Timing: When to raise seed funding.

charles-forerunner-378-unsplash

Raising seed capital is a tricky business.

I get approached often by tech startups looking for their first outside funding. They come in lots of different flavors and stages of fundability. Most are making major mistakes in their approach when seeking capital. Remember, this is a professional process you are conducting with legal and financial processes.

One of the easiest mistake to fix is timing.

In their quest for sustainable growth, the elusive dream for most first time founders is that first funding. The idea of outsiders entrusting them with a million dollars to spend is intoxicating. This article is based on my experiences and the typical mistakes I see every week in startup land.

High growth startup companies need seed money to get things going. Without funding most tech startups will die. This can either come from the founder(s) own bank account or from outside investors. They need the money to rent offices, hire staff, and establish their initial presence (website, incorporation, marketing). Most important is that they need to grow into a real company quickly.

The last point above is important — high growth. Without seed funding most startups seeking high growth won’t make it. They need too much capital to keep pace with the market and their competitors. Capital = Growth.

When launching your company there are 2 times to raise your outside seed funding, and one time window to avoid.

  • Option One: Before you launch — when you are just starting, probably no product or service yet.
  • Option Two: Once your product or service is up and running and gaining traction. In between those times it’s pretty tough.

If you’ve already soft launched, have a product available, are telling the world about your awesome company but don’t have revenue/user growth, you’re probably in the red zone. This is not a good time to ask for outside funding.

  • Option Three: Or don’t raise funding. If you’re bootstrapping, you don’t need to worry about either of these options. Your strategy is to create growth with little or no money. There are several great examples of technology startups that do this. Most grow more slowly, but the longer term growth curve can be pretty impressive. They also have the enviable lifestyle of no outside investors.

This article focuses on the first two options.

Option One: Raise before you launch (Pre-Launch)

If you take this approach, you need to have built a relationship with the potential investor — a cold inquiry (a common mistake) hardly ever works and you can ruin your first impression to investors. The “idea” must be well thought out, there needs to be a team or potential team, the presentation needs to be very good, confidence must be high.

At this stage you’re essentially selling yourself and your cofounders. You are being judged on your resume, trust and the excitement you can build. That’s why much early stage funding is “Friends and Family”; your friends and family naturally overrate you and/or can’t say no.

Also, people who know you from your career are great sources, if they have had success or other positive relationships with you in the past, and want to work with you in the future. They’re betting on you.

Pre-launch funding is pretty common in Silicon Valley, but that’s a unique case. There are so many Facebook/Google/Apple multi-millionaires who receive new stock options every quarter, often a few hundred thousand dollars every quarter, that feel they should put something back into the system, plus they like the idea of being an investor. Statistically they usually lose their investment, but that’s o.k., it’s one step closer the the next winner. They risk money they can afford to lose. They are comfortable with “risk investing” more so than anywhere else in the world.

But to get that Silicon Valley angel funding you have to be part of that social network; most of the rest of the world doesn’t have that frothy environment.

Option Two: Post-Launch — Raise when you start getting traction

To me, this is the best time to raise your seed. You’re less vulnerable, pay less equity for your funding, and you have some very specific things to talk about.

PreCog Security, a company I am currently helping to build as cofounder, is taking this approach. As we prepare for our first funding we are assembling a value chain from partners and vendors to clients. Every day it gets a little better and our brand name gets a little more well known.

So far we have no office, minimal travel and other cost cutting, but we are slowly getting stronger and our outside funding needs are getting more strategic. And we will have plenty to talk about when we sit in front of potential investors.

When you delay your raise until post-launch it’s harder to get that early stage super-growth that’s required in some niches and you don’t have the good type of scrutiny from outsiders analyzing your moves. But you also don’t get the bad type of scrutiny, especially from friends and family. You have the freedom to build your foundation and make very quick decisions. Also, if you can build a nice little group of advisors and partners you will have the added momentum from all those people as well as some potential future employees.

In summary, which is best for you depends on your skills, what you’re building and your own tolerance for no income. Whichever you choose, keep your eye on the goal, believe in yourself and your team, read a lot of inspiring articles and drink lots of coffee. Good hunting.

This article is an excerpt from an upcoming book about Startup CEOs by the author.

Advertisements

#san-francisco, #seed-funding, #software-development, #venture-capital

An ongoing discussion on linkedin about Offshore Web Development and building a team in Europe.

This discussion began last week and has fostered some great comments and resources…

Offshore resources/Europe company for U.S. web development projects.

Startup Whisperer, Web Market Development

I’m a startup growth consultant who started a digital marketing + web development agency due to such high demand from my startup clients. I’ve used some local and some offshore resources and avoided larger outsourcing companies. I’ve found the best way to do this is to manage the projects daily.

