By Hatty Fawcett, Founder of Focused For Business
Embarking on a new business adventure can often demand a helping hand, even for game-changing ideas. When dreamers set their sights on a fresh venture, the first hurdle is often understanding if their startup needs to secure funds for development, marketing, and snagging top-notch talent. Unless you’re a startup wizard with deep pockets and a wealth of experience, the go-to allies for this financial quest are usually venture capital and angel investors. They swoop in during the startup’s baby steps, known as the seed stage, offering the support needed to turn a spark of an idea into a blazing reality.
However, quite often, the reality is those superheroes are not always needed. A founder may actually find their startup venture doesn’t initially require funding.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to navigating the funding journey, and in this article, I’ll explore various funding options from third parties as well as how founders can kick-start their business without early financial obligations.
To Fund or Not to Fund: The Startup Conundrum
In the startup realm, not all businesses need funding, especially with the advent of low-code and no-code solutions. Your greatest resource in such cases is time, allowing you to develop your concept without external financial commitments. Building the first version of your product and service and proving you can find customers who want to buy, will stand you in good stead if you do need funding later. If funding is a necessity, options range from grants and startup loans to crowdfunding, it’s a real bonus – and you will get a better business valuation – if you can avoid seeking angel investment or venture capital funding until your startup has proven its worth and is ready to scale.
The Traction Equation: A Startup’s North Star
Investors don’t throw money at uncertainties; they seek evidence. This evidence is what investors call “traction.” Traction is the heartbeat of a startup, comprising three essential components which make up an equation:
(MVP + Customers) Proven Marketing Machine = Traction.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The initial offering that solves a real problem for customers, even if it lacks all the future bells and whistles. Investors crave tangible proof that your product addresses a genuine need or problem.
Customer Validation: Prove that customers not only love your product but are willing to pay for it. Paying customers are the gold standard for investors.
Proven Marketing Machine: Demonstrate you not just secure your first customers, but that you have the ability to grow your customer base predictably through a proven marketing strategy, is what really gets investors excited. Investors want to see a clear formula linking investment in marketing channels to the acquisition of new customers – and they will expect you to know how much you have to spend to gain each new customer.
Navigating the Funding Seas: Options and Considerations
If you find you do need investment to grow your business, what are the options?
Bootstrapping: Setting Sail with Your Resources
Bootstrapping involves using your own funds or time to get your business off the ground swiftly. While it grants you control over your venture, the downside is potential limitations on key decisions due to financial constraints. However, for those who have some initial cash to inject into their startup, this route offers founders complete autonomy over their business and finances, without getting into debt early on.
Bank or Start-up Loan: A Boost When Needed
When your bootstrapped business needs an extra push to reach a crucial milestone, loans become an option. They can offer a quick injection of funds but with this comes the responsibility of repayment, impacting your early cash flow. Most banks won’t offer a loan until you have two years of trading history, but the UK government offers start-up loans, dependant on credit checks, of up to £25k per director in the business. Often successful applicants will also receive guidance on writing business plans and 12 months of free mentoring. Remember, do your research before committing to any loan.
Angel Investment: Wings of Support and Expertise
Angel investors bring more than just cash; they bring skills, experience, and valuable connections. However, securing angel investment can be time-consuming, and entrepreneurs may need to compromise on some aspects of their vision to attract investors. If you can kickstart your business without third-party funding, and start to gain traction, this can help attract angel investors down the line as you start to de-risk the opportunity before investment is required.
Crowdfunding: Testing the Waters and Raising Funds
Crowdfunding has become increasingly popular in recent years; however, it does rely on having a decent community or network in place. Most crowdfunding platforms will expect you to bring 50-70% of the funds you want to raise to the platform from your own network. One of the big benefits of crowdfunding is, not only the capital raised but also the ability to test product demand and build a community of brand ambassadors. However, it demands significant effort behind the scenes to ensure a successful campaign so is not for the faint-hearted.
Venture Capital: The Holy Grail or a Tempting Mirage?
Venture capital can feel like the pinnacle of funding options, offering substantial investments and extensive networks. However, VCs are selective, typically focusing on businesses with exponential growth potential. Entrepreneurs must be prepared for increased governance and potential loss of control. This funding avenue typically demands that your business has already gained traction and can deliver a substantial return for VC’s through an “exit” that usually involves a trade sale or floating on a stock market (IPO), so this option is usually a consideration for later-stage business, not early-stage startups.
Finding Your North Star: The Best Way to Fund Your Business
In the diverse landscape, the best approach depends on your business’s stage, growth ambitions, and what you’re willing to offer investors in return. Whether charting your course with bootstrapping, loans, angel investment, crowdfunding, or venture capital, understanding the language of investors and showcasing traction will be your compass.
As you set sail on your startup journey, remember that each funding option is just one island in the vast sea of possibilities. Choose wisely, align your motivations with your investors, surround yourself with people who can support you on the journey and navigate with the confidence that comes from understanding the currents of the startup funding ecosystem. In this dynamic and challenging landscape, adaptability is your ally, and the successful navigation of each funding stage contributes to the rich tapestry of your entrepreneurial story.
About Hatty Fawcett
Hatty has a strong track record raising equity investment for early-stage startups, raising over £5m for start-ups in the last 12 months. She believes start-up investment should be available to everyone and the process shouldn’t be over-complicated or unnecessarily time consuming.
Hatty focuses on start-ups raising their first or second round of equity investment (typically raising £100K to £1 million). She works with start-up founders and small business owners to give them clarity on the information that investors will expect and connecting them to investors and other like-minded entrepreneurs who are generous in sharing their experience and insights. Hatty encourages founders, giving them knowledge, tools and techniques, they can use in their investor outreach, so they grow in confidence and ability when presenting their investment opportunity. This confidence ensures founders attract a range of investors, allowing them to choose the right investor for their business and growth aspirations.
Hatty has more than 10 years of experience in getting startups funded and has seen investment from both sides of the fence, so is uniquely placed to understand the founder journey and what early-stage investors look for. Following a successful 15-year career in marketing, and a MBA from Imperial College, London, Hatty worked in two start-ups before launching her own start-up, for which she raised a quarter of a million pounds. She then looked after some of the investments Kelly Hoppen made when she was a Dragon on the TV show “Dragons Den”.
Hatty’s unique perspective on start-up funding, and the work she does to level the playing field when it comes to raising equity investment, has resulted in her being recognised as Enterprise Nation Adviser of the Year 22/23 for Finance and Funding. She was also a Finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2023.