(Photo by Flickr user Kim Valmer, used under a Creative Commons license)
This past week I sat through five pitches from startups in the Baltimore area. Universally, I had the same feedback to all of the startup founders: “Stop trying to raise money.”
Sadly, this is the feedback I give more often than not to the early-stage founders who pitch us at Wasabi Ventures. I always try to explain my feedback to folks who pitch me in the hopes that, maybe in a small way, I can impact the overall startup ecosystem by making founders stronger.
While every situation is unique, I thought it might be useful to explain why I so often give this feedback.
Here are the three big reasons I say this repeatedly:
- The team is not the right mix of people. Putting together a founding team is really hard. It is a struggle to get people you like, which like you, and are committed to winning. Getting all of that accomplished with limited resources and limited traction and a sketchy product is even more difficult. But as an early-stage investor, nothing is more important to us than the team. It is why Wasabi Ventures has the model it has. We know that helping a founder get through the earliest stages with resources and an experienced team to make it happen is key.
- The startup is not ready to use the money. Nothing is crazier than listening to the pitch of a startup and when you ask them where they will be after they get the money and you get back a fuzzy answer. I usually lose my mind if a startup can’t tell me where getting the cash infusion will move the business, or worse is when they tell me the progress they will make and I don’t believe them at all. If you are raising money, you should have a distinct, believable plan of where you would spend every dime.
- The dreams are not big enough. Building a startup that is trying to raise money is broadcasting to the world that you are ready to build a $100-million company and you have a path to get there. Sadly, all too often the founders I hear pitches from are not on that kind of disruptive path. They are not dreaming the big dream or solving a big enough problem. Always remember that raising money is like telling the investors that you, as a founder, are going to make them richer than they already are. So to do that you have to dream big.
In the startup world, we put way too much focus on the fundraising adventure. I have written about this fact countless times over the years. But there are times that you should be raising investment capital; just make sure you’re doing it at the right time and for the right reasons and not just because it is the next step in the process.