I’m looking for suggestions on how to scale this using people in europe without adding too many “middle men”.

1. Work directly with engineers, no company involved.
2. They start by demoing their skills on my project at no cost for 1-2 days.
3. Hire them 8 hours at a time and review daily by skype, g hangout. I’ve been acting as project manager/dev manager.
4. work is mostly drupal, wordpress, seo and php/lamp.

People in the Philippines or India or eastern europe are very low cost – $7-10/hour.

I’d like to build a europe based high quality partner agency, but not sure how to build the trust required for both sides. I had a company in europe in the past and was very happy with the quality software we created.

Let me know what you think of this, and please feel free to connect.

Tom Nora

Comments

  • Hello Tom, I can answer your questions. I have been able to successfully scale three different software development service centers offshore. You are right about the need for TRUST. You absolutely have to have a person in each service center that you TRUST. You have to know that they have your back in good times and bad times. If you have that one person in each center, then you can easily scale your service center around them and go as high as you want to go. You will need managers, top notch infrastructure and of course eventually an HR team for recruiting, policy enforcement, policy making, benefits coordination and general HR duties.

    However, the first step is getting that one person you can trust. I have experience in doing this and can give you more insight if you wish.

  • To start off you should focus on working with a company that offers you direct access to engineers and is willing to work as an extended branch for your team. They keep you involved even from the early stages of the value chain including selecting the right engineers and taking direction and input on the future technical growth plan for those engineers. Most of these offshore locations will offer you the leverage to scale as per your needs as per the ample availability of technical talent and a regular pipeline with many STEM students graduating every term. You can also consider working with freelancers but providing them with the right infrastructure and support mechanism needed to produce work at par with engineers stateside would be difficult for you to manage. Also, it is not about the engineering talent only! But other support function that go with that like HR and Administrative support. For this you should focus on finding that right company which is willing to offer you transparency and keeps you in charge of your team. I would also want to mention here that you would also have to focus on building a culture in your team that represents your company’s persona with which your offshore resources can relate to and understand. This will allow you to bring more and more value out of your offshore resources.

  • If you can manage it, rather than having your unit of workforce as a person (and definitely not a “resource”, that term should be outlawed), try having your unit of workforce the “team” and have relatively stable teams that have learned to work with each other, for whom you know their strengths and weaknesses, and to whom you might be able to augment with people strong in specific skills where the work requires skills in an area that they are weak.

  • Daily reports via skype are good way to check a person skills for good times, how do you test people in bad times (assuming before they occur).
    Secondly I’d like to ask why did you stoped your company back in Europe?

  • The good thing is, you are using Skype and hangout. There is nothing close to that.

  • The way I’ve done it when I wanted to grow an organization in China, was to start with a centralized model where I have local reck leads responsible for offshore engineers.

    While working on a release, we made sure we are building their skills in all possible roles (Dev, QA, Product Owner, Technical writers etc.).

    Our strategy was to move to a distributed model where the entire scrum team works together offshore. Once we got that to work (It took us 1-2 releases) we were able to scale up quickly and grow the offshore organization significantly.

    Startup Whisperer, Web Market Development

    Ron, Thanks for the info. This started as a tiny project, not meant to grow. In the past I’ve acquired an offshore company in China after working together for about a year, that worked well, gave us the chance to get to know each other and protected our IP.

    I guess we’ll see where this one goes.

    • million dollar question. facing the same issues with finding quality and trustworthy mates that have a common goal rather than count minutes and cents. still have hope. diamond in the rough.

    • I got to agree with you but partially. I believe quality is not limited to price or a part of world. You can find great resources in India or in any part of the world. Its like hiring a resource once you hire a great resource you never need to worry about it. So my suggestion is to find a good agency that can work with you and check them before starting work with them by giving them some small piece of work and at the price does not matter but quality does mater.

    • Tom Nora

      Startup Whisperer, Web Market Development

      Abbas and Imran, Thanks for the info. This started as a tiny project, not meant to grow. In the past I’ve acquired an offshore company after working together for about a year, that worked well, gave us the chance to get to know each other and protected our IP.

      I guess we’ll see where this one goes. Lot’s of suggestions to go ahead and try to build something.

      Yes Abbas, that’s the problem, many agencies don’t care enough about the buisness/product. Not their fault, but one of the reasons I’ve avoided that route.

#career, #early-stage, #offshore, #paris, #software-development, #tom-nora

5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog

http://t.co/LkQ7kDluf0

via 5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he\’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog.

via 5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog.

