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Fundraising Isn’t a Goal, Capitalizing Your Business Is

melissa withers, betaspring managing director

Raising a round isn’t a strategy. It’s a tactic, just one lilypad of many that leads across the capitalization pond for a growing company. How do the lilypads connect? What’s the best time for each new leap? Should you zig or should you zag? Now...that’s a strategy.

Seems like common sense, but building out a dynamic capitalization plan—the nuts and bolts of how a company will pay for what it needs—is challenging work, especially in early stage companies where bandwidth is already in short supply.

It’s important to put fundraising—all consuming as it may be—into a broader context. Dynamic capitalization means understanding the inputs and outputs of your business, despite the many “what-ifs” that certainly lie ahead. If you are like most companies on earth, you’ll need more than successive rounds of equity funding to bring your company dreams to life. Equity, revenue, personal savings, grants and awards, bank loans, alternative debt, revolving credit, inventory financing, manufacturing partnerships, strategic partnerships, and/or revenue-based financing. For the vast majority of companies, it’s a combination of sources that fuels growth. (Gut check: remember that only 7% of the companies on the INC5000 have taken venture dollars). So what options might work for you?

Options. Plural. That’s important. Take a look at most established companies and track their capitalization history. You’ll see many lily pads leading across the pond, different shapes and sizes, some planned, some not. Bottom line: capitalization plans rarely follow a similar path.

Mastering the financial tides of your business is a matter of company strategy. We see it when we screen companies and we ask a lot questions about the company’s capitalization plan. We don’t expect the founding team to have all the answers, but their point of view on how company economics play out over time, and what resources they’ll need to cross the pond, is critical.

No two capitalization plans look exactly the same. But here’s a few thoughts on what goes into a solid capitalization plan for a early stage growth company:

  1. Granular understanding of the company’s unit economics

  2. Realistic view of how the company math will change over time

  3. Assessment of capital and capacity gaps that will drag on growth or create bottlenecks

  4. Assessment of points where “good growth” outstrips cash-on-hand

  5. Informed perspective on options for funding growth

  6. Metrics that will signal fiscal challenges before they become a crisis

The ability to make smart jumps between lily pads in the capitalization pond often separates winners from losers. Or, to double down on the metaphor, swimmers from the drowners. Smart jumpers don’t wait until they are mid-air to plan the route. It’s better to ask questions before you are desperate for answers, and ALWAYS better to investigate options before you have none.

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