For founders, especially those starting companies for the first time, the gyrations of the stock market, the resulting correction in public market tech stocks, and the inevitable impact on private company fundraising might seem disheartening. And the past few weeks of geopolitical challenges only added to the bleak scenario.
As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who has lived through two downturns (the post-2000 internet bubble bust and the post-2008 financial crisis), I know that entrepreneurial innovation is always alive and that company-building is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you are at the inception stage, we are primarily evaluating your team to make sure the product is a pain-killer and not a vitamin.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for founders looking to raise capital and build a strong inception-stage company.
Capital raised and valuation should match company stage
Rather than holding out for a nosebleed valuation at the inception/Series A stage, founders should remember that there will be many future rounds of funding. It is easier to go up than down, and your final value results from building a sustainable company.
Raising too much capital at the early stages can result in undisciplined spending, leading to layoffs and other painful actions when the burn rate skyrockets and future funding becomes scarce.
The list of breakout companies that raised moderate Series A rounds is long: Lyft raised $6.2 million; Airbnb raised $7.2 million; Zoom raised $9 million; Uber raised $11 million; Confluent raised $6.9 million; HashiCorp raised $10.2 million; Snowflake raised $4.95 million. The list goes on.
These founders understood the value of a long-term mindset and the importance of building startups with the right values and structure so they can grow into lasting companies.
Founder dilution and investor ownership are part of a long game
While founders are rightly sensitive to dilution, it helps to understand that investors who commit to partner with them realize the company will raise many rounds of capital that follow the one they are leading.
As stewards of capital raised from their limited partners (often pension funds, university endowments, and philanthropic institutions), investors are committed to delivering returns, and having a meaningful stake in a future liquidity event allows them to achieve that.