Like the revolving doors of what’s hot or not in fashion, popstars and the latest fusion cooking trend, certain business sectors can create similar bubbles of hyper-enthusiasm and supporting investment.
Clearly, if you’re launching a product and/or aiming for a fundraise, it could make a dramatic impact on success if you’re in the current hot sector because investors are people and, like the rest of us, they get excited and like to follow the crowd.
Let’s take our dusty old legal sector as one example, where legal tech is going through a particularly exciting phase, as evidenced by investor interest.
During 2013 there was $458 million invested in the US legal tech space (vs. $66 million in 2012), and a similar wave of excitement is gripping the UK market, with multiple new entrants and investors showing keen interest in models capable of disrupting this historically low innovation space.
There is no doubt that being in a ‘hot’ sector will help oil the wheels of initial interest in your fundraise.
But while deregulation, innovation and investment are combining to create a perfect ‘transformational’ storm in the legal sector, it remains a classic case study in how a conservative space retains an incumbent resistance to change, from buyers and suppliers.
And these particular dynamics shape the type of investor interested in backing legal tech products and innovation because the market needs more education than most and change might require a longer play than elsewhere.
It’s an example of how different sectors, can influence your funding strategy. Here’s what we’ve learnt.
Find an investor who gets your market
Not every investor will be as excited or comfortable with entering a new space or disrupting a market as you and your founding team.
You’ll need to find the right type of investor, ideally someone who, if they don’t have a background in your target sector, get it.
This is about understanding the customer, the decision making process and can see the opportunity but also the reality.
You have to convince that your product, team and execution team can make the breakthrough and be careful about pioneering; it’s almost always safer to follow in behind those blazing a trail.
Do your research
Your research into potential investors (angels or institutional investors) should focus on the background of key decisionmakers and the type of company in which they’ve previously invested.
Ideally you can start that conversation with someone who intimately knows your market and therefore, has a chance of predicting how they might react to your innovation, marketing, vision.
Ultimately, being in a ‘hot’ sector might well help you get attention but, it’s not going to camouflage a poor quality product, weak team or flagging performance.
Bring it to the table
If you sit in front of any panel of experienced VCs, business angels, institutional investors, then you will almost always hear the same mantra; they will invest in a team they think has the capability to execute, be it through sector experience, complementary talents and/or sheer grit/determination.
They want to see traction that shows there is market appetite for your product and you (at least partly) now how to reach out to it. Investors will be sector agnostic about these two requirements.
The funding journey can become an unexpectedly difficult process, particularly as start-up entrepreneurs tend to set off with raised expectations about what they’re bring to the funding community.
Fund managers see hundreds of opportunities a year and the vast majority of those carefully crafted business plans go into the bin (rather quicker than you imagine).
The key with any funding strategy, is to understand what will trigger that engagement and interest to find out more.
Some of it might be cultural; what’s their background, expectations, market reputation? How do they operate, who do they operate with, is it compatible with you and your business?
Try to align your own ethos and vision, with those of your funders and the conversation will be a lot smoother.
Consider funding structures
Different types of funding structure will bring different cultural issues into play. A recent US article on crowdfunding described it as a ”fail first culture’; the idea is you can go out and fail a bunch of times and strengthen your company, find different partners’.
Clearly risk appetite will also vary across different sectors. If you’re raising funds in a sector that’s experiencing a bubble of growth (anyone mention FinTech)? then you’re likely to find a much more aggressive risks appetite than if you were entering a more dusty, slow-moving sector.
But be aware, like any investment in any fields, if risk appetite is high, then expectations of return (and the speed of that return) will be likewise.
Again, if entering a space experiencing high growth and quick returns, that’s what your investors will be demanding and whilst it might be a collegiate, supportive atmosphere during the pre-completion flirting, what will be their expectations and behaviour when you’re going through a dark phase of trading and not hitting the forecasts, around which you closed the raise?
Keep it real
With any fundraise, take a step back from your forecasts and conduct a reality check. No funder will expect you to deliver to the letter of your business plan; no business plan ever executes as expected.
However, they will be backing you on the basis of your ability to execute and those forecasts will be the key measurement tool.
With each new presentation, you’ll find yourself tweaking your forecasts, model and elevator pitch but from my experience, every start-up should seriously consider halving their original forecasts and doubling their timeline.
Raising funds is often a time-consuming, distracting and frustrating process. It’s therefore vitally important to research the market in advance, strategise who you need to get in front of and minimise any wasted time. Some funds are sector specific, others are more agnostic.
All look at the same thing: team, traction, technology.
In general, the more hi-tech a business, the more likely you can find a narrow, specific fund and knowing your market, understanding who plays where. More general opportunities may need to pursue a wider strategy and contemplate more open fundraising platforms.
Ultimately, whatever the sector, however open or closed they are to ideas, our experience shows that if you have a great project, a strong team and sufficient traction, the right funds for your business are out there.
Know where you want to get to and how funding will take your there. But to minimise the time you spend on the search for funds, you need to understand the right fit for your business, and your sector.