A common startup dilemma is “Should I raise before or after I launch?
Here’s the scenario:
Founder follows good advice and works on validating a market opportunity while also building an MVP. Along the way, she builds her network meeting investors and others in the ecosystem intrigued by her work.
4 months of bootstrapping has been hard but with another 2 months, she’ll be able to release her product!
The plan has always been to raise money and with her efforts to network, there actually seems to be a few investors who would be interested. Should she start fundraising now before she launches her product or wait a few months until her product is in the wild and she has even more data to share?
The standard VC advisor will respond with some variation of “well, you can either raise on the dream or raise on data.” Next to the gentle encouragement to raise pre-launch since “you can only raise on the dream once,” this advice has the typical, non-committal tone that accompanies a lot of VC advice. This is for good reason. Because as with so many scenarios…
… it depends.
Let’s jump into why.
The Dream refers to how you sell the opportunity. In a pre-launch pitch, a founder can point to all the amazing things that will happen post-launch and beyond. It is this amazing future that she and the investor can dream about together. The only proof they need to offer (and can offer) is the playbook they intend to run, the prototype, and their passion. That combined with a good process that builds pressure to commit (i.e. if you don’t act now, the startup will take off after launch and you’ll lose your chance to get in at such a low valuation) can drive a Dream-based fundraise to close.
After launch, all those promises you made before should be answered by the data.
In your post-launch pitch, you better have a great story that fits with the available data. You can’t hide behind your charisma and future dreams anymore!
… or can you?
First off… what a good movie huh?
Anyway, this is the kind of “it depends” portion of the story. The answer is not as black and white as pre-launch = dream, post-launch = data. There are tangible components to a pre-launch fundraise and dream-like stories that should push a post-launch raise. Everything goes everywhere (all at once)… it’s not so black and white.
In many cases, fundraising pre-launch is better. It’s true there is an advantage of being able to sell a dream instead of needing to provide real results. Assuming your launch will go great (big assumption), you might sacrifice some valuation / dilution by raising earlier but doing so derisks the next 18 months of the business (in other words..derisks the possibility of launch not going so great).
So raising on the dream is great, but not every business can raise on a dream! In the example that I led with, I mentioned the founder spent time networking and building heat around her company. There needs to be intrigue around you and the company and some momentum to get a deal done. Not every dream gets money just for being a dream.
Some common elements of a pre-launch pitch:
And post-launch? If you launch and don’t have hockey stick growth, are you DOA?
[Note: DOA is not Decentralized Organization that is Autonomous 😂…it’s “dead on arrival”]
No. Most companies don’t hockey stick right after launch. With good consistent growth though, your numbers will paint a believable picture of a future opportunity.
But a “believable picture” isn’t the exciting opportunity that venture capitalists invest in. So how does anyone raise post-launch? That’s where the story comes in.
Taking a plain vanilla set of consistent but boring data and sprinkling an exciting dash of “but this is all leading us to a new inflection point!” gives you that awesome ice cream sundae of an opportunity that VCs will get excited about.
Even a less than spectacular launch with limited data can be dressed up by a story. “We opened the product up to limited release to get customer insights… and learned so much! Here’s what we do next!”
Some common elements of a post-launch pitch:
The answer is you need to identify how much excitement there is for your deal and how compelling your story is relative to how much runway you have left to improve the story. Your decision should always be about what is right for your business and situation. Don’t let sound bite advice dictate your strategy.