Garrett Camp, the co-founder of Stumbleupon, recommends, “Stay self-funded as long as possible.” I think I have been quoted saying the same thing, but over the past few years I have come to realize that you can wait too long to raise outside capital.
When I founded LayerOne I raised money first and then built the company. Since then I have been starting companies using my own money including my last company – ShopSavvy. Our investment strategy was to look at the company each month and determine if it makes sense to keep investing. While we had the resources to grow the business, there was a limit to those resources and I think we should have raised outside capital to increase the pace of growth. Ironically our success in user growth and engagement made it more difficult to raise money from early stage investors. It was not uncommon to hear a VC suggest that he wishes he talked to us earlier.
We grew a lot on a small amount of money, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been smart to raise outside capital earlier. Raising outside capital provides credibility to your business giving you instant access to the blogosphere (TechCrunch, VentureBeat and so on) and access to potential employees who pay attention to what deals investors are betting on. Using your own money doesn’t win you any access, credibility or friends.
The upside to not raising outside money? You don’t have to raise money, period. Tim O’Reilly said, “Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.” Raising money makes me feel like I am visiting LOTS of gas stations – usually not getting any gas.
Now that I am doing it all over again with my latest startup, HAUL, we have decided to go ahead and raise a small amount of money ($750K) from a few smart angels (Dave McClure, Christine Tsai, Dave Matthews, Joel Fontenot). These early investors are valuable for a few reasons a) potentially ability to refer clients, b) potentially able to refer potential hires, c) potentially able to make referrals to VC firms for the Series A and (perhaps most importantly) d) social proof that the deal is smart. Within a short period of time, perhaps 6 months our plan is to raise a $5M series A investment from one tier one firm (perhaps with a co-investment from a strategic). The idea is to get everyone in the same boat together until it makes sense to raise the huge round or do a strategic deal.
When I was updating this post I realized that I wrote on this topic last year in November in a post titled, “When should you raise money?” (hmmm, I’m not too creative with titles). I suggested that when I started my next deal I’d do a few things…
- participate in an early stage accelerator
- raise a small angel round from Dave McClure
- raise a series A from First Round, Benchmark or Andreessen Horowitz
Turns out we did the first two. After the holidays we will try to do the third. Go back and read that post (it was a lot better).