Since the beginning of this year, I've been helping a number of my startups prepare for series A (you can read some tips I've collected in my last post Some Suggestions on How to Prepare for a Successful Series A). This seems to have become a full time job in itself.
When I first started investing as an angel back in 2006, I wanted to be helpful. I offered up my previous experience as a UX/product guy to startups and they were thankful for that. Since 2006, I've learned a ton about startup building in and around the product and have broadened my areas to help.
In yesterday's world, having a kick ass product equalled getting customers which then equalled getting your series A. In today's world, it's a LOT more complex.
Think about it. Everyone is out there trumpeting the entrepreneurship horn. Never before has it been so easy to start an internet startup; all the costs and barriers have dropped. But this also means that competition for the next round of funding has grown more fierce. While the number of startups has grown exponentially, the venture funds who fund at the series A level has not grown to match. Some have called this the series A crunch - see Elad Gil's excellent post Why Fewer Companies Are Successfully Raising Series A Rounds. Others have denied there is one. Still, as I watch my startups start their funding meetings with VCs, it's obvious that you better be better than the best of the best of the best or else you won't have a chance.
Startups must exhibit the correct strengths and have minimal weaknesses. But what are those strengths? And how do you minimize weaknesses? Startups without guidance aren't going to have a great chance at getting their next round. Thus your chances increase when you have help, hopefully in your advisors and investors.
I've been involved with over 30 startups now through my angel investing and through Launch Capital. While I started with helping with just product and UX, I find myself now more importantly broadening that help to prepping the startup for their next round. Perhaps this was obvious to those more experienced than me as an investor; however, just this year, I've become painfully aware that while I can help on product and UX, it's much more important that I am helpful with a broader overview of the startup, with the specific aim of successfully landing a series A.
So I sit with founders and drive them to exhibit all the characteristics an investor may want to see. All of those are detailed in my previous post, Some Suggestions on How to Prepare for a Successful Series A. I push them to spend all their waking hours (before their bank account runs too low) to figure out their key metrics, work on whatever their weaknesses are, make money and/or get tons of users, and to put their business in the best light - especially against the competition. I bring them news from the marketplace on what investors might look for, and which ones are the best ones for their market and which ones are not. I watch the calendar and make sure they hit the fund raise trail at the right times of the year. I dress them up for the funding prom and hope that they are the prettiest one there.
To me, preparing startups for series A has become the most important function an early stage investor can perform for their startups now, more than any other function. Early stage startups should strive to not only find key advisors and investors with expertise in the right fields, but also those who can help and are willing to spend time with their startups to successfully land their next round.