Are You Ready To Jump Off The Cliff And Be An Entrepreneur?

  • by Julia Elliott Brown
  • 03 Feb, 2016

Although the statistics for parachute failure are not well recorded, about 1 in 500 fail, and the US Airforce estimates that 2-3% of jumpers will be injured and need help. Wow, sounds risky right? I’m not sure that I’d take my chances and jump right off a cliff, not really knowing whether my parachute was going to open, or whether I’d break my ankle at the bottom. Besides, I’m really scared of heights.

But that’s nothing compared to the risk of starting your own business, where the risks of catastrophe are so much higher. In the UK,   20% of businesses fail within the first year, 50% within three years . Which makes you wonder why the hell anyone would embark on the intrepid path of entrepreneurship.

The thing is, for many of us, entrepreneurialism is kind of in the blood – whether you do that within a corporate environment or out on your own. A love of taking an idea and making it happen, a constant journey of learning and growth, building a business that you always dreamed of, and taking control of your own destiny.

Starting your own business is a massive risk of course. But like parachute jumping, there is great joy and reward to be had on the descent, and there are many things you can do to mitigate that risk and increase your chances of a soft landing:

Consider a tandem jump

Starting on the entrepreneurial journey on your own is hard. I started my last business, Upper Street, with my sister Katy, and was so glad I did. It’s far less lonely when you have someone you can bounce ideas off and you can support each other through the challenges. Plus if you can find partners that all bring complementary skills, your business will get off to a great start.

Sign up with a reputable instructor

When embarking on the challenge of a lifetime, a good instructor can impart their experience and knowledge of how to open the parachute and not get tangled up in the cords like an idiot. Seek out a strong business mentor or seasoned advisors you can call on for specialist knowledge. I’d also recommend joining a few entrepreneurial or industry networking groups or signing up for a business incubator program; the support and learning you get from others will be invaluable. I was lucky enough to get onto the   ASTIA programme , and it really gave me the leg-up I needed.

Get some practice jumps in

Despite the prolific media coverage of the teenage start-up success story,   the average entrepreneur is aged 40 . The wealth of experience you can gather by working in corporate life or having started or run a business before should not be underestimated. My sister and I had both done plenty of ‘practice jumps’ – between us we had over 20 years of business experience before we started our own venture, and I had also run my own consultancy. The point being that you’re never too old to start a business, and in fact it can give you many advantages.

Study the weather report

You wouldn’t jump off a cliff in gale force wind. Equally in business, you need to get a strong sense that the market conditions are good before you leap. Understand the competition, the gaps in the market, the size of the potential, and whether there is underlying demand from consumers in what you are offering. Do your research! For us, this was a mix of desk-based research, but also canvassing target customer opinion (our friends, over pizza and wine). What are the possible ways the wind might blow so you can calculate where you might land? All of this should be captured in your business plan, and keep on checking the weather report all the time, as the wind can easily change direction.

Check your equipment

To make your business work, you need to have the right people, product, technology and systems. But you also need to take small steps. You wouldn’t buy your own parachute until you really became a seasoned jumper now would you? Work out what is business critical and what can be outsourced. Plan how you can keep things lean and watch your cash until you’ve got more proof points; test things out before you make major investments. We started our business by funding it ourselves and working with freelancers; it wasn’t until we had the proof points we needed before we took on external investment to try and scale the business more significantly.

Check that you have what it takes

Some people are comfortable with risk and like jumping out of planes or off cliffs; some would prefer to go for a nice walk in the country. It is not easy being an entrepreneur. It’s a lifestyle choice; it’s all encompassing. It will keep you awake at night; it will encroach on your family and social life at times. It will drain you of all the money and resources you have, at least for a while, and possibly permanently. And it is really likely that you will fail. But then again, you might succeed! You have to be comfortable with that.  

JUMP!

At some point you just have to take that leap. So buckle up, stop talking about it, and get on with it. Remember, you’ll never have all the answers before you get started, but at least try and recognize what you don’t know. Positive naivety is what’s needed, and a very big pair of balls. Good luck! If I’d known then what I know now about how difficult it is to build a luxury design-your-own shoe business, I probably would never have done it. But I’m glad I did.

