I talked to 10 startup founders last week who are raising money from investors, have raised, or are planning to raise.
I always ask this question: What kind of money are you raising?
This is where the fun begins in our discussion. Most founders don’t know what I am talking about.
I don’t blame them.
It’s easy to see all the high-level funding stats and hear about who has raised how much at certain valuations.
But these founders don’t see the deeper stories of how founders and investors need to align on the same specific game they will play together.
There are many different kinds of investors for different kinds of startup opportunities.
Founder goals and investor business models have to be matched or you won’t raise.
Or worse, you raise and don’t win. That’s actually more painful for everyone.
So…What investment+growth game are you really playing?
1) Are you playing the “Get some funding with a SAFE then Series, A, B, C, D rounds then IPO or sell the company for over $1B” game?
The unicorn game is for 1% of funded companies and only for the biggest VC funds. Most startup founders don’t want to play this game and most startups don’t have a VC-scale opportunity.
If you aren’t going to play the unicorn game, don’t talk about big valuations, big raises, and multiple rounds.
A VC that invests $10M at a $50M valuation still expects to get a 10X return at least. Between dilution and timing, that’s unicorn territory. Or not.
2) Are you playing the “Small amount of efficient funding at practical valuations so you have the option to sell the company for $30M or $50M” game?
Big VCs can’t win here. And neither can angels and seed funds if your pre-money valuation is too high and you keep raising.
But you and your investors can win if you are efficient in your business, practical about valuations, and don’t raise again and again.
There are many outside investors who like a clear and quick path to a 5X return. Some angels, growth equity VCs, tech-savvy PEs.
And there are 20X more exits under $50M than big $1B+ exits, but we only hear about the big ones.
3) Frankly, most of these companies would be better off not raising from serious investors at all. Play the “friends and family + savings + profits + revenue self-funding” game to an early exit.
Just grow more efficiently, say no to eager investors, and sell it for $10-$75M. And don’t bet it all and take the next 10 years of your life trying to get a win for your investors.
There’s an old saying: You inherit the business model of your biggest investors.
The more you raise, the more this is true.
It’s the founder’s responsibility to decide and communicate which growth+investment game you are really playing, regardless of what “everyone says” you should do.
“Everyone” these days is usually the investors who expect you to play their game.
Founder-funding fit is up to the founder.
Founders should be asking investors what game they are playing too.