La Fosse is proud to sponsor the third series of the hugely successful Secret Leaders podcast, which features interviews with key figures from the UK’s tech and creative industries.
This season, the Secret Leaders team organised a series of live events, with the promise of industry leaders discussing their strengths, weaknesses and the way in which they built their companies.
In episode three, host Dan Murray-Serter interviews a panel of experts on the subject of funding, including:
– David Buttress – The Founder of Just Eat, who built his business from a basement to the UK’s first ever £billion+ IPO, and currently operates as a Venture Capitalist (VC).
– Anne Boden – The Founder of Starling Bank, who raised a £45m seed round, in addition to £175m to help finance small business loans
– Alexandra Depledge – The Founder of Hassle and Resi, who raised a £6m Series A from Accel and exited for £30m before starting her new business Resi which focuses on the pros and cons of Venture Capital term sheets
The launch of any initiative always comes with the start-point of raising funds. And while most founders admit it’s an essential skill, the subject prompted fierce discussion about how much time it consumes, the complicated nature of funding and the distraction from launching a project from the panel.
In reference to raising 300 million for Starling in 2014, Anne Boden acknowledged:
‘When I started, I thought I knew about raising money, but I found I didn’t know how the system worked, or anyone in that system.’
‘I previously managed thousands of people in 34 different countries and I honestly thought people were going to give me the money. But I had no record in actually starting things. I was going around offices in the states asking for 300 million and they thought I was mad.’ After ‘hundreds’ of meetings, Anne raised 40 million.
For David Buttress, his IPO doesn’t hold particularly fond memories either. ‘It’s like being on a stag do that never ends. You lose three to four months of your life.’
He argued that the banality and repetition of the experience was what he found most difficult. ‘For the investor, that 60 minutes is a brand new pitch. But for you, it’s the hundredth time you’ve gone through your deck.’ David describes the feeling like ‘a hamster on a wheel.’
Alex Depledge underlined the difficulty in getting the initial funding for Hassle. ‘It took a year and a half to raise 250,000.’
She added that despite the slow start, once progressing through an Accelerator, the logical next step was to raise funds again. But this was not without its problems, as Alex and her co-founder, Jules, found themselves in the middle of a bidding war between two VCs.
‘We went in asking for 1 million – and got four. The business was only four people.’
The whole experience taught her a valuable lesson, in terms of planning beyond the raise itself. ‘We planned the wedding rather than the marriage, and consequently we were chasing the valuation as soon as we got out the door.’
Alex feels that businesses would do well to think before accepting investment. ‘Think about what your business is, and where you want to go, before you commit to raising money. Unless you’re a SaaS business, I wouldn’t do VC.’
So, with their wealth of experience, what insight can the panel give us?
One of David’s key tips is to keep a sense of perspective.
‘As serious as everything feels, remember, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t succeed. You start the pitch with nothing, so if you end with nothing, you haven’t lost.’
David also emphasised the importance of clarity of expression. ‘You want to leave investors with two or three messages which are really clear, as to what makes you special as an investment. The things that get you excited are probably what will get them excited.’
Excitement is indeed crucial, which is why Alex thinks it’s important to only book one meeting a day. ‘You need to be high energy. The first meeting is about getting them hooked on you.’
Anne added that it’s good to remember that this is a two way street. You’re also giving them an opportunity. ‘Most people don’t think their banks will ever say yes, but some banks are desperate for good businesses to come in and ask for investment.’
It’s still important to exercise caution when choosing investors however, as Alex pointed out. “Anyone who wield a stake, even a minority one, needs to be aligned with your values. Even if they only have 5%, they wield a soft power.”
And after you ride off into the sunset?
A crucial lesson to remember is that while funding changes a business, it also changes a founding team, something the leaders see as a positive outcome.
“All of the best sportspeople are the ones open to learning, and it’s the same with CEOs.” David explained.
Anne agrees. “You have to change with your company, grow with it, and be honest when you’re out of your comfort zone.”