you hit your subsequent spherical. They will even money out by promoting their shares as secondaries in later rounds. On common, this implies they are going to focus extra in your subsequent 6–12 month execution plan than the way you grow to be a $10bn enterprise.
  • Warning indicators. Keep away from pre-seed funds which can be overly burdensome and ask for loopy issues. Once I didn’t know any higher, I entertained traders who requested me to construct after which grill me on a three-statement monetary forecast mannequin of a PRE-REVENUE, PRE-PRODUCT firm. That’s insane. These calls for come in several flavors, from asking for elaborate knowledge rooms or lengthy aspect letters. The sample will proceed as your organization grows.
  • Be memorable. That is particularly necessary for pre-seed traders as a result of they cope with the quantity. The fact is that you just’re in all probability assembly quantity seven out of ten that day and one of many 100 founder calls they’ve scheduled for the month. Discover a solution to be memorable. Make it thrilling. Make it enjoyable.

3. Multi-stage funds

3–4 calls: Structured course of that can’t be rushed. Most multi-stage funds have a set funding course of with necessary checkboxes than can’t be fast-tracked. Sometimes over 3–4 calls, there might be deeper dives into your organization, crew, and product.

Even with leverage, it is not going to be straightforward to push them sooner by a significant quantity. They will at all times wait till the subsequent spherical and de-risk the funding in trade for a better valuation. It’s additionally not unusual for them to ask for board seats and a proper reporting construction.

Sufficient to steer at present and tomorrow: $2m+. The advantage of multi-stage funds is that they’ll “lead” not simply this spherical however future rounds, sometimes within the order of tens of tens of millions of {dollars}.

The upside is that in the event you’re doing nicely, you don’t must waste time fundraising to your subsequent spherical. These traders can double down. The draw back is that in case your present multi-stage investor doesn’t make investments, this sends a unfavorable sign to the market. Simply bear in mind.

  • Valuation doesn’t actually matter. So it would look like multi-stage funds take longer, require extra, and even be extra specific. So what’s the upside? Properly, as soon as they determine to take a position, they don’t care about valuation. I’ve already talked concerning the dangers of excessive and low valuation, however from the investor’s POV, $15m vs. $20m vs. $25m post-money valuation doesn’t matter in the event you’re going to be a $50bn firm. They’ll simply make investments more cash for his or her goal possession of 10–15% sometimes.
  • Imaginative and prescient issues. Many multi-stage funds received’t transfer with no $10bn+ imaginative and prescient. Your organization must be price their time and assets on a portfolio degree. It takes value to determine, diligence, make investments and add worth to portfolio firms. Again after I was an investor, this is the reason there have been “minimal cheque sizes” and possession targets. This isn’t to say they don’t care about your subsequent month’s execution — in truth, some funds have formal reporting constructions to prep founders for formal board conferences — however they do have to consider you may grow to be a $10bn+ firm to entertain investing their human capital and cash.
  • Scale benefit for hiring, gross sales, and infrastructure. Bigger funds have extra capital (from administration charges) for formalized applications and instruments to assist portfolio founders. If it’s worthwhile to rent, there are inner instruments. If it’s worthwhile to make gross sales, there are mature portfolio firms. One such instance is SignalFire’s Beaon Expertise. I’ve by no means used it and can’t vouch for it, however VCs additionally differentiate themselves in offering worth to founders.

Cheat sheets aren’t complete. It’s normally a short-form model of useful instruments wanted to unravel difficult or complicated issues. There are different concerns I may discuss, comparable to what to look at for titles and roles of enterprise capitalists or various capital sources like household workplaces and enterprise debt funds. But when this had every little thing, it’d be a textbook, NOT a cheat sheet.

One final I’ll depart with on this cheat sheet is that this: Be type to traders. I don’t suppose this must have an instrumental function. It’s typically a very good life observe to have good character. If it helps, many early-stage traders spend 10 hours a day assembly dozens of individuals solely to offer or obtain rejections 90% of the time. It’s a tough job. Having been concerned in later-stage investments, it’s simply 70–90 hour weeks to run an inner diligence course of, handle exterior service suppliers, talk with firm C-suites, and run the evaluation.

This cheat sheet is to assist founders higher navigate the enterprise capital world by understanding the common incentives of traders of sure segments. However the onus of being a good particular person and treating traders as folks is on you.



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