And of course, a safe landing is only the start. Because you’re then going to ditch that parachute, and enter the war zone terrain of entrepreneur country. Are you ready?

This post was originally published in   Apex Women  

by Julia Elliott Brown 25 Sep, 2017

A new report shows that male-led startups are 86% more likely to secure equity investment than their female-led peers, DESPITE the fact that they're also considerably more likely to fail.

You’d think by now these findings would have meant an adjustment in the market – i.e. more funding going to women. But sadly, that’s not the case.

Here’s the data, which was produced by Beauhurst for the Female Founders Forum:

  •  In 2016, 86% of publicly-announced investment deals (including crowdfunding, venture capital, and angel investment) into growth companies went to firms without a single female founder, and just 14 per cent involved companies with at least one. Shocking.
  •  When you look at the amount of funding put in, the picture is even worse. £3.58bn (91 per cent) goes to men versus £358.4m (9 per cent) to women.
  • Investments in companies with a female board member averaged £500,000 per deal from 2011 to 2015, compared with an average of £2.9m for those with no women on the board.

What the £$%* is going on?!

The thing is, female-led businesses are LESS likely to fail, with only 23% of business folding vs 34% of male-led businesses.

This is a real bug bear of mine.

  • We need more entrepreneurial education for girls – let’s inspire them at an early age
  • We need to see more positive examples of female entrepreneurs in the media – we’re not all power-suit wearing bitches you know
  • We need to shift the unconscious bias against women that is in the industry – just because we have breasts, doesn’t mean we can't build a world-beating business
  • We need more female investors – crowdfunding is starting to shift this (the number of female angels has more than quadrupled in recent years), but most investors are still blokes.

But ABOVE ALL, I believe that female entrepreneurs need more MENTORING and COACHING, to help them overcome all these challenges. Because it’s bloody hard.

Female entrepreneurs need to push themselves forward… because the reality is, they are more likely to succeed than the guys. Plus, they can then inspire the next generation.

One of my big personal missions is to help more female entrepreneurs on their funding journey. Giving women the tools, skills, support and encouragement to put themselves forward, and secure the investment they need.

If you’re a female entrepreneur, or you know one, then please get in touch and let’s talk about how I can help.

Julia

Full report can be accessed here http://tenentrepreneurs.org/research/untapped-unicorns/

by Julia Elliott Brown 25 Sep, 2017

If you’re in the first few years of running your start-up, you’re probably thinking about how to finance the growth of your company. Equity Finance is something you may be considering. But is it right for you?

What is Equity Finance?

Equity Finance is where you sell shares in your company in return for a cash investment. This investment usually comes from angel investors / high net worth individuals (HNWIs), venture capital firms (VCs), corporate venturing arms, or via private equity firms (PE). Equity Crowdfunding platforms are also increasingly used to bring together these type of investors on a deal.

When might Equity Finance be the RIGHT funding choice for you?

  1. When you’ve got traction - Equity Finance is best suited for those businesses that are already proving traction in their market and are ready to scale, which is the point at which seed venture investors are most likely to be interested in backing you.
  2. When you want senior level support - Typically, those people who invest will have voting rights, so you need to be comfortable with knowing that you’re giving up some control when you take on investors (although how much can be negotiated). The benefit of bringing on the right investors means that there are others who are sharing your risk, and others who also have a vested interest in helping you grow the company. If you bring on investors with valuable skills and experience, this can be very helpful.
  3. When you’re ready to scale towards exit - Investors will also be looking for return on the money they’ve invested, typically within 5-10 years. So that means once you take on equity investment, you’re effectively on a route to exit. If your own goals are aligned with this, and one day you plan to sell your business and realise the value that you’ve created, then equity finance could be a great route for you.
  4.  When you need significant investment to get to your next milestone– raising equity investment can be an involved process, so if you’re raising less than £50k there are other routes you may want to consider. But if you’re raising £100k++, then equity funding can enable you to secure finance to that level or way beyond.  


When might Equity Finance be the WRONG funding for you to seek?

