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正为你的初创企业融资?先回答3个问题

Roger Ehrenberg 2011年05月23日

你需要先了解自己企业的需求,才能搞清需募集多少资金以及向谁募资。

    “我该怎样为我的初创企业融资?”——这是很多初次创业者以及连续创业的企业家们常常会问的问题。对此我们并没有现成的操作指南,在缺乏经验和指导的情况下,你只能依赖直觉行事。正如投资者如何对初创企业进行评估一样,最重要的往往是以人为本。与你的投资者建立深厚的信赖关系,相信他们带来的价值,绝对是至关重要的——这远比估值,甚至任何其他因素都重要。选错投资者不仅会阻碍一家企业充分实现自身潜力,也会影响到企业能否安然度过创业初期不可避免的诸多挑战和濒死体验。这个问题绝不可轻视。

    不妨先回答几个基本问题,然后再慎重考虑融资架构事宜:

问题1:你的初创企业在早期有现金流产生吗?

    • 若有,现金流数量能实现自我维持吗?若能,不妨保持低成本,继续自力更生。不要将事情复杂化,让创始人继续保留100%的股权,对外融资时间可推迟至你确实需要建设资金或是注资能加快企业增速之时。届时凭借企业已取得的进展、里程碑以及过往业绩记录,创始人往往能获得比种子期条件更优厚的融资 (言外之意:更高的估值)。

    • 若无,请看下一个问题。

问题2: 你的初创企业需要大量资金(300万美元以上)来验证其核心理论吗?

    • 是的,不是每家初创企业都能凭着5,000美元在车库中攒出来。如果你的企业是那种科技密集型企业,那么不仅首轮募资需求量会较大,在市场推广和成长期所需的资金支持甚至可能更多。鉴于此,需要找一支规模较大的基金(承诺资本超过2亿美元)作为早期领投者,除了提供首轮融资外,更重要的是能有相当数量的资金用于后续投资。像这样的企业不是很适合天使融资,因为一旦企业发展遇到问题,必然需要与庞大的投资联盟进行协商,缺乏领投者会使协调既耗时又痛苦。最后,天使投资人通常缺乏大笔的后续资金和文化来支持接下来的融资。与之形成鲜明对比的是规模较大的风投基金,他们早已知晓购买的是“两程票”,为给予企业搏击成功的机会,愿意风雨无阻地提供融资。

    • 如果不是,那太好了,你的选择余地很大。如果你开发一款功能性“最简可行产品”(MVP)的人力和基建成本足够低(比如,50-75万美元),那么一个纯天使投资联盟或者天使投资人外加一个规模较小的、了解该领域的风险基金可能就够了。不过,如果公司的性质是核心产品开发成本低,但预计规模化运营所需的资金量大,可能还是应该在投资联盟中包括一家规模较大的风投公司,这样的公司能轻松地连接起首轮融资(Series A),甚至领投一轮内部融资。我不是很相信大基金参与首轮融资传递出负面信号的说法。以我的经验,好的风投公司会按章行事,比如按比例进行投资 (除非标的企业根本不行或者管理层糟糕/不道德、不值得信赖),并常常提高投资比例、进行领投。我从未看到由于首轮融资有规模较大的参与者,吓跑了本想领投下一轮融资的风投公司,特别是如果之前他们的投资额较低、缺乏董事会席位和具体保护条款等。

问题3: 你的企业有“最佳投资者”吗?

    • 有时,超强的行业经验、人脉和知识能让在特定领域经营的初创企业受益匪浅。在当今这个时代,如有可能,在你的投资者联盟中包括一家“梦想公司”很重要。充分运用你的网络,争取获得热情的引荐,然后兜售、兜售、兜售。要争取到对的投资者,怎么做都不嫌过,特别是在某些领域,消息灵通的天使投资人或高净值风险投资者完全能改变企业的命运。

    • 如果没有,也别担心。但我不太相信。总有适合你的“最佳投资者”。唯一的问题是: (a) 你能不能找到他们;(b) 一旦找到,你能不能争取到他们作为投资者、顾问等?这是你要做的。开始吧。

