We’re up to our necks in it. A funding round that is. We’re building a consortium of VCs and Angels – and trying to figure out what they want. VCs are looking for the perfect start-up. Commercial traction, good user numbers, tip top management team, oh and naturally, a disruptive IP’d innovation. But it’s not that simple. I feel for them. They’re hunting for a ‘shiny new thing’ in a haystack of needles. That’s a lot of certain pain. It’s not much different for angel investors, except that they can go with a hunch and won’t lose their jobs. And they have the excuse of having had less to go on having ‘got in’ earlier.
Typically, a VC is looking for a 3 x ROI and about a 12 per cent minimum return per year. So with, for example, an average investment of $10m per company in a $100m fund over 10 years, they need to achieve exits totalling above $300m. If, whilst holding 25 per cent ownership, five out of the 10 do averagely well and exit at $50m and the other half exit at $100m, you’d think that would be good. But the reality is that it makes the long-suffering romantic partners of the founders happy, but for the poor VC he’s failed to achieve that required 3 x return.
In fact if you do the maths (check out tech crunch), it’s apparent that the VC funding game is really all about hunting the unicorn. And that’s complex because, although many may not admit it, as it begins to sound much like dowsing for oil, you can’t use the standard business criteria to recognise a nascent unicorn. For, if a startup is trading well then, it’s probably selling into an established market and competing with others in a ‘red ocean’ scenario. And the odds of maintaining growth in such shark-bloodied waters are slim without there being an adequately disruptive element to the business enabling it to ‘swim faster than the others’. But if the business does have something new, then by that very definition, how can you evaluate its potential when it has no comparables and no traction? And, being a shiny new concept or creation, what are the parameters that you can use to measure its potential for success? If you invented a pill that could make you fly but that came with no instructions, how many would actually take it?
So, this is exactly where we find ourselves today, buried deep in that prickly pile. We’ve been raising money from day one and we’ve done ‘em all. Well not quite, as we’ve not used the charity route, the lottery, played poker or juggled our credit cards to get our hands on the cash we’ve needed…yet! We’ve listened to the advice of many (except my nine-year-old who three years ago asked ‘Dad, what do I do with these bitcoin things?’), we’ve been incubated by the greats such as Digital Catapult, Cisco and UCL’s IdeaLondon, and have true wisdom resident – even fame – on our board and with our advisors. We’ve built software in India and survived, used Crowdcube twice (I think we still hold a record for funding fully in two days with no product), and have submitted for every grant under the sun, and then some, including for H2020 two days before Brexit.
We’ve networked, hackathoned, tweeted like Trump, got banned from LinkedIn for overuse.
We’ve, beta’d, piloted and pivoted; been mentored, incubated and accelerated, and we’ve been hacked, plagiarised and had team members poached by the big boys. But we got there. We now have a SaaS software system that supports those being cared for and their care providers across the care journey, from diagnosis to end of life, that’s usable for the care of the elderly, for dementia and learning disabilities. We’ve made something that’s selling, we’re in trials in big care groups in the UK, in Australia and the US. We’ve made it…
Yeah sure, I hear you say. And you’re right, for the start-up rollercoaster never stops. For as a disruptor, you hear it all the time. 2015: ‘care software will never work’… 2016: ‘no one will ever invest in Medtech’… 2016: ‘Voice will never properly engage people’. Valid statements at the time from the experts, yet now medtech, voice and social impact are hot tickets. ‘At last we’re right time, right place’. But then you’ll hear, ‘oh you’ll get trial-itus’. And another of my favourites, ‘the successful companies only happen fast’. But when you talk to them, at one of those breakfasts, nearly all admit that it’s just how they told their story to maintain the excitement. Most were at it for years before they got it right. As one said, ‘it’s not the pivoting that’s critical, it’s profile, profile, profile that’s the key’.
And that leads me to another one that I love. If you can’t describe it in one sentence, then you’ll never get funding. Ludicrous! Most disruptive innovation needs explanation for it to be comprehensible. The wheel was nothing until the axle was invented. Go on – define an axle. OK going up, doors closing. ‘Hi let me tell you about our start-up; RemindMeCare is an early stage already commercialised low-cost, easily adoptable online platform coupled with an Alexa-enabled care app, that’s now entering the US and Australian markets and which, post NHS early adoption, is tantalisingly poised for rapid growth; a highly scalable social media brand-driven internet business which, courtesy of a highly monetisable freemium/subscription-membership-based B2C/B2B business model, offers both significant social impact potential and high returns to investors – it’s a unicorn in the making’. Deep breath. OK, I got a bit carried away there. Or did I? ‘Who knows, perhaps you’ll be lucky mate, like Uber’, grumbled my cabbie last week as we circled silicon roundabout, where RemindMeCare was born (in a pub called the Angel, believe it or not).
But he’s right, for luck surely plays its part. ‘You’re lucky to even be in the 25 per cent that survive the early years,’ Vince Cable, one of our supporters, told us recently. ‘Luck, hah! More like blood and guts,’ I said. But seriously, I do believe that both investing and finding funding is often the result of a lucky break. To illustrate the hand of fate, I’ll end with a story that made a past friend what she is today. Back in 1994, as a lowly script reader, she came across French Kiss. She loved it but her boss hated it. days later at a Hollywood party she found herself bonding on a sofa with one of the hottest stars of the day. Next day, she went to her boss at the small production company and said, ‘would you make French Kiss if Meg Ryan took the role’? He said ‘Sure, but you’ll never get her, everyone’s tried’. French Kiss grossed $102m and in 1996 my friend became President of that company, called Working Title.
It seems to me that these days all start-up pitches need to be ‘unicornish Hollywoodesque’ for investors to sit up and take notice. Got some space on your sofa?
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