5 Key things investors look for in a startup
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A few days ago, I did a session at InstaOffice for entrepreneurs, trying to de-mystify startup investors and their thought process. I really enjoyed the event as it was very interactive, with lots of questions from entrepreneurs in the audience.

One key topic of the discussion was the key things investors look for in a startup. Over time, I’ve realized that things investors take for granted often comes as news to entrepreneurs, such as this. InstaOffice team did a brief video on this topic to go along with the talk, which is the focus video of this post.

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What can one make of the early-stage funding implosion?
What can one make of the early-stage funding implosion?
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There’s consensus now that seed to pre-Series A funding environment isn’t rebounding. In fact, 2017 has been worse than 2013/2012 globally, and trending back to 2014 levels for India.

There are no indicators that next 6 months will be drastically different. It doesn’t help that there’s too much noise in every sector, including AI, fintech, SaaS, etc. which leads to higher burden of proof for startups. Moreover, every investor is currently distracted by shiny new objects of blockchain & crypto, due to strong bull runs there.

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Why do investors ask startup founders for stock vesting/ restrictions?
Why do investors ask startup founders for stock vesting/ restrictions?
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A majority of founders today seem to be comfortable with stock vesting provisions in termsheets. However, still encounter a few (usually first-time) founders who see vesting as investor tactic to gain more control. Some feel they’re being forced to ‘earn’ ownership in their own ventures.

This interpretation of vesting is harmful. Investors invest in the mid-long term future potential of a startup, and the team sticking around to achieve its ambitions is key. A non-executive founder (w/o day-to-day role) is as good as dead equity. If a founder leaves, it’s a big blow to the execution ability of a team.

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What’s with this tranched investing?
What’s with this tranched investing?
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I had another call today where co-investors batted for tranched investment to ‘ensure financial discipline’ in startup founders. I am strongly opposed to it. Either you trust in founders and invest, or don’t. Put terms in agreement to ensure financial oversight.

Hate milestones based investing. Things go wrong all the time. Putting founders under added stress of uncertainty on funds is useless.

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How much runway should you build during a fundraise?
How much runway should you build during a fundraise?
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Early-stage startup founders must’ve often heard from investors/ advisors to build runway for at least 18 months when fundraising. Yet, quite a few founders plan for much less. “We will raise Series A in 9-12 months” is a risky strategy, usually driven by an attempt to limit dilution.

There is a simple reverse-calculation to justify a minimum 18 month runway.

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Should you have targets in investor agreements?
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If you’re an entrepreneur raising funds and the investor is keen to put in specific targets in your shareholder agreement & link it to valuation/ investment tranches, understand the following 3 things before you sign.

1. Get ready to be distracted: This isn’t super founder friendly behavior and builds uncertainty on your dilution/ funds availability. It will be distraction that’ll keep from 100% focus on business even after fund closure. Question if the investor is right for you.

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Why Are Indian Founders Less Informed?
Why Are Indian Founders Less Informed?
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I have had the chance to observe startup founders both in the Bay Area and in India over the past 2.5 years. While it’s a small duration, it does seem to me that founders in India are relatively less aware about how startup investing actually works. By this I mean an understanding of the VC math, acceptable investment terms, exit paths, cap tables and other nuts and bolts that have nothing to do with technology stacks, target markets or business models.

If you were to ask an average Joe (or Jai!) founder in India, who’s yet to close a round, anything regarding investment terms beyond pre-money valuation and dilution, there’s high chance that you’d draw a blank.

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Dealing With Draconian Investors
Dealing With Draconian Investors
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In the past year at Globevestor, I have closely witnessed a few instances of startup fundraises where key investors behaved un-admirably, by failing to honor their commitment or trying to re-negotiate previously agreed terms of investment at the last minute.

Mostly this happened at the round closure stage, i.e. post term sheet/ due diligence & during paper-work/ money transfer, despite the investors being well aware of the limited runway & options available to the startup. At worst, they possibly happened specifically because of this knowledge!

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