  1. If you’re still at idea stage, or in early development – at this very early point in your business journey, you’ve not yet validated the market. This makes the venture much riskier and therefore more challenging to secure investment for.
  2. If you’re building a ‘lifestyle’ business – if you have no plans to scale your business into being something much bigger, then investors won’t be interested as they simply won’t get a return.
  3. If you’ve no plans to sell your business down the line – you may want to keep your company as an income generator for you and your family for years to come, and if so that’s fine. But in this scenario, investors won’t be able to get their capital out, so the opportunity won’t be of interest to them.

What are the other options on finance that you might consider?

  1. Boot-strapping – at the beginning of your business growth journey, you should back yourself as far as possible, and beg, borrow and steal (not that I'm actually recommending theft!) the cash you need to get you out of the blocks. Look to your savings, credit cards and Friends, Family and Fools (FFF) to help you on your way.
  2. Rewards-based Crowdfunding – this can be a great way to launch a new product, because you’re effectively pre-selling it to the market to raise the funds you need to produce it. That means that you get market validation as well as finance for development. However, be warned, you may need to invest some money in marketing your campaign, in the same way you would to sell any product; you've got to drive people to your crowdfunding page, and make sure your page effectively markets the product. Check out Indigogo , Kickstarter  or Crowdfunder.co.uk
  3. Debt – A great option for early stage businesses is the government-backed Start-up Loan, where you can get up to £25k on a personal loan basis – try Virgin Start-up , who can help you with the loan plus plug you into their start-up network. You may also want to try your business bank, or you could even crowdsource your loan through a service like Funding Circle . Don't forget, you will probably need to personally underwrite any loan you take out, or secure it against your assets.
  4. Grants – This can be a good route if you’re developing a technology based business, or one that will have significant impact in scientific or social developments. Speak to Grant Tree  who may able to help you on your way, or search for industry-specific government or quasi-government grants.
  5. R&D Tax credits – If your business requires research and development investment in the early days, then check out the tax relief  you can get from the government on this. Again Grant Tree may be able to support you with your application.
  6. Invoice Financing – If you have large confirmed orders from clients who have lengthy payment terms, you can look to secure invoice financing so that you get the cash now for a fee, instead of waiting for that invoice to be paid 30, 60 or 90 days down the line.

In conclusion, for businesses with good signs of traction, strong potential for growth, and ambitions for exit over the next 5-10 years, then equity finance can be an excellent way to unlock significant amounts of funding for entrepreneurs. If you're not at this point yet, then there are other options to pursue to get you on your way.

If you’re ready for equity investment, and you'd like to talk about how you might raise the finance you need to scale your business to the next level, then please reach out.


by Julia Elliott Brown 05 Sep, 2017

Many entrepreneurs struggle with this question. It's really important that you give this question of TIMING proper consideration, so that you can make the right decision for YOU and YOUR business.

Securing equity finance is not a business goal in it's own right; it's a tool to help you ACHIEVE your goals.

So the first thing you need to look at is WHY you are Fundraising?

  1. What do you need the money for?
  2. How much are you going to need?
  3. Where is this going to enable you to take your business?

Funding is all about getting you from one key milestone, to the next key milestone. From one set of achievements, to the next set of achievements. So the funding you raise NOW, needs to get you from that A to B.

So how do you know when you're at optimum point A to be in a good position to raise equity finance?

A GOOD time to raise equity finance...

It's challenging to raise significant amounts of cash through equity finance when you're at idea stage only. There is a caveat to this. IF you're a serial successful entrepreneur, investors may well be prepared to back you on an idea only. Usually, at idea stage, you need to bootstrap your business at the start. Use your own funds, or borrow from friends and family. You might even get a start-up loan, which are available for up to £25k.

Raising equity investment is much easier at a point in time when you have TRACTION in your business. Traction is all about proving that the market wants what you are offering, and that your business has potential. If you try to raise finance when you have zero traction, it's going to be an uphill struggle, because most investors will feel that there is too much risk in backing you.

The more you can show that you have paying customers, great customer feedback, returning clients, and accelerating growth, the better. The further you are along with proving your business model, the better. These things help DEMONSTRATE to an investor that your business has great potential and they can expect a good return on their investment if they back you.

When you have just completed a key milestone that PROVES traction, you have a strong story to tell investors. This is a really good time to raise money.

A BAD time to raise equity finance...