#cash-flow, #ceoing, #early-stage, #google, #revenue-growth-2, #scalability-2, #software-development, #startup-ceo, #the-next-level, #tom-nora, #vc, #venture-capital

What is Drupal? or, My retraining in Software Development

Confessions of a Drupalvangelist

Anyone who’s been around me for the past 6-12 months has been inundated with my evangelism of eCommerce in general and Drupal + PHP. This is actually a bit strange for me, as a 20+ year software industry professional, I’ve spent most of my time in the world of extremely sophisticated software tools and languages – several of the startups I’ve worked at and/or launched were based on software tools to build software, so I’ve been in the middle earth of software for awhile.

The So Cal engineering gap?  I’ve been able to study the Southern Cal software dev scene as an insider for over 2 years now. As a native LA person, I’m gratified to see so much code and code talk flying around my town. But, there is a serious gap in the discipline, number of developers and community around real software development here.  Also lot’s of fake, wanna be CTOs here. (So L.A.) This imbalance keeps L.A. from catching up with Silicon Valley and New York as a stronger startup region. In my career I’ve seen many times the positive effect of a rich software development discipline, full life cycle, QE vs. QA, test driven development, all the “other” parts of SW dev.

The strongest impact on improving this situation is Silicon Valley and Seattle companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and others are making enormous investments in building So Cal as a software town. They bring with them confidence, tools, brilliant people and believe it or not, Drupal and PHP.

Drupal has a worldwide engine of real software discipline. The So Cal Drupal scene is highly regarded and has several free meetings every week to teach advanced software life cycle issues. The Getty, USC, The Grammys, MTV, and many more giant websites built in L.A. are built on Drupal.

What is Drupal?  Drupal works at all levels of software development. Drupal and PHP were tools I’ve acknowledged for a decade but never studied much. Then last year I decided to re-educate myself in software development, but this time as a regular ol’ coder. Although I have an EE and CS education, my best contribution to technology businesses has been in strategy/sales/marketing/leadership. I’ve had 7 jobs in Silicon Valley in software development companies, but 6 of the 7 were in business development.

When I dove into development with a focus on the future and e-commerce I quickly saw that Drupal and thereby PHP are taking over the scene. Sure you have Ruby, Python, many others, but PHP is winning because it’s so accessible to newbies, and it manipulates the server side continuously, allowing e-commerce, social, geolocation and other apps. Big boy applications.

The world has changed – software development, app dev, and software engineering are taking over the center of the conversation, and Drupal/PHP is taking over the lead. You can actually have a successful startup now with just developers, with just one (although I don’t recommend this), if they’re savvy and humble enough.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is prevalent in the Silicon Valley ecosystem? In the birthplace of Java, BSD, SQL and many other critical software technologies, Drupal and PHP are spreading like a California wildfire. Drupal has recently permeated places like Stanford; there are over 1,000 sites on campus now. Ther are 20+ major Drupal dev shops up there, they have BAD Camp every year, one of the top Drupal camps in the world.

What is Drupal?  Drupal can make a non-developer earn $60-100,000 per year within a year of study. A Drupal or PHP developer here can make from $50 to $200 per hour; I see it all the time. The problem in So Cal is that the discipline part is weak; we’re just not steeped in the cmplete range of what full cycle development, test, etc. are as a region. PHP and Drupal are partly at fault for this – people who never attended Engineering school can learn these tools in less than year without learning formal computer sciense discipline.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is an overly friendly community of helpful people and ample free training and coaching.  Drupal is also free open source software with functionality for every possible web application. When I moved back to L.A. in 2010, I gradually saw that among our weaknesses we were very strong in E-Commerce, Fashion Commerce, Mobile Commerce, Content Communities, dynamic sexy websites and it was all based on varieties of PHP/LAMP. Drupal’s weaknesses as a software language tool (push button programming, configuring, too easy, more IT than software dev) are actually its strengths. Even the best software hackers should hack less and use that time to build more functionality and usability.

What next?

1. Go to drupal.org, join up for free, find me there I’m tomn  

And contact me if you want my help on anything Drupal or PHP…

#android, #drupal, #early-stage, #first-revenue, #leadership, #php, #scalability-2, #silicon-valley, #software, #software-development, #tom-nora

How SaaS + Mobile has changed our world.

In 2008 I was working on a post-merger integration project for a small company being acquired by a Fortune 100 behemoth. We looked at several SaaS based systems for accounting, sales automation, calendaring, product management, scheduling our company airplane, travel, etc. At the time SaaS just wasn’t mature enough and people at the company weren’t comfortable enough to make the change; too many old habits of installing software.

