The user’s guide to early-stage fundraising

Over the last decade, the early-stage funding environment has dramatically changed. There are now myriad financing options that founders can consider as they look to build their companies. Nearly 70,000 companies received funding through angel networks and 3,000 through venture capital firms annually, according to CB Insights.

On the most recent episode of Ventured, we spoke with Qasar Younis, Chief Operating Officer of Y Combinator (YC), about the early-stage funding landscape and how entrepreneurs can best navigate the waters of raising capital today. Here are some takeaways from our discussion.

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Benefit from more accessible investors

The startup ecosystem is more sophisticated than ever before because of global availability to startup resources and new types of funding sources. With platforms like AngelList and Indiegogo, access to early capital has dramatically improved. Investors like Y Combinator (YC) and KPCB have continued to increase funding accessibility for founders regardless of location. Programs such as KPCB Fellows or KPCB Edge target entrepreneurs earlier in their careers while the YC Fellows Program and the YC College Tour seek to educate new entrepreneurs on how they can begin their journeys as founders.

Consider all funding options before tapping VCs

There are roughly four ways to get funding for your startup. Understanding your funding options and thinking critically about each path is crucial to your success — and is often overlooked.

Bootstrapping: This is how the majority of companies are funded today. The benefits here are that you retain maximum ownership of your company. However, this may not be sustainable as your capital requirements grow.

Incubators & Accelerators: If you are a first-time entrepreneur, it can oftentimes be helpful to join an incubator or accelerator to get your business going. While there’s a variety of these that exist today, most usually provide mentoring, content and a small amount of capital.

Online Platforms: There are a number of funding platforms available online. As a founder you can utilize these to get a sense of demand for your product, find angel investors from across the globe and get feedback on your company.

Venture Capital: While some founders may jump straight to venture capitalists, most usually reach this step later in the life of their companies. By utilizing the options, or a combination of options outlined above, you can prove more out as a founder prior to meeting investors.

Don’t worry too much about today’s macro environment

While the current economic environment has been fluctuating over concerns of global growth and European solidarity, early-stage founders should not panic. The macro-funding environment does not necessarily constitute a barrier to achieving success. Oftentimes, downturns provide unique opportunities for entrepreneurs to succeed because it’s harder for competitors to raise capital, and talent is usually cheaper to hire. For instance, more than half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 2009 were started during recessions or bear markets, as well as almost half of the firms on the Inc. list of America’s fastest-growing companies in 2008. In the most recent economic turmoil of 2009, both WhatsApp and Square were started.

Great companies are founded irrespective of a boom or bust. Startups are a test of will and determination and as a result are often on a seven- to 10-year time horizon, if not longer.

Stay focused on customers and users

While many entrepreneurs don’t realize it, they may be going through the motions and simply doing things that look and feel like work but aren’t actually creating value that will ensure long-term success. Two areas that highlight this gap are customers and product fit, or making stuff that people really want. Not enough entrepreneurs truly understand their customers, especially in the early days, even though that understanding will help dictate product and roadmap decisions. Similarly, founders need to be able to explain why customers actually want the product they are creating, since that insight will help drive almost any business forward.

Know that VCs invest in people, not pitch decks

Although we evaluate certain metrics that help us gain conviction about a particular company, we often invest in the intangibles — the things that are hard to get across on paper. We find ourselves asking questions like how do the founders work with each other, how do they communicate, what do they know that no one else knows and how are they uniquely positioned to solve this unique problem? Having conviction about the team beyond quantifiable growth or user metrics is a major driver for how we decide to invest in companies.