Do NOT leave it to the point when you are out of cash. This puts you in a much weaker position because you'll be at the point of desperation. Make sure you have a good 6 months worth of cash in the bank. A well run fundraising campaign, if you know what you're doing and have experience in equity fundraising, will take 3 months or sometimes a little longer to actually complete the legals and get the cash in the bank.

If you've never raised finance before, and you don't really know how to do this, the chances are it's going to take you 12-18 months to get your funding. Or worst case, you will fail at fundraising.

Raise money BEFORE you need it.

And if you want to fund your business FAST, without wasting time and effort along the way making all the mistakes in the book, and burning through investors who all say NO, then get professional support to help you.

Getting the support you need

If you feel that NOW is a good time for you to be raising equity finance, and you're ready to get going and make this happen for you, then reach out. Because if you have a great business that is already proving traction and is ready to scale, I would love nothing more than to help you raise the finance you need... so that you can achieve all your business and personal goals that this funding will unlock for you.


by Julia Elliott Brown 18 Aug, 2017

So how do you figure this out when you're out there seeking your first investment round?

Of course, you want to make sure that your valuation is attractive for investors. Because otherwise, you may end up with no investment, and no business. It's better to have a slightly smaller piece of what will be a much bigger pie down the line once you have that investment, rather than no pie at all.

But you also need to make sure that the valuation is right for YOU. That YOU get a fair deal out of this.

Now, you can search online about how to value a business. There are lots of different calculations you can do.

  • The asset approach - where you look at what it has cost to build the business so far
  • The market approach - where you look at similar businesses and value yourself against them
  • The income approach - where you calculate the value based on a multiple of revenue or profit

But the truth is, when it comes to valuing a start-up, absolutely none of this is relevant . You cannot use simple maths to work it out. In fact, there is no right answer on how to value your business.

Some people get a bit greedy. Have an overinflated opinion of what their company is worth, when they haven't really got much traction yet. Valuing your company at £10m+ when you're only just out of the blocks is not going to wash. You might think you're going to be the next unicorn, but quite frankly it's unlikely. You’ll lose any integrity you had with investors, nobody will invest, and your dreams of making a real difference in the world will never be realised

Others are nervous and go in too low. Maybe because their revenues are small or profits are negligible or negative. Maybe because they don't have any experience in fundraising, and don't know what they're doing. Maybe because they feel desperate. They end up giving away too much equity, and massively reduce the potential that they can make down the line when their company is successful.

Somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios works. But how to do you make sure that you get the best deal?

Here are some things you need to think about FIRST...

  • How much finance do you need to raise to get to your next milestone?
  • Based on your proposed valuation, how much of your company will you need to give away?
  • How much control will investors expect to have?
  • How much control do YOU want to have?
  • Do you think you will need to raise money again in the future, and how much of your company would you need to give away then?

Ultimately at this stage, your business is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it

The most important factor in determining your valuation is what you and your investors believe your business will be worth in the future, and whether you can give them a great return on the investment that is put in

What will influence your valuation MOST, are these things:

  • The strength of your investment proposal
  • The strength of your pitch
  • The kind of investors you speak with
  • How YOU the entrepreneur come across when you meet with them
  • And how well you can negotiate your deal

These are the things you need to focus on, rather than sitting down with a calculator and trying to do the maths to work out your valuation.

If you're not sure about how you would value your business, and you want to have a chat about it, just reach out.

by Julia Elliott Brown 08 Aug, 2017

The latest research on Equity Investment in the UK* shows that there there’s plenty of cash available IF you have the right investment opportunity AND know how to navigate your way to investors.

But don't let the headline figures fool you...because it's getting tougher. Deal numbers overall are actually down 3.54% compared to H1 2016.

In the first half of this year, a record £3.03bn was invested in the UK, showing a 74.7% increase on the second half of 2016.

46% of this money is going into Seed Funding, which is the earliest stage of investment.

HOWEVER it’s important to note that although more is being invested, the deal sizes are getting larger and fewer deals are actually being done. There were two huge deals done this half of the year (Improbable £389m and FarFetch £313m) which have massively skewed the numbers. Deal numbers overall are down 3.54% compared to H1 2016.

