Stages of Entrepreneurial Financing

Obtaining money for an entrepreneurial company is really pretty simple–it’s just another sale. Your customer has something you want–their money. You have something they want, equity or a piece of the action of the potential growth of your enterprise.

The key, as in all sales, is to determine the right price and close the sale. To do that, you have to develop a financial marketing mindset. Just as you would prepare a marketing program to sell your product or service, you need to prepare a financial marketing program.

That means you prepare a business plan, a Private Placement Memorandum (Reg D) and then develop and practice a verbal pitch, develop a marketing scheme, present the package, and close the sale. It takes intimate knowledge, unbounded enthusiasm, and a scuff-resistant ego.

Your business plan is going to show you how much money you will need, if it should be debt or equity, and at what stage or time period it’s needed to accomplish what tasks.

By consulting with your peers, legal counsel, accountants and company consultant, you will have determined the most proper legal structure for your company as well as the proposed valuations. From this, you can then develop your financial marketing program which in turn will help you narrow in on the type of investor you will be seeking.

For seed and concept companies, this invariably means the entrepreneur starts with “family and friends” money, and then proceeds on to obtaining informal private investor financing prior to attracting the interest of the more formal investors such as venture capital firms. It will be helpful if you understand the accepted “stages of growth” used by all financing sources.

Understanding the Stages of Entrepreneurial Development
Prior to delving into the details of entrepreneurial financing, it’s helpful to establish an understanding of the traditional stages of development for entrepreneurial companies. These are: Seed or Concept, Startup, First, Second, Third, and Harvest. They are briefly described with Status, Tasks, and Financing as follows:

Seed or Concept
Status. This is the wild-eyed, perhaps incurable, inventor stage. There is an idea, a concept, no management team, no prototype, and patentability has not been determined. No business plan, timetable, or market research has been assembled. Founder(s) may be technicians.
Tasks. To begin development of a prototype, assemble some key management, develop a business plan, assess market potential, structure the company, and assess patentability or proprietary standing.
Financing. Traditional venture capital firms have little interest in funding a company at this stage. The risk level is just too high, and the time for achieving a payout or harvest is not determinable. Personal savings or friend and family money funds this stage. It ends with the completion of a seed stage business plan and the formation of the company.

Status. At least one principal person of the company is pursuing the project on a full-time basis. The prototype is being developed or the service is being discussed with potential users, the business plan is being refined, a management team is being identified, market analysis is being undertaking, and beta tests are being set up or initial customers are identified. More formal funding is being accomplished.
Tasks. Complete and test the prototype or beta test the service to obtain evidence of commercial interest. Assemble and identify an initial management team, finish the business and marketing plans, establish manufacturing and initiate sales.
Financing. Traditional venture capital firms may show an interest at this stage, assuming that a top-rated management team is assembled, patentability or proprietorship is proven, and marketability is demonstrated. Fund raising is a major effort at this stage and it may take from several months to a year or more.

First Stage
Status. The company is now a going concern. The product has proven manufacturable and is selling. If it’s a service company, some customers have tried the service. The initial management team is in place, the company has experienced some setbacks, customers can confirm product or service usage, marketing is being refined, adjustments are being made in the business plan and the money raising efforts continue.
Tasks. To achieve market penetration and initial sales goals, reach close to break even, increase productivity, reduce unit costs, build the sales organization and distribution system.
Financing. At this stage, traditional venture capital firms are interested in investment–in fact, it’s their most preferable stage. Financing is needed to get the production bugs worked out and to support initial marketing efforts.

Second Stage
Status. Significant sales are developing as are assets and liabilities. The company is sporadically achieving break even, and cash flow management becomes critical. Second-level management is being identified and hired. Export marketing is being explored and more sophisticated management systems are being put into place.
Tasks. To obtain consistent profitability, add significant sales and back orders, expand sales from regional to national, identify international marketing plans, and obtain working capital to expand marketing, accounts receivable, and inventory.
Financing. More sophisticated and second-round venture capital financing comes into play at this stage. The founders and investors are forming plans for the harvest.

Third Stage (also Mezzanine Stage)
Status. All systems are really go and the potential for a major success is beginning to be apparent. Snags are being worked out in all areas from design and development of second-generation products; to marketing and distribution; to management and all its applied systems.
Tasks. To increase market reliability, begin export marketing, put second-level management in place, begin to “dress up” the company for harvest.
Financing. At this stage, the company may need to obtain “bridge” or “mezzanine” financing to carry increased accounts receivable and inventory prior to harvest. There is a great amount of pressure to prove second- and third-generation products, increase profitability records, improve the balance sheet, and firmly establish market share and penetration.

Stage Four: Or is the Harvest Near?
The end may be near for entrepreneurial companies. The company is sifting and sorting out its options including going public, being acquired, selling out, or merging. What started out as a dream has become an entrepreneurial reality. The next challenge is to start all over again, but this time with a pocketful of dollars.

With an understanding of the stages of development of entrepreneurial companies, we can delve into the various types of entrepreneurial financing.