I am constantly speaking with entrepreneurs, and they all seem to share the same obstacle: securing funding. Sometimes, bootstrapping isn’t a viable option and traditional lenders won’t approve a business loan, resulting in the need for venture capital (VC) money.
Reality check: Less than one percent of U.S. companies have raised capital from VCs. VC money is essentially unicorn money.
I have been fortunate enough to interact with a few VCs over the past several years. One of those venture capitalists is Burak Başel, of Başel Holdings. Its newest project, JuiceBot, is a San Francisco-based distribution system that eliminates plastic bottle pre-packaging to shield raw, cold pressed juice from light and heat oxidation. I asked Başel to lay out the important factors he looks for before investing, which are below.
1. Character of the business partners
The people behind an idea or company and, more importantly, their character is extremely important. You could have the best idea in the world, but it might never get off the ground with the wrong team in place.
“Their reliability, honesty, potential for a long-term relationship and work ethic all come into play. A team who understands their roles and performs them with love and enthusiasm is very hard to beat. I have to feel completely confident in the abilities as well as the character of the team before investing,” says Başel.
2. Capacity of the business partners
You can’t just fill startup roles for the sake of creating a team and launching. You need to make sure each person is highly qualified and possesses the ability to take the business to the next level. For example, a CFO with limited financial experience is a disaster waiting to happen, while a CMO with limited marketing experience is a severe handicap.
“There has to be a capable team with potential to grow the business and to carry it to high levels of success,” explains Başel. Experience and past track records play a major role in providing a little more confidence. Building the right founding team greatly increases the odds of securing VC money.
3. Innovative idea
Every new startup is the Uber of something, and it’s played out.
With less than 1 percent of all U.S. companies ever receiving VC money, you need to stand out, and the way to do that is by having something truly innovative and unique. You are only going to attract initial interest if your idea is something that the VC hasn’t been pitched several times already.
Başel elaborates, “It needs to be new and something that no one has ever tried before, or succeeded at before. Something innovative with extensive research and development will pique my interest enough for me to at least look at the pitch.”
4. Communal benefit
Startups come and go, and while nobody has an exact percentage, most people put the startup failure rate between 80 and 90 percent. The few startups that experience massive success all solve a problem.
Uber made commuting much easier. Snapchat made communication easier. Airbnb made travel easier. You get the point.
“I like startups that bring value to the community and to humanity in general. Do they solve a large-scale problem? Do they provide a benefit that a large percent of the population will desire to utilize? If the answer to those questions is yes, then they have a much greater chance of attracting interest,” offers Başel.
5. Long-term sustainability
“It has to be something with longevity to make it worthwhile from an investor standpoint. A short-term idea might still be viable and profitable, but not typically from a VC point of view,” suggests Başel.
Venture capitalists deploy millions of dollars, wanting multiple times return on that investment. That is why VCs focus heavily on the long-term sustainability of an idea. If they don’t believe the shelf life is large enough, they simply won’t invest.
6. Financial outlook
VCs invest to make money. There is no other reason. It’s a business.
Başel is no different from other VCs, stating, “The last thing I look at is the financial outlook of the business, determining when it will start becoming profitable.” The deal needs to make financial sense and not tie up money too long. The goal is to recoup the initial investment and re-invest in another project.
Not every opportunity is going to produce overnight returns, and the risk versus the reward is always taken into consideration. While every deal is different, profit potential and the probability of a return on the initial investment is always analyzed heavily.