Fundraising for Startups

Fundraising for Startups

Fundraising is difficult and that’s me being very polite. How many times have you heard a VC tell you – “Your product is really nice and very useful as well. I love it. I just need to see a bit of traction now to convince myself to invest”? If you are a early stage company looking for someone to invest, then I will bet my house on you having heard this from one of the VCs.

A couple of years back there was no shortage of VC money, they were making bets on anything and everything they could find and in doing so many of them have burnt their hands. When I say, burnt their hand, I mean they had literally drowned all of that money down the drain for crazily stupid ideas that would have never made it big, let alone India, anywhere else in the world. That’s changed the investment scenario for the better. The heavily discounted models which a few of these startups were running were extremely difficult to sustain. These models weren’t inherently changing consumer behavior or making consumers loyal to any brand/ product. What they were doing was just delaying the inevitable, that’s running out of money and not finding a backer who will invest at a higher valuation.

With funds drying up the investment firms, including the early stage ones have changed the way they approach investing. These days, Seed stage investing is more or less like the Series-A/ B a couple of years ago. The investors look for genuine traction – Revenues and focus more on profitability rather than GMVs. Gone are the days, when all it took for a startup to raise money was to have a few thousand free users sign up on the platform.

In an ideal world, bootstrapped, cash-flow positive startups would be the rockstars. But there are times when a startup needs fund to survive and grow, the cost of running a startup is often not understood well enough by founders. From my experience, the investors look for the following in a startup:

 

  1. Ability to generate revenue (an existing portfolio of a few paying customers). This is also a confirmation on product/market fit.
  2. Ability to scale – Addressable market
  3. Identified a Channel to Acquire customers – A process that is repeatable
  4. The Team – A balanced set of skillset
  5. Ability to hustle

 

If you feel your product or startup fits the bill and is in need for funding, then go for it. Remember, fundraising is a painfully long process that will drain you out. So ensure you have a support system in place to continue running the business while the founder focuses on raising money. If your startup does not tick off the 5 criteria listed above, then put your foot down and get cracking on these 5 items.

Startup Pricing

Pricing for Startups

“You’ve found market price when buyers complain but still pay” – Paul Graham

Pricing is a crucial component of any successful business. Most companies, especially startups tend to under-price fearing losing out on an account resulting in leaving significant money on the table when they finally come away with a customer win. Offering free products, free trials, fremium etc are different strategies startups employ in winning customers and they all work for some and don’t work for the rest. In fact, there is no clear cut, ready-made, cut-out pricing strategies for any company to emulate or follow. Startups work in a highly dynamic environment with constantly changing market dynamics.

An Ideal Pricing is an art that results from a series of experimentation and also in knowing and understanding the true value and positioning of your product. Startups must, hence, use a framework to chalk out the best pricing scenarios and also analyse the feedback/ response from the market to tweak it. The broad framework for startups to work on their pricing should consider the following factors:

Positioning:

Brand positioning is one of the most important factors that influence pricing strategies for any product. In fact, both goes hand in hand. Pricing strategy does reflect on the brand as well. Imagine buying a Ferrari for the price of a Toyota or buying an iPhone for the price of an entry-level Android phone. Same goes for technology products as well – In the FSM (Field Service Management Software) segment, a product like Servicemax might be able to charge a premium while the SMB focussed mHelpdesk might not be able to charge that premium. Same goes for the other software categories as well. In the CRM space, a Salesforce commands a premium which a Zoho or a Nimble will not be able to get.

The message should be clear across all touchpoints – website, collateral, ads, PR, Sales pitch and every other channel the brand gets visibility. The pricing strategy reinforces the brand positioning be it Premium, Mid-market or low cost alternative.

Sales Team Structure:

Pricing defines the structure of the Sales team. Higher price points are very attractive from a revenue perspective but they also require a larger sales cycle, a much more sophisticated sales rep, increased chances of opportunities lost and volatility.

Nimble CRM for eg. has a pricing of $15/user/month and mostly sells into the SMB market. With a deal size of $3k-$5k, typically an inside sales person should be able to close 3-5 accounts a month. This is a much predictable model with a steady revenue coming in every month through these closures. However, for, a higher priced product like a Siebel CRM system, an inside Sales team will not be the right fit. They would be multi-million dollar contracts and would require specialised field sales person who would charge anywhere from $250k or above.

The Market at Large for your product:

It’s important for organizations to scope the market at large for them. The value of any organization is broadly the NPV of its earning (profits) for the next 5 years. Reducing price points might enable you to sell more, increase the closure rate, however in the longer run you need your product to be profitable as well. Any product will have churn, so the net revenue that you make out of a customer should be at bare minimum equal to the cost of acquisition. Also, the market size for your product is the price point multiplied by the number of potential customers. If the no. of potential customers is not a very big number and your product’s price point is relatively low, then the max market you can address might be very less for investors to have any interest in your company.

Pricing Model:

Pricing models can be different for different organizations. One could have a one-time license based pricing structure to subscription based pricing. Even with subscription based pricing – you could have a monthly or quarterly, bi-annual or an annual plan. For subscription based pricing model, I had in my previous post discussed the benefits of having an annual subscription model not just from a cash flow perspective, but also from a revenue predictability perspective and in reducing the overall churn numbers.

Like any function in a startup, pricing is also a constantly evolving function that changes with time. The best way for any startup is to broadly identify each of the parameters discussed above and create a framework which they can rely upon in revisiting pricing few times a year.