    总而言之,你需要先了解自己企业的需求,才能搞清需募集多少资金以及向谁募资。一旦搞清楚这些,就需有精准的定位和做大量工作来打造正确的投资者团队。只要你做到了,对企业的积极影响就难以尽述。

    Roger Ehrenberg是IA Ventures的创始人。他的博客见InformationArbitrage.com

    "How should I finance my start-up?" is a common refrain from first-time founders and serial entrepreneurs alike. There is no manual for how to best do this, and intuition can only get you so far in the absence of experience and mentoring. As with investors evaluating start-ups, it is and always has been people first. Having a deep trust relationship with your investors and confidence in the value they bring is absolutely critical -- it's more important than valuation and more important than pretty much anything. Making the wrong investor decisions might not only hurt a company's chances to reach full potential, they might impact the company's ability to survive the inevitable challenges and near-death experiences borne by early-stage companies. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.

    There are a few basic questions that need to be answered, however, before a reasoned approach to syndicate construction can be developed:

Question #1: Does your start-up generate cash flow early in its life?

    • If yes, is the quantity of cash flow such that it could be self-sustaining? If so, keep costs low and bootstrap out-of-the-gate. Keep things simple, enable the founders to retain 100% of the equity and defer raising external capital until you either absolutely need it to build or you'd benefit from acceleration capital to support rapid growth. These are generally nicer financing events for founders than pure seed capital (read: higher valuations) because of the progress that has been demonstrated, the milestones that have been reached and the track record that has been achieved.

    • If not, see below.

Question #2: Does your start-up require significant capital (>$3 million) in order to validate or invalidate its core thesis?

    • Yes, Virginia, not every start-up can be hacked together for $5k in the garage. If yours is one of those deep-tech companies for which prudence indicates a significant initial capital raise, it is likely that even greater amounts of capital will be needed to support the go-to-market and growth phases. In light of this, a larger fund (>$200 million in committed capital) should be sought as an early lead to both provide seed dollars but more importantly to reserve a significant amount of capital for follow-on investment. Opportunities like these don't subject themselves well to angel financing, as bumps in the road will necessitate negotiating with an unwieldy syndicate and the lack of a single deal lead will make coordination time-consuming and painful. Finally, angels generally lack the big-dollars follow-on capital and culture to support future rounds, in stark contrast to larger venture funds who fully expect that they've purchased a "two-ride ticket" and will be able to fund into good and bad in order to give the company a fighting chance at success.

    • If no, hooray, the options open to you are extensive. If your costs of people and infrastructure are low enough to create a functional minimum viable product or "MVP" (say $500-$750k), then a pure angel syndicate or angels plus a smaller, domain-knowledgeable venture fund might be just the thing. However, if the nature of the company is such that the costs of developing the MVP are low but the anticipated dollars required to operate at scale are high, it might make sense to include a larger venture firm in the syndicate that can comfortably bridge to a Series A or even lead an inside round. I am not a huge believer in the adverse signaling of larger funds in seed rounds. In my experience good firms do the right thing, e.g., doing their pro rata unless the company is outright failing or management is poor and/or unethical and untrustworthy, and often times step up to lead the round. I also haven't seen larger VC seed round participants scare off other VCs wanting to lead a subsequent round, especially if they have written a smallish check, lack a board seat and specific protective provisions, etc.

Question #3: Is there a "best investor" for your company?

    • Sometimes a company is operating in a specific domain that would benefit from extreme expertise, industry contacts and competitive intelligence. At these times, it is essential to include a "dream firm" in your investor syndicate if you can get them. Leverage the full extent of your networks to get a warm introduction and sell, sell, sell. You simply can't do enough to get the right investors behind you, especially in a particular area where an super-connected angel or a specific high-value venture investor can be life transforming.

    • If not, don't worry about it. But I don't believe you. There are always "best investors" for your company. The only questions are (a) can you identify them; and (b) once you identify them, can you persuade them to get on board as investors, advisers, etc.? That is your job. Get it done.

    In summary, you need to understand your business requirements before figuring out how much to raise and from whom to raise it. Once these requirements are known, it takes laser focus and a ton of work to build the right investor group. But to the extent you are successful, the positive impact on your business cannot be overstated.

    Roger Ehrenberg is founder of IA Ventures. He blogs at InformationArbitrage.com

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