The naïve entrepreneur thinks he can relax, after he finally cashes the check from a professional investor, but in reality that’s when the work and the pressure starts. His first reality reset is that now, maybe for the first time, he really has a boss, or several bosses, and often very demanding ones at that.
Angel and venture capital investors rarely just give you the cash, and stand back to wait for you to spend it the way you want. First of all, they are usually more experienced than you in your own business domain, so they have strong views on what it takes to succeed, and probably would prefer it done their way.
Secondly, they probably didn’t give you all the money up front, but made a good part of it contingent on meeting some milestones. Your startup is now part of someone’s portfolio, and here are a few of the ways in which you should expect to be monitored by your investors:
One or more seats on the Board. Maybe you had an informal Advisory Board before, but now you have a formal Board of Directors. That means you shouldn’t expect to make any strategic decisions or pivots without their approval. You should also plan for a formal presentation to the board each month, with many communications in between.
Manage to documented milestones. A normal part of a funding agreement is a set of accomplishments, with dates, that you are expected to achieve in order to remain in good standing and qualify for remaining distributions. These are not optional suggestions, so treat them as management objectives that will get you fired if you don’t perform.
Personal visits from key investors. Both angel investors and venture capital partners like to make personal visits to your facility or a regular basis, sometimes unannounced, to see how the business is running. You should expect to personally host these visits, and openly answer any questions or concerns that are raised. Do not delegate.
Number of proactive contacts from you. In addition to the visits, every investor expects to be contacted and updated proactively and judiciously on key decisions or issues. A quick way to lose investor confidence is to always wait for the investor to call, or inversely to call the investor incessantly for every minor decision.
Access rights to operational information. All investors have information rights which are detailed in the shareholders rights agreement. These are usually extrapolated to mean they expect you to share key operational data, such as the sales pipeline, vendor discussions, and quality issues, at any time. Don’t keep secrets from your investors.
Extra focus on cash flow. Remember, it’s their cash, so treat it like gold. Because you now have money in the bank, now is not the time to lease a lavish office building, or travel around the world first-class on company business. Pinching pennies like you did in the early days is still the only approach.
It is also to your advantage to keep track of how your company performance compares to others in the investor’s portfolio. You may think you are doing well, but if your numbers put you at the bottom of their ranking, you may need to decide that taking more risk is better than the risk of being cut from the pack.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are one of the top performers, a VC may “encourage” you to take big risks and swing for a home run, even when a base hit or double would be a smarter move from your perspective. In other words, you no longer have full control, and you don’t need any surprises, just like the investor doesn’t want any.
The simple fact is that your whole world as an entrepreneur changes when you take someone’s else’s money. Do it with your eyes open. Investor relationships are like social relationships - sometimes it’s better to be alone than to wish you were alone.