This means that the market is becoming even more competitive. If you’re an early stage business seeking your first round of investment, it’s not easy to secure the funding you need.

by Julia Elliott Brown 07 Jun, 2017

When you're out raising investment for your business, FORGET producing a 40 page Business Plan. Don't even THINK about sending a Business Plan out to people. Why? Because NOBODY has time to plough through this beast of a document!

Don't get me wrong. You need a Business Plan. Your Business Plan is a document for YOU, to guide you in how you are going to implement your business strategy.

But....when you're out raising investment, the document you REALLY need is a Pitch Deck. And this document needs to be STELLAR.

Your Pitch Deck is THE main tool you'll be using when you have conversations with prospective investors.

And you know what? Professional investors see HUNDREDS of Pitch Decks each year. So the truth is, you MUST make sure that YOUR deck does an outstanding job for you.

A great Pitch Deck can make ALL the difference in enabling you to be successful at raising finance.... so that you can take your business to the next level and stop treading water.

A great Pitch Deck enables you to do these 4 key things:

1) Build rapport with your investor

2) Show your investor how you can solve their problem

3) Qualify potential investors to make sure there's a good fit

4) Close their commitment to invest in your business

But guess what? Most entrepreneurs FAIL to address all 4 of these things in their pitch deck, and so they FAIL to secure investment.

Here are the 5 things I see that are wrong with most Pitch Decks:

1) They're overcomplicated

2) They don't tell a good story

3) They aren't honest and authentic

4) They're full of jargon

5) They don't look professional

And honestly, it makes me weep when I see what is a fantastic business, with a smart entrepreneur behind it, with great potential to secure investment for growth..... that is simply being LET DOWN with a poor Pitch Deck.

Have you produced your Pitch Deck yet? Is it good enough? Are you SURE it's good enough?! Want some help with it? Reach out and let's have a chat.


by Julia Elliott Brown 24 Feb, 2017

Do your eyes glaze over when you think about preparing your FINANCE stuff for fundraising?

Trust me, you are not alone!

But without having a strong handle on your numbers, and understanding how your business is performing, you don't have a chance in hell of getting investment.

Here's what you're going to need as a minimum:


1) Management accounts

Professionally produced and up to date. So if you've been putting all those receipts in a big box, or just tracking things on Excel, now's the time to get this sorted. You can do it yourself (I'd really recommend Xero). Or if you outsource, then for goodness sake make sure you really understand the numbers and what your book-keeper / accountant is doing.

2) Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

These should include not only the critical financial indicators like Revenue, Margins and Profit, but also other indicators that are pivotal measures of how well your business is doing. This will depend on the nature of your business, but can include things like Cost Per Acquisition (CPA), repeat business, marketing effectiveness broken down by channel, customer service measures, production delivery times and quality measures just to name a few.

3) Financial forecast for the next 3 to 5 years.

This needs to be professionally produced, and should show not only your profit and loss, but also your balance sheet, and most importantly your cash flow. You will need to show what your funding requirements are, not only now, but also for any potential future investment rounds.


Once you've got your key information and forecasts, you're going to really need to understand how investors will interpret them, and the kind of financial questions they're likely to ask you.

At  Enter The Arena , we help clients every single day to figure out what they need to do attract and close investors and secure finance in the fastest possible time, whilst also growing your army of brand ambassadors.

If you have a business that is solving a real and painful problem for your customers, that is getting great traction, and has great potential for growth...

If you're getting TIRED of not being able to move your business forward, because you don't have the funding you need...

If you want to secure at least £150k in equity finance...

Schedule some time in my diary, and let me help:

http://www.enterthearena.co.uk/apply

by Julia Elliott Brown 17 Feb, 2017

Let's do the MATHS on how you can achieve and surpass a crowdfunding target of £150k....

1) Ahead of your public crowdfunding campaign, reach out to your network of friends, family, business associates, customers, fans and followers. Let's assume you have 1,000 in your network, and you can get 5% of them interested enough to talk to you, with 30% of these making an average investment of £5k, then you have £75k in the bag. This gets you to 50% of your target, which is perfect ahead of a crowdfunding launch.