Because of this reluctance, almost every business process we depended on required the manual intervention of humans. The difference in efficiency between then and now is pretty amazing.

Today, only 5 years later, almost every task we performed then is gone, a complete turn over of an industry. These are now done either transparently in the background, in the cloud, or done using minimally invasive mobile apps. Spell-guesser, auto-fill, travel, accounting, calculating company valuations, facebook, pinterest, dropbox, codecademy, me writing this blog are all managed by a SaaS platform.

PaaS, IaaS and other derivatives of SaaS are proliferating but are just that, derivatives. Today SaaS is pretty much the norm; many, many human processes have been displaced more rapidly than ever in our history. We wouldn’t be able to imagine our lives without it, auto-save, no software loads, freemuim, mobile, access anywhere. I can even build server based websites with Drupal and MySQL now on an iPad in a coffee shop.

But more importantly, the labor of moving software around by humans and physical media and even the Internet has been taken down to almost zero. The software just doesn’t leave it’s cloud hosts anymore. This saves energy, mistakes, cost, time, client computer memory and bandwidth. It vastly reduces computer waste.

ewaste2

SaaS is the culmination of over 20 years of changes from ASPs, client-server, the web, higher speeds, always on, mobile 2.0, cloud computing, laptops HTML5 and many more innovations to finally reach the moment we’re in now. This speed of innovation has never been seen in history – not in automobiles, education or any industry.

The way we do things today is very different because of SaaS and the Internet. 80 year olds can build a Facebook page of their family’s photos or create a new business using a cellphone because of SaaS, without ever knowing anything about the guts underneath. I wonder where it will go next, what the next big change will be to make todays capabilities obsolete. You know it will happen.

Connect with me here and on twitter @tomnora

#angel-investor, #ceoing, #early-stage, #first-revenue, #leadership, #saas, #software, #software-development, #startup-ceo, #the-next-level, #tom-nora, #twitter-2, #venture-capital

Recent Interview for Workbridge

After a recent speech I gave for startups, I was interviewed by Jennifer DesRosiers (love that name!) about tech startups. Here are my answers…

When did you first discover your love of technology?

>> When I was a 11 my brother built a homemade crystal radio. It was fascinating to see him assemble these inert parts and then hear sound come out. From then on I was hooked on technology and electronics.

What is your favorite part of your job?

>> The unknown factor, the challenge to create the future and make something grow from nothing.

What sparked the idea for NeoRay?

>> The original idea for me came from seeing people use their cellphones to buy from vending machines in Japan. Simultaneously Alessio watched his father create a PayPal competitor and he wanted to make something more futuristic for mobile payments; he then saw a WIRED article “Kill The Password!”. We compared notes and decided the timing was right for mobile payments without passwords leveraging advances in biometrics..

What in your opinion is the next big thing in technology?

>> The 15 Minute Website and Personal Website “Portfolios” – soon anyone will be able to build multiple personal sites with full e-commerce, payment systems, community, social networking, SEO, and big data analytics with no coding and very easy manipulation. Currently there is a barrier to this – you must know some coding to optimize this and it’s difficult to manage multiple sites. People and companies will have a portfolio of websites and not even think about it.. Most of the tools already exist but need a lot of refinement; it will take another 2-5 years.

What excites/interests you most about tech startups and what makes them successful?

>> The Scalability challenge. Much of my career has been dedicated to trying to create the alchemy of continuously growing a company. The progress of E-Commerce, HTML5, CSS3, PHP and Javascript have made it so any startup idea, tech or non-tech, can become reality with very little money or work. The difficult step has shifted from launch to revenues, scalability, growth.
This is exciting because it allows so many people to give it a try which equals more great ideas coming to light, but still requires a great idea and great execution to have larger success and growth. Pretty soon the most important people at startups will shift back from developers to those that can create and sustain growth.

#business, #ceoing, #early-stage, #first-revenue, #google, #leadership, #revenue-growth-2, #scalability-2, #software, #software-development, #startup-ceo, #startups, #the-next-level, #tom-nora, #twitter-2, #vc, #venture-capital

What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up? 3 FULL TIME JOBS.

Being the CEO of a startup is crazy, fun, very hard work, inclusive, humbling and of course can be quite rewarding. Weekends are meaningless. There is a continuous decision stream where each decision informs the next. Your mind is thinking 24 hours a day, even when you sleep.

When you’re the CEO of a startup, a real startup with product and some cash in the bank and/or revenue, there are 3 FULL TIME JOBS.

1. Raising Money – you are constantly doing this, preparing for this and thinking about this, whether it’s pre-seed, seed funding, debt, revenue, partnerships, IPO or other.

