10 Digital Ladies ran an event earlier this month to help female founders better understand more about what it takes to raise their first equity investment. We focused on how to get in front of angel (individual) investors, and then how to make the best possible impression.
The event was hosted by 10 Digital Ladies co founder Nina Lovelace, and 10DL 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner Jo Osborne. Jo is CEO and Founder of EVRELAB, the company behind SkinNinja, a free app that enables people to discover more about their skincare, cosmetics and personal care products’ ingredients and what the science says about them. Jo and Nina were joined by:
Colin Gillespie, angel investor and champion of women-led businesses. He is also Chief Strategy Officer at All Response Media.
Rachelle Mills, CEO and Co-Founder of KareInn, which helps leading care providers transform their care delivery, making operations run more smoothly and improving elderly resident’s health & wellbeing
Kasia Michalska, Founder & CEO at Ralloo, the UK’s first micro-sponsorship platform. Ralloo matches projects looking for funds with brands that want to support them and
Amber Fraser, Co Founder of Brave Food, a company all about doing the right thing and having the courage to take that exciting, first step towards something better.
Our panel offered some extremely practical, honest and inspirational advice. If you couldn’t make it however worry not – these are our top ten learnings from the night.
Get a feel for whether your best route is angel investment or VC (venture capital) – or you may waste precious time. Said Kasia, “We made a mistake and went straight to VCs… and although we had very positive feedback, it was a waste of time as it was too early. We never heard no, it was always come back in 3 months…. it gets your hopes up. But angels gave us our funding almost immediately.” Although each company is different, a rule of thumb would be that your company is not VC ready until it’s seeking at least 500k of investment, is clear on its business model and return on investment, the panel agreed. Rachelle added, “VCs are looking at things like market size, whether or not there is an obvious need / fits a proven existing need (think Uber vs SpaceX) and the trends of that market space.”
Apply for assurance for the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme if your company is eligible. These schemes offer offering tax reliefs to individual investors who buy new shares in your company. HMRC advance assurance for these schemes will often be a prerequisite for angels and angel networks.
Develop a punchy, 10 slide pitch deck. Kasia said, “The pitch deck is critical. That’s the thing that gets you through the door. We had lots in the deck but we then slimmed it down so we only had a few key messages. Less is more.” Key slides should cover what problem(s) your business solves, why your business is the solution, your traction/sales to date, financial forecasts, go to market plans and a slide on the credibility of your top team. It’s also crucial to know your competition. Investors see a lot of decks, will know who else is in your space – so how is your company better, and different? Amber added, “Be clear about why you need investment: why now, why this much, and have a clear idea of what this cash is going to help to achieve. Some founders want to ‘raise’ but aren’t able to quite articulate the whys.”
Be careful who you meet. Said Kasia, “Don’t jump into every single meeting with a “potential investor”, do investor due-diligence, preserve your resources. Also, recognize quickly investors who will not invest despite the initial interest.” The panel added that quality angels often make introductions to other angels, and some angel networks can help you meet more individual investors, faster (in return for a fee). Always be ready to pitch however, as you never know what could happen, added Rachelle. “I thought I was meeting to demo our platform, but in the end they both adopted the system and invested in our company because they believe in what we are doing.”
When you get the chance to present, tell a story.“Do not underestimate the power of idea over the robustness of the spreadsheet,” said Colin. “You don’t always need screens to sell your product. My portfolio is so broad – because I invest in people and the pitch. I need to buy into the person before I even look into their spreadsheets.”
You absolutely must be able to defend your financial assumptions, however. Jo said, “Investors want to see the hockey stick (startup growth assumptions) – but you need to make sure you know and are able to defend those numbers.” Angels will want to see a reasonable return on investment over a 4-5 year time frame. Amber added, “Financial plans (pre revenue) are mostly wrong, but the exercise of pulling them together is incredibly important.”
When you start to get interest, “think about taking the smart money, not any money,” added angel investor Colin. The best investors are those who are genuinely interested in your business and who are willing and able to maximise your chances of success. Jo added, “Really good investors…can advise you and offer you access to their network.”
Stay curious in the face of scepticism or rejection, advised the panel. Don’t respond poorly or become despondent if angels pass, said Jo. “Take the feedback as an opportunity (to learn), and try and keep it positive. For example, if an investor gives you feedback and it is something you can correct such as: “you haven’t proven X, that’s why I will not invest” you should bat back along the lines of: “Thank you for that feedback. So that I am clear, if I can come back to you with proof of X, you will invest?”. Kasia added, “A lesson I learnt is to listen to their questions – it’s not always about saying what you want to say. Answer them honestly.”
