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‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’ – Louis Pasteur.

One of the objectives of the companies going through Techstars and other accelerators is to secure financing. Most companies are coming in focusing on accelerating their business and then securing capital to continue to accelerate growth. As the common shareholder in the company, Techstars is completely aligned with these objectives.

The reality is most startups need to raise funding to grow and to become real companies. It’s not typical that you or your accelerator can make money if you don’t fundraise, and certainly very unlikely that anyone will make any money if your company does not grow.

So we love it when companies get funding.

But we’ve seen a clear pattern with the companies that rush into funding too early — they actually have more difficulty closing the financing. Why? Here are the 9 gotchas of seed funding that will help you understand what goes wrong.

1. Lack of Preparation

To be ready to fundraise, you need to have strong knowledge of the problem you are solving – why did you start this business; your business ecosystem – customers, market opportunity, competition, go to market, distribution channels, pricing, burn, and many other things. You are going to be asked a whole lot of questions and then some by potential investors. If you are not prepared it will come through and will be a big turn-off.

2. Lack of Traction

Very few companies get seed funding without some kind of traction. Unless you are a team of successful serial entrepreneurs, and even then, investors expect customer/user traction. This does not mean perfect product market fit. It means early evidence that there is a problem and your solution / product is going to have a shot at addressing it.

3. Being Pulled Into Fundraising

So you weren’t thinking about raising money, but you met a bunch of investors, and they said that you really should. Other founders around you said you should do it too. You then decide what the heck, I will give it a shot. It is a mistake. You are not ready – you didn’t prepare, you didn’t plan it. Don’t fundraise on other people’s turf and time. Control your destiny by preparing, checking the boxes and then going out and raising. No one is going away, and investors will not say no to a meeting with you later if you said no to them when you were not ready.

4. Chasing the Wrong People

This is a big one, and it is bad. All investors are different. They like different verticals. They write checks of different sizes. Just because they are an investor does not mean they are the right investor for you. Doing research, understanding what a particular investor likes and why you might be a fit is important. It is equally important to get an introduction from someone who knows you and knows the investor.

5. Not Pitching Angels & VCs Correctly

Angel investors, micro VCs and VCs are all very different in terms of their objectives and styles and consequently how they need to be approached and pitched. An angel investor who writes 25K-50K may want a couple meetings and a micro VC that writes 100K-250K checks will be engaged for a month and may or may not lead. VCs take the longest, write the biggest checks, and like to lead rounds and take board seats. If you don’t understand how to engage each category of investors correctly, you will waste time and may not get the desired result.

6. Not Having An Overall Strategy

Even if you know who you are going after and why, you still need a strategy. A strategy would entail planning the entire fundraising process, who to meet with first, and who to meet with later. Do you start by raising a few hundred K from angels first, or do you go straight to VCs? Making the right decisions about your financing strategy, especially if you are a first time founder, is really important. Not having a plan increases the chance of not raising the capital you need to grow the business.

7. The ‘I Am Special’ Problem

But of course you are! Me too. Aren’t we all 🙂 When you go to a casino and gamble, you think – all these poor suckers around me, they are going to lose, but me? No, no, no. I am a winner. And this is sad, because as an entrepreneur you actually are special. All of us are. We are this crazy, courageous, relentless, unstoppable breed. But the reality is that it is not a good bet to make when it comes to seed funding. You are better off being prepared and winning because of that.

8. Not Realizing You Are Running A Race

When you are fundraising, the word travels around. Investors are people, and they talk. Not because they are bad or against you. It is natural to compare notes in any industry, and VCs are no exception. When you are going out to raise, you need to do it quickly and get all the conversations aligned. Once you start raising, you have to run the race until you are done or you decide to stop because it just isn’t coming together. Realize that this is the race before you enter it.

9. Running Out Of Bullets

It may be a funny analogy, but it makes sense. In the beginning of the process, you have a loaded gun and you start firing shots and have all of these great conversations. Then at some point, especially in a smaller ecosystem, you find that you’ve talked to pretty much everyone. There is no one left. You just fired all your shots, and your gun is now empty.

The bad news is if you already met with all of the investors, and they didn’t write you a check, then you can’t go back to them next month and try again. The good news is that you actually can go back to them in 6 months, show progress, and if you are crushing it this time around, you will get the check. It takes awhile to reload the gun, and the only bullets allowed on reload are the real traction bullets.

How and When to Fundraise

So how do you actually win this and get funding? Two things – preparation and traction. Get all your things in order. Your deck, your pitch, your funding strategy, who you are going to talk to and why, get the intros, etc. Be prepared.

But even if you are prepared, it may not be enough in this day and age. We see less and less people funding ideas and decks. Investors want to see early traction. Some sort of indication that not only is your idea great, but that you talked to customers, built MVP, and have some kind of traction – proof that you can do it and it may work.

And if you find it too daunting and complicated, get help! Talk to fellow entrepreneurs who’ve done it before. Apply to Techstars and we can help you accelerate the business and raise funding. Really think through the funding. Prepare. Be thoughtful. Win.


Alex Iskold
(@alexiskold) Managing Director of Techstars in New York City. Serial entrepreneur, founder of Information Laboratory and GetGlue. Engineer, geek, complex systems addict, lover of running and yoga. Invest and help tech startups. He actively blogs about startups and venture capital at http://alexiskold.net.

  • Jordan Thaeler

    Thanks for sharing Alex. I know that 500 Startups requires their applicants to be in-market with product, preferably with revenues in the hundreds of thousands or millions. Elizabeth Yin wrote a blog post a month ago asking that companies in an “accelerator” have their unit economics nailed down (http://blog.elizabethyin.com/post/138863950335/how-do-seed-vcs-pick-their-investments). To me, this sounds a whole lot like growth equity, even at the accelerator level. Can you provide some context to this post? Given that a graduate is expected to be doing > $1M ARR, how are they failing to raise money? Are they not growing fast enough? At the point of profitability aren’t the investor and founder really just debating over growth trajectories? If the founder is wrong the investor owns the whole company, but given the reality of today’s investors I’m not sure I see the same issues surfaced here.

    • Alex Iskold

      Jordan, thank you for the comment. I can’t provide context for Elizabeth’s post, you probably want to ask her.

      I don’t have expectations of 1MM in ARR for our graduates, it all depends on the founders, stage, progress. No one size fits all.

      • Jordan Thaeler

        What percentage of your graduates are earning $1M ARR?