2) Create a fantastic pitch on a leading crowdfunding platform; let's assume 5% of the 300,000+ investors on the platform view your video, and 0.5% of these convert to an average investment of £1k. This gets you a further £150k investment

Total investment secured = £225k and you've smashed your target by 150%.

And all this is possible within 90 days. In just 90 days time, you could have those kind of funds, or way more, sitting in your bank account..

So the MATHS are SIMPLE.

Doesn't mean any of this is EASY!

It's up to YOU to make sure you have a really fantastic investment proposition.

It's up to YOU to reach out to your network, and position the opportunity in a really appealing way

It's up to YOU to close the interest from people.

It's up to YOU to create a stellar pitch deck, financial forecasts and pitch video.

It's up to YOU to keep the momentum going throughout your crowdfunding campaign.

It's up to YOU to get those people viewing your pitch to make an investment commitment.

If you have a business that is already getting great traction, and has huge potential, and you need the funds to help you grow it to the next level..... but you're just not sure how to approach the crowdfunding process...reach out and I can help.

For more tips and tricks for Equity Crowdfunding Success, join my free Facebook Group for entrepreneurs:

some   https://www.facebook.com/groups/mastertheartofcrowdfunding/

by Julia Elliott Brown 12 Jan, 2017

If you're an entrepreneur, how much of your own money (+blood, sweat and tears of course!) have you put into your venture so far?

The answer should be,   as much as you can possibly afford to.

Why is this?

1) The longer you can go with your own personal funding, the more progress you can make without having to give away equity – so you should then get a higher valuation and   give away less   when you do raise externally.

2)   Investors love it   when you have skin in the game. It means you share the risk with them.

3) If you have your own money on the line, it   drives you to achieve more, and be extremely mindful of costs along the way

4) When you make your business a great success, the   financial rewards   to you will therefore be   greater.

5) If you don’t   back yourself, then frankly, how can you expect anyone else to?!

For more strategy tips, tricks and advice on how to successfully crowdfund, then do come along and join my FREE Facebook Group for entrepreneurs:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/mastertheartofcrowdfunding/

by Julia Elliott Brown 02 Nov, 2016

If you're an entrepreneur with a reasonably early stage business, you're probably thinking about raising investment for growth at some point in your journey.

You're might already be talking to angels and wealthy individuals about the investment opportunity, or thinking about   crowdfunding .

The thing is though, unlike VCs, those people you're talking to have absolutely no mandate or imperative to invest. This means that they’re usually looking for a reason to say ‘NO’ whenever an investment proposition comes before them.

So it's absolutely critical for you to understand where an investor might see risk in your business, and address their concerns up-front. There are at least   99 questions about your business that an investor might have in their head , and I am astounded on a daily basis how many entrepreneurs don't know the answers!

So get ahead of the pack and make sure you're well prepared. Here's a summary of the key areas that most investors will consider:

  1. Vision   - what your personal vision for what you want to achieve, and why?
  2. Problem   - how large and acute is the problem you're trying to solve?
  3. Solution   - how does your offering solve the problem and why is it the best way?
  4. Market   - is this an identifiable, large and growing market?
  5. Competitive Advantage   - what's your unique selling proposition and how will you maintain this?
  6. Customers   - who specifically are your early adopters, and which customers will then follow?
  7. Business Model   - how will you make money and what's the lifetime value of a customer?
  8. Route To Market   - how will you reach your customer, and what are the costs and timescales involved?
  9. Traction   - what proof do you already have of product to market fit?
  10. Intellectual Property   - what patents, trademarks, copyrights, domains and trade secrets do you have that give you an advantage?
  11. Team   - does your core and extended team have the right skills, experience and drive to take this idea forward?
  12. Finance   - what are your historic and future projections on revenue, costs, profit and cashflow?
  13. Risks   - what are the social, environmental, political, operational, technical and competitive risks that you might face, and how will you mitigate against them?
  14. Investment Proposition   - what is your planned funding journey, how much do you need to raise now and at what valuation, what will you do with the money?

For a really comprehensive list of what you need to prepare, download this   free report   "99 Questions To Answer Before You're Ready For Investment" . And if we can be of any support to you as you prepare to go out to fundraise, or in running a crowdfunding campaign, then do   get in touch .

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