Every few years, Silicon Valley grows strong, flies high, makes beautiful music and then, like the Phoenix of ancient myth, burns to ashes and starts the cycle again. At the moment, the Valley is a frenzy of startups. The rest of the country may be in the economic doldrums, but dozens of technology companies are being formed here every day. Many seek to raise capital and at the moment anyway, money is flowing. Angel and venture investing will surely set new records this year. During the past two months, I have helped three technology startups raise early stage growth capital and casually advised several others. Each business is in a completely different market: mobile, pharma, cloud computing, crowdsourcing, global communications, etc. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. The entrepreneurs have wildly different backgrounds and personal qualities. Not all have completed their funding, but in the process each team has learned similar lessons in how best to approach outside investors (investments from friends, family, and fools doesn’t count. They apply different criteria.) Although I managed to raise tens of millions of dollars for early stage businesses, mainly Alibris, I have personally made most of the mistakes listed here and I have made some of them more than once. Nor is this list particularly unique: investors and experienced entrepreneurs write about them all the time. So here is my list of the top ten mistakes that entrepreneurs make when they try to raise money from outside investors:
1. No story. Entrepreneurs try to convince investors that they have a winning business – but investors have no idea which businesses will really work. It’s just too complicated. So investors do what human brains are wired to do when confronted with bewildering complexity: they listen for a coherent story.They listen for a particular kind of story that nearly always has three parts: a strong team that achieves impressive traction solving a big problem. These may be called Team has Traction on Trouble or Management has Momentum in a big Market, but to sell your company, you need to tell your version of this story.