You’re thinking of fundraising for your startup. No doubt you’ve heard from others that you’ll need to “know your numbers” when you begin this process. The metrics behind a startup are, in fact, almost always a major factor in whether or not an investor will invest. In Justin’s post, Series A fundraising, he discusses how crucial it is to know your metrics and craft a compelling narrative for your company when fundraising. But, what numbers do you need to know?
The financial metrics that will best showcase your company’s likelihood of success will depend on the type of company you’re building and what stage it’s in.
What round are you raising?
Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz recently distilled the early-stage investment thesis into a Twitter post:
“2019 state of tech investing:
- Pre-seed – Bet on the entrepreneur
- Seed – Bet on the team
- Series A – Bet on the traction
- Series B – Bet on the revenue
- Series C – Bet on the unit economics”
While this may seem like an overly simplified view of early-stage investing, it does emphasize one key point: as you progress through your fundraising rounds, your numbers become more and more critical to the story.
Sarah Tavel from Benchmark mentioned this as well during our recent investor panel at Atrium Scale. While an investor may make a seed-stage investment purely because of the pedigree of the founder and his vision, later-stage investments (with larger checks) will focus more and more on heavy financial due diligence and the story being told by the numbers.
In short, the numbers become more and more important as you progress from one round to the next. So, what numbers should you be showing in your pitch deck? Below is a guide to understanding the financial metrics that compel investors to invest in startups.
Total addressable market (TAM)
This is a critical aspect of your story. The structure of venture capital funds means VCs need to target companies with major market opportunities and large TAMs, in order to achieve the scale of returns required for their LPs and GPs. The TAM quantifies the market opportunity that your company is targeting and will be a component of your financial model and your projections.
Be mindful of how you calculate this. A bottom-up approach is far more defensible than a top-down approach. For a bottom-up approach, consider breaking down your potential customers by demographic, geography, customer acquisition channels, competitors, customer switching costs (for existing markets) and potential revenue per user. Make sure that there is enough supporting data to justify the TAM you present and be ready to respond to questions that come up. If you are too conservative, you undersell your company’s potential upside. If you are too aggressive, the investor may lose faith in the accuracy of your data and reasoning. In many cases, the growth rate of the TAM will also be important for your narrative.
You should be able to demonstrate to investors that you have done some market testing and have not only found product-market fit but have had this validated through early traction with your product.
The metrics that demonstrate early traction include number of customers, customer growth, revenues, revenue growth, churn percent, engagement, and other related values.
Knowing who your customers are and the metrics surrounding your customer acquisition is important. Here are some questions that typically come up:
- How many customers do you have?
- What is your customer growth looking like?
- What is the value of each customer (Lifetime value of your customers)?
- For enterprise customers, what is the average contract value?
- What is the breakdown of recurring revenue vs. one-time revenue?
- What is the breakdown of return customers?
- Do you understand your customer acquisition cost (CAC)? What is the CAC by channel?
- Is your CAC scalable? Are you currently securing customers via word of mouth? Do you understand the true cost of onboarding new customers at scale?
- What is your LTV:CAC? This demonstrates the return on investment from your customers
- What are your churn rates?
Every good narrative should be able to demonstrate a growth story that is up and to the right. The quintessential hockey stick chart. A forecast financial model is essential to quantify how the growth story is expected to play out. And while you don’t need a detailed, long-range forecast (as startup growth is by nature unpredictable), you need to be able to demonstrate a pattern for growth and expected future revenue with projected operating costs. The capital that you are seeking to raise should also be included as part of your financial forecast. In many cases, you may need to create a few potential scenarios for your forecasts.
Here are a few questions that may come up during the due diligence:
- Are the growth rate assumptions sustainable?
- What does your P&L look like?
- Revenues: is it really a true representation of recurring revenue? Or is it one-off revenue?
- What do you have to spend, in order to grow your revenue? How much capital will you need? What is the expected return on the capital?
- What are your projected gross margins?
- Have you modeled the relationship between marketing/sales spend -> customers -> revenues?
There has been plenty in the press recently regarding Silicon Valley tech companies that are unprofitable and have sought to grow at all costs. So, depending on the company and industry, there may be more or less of a focus on unit economics. But, showing that you have improving unit economics will generally be an important part of the march towards profitability and important for your overall narrative.
Use of funds
As part of your narrative, you should have an “ask.” This section highlights what you are hoping to raise, and how you envision spending that money. For this conversation, you should revisit your growth strategy, and ensure your “Ask”, aligns to your strategy. It is also important to provide clarity about where the funding will be used.
Some important questions to consider:
- Are you planning to enter new markets?
- Are you launching new products/services?
- Are you investing in R&D?
- What is your plan for increasing headcount?
- How does your increased expenditure impact growth?
Your model should demonstrate a relationship between sales staff, sales funnel conversion, marketing spend, and increased revenue. That way you can demonstrate that investment in headcount on your sales team will lead to increased revenue.
This may sound intuitive but it is important to run through the exercise to quantify these elements, so you know how much money to ask for, where to spend it, and be confident that with that investment you can reach the milestones you are projecting.
Investors are also interested to understand what you did with previous funds raised (if any). Did you invest it where you said you were going to, and were you able to achieve the milestones you set out to achieve with the money?
Cash is King, as they say. And understanding your company’s cash utilization is paramount for survival. Many startup founders initiate their fundraising process around the time when their cash reserves run low. Some decide to fundraise only because cash is running out. Don’t do that. You should be initiating the fundraising process when your metrics have reached compelling levels for investors. And, the best way to ensure that you can do this is to closely monitor your cash reserves. Make sure that you are not in a situation where your cash reserves are low because there is always the chance that your round does not close in the timeline you set aside. Go out for funding before you really need it and make sure that you have enough cash in your bank account to weather unexpected delays.
There are a few things that you will want to closely monitor related to cash.
- Cash burn: How much are you spending on a monthly basis? And, WHERE is that cash being spent? Analyzing this will help you identify areas for potential savings if things get tight.
- Runway: This is calculated as cash in the bank / monthly burn. Your runway is the best window into how long you can continue to operate before you run out of money. We typically suggest that you have at least 6 months of runway left when you start the fundraising process.
Know your numbers
The narrative you present to investors is crucial to your fundraising efforts. The financial metrics that succinctly and clearly illustrate your company’s traction and business model will underpin this narrative, providing the backbone to hold your company up against the scrutiny of the fundraising process.
Know your numbers and showcase the most relevant metrics to compel investors to invest.