Startup fundraising is never easy and the current pandemic crisis makes it even harder. Typical early-stage investors, such as angel investors and venture capital funds, today might be more reluctant to take risks and bet on early-stage startups. In such situations, entrepreneurs often turn to friends and family (2F’s) to support their endeavors.
Asking people close to you for money, however, has its challenges and needs to be done in a planned, sensible way. Here are a few best practices to follow:
1. Select potential leads carefully – Make a list of potential investors among friends and family based on two key factors: net-worth and personality. In terms of the former, you should only consider people you know have the resources to support you. Don’t put people close to you on the spot if you don’t think they can afford to lose the investment. If the business fails, you don’t want to see them struggling financially, no matter the circumstances. Regarding the latter, only approach people you have a good relationship with and that you think have the right temperament. Make sure the person is reasonable and understanding. Remember they will become your partners (or lenders) and business partnerships are often hard to manage. Money comes at a very high cost if the person is difficult to deal with or might freak out at the first adversity and become a headache for you and your other partners.
2. Prioritize those who might help – From your list above, try to identify people who might be business savvy, well connected, and who can bring something else to the table besides money. For example, prioritize the uncle who is a corporate executive or entrepreneur, and might help you with mentoring and contacts in the industry, over a friend who might even be more well-off, but is a medical doctor or an artist with no business knowhow or networks.
3. Approach them professionally – Just because these are people close to you and that you know might be inclined to help, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be professional when approaching them. Quite the opposite. Show them you are serious about your business and that you are proposing a business partnership that runs parallel to your personal relationships. Only approach them when you know exactly how much money you need and for what: present them with a use of funds table. Make them a compelling presentation of your business case and bring (or send them) printouts of your business plan, Lean Canvas, or executive summary. They will appreciate your professionalism.
4. Think through instrument options – Make sure you understand all investment instrument options before you approach friends and family because you will need to explain it to them. For example, are you selling shares of your company (equity)? If so, at what valuation (make sure it is not overvalued to be fair to them)? Do you want a loan (debt) and, if so, under what terms, ideally? Are you considering convertible notes, where the investment starts as a loan and can be converted into equity at the next round of investment, at a discounted valuation? The latter, by the way, is likely the best option for early stage startups. [Note: I will be covering these instruments in a future post – stay tuned by signing up to receive notifications of new posts by email].
5. Make them comfortable to say “no” – Unlike professional investors like angels and VC funds, these people are listening to you specifically because they like you and want to help you personally. Therefore, you have the moral obligation to not take advantage of that (which you might do unconsciously) and you must put them in a comfortable spot. After presenting your pitch and explaining how much you need, for what, and under what terms, answer all the questions they have, and give them time to think. Don’t ask for an answer on the same day (unless of course it is a clear negative) and tell them to sleep on the offer and come back to you on a later day.
6. Consider a “2F club” – Depending on the amount of money you are asking and the number of people on your list, it might be a good idea to have more people invest smaller pieces. For example, instead of getting $50,000 from your big sister, get 5 x $10,000 from her and four other friends. This is good for diluting any one person’s risk and might also provide you with extra help. If you are going for equity, though, be mindful of having too many people as partners – i.e., too many voices at the table. Get help from a corporate lawyer or legal mentor to design an effective way for these people to become your partners, perhaps by having them all come in through a company of their own, with each owning 20% of it.
7. Tell what you expect (and don’t) from them – When friends and family invest, with their best intentions, they often want to help in many other ways too. They may want to opine on the business strategy, suggest hires, introduce you to this or that person, try the product before you launch it etc. If not managed properly, this situation can escalate to your aunt, who’s a dentist, wanting to participate in your biggest contract negotiation! Therefore, before the investment deal is closed, make sure you tell them the level of involvement you expect from them. You may simply not want them to get involved at all, which is fine, as long as this is part of the agreement and they are ok with it. In any case, keep in mind that, as partners, they do have the right to at least receive updates and participate in quarterly or biannual meetings.
8. Be 100% transparent about the risks! – Avoid problems in the future. These are people you care about and may know nothing about startup investing. They are doing this because they care about you too. Ensure they are aware that this is a risky endeavor and that they might lose their investment (equity) or that you may take a long time to pay them back (debt) if the business fails. Certify that they are ok with the risks and that they can afford losing their investment without major personal financial consequences.
Times of crisis call far stringent cost management measures and creative fundraising, including from friends and family. If you do it right, the 2F’s can be a good option to help you through these troubled waters.