Risk and the Raise

Back in October, Alex and I were two guys and a Powerpoint. 

We raised $350k partially based on that Powerpoint, but *I think* it was more based on the strength of our relationships and the fact that we were working in a big, lucrative space begging for disruption.  The investment was meant to recruit additional developers, carry us to a product, and give us some running room after to iterate.

We're on the verge of accomplishing the first half of that goal.  We hired two great developers and we're literally a couple of days from rolling out some of our product in an early Alpha version.  (No, no, it's not a "launch".  It will probably suck and break on day one, but you've got to start somewhere, right?)

Some entrepreneur friends were surprised and maybe even thought it was unfair that we were able to raise before having at least a demo or something up.  Certainly this is the kind of thing that VCs look for, but angels can be a different story. 

Thinking about risk and value creation in relation to fundraising is interesting to me, because its on the forefront of my mind right now. Since we're about to roll some product out, we have a very clear idea of what the product will look like and where it's going.  Of course, it needs to iterate based on user response/uptake, but that goes without saying.  What's very clear to me, though, is that the iteration and eventual inflection point for the service really depends on additional resources--a kick-ass user experience person and an operational/biz dev person.  These would clearly be our first hires after any kind of a financing, because the product not only depends on seamlessly integrating several complimentary career applications, but also on syndicating our services out to other communities and groups.

So the big question is, why wait?  (Especially if we've identified prospects for these roles, which we have.)

Right now, there's two scenarios:   

1) Launch, iterate with existing team, catch lots of falling knives and try and power our way forward to some arbitrary milestone that brings the term sheets pouring in, not that we or the VC's are even 100% sure what that is.  Then, spend time trying to fill out team.

2) Try and raise a couple million sooner rather than later, since we can very definitely say "This is the product and the near future of the product you are investing in."  We make our hires and hit the ground running, and make a much bigger impact in shorter order.

Option #1 plus a nice hockey stick might bring a higher valuation... but is that really what we should be optimizing for?  Outside of raising ridiculous amounts of money at ridiculous valuations, have you ever heard an entrepreneur attribute their ultimate success to a million or so here and there on interim valuations?  On the VC side, have you ever heard a VC say, "The success of our fund has really depended on waiting another month or so to see more traction on deals and teams we liked"? 

The worst thing that could happen is that we come out, inspire potential partners and employees, and we're unable to take advantage of them because we don't have the resources.  Raising money takes time, focus...   Raising at the moment your product gets really good and people finally get it is probably the worst thing you can do, because then you won't have your ducks in a row for when opportunities knock.  The trick is finding support from folks who see where you are going with something and believe that you have the passion and ability to get it there, even before its a sure thing.