2. Managing and Properly Growing The Business – this includes several things, depending on the size of the enterprise: managing employees, administration, hiring, firing, leases, expenses, unhappy employees, fixing other problems, etc.

This piece is what often kills an otherwise great business, which justifys the case for less is more when it comes to employees and infrastructure.

3. Selling – The CEO of a startup must ABS, always be selling. You start every day working this, just like #1 above, they’re closely related. Using the CEO to close sales no matter what size the business is, is vital to success.

This piece emphasizes the importance of having an awesome, mature VP of Sales, if you can afford it; it takes a lot of pressure off and frees up the time of the CEO.

Overall, it can be the most exhilarating experience you’ve ever had, especially when things work. And it’s more accessible to most people than ever before. But it’s not for everyone – you must decide what your #1 goal is. If it’s to create a successful long term business, being the CEO should be something you’re willing to give up if it threatens goal #1. If your #1 goal is to try it out to see how it feels, then by all means do it, get professional help, and make the most of it. Contact me if you’re dead serious and I can help you. The Startup CEO by Tom Nora

#acquisition, #angel-investor, #business, #ceo, #ceo-blog, #ceo-succession, #ceoing, #cofounder, #early-stage, #first-revenue, #google, #leadership, #scalability-2, #software, #software-development, #succession, #venture-capital

Is #NewYork the Next Startup Land of Oz?

A few things have happened recently to cause me to look a little closer at NY for the next amazing companies in Internet technology. First, a friend announced that they were moving their startup geo-lo based company from L.A. to New York; Second, I caught the recent live stream of the Disrupt NYC Hackathon; Third, A New York Times article about how NYC’s “allure” is increasing.

I know, it’s a very expensive place to live and do business, lots of traffic, etc. I’ve done it before. But if a Tipping Point could be created there it could over come the costs. Here are some of the factors:

(1) Amazing Engineering Skills – Let’s just start with the big one. There is a highly under-known fact in the software engineering world – many of the best developers and architects are not in Silicon Valley, but in the New York metro area. Between AT&T, the Financial houses and all the great local engineering schools they’re not only the best but there are a lot of them. C++ and Object Oriented design were invented at AT&T, and there are many more examples. New York developers have less attitude, more performance. They’re expensive , but a very large and strong group.

(2) Long Term Scalability – See #4 below – Over time, s a comapny tries to get into a rhythm of continuous growth, they need to develop a reliable growth model. To do this you need human resources beyond techo-nerds – sales, marketing, strategy, bus dev. These people abound in New York. You also need infrastructure and friendly government. Again, New York blows California away here.

(3) Mentor Network – Retired Fortune 500 executives, Harvard/Princeton/Yale scholars, Financial Industry experts, many successful entrepreneurs.

(4) Respect for BUSINESS – Sales, Marketing, Advertising, Strategy were all practically invented in NYC.

(5) Diversified Portfolio of Industries – The best startups draw from several disparate industries around them to be able to grow and learn and diversify. New York is the Fashion, Financial, Art, … (fill in the blank) capital of the world.

(6) Spirit – Nobody has has the same type of spirit as New Yorkers; you know this if you’ve ever been there, especially if you’ve done business there. It has some kind of magic in the air.

(7) Night Life – Many budding high technology centers aren’t the best in terms of top cultural options and the best restaurants. Well, New York… no need to explain.

I could go on, but the combination above is plenty for a startup tipping point. Just watch the Disrupt videos, they’ll give you a glimpse. I’vealways loved New York and doing business there, even though I’m a born and bred Californian. Now they’re heading toward my niche, very exciting. Maybe Zuckerberg should’ve put Facebook there instead of Silicon Valley. Maybe FB stock would be going up instead of down right now.

[Facebook Stock Could Fall Twice as Far Before It Hits Bottom]

@tomnora

#advertising, #angel-investor, #business, #cash-flow, #ceo-blog, #ceoing, #cofounder, #early-stage, #facebook, #first-revenue, #leadership, #revenue-growth-2, #scalability-2, #software-development, #startup-ceo, #startups, #technology, #tom-nora, #venture-capital

What If You’re Not CEO Material? [Excellent article by David Cohen @davidcohen of TechStars]

http://j.mp/y7qE0u

#ceo, #ceo-blog, #ceo-succession, #ceoing, #cofounder, #early-stage, #software-development, #startup-ceo, #startups, #succession, #the-next-level

Father Of C And UNIX, Dennis Ritchie, Passes Away

At Age 70 | TechCrunch http://j.mp/psPFZ4 Author of “The C Programming Language” with Kerrigan

#c, #software-development