Just because you are female or identify as being female, don’t assume female focused investors will invest in your company. “They look at merit the same way everyone else does,” said Jo. “By all means, call out the time wasters but also appreciate that there are also many people who are on your side and trying to help you and the industry at large even if they are not prepared to invest in your business at this stage. There are always future rounds and you might want to keep that door open.”
Show up or project yourself to investors in a way that gives you strength, the panel agreed. It is a performance, but it’s not an act. “If you need a power outfit that’s ok. Be who you are, be honest.” said Jo. There was an interesting audience chat after the panel discussion about the balance that needs to be struck between being authentic, but also obviously highlighting your achievements. Pitching is no time for hiding lights under bushels, the panel agreed.
A massive thanks again to our panel for their time and energy, our sponsors Photobox for the venue, and our sponsors Bright Innovation for their help collating this blog.
Remember, if you have any thoughts on women in tech would like to share them with us please comment below or join us on Twitter or Instagram.
As always, we encourage our community to offer ideas for our next 10 Digital Ladies book! If you still haven’t got your copy of our first book, Career Hacks, you can register for a copy here: http://bit.ly/10DLbook.
Nina Lovelace10 Things We Learned About Raising Angel Investment
Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 Award winner Jo Osborne will be hosting the next 10 Digital Ladies event, on how to raise your first angel round, on April 11. Jo Osborne is CEO and Founder of EVRELAB, the company behind SkinNinja, a free app that enables people to discover more about their skincare, cosmetics and personal care products’ ingredients and what the science says about them.
That’s a loaded phrase. Throughout recent history, that was a man’s role. I haven’t looked at why this was deemed to be a ‘man’s job’ – were the doors too heavy or perceived to be too heavy for women? Were the tight, corseted dresses and huge ballooned skirts that women wore back then so oppressive that a woman couldn’t actually reach the door handle? I don’t know…
What I do know is that right now, today, opening doors, for women, is still a problem.
It’s just that now, we are not talking about the literal doors but the figurative ones – many of which seem wedged shut when it comes to female founders raising investment for their company.
I would argue that these figurative doors are just as heavy. No one benefits from this. The women seeking funding for their businesses do not benefit (from lack of capital). The investors don’t benefit (because statistically, female-led businesses perform better). The public doesn’t benefit (because products that ought to get to market to make lives better, don’t).
What can we do about it?
For starters, we stop going to events telling us that we are the problem – that it is our tone of language or the way we stand (I will not name names, but you know who you are if you’re reading this and have imposed this kind of thinking to others). Frankly. It’s bullshit.
Instead, we take practical and meaningful steps to get ourselves the meeting, to be heard and to close the deal – and be the change we want to see. In terms of the armoury you need to do that, it boils down to three key things:
Be the subject matter expert about your business. This means, understanding every small detail from the market need and the competitive landscape, to your numbers (especially your numbers!). You are no doubt already eating, sleeping and breathing this stuff by now anyway; show your potential investors that. They are not just investing in the business, they are investing in you. Give them your ‘mic drop’ moment for the day by being the best, most knowledgeable founder operating in your space that they have spoken to all week. Do not give them any reason to doubt what you are saying. In particular – know your numbers. If you can’t explain your financial model and defend it, you are not investable: so be the expert.
Understand that before you even step fast into your investment round, the term “hard graft” will take on a whole new meaning. This boils down to being the person who is the most visible, the most engaged and the most thorough in following up with each lead. You need to be the person who doesn’t let their contact with angels get lost in their inbox. You can teach Harry Potter a lesson about being a Seeker – because that’s how good you need to be at getting hold of these potential investors and locking in themeeting. The meeting where you will knock ‘em dead and take you and your business to the next level.
Resilience. Nana korobi ya oki (meaning fall down seven times, get up eight). This will become your mantra. Success of your investment round and business as a whole, depends on it. I am not going to lie to you, some days this will feel freaking impossible, but the sooner you get back up, the sooner you can get your round closed, so don’t get too comfortable sitting on the floor. It is not where you or your business belongs. It’s always a choice.
I am delighted to be able to bring together some of my favourite female founders (to the next 10 Digital Ladies event), all with completely different backgrounds, skills and varying business verticals that I know you will be able to gain a unique insight to the thrills and rollercoaster ride that is raising your angel investment round. I am even more thrilled that my own angel investor will be joining the panel to provide a unique insight in what is looked for when it comes to seeking out talent and investment opportunities.
You can join me, and a powerhouse panel, this April by registering for the event here.