The first question most people seem to ask when contemplating a new startup is where they will get investor money. That’s certainly a valid question, but all the money in the world won’t make your business a success if you hate what you are doing, and you don’t have a plan to use it. I suggest that there are several other questions even more important than the money one.
The best way to assure the success of your startup is to do something you love, as opposed to something that will make you a lot of money. Of course, all these things and many more are critical, so it’s important that you keep your priorities straight. Here are the right questions to ask yourself, in the right order, before asking others about money:
Do you understand and aspire to entrepreneur lifestyle? Being a startup founder is not a job, but a lifestyle, like getting married versus staying single. In fact, it’s more like being single, since founders usually have no one to lean on, no one to make decisions for them, no one to blame, and no vision to follow but their own.
Do you have a passion for your idea and business opportunity? There is no joy in starting a business, if you can’t stand the people, business climate, or the day-to-day responsibilities of the job. Some people relate to service businesses, while others are more comfortable with manufacturing or construction.
What type of business startup best fits your mentality? Beyond the traditional new product or service model, you can always buy an existing business, purchase a franchise, join a multi-level marketing (MLM) company, or simply go out on your own as a consultant. Each of these has their unique challenges and payback. Ask around.
What level of experience and training do you have for this business? Be wary of stepping into an unknown business area, just because it looks easy or promises a big return. The real secrets of any business are not in textbooks, and you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Experience is the best teacher.
Do you have real self-confidence and self-discipline? Starting a business is hard work and will require sacrifices. You will be operating independently, making all the decisions, and shouldering all the responsibility. Will you be able to persevere and build your new venture into a success?
Do you have a viable plan? If you haven’t yet written down a business plan, you probably have no idea how much money you really need, or even if the opportunity is real. I believe the process of writing the plan is more valuable than the result, because it forces you to think through all the elements, and make sure they fit together and fit you.
How much money do you really need? From your plan, calculate the absolute minimum amount you need to make your plan work, and then buffer it by 50%. Consider the non-cash alternatives, like offering equity instead of cash and bartering for services. Fundraising is extremely difficult, which is why most entrepreneurs do bootstrapping.
If you have made it this far, it’s fair to now start asking people where and when you can find the money you need (if any). Professionals will tell you that the sequence is friends and family first, angel investors second, and only then venture capital. Each of these has a cost in time an effort.
The process for all of these is networking (not email blasts or cold-calling investors). Start with the local Chamber of Commerce, industry associations, or investor seminars. Just attending doesn't work. Use your entrepreneurial spirit to start some exchanges and relationships that can lead to your next step.
Starting a business is a marathon, so do your preparation and training before you ask for that bottle of water. Finding money is tough, but it’s not the hardest part. The hardest part is to do it all while enjoying the journey. Get busy, and have fun.