Given the growth in seed funding driven by the combined forces of the “Micro-VC glut” and increasing activity by angel investors (often via crowd funding), it’s become increasingly common to meet so called “Seed Orphans” looking to raise seed extension rounds. These companies often have good teams that have achieved solid initial traction, but were asked by Round A VCs to “come back when you’ve achieved more traction,” which, in essence, is like giving a soft no.
Fake It Till You Make It
Some would advise these startups to “fake it till you make it,” which translates into exaggerating your traction via a variety of tactics, commonly seen on pitch days. This is okay, because although smart investors know the difference between real traction versus vanity metrics that don’t correlate into real signals of success, we also know this is part of the startup game, and don’t hold it against founders.
However, the problem comes when founders who aren’t ready to raise money based on scalable traction yet allow themselves to get sucked in to a conversation drilling down into the metrics, which doesn’t help in building credibility or excitement. In order to avoid this, you as a Founder must be honest with yourself: do you have what will be seen as meaningful traction in the eyes of next stage investors (read: momentum), or are you still selling the dream?
Selling the Dream
Regardless of the reason why you are not yet achieving scalable customer traction, don’t spend too much of your pitch rehashing history, but instead focus on the positives and the future. The investor doesn’t want to hear about how your initial assumptions were incorrect, or that you need more time, or that you had issues executing.
Instead, focus on “selling the dream,” specifically laying out in concrete terms what is exciting about the opportunity to invest now, what milestone you can accomplish with this money (should either bring you to Round A or make you profitable), and demonstrating that you still have the same passion, resilience, and salesmanship that you started with.
Getting a Lead Investor
Importantly, if you already have an existing base of investors from earlier rounds of financing that have favorable reserves policies, your chances of successfully reselling the dream increases dramatically. This is why companies that raise from a combo of large multi-stage VCs and micro-VCs have the highest chance of successfully raising their Round A.
They usually plan ahead for these scenarios, making it more likely they’ll support their portfolio companies through seed extension if necessary. And when you have a solid lead from existing investors, it’s that much easier to secure the full extension round that hopefully will get you to a significant milestone.
So if you’re among those fortunate enough to choose which investors get into your initial seed round, be sure to ask the right questions that will allow you to glean their follow-on strategy upfront.