The phrase “It takes money to make money” is never truer than when you’re trying to rapidly grow a tech startup. While your seed round likely fueled the product development and early customer acquisition, the Series A round is what will propel your company’s first real growth. It’s a vital funding milestone, with the money raised dedicated to building your staff, scaling your product, and entering new markets.
However, with the evolution of the funding landscape, investor expectations of Series A-eligible companies have changed. By understanding the basics of today’s Series A, you can tee up your company for success—and then get to the business of growing.
The New Series A
There’s been talk in the startup community about the increasing size of Seed rounds—and subsequently what differentiates a Seed funding and a startup’s Series A round. A recent study  shows that the size of A rounds has increased dramatically, averaging $15.7 million in 2018 compared to $5.1 million in 2010. Eighty-two percent of companies that raised an A round were generating revenue (compared to fifty-six percent in 2016). The startups were also more mature, with most raising A rounds more than three years after founders began the company.
For founders, these shifts are significant to acknowledge. It means you need to pay attention to the performance metrics—especially revenue. This is something your next round of investors will expect. Very few startups are now able to raise a Series A round before they have revenue, and many Series A investors now expect that you’ve already achieved product-market fit and have steady sales growth.
The funding options for a Series A round range from traditional venture capital (VC) firms to individual angel investors to even crowdfunding. The likely place to begin fundraising is with the investors you already have. Reach out to those who have supported your company the longest and allow them to reinvest.
However, because Series A rounds are much larger than Seed rounds, they require far more investor firepower—that’s where VC firms come in. In order to find funding, start by tapping your network of current investors for introductions to firms that specialize in early-stage funding. Also, investigate firms that have some expertise in your startup’s area of specialty. You might consider looking at funds focused on investing in specific regions of the country  as well - there are many funds outside of Silicon Valley that may want to invest in notable and nearby startups.
Equity crowdfunding offers another alternative, by allowing startups to crowdsource equity investors. It’s still relatively new, with only 1,400 entrepreneurs having used equity crowdfunding  since the regulations were established in 2011. But, these regulations weren't implemented until several years later. On May 16, 2016, Equity Crowdfunding or Regulation Crowdfunding came into effect, allowing crowdfunding regardless of one's net worth or income . It can be a viable alternative, especially for startups that have strong consumer appeal and that may have more humble beginnings.
Set Your Startup Apart
Venture capital firms receive solicitations from hundreds of founders, and the key is ensuring that your startup opportunity stands out from the crowd. Before you even send an email or make a call, explore whether your company fits within the firm's investment criteria. Some firms specialize in B2B SaaS, for instance, while others are investing heavily in artificial intelligence. If your startup isn’t a good match for a firm’s area of interest, it may not be worth your time.
You also need to develop a solid story that captures why your product exists, the problem it’s solving, and your startup’s potential for growth. Highlight your progress, your existing team, what hires you need, and how a Series A will help achieve your next set of growth goals. Noting any capital efficiencies you employed with your Seed funding is also crucial.
Investors note that founders who get funded are passionate—but also realistic . So while you present an aggressive revenue projection, you need to back it up with a believable strategic plan for getting there. For instance, to achieve double or triple revenue growth, your company will likely witness similar growth in its operating expenses and your plan should account for that.
Be Financially Ready to Raise
In fundraising, a little early preparation goes a long way toward speeding up the due diligence and eventual deal. Take the following steps to ensure you’re “funding ready”:
• Prepare all of your compliance and financing documents. Do all of this in advance so that you can provide them immediately to interested investors.
• Understand your current cash burn as well as projected post-raise spending. Investors will examine your pre- and post-raise burn rates. And while there's not necessarily a right burn rate, they'll want to make sure that the amount you're raising isn't too little or too much given what's needed to operate the company.
• Create a post-funding financial plan. Investors will want to look at a detailed plan for their dollars. Include information about hiring needs as well as development and product improvements.
If you have questions about raising a Series A, your Union Bank® banker can help. They can provide an overview of financing options catered to high-growth tech companies and connect you to strategic advisory services from experts who understand startup needs. As every founder knows, fundraising becomes a second full-time job. But do it well, and you'll position your startup for a promising future of growth.
About Bruce Breslau
Bruce joined Union Bank in 1993 and is Managing Director and Market Manager for Commercial Banking in San Diego. Bruce is focused on the Middle Market division, overseeing financing for companies with up to $2 billion in revenue within the footprint. Bruce is heavily involved with the local San Diego community, serving on the EvoNexus Board, CONNECT Foundation Board, EDC Board and the Scripps Memorial Hospital Community Advisory Board.
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