To round off 2022, we invited four eminent entrepreneurs to share their thoughts on how businesses can continue to prosper in 2023, despite the challenging economic circumstances we face. Mandeep Singh, Ella d’Amato, Jules Hydleman, and Vanessa Hall joined All Together Co-founder, Jamie Mitchell in a panel discussion, providing invaluable business advice and knowledge on a range of pressing subjects.
This article – the second in our series presenting the best advice from the event – will focus on our panellists’ tips for managing your existing investors, and securing new investment, in the current economic climate. And with investment playing such a pivotal role in the success of any business, we feel this is crucial advice for any CEO or founder whose company is facing an uncertain future.
Honesty: The Best Policy
The first of our panellists to touch on the theme of investment was Trouva founder, Mandeep Singh. Mandeep founded the online marketplace in 2013, originally operating under the name ‘StreetHub’, but, when the company’s conversion rate began to dwindle, he knew he needed to pivot his approach.
“We were running out of VC money and were slowly realising that we needed to take a step back and do a strategic review”, he explained. “That was probably the first time I went back to our investors and told them it wasn’t working.” This is an incredibly daunting situation for any CEO or founder – admitting you were wrong is never easy – but honesty is absolutely crucial to cultivate a relationship with your investors that will endure hardship and ensure the longevity of your business.
“It was the first time I realised that it was my job as the CEO to let the board know what I thought was the best way forward, rather than letting the tail wag the dog”, Mandeep clarified. It’s not uncommon for CEOs and founders to think their investors know best. After all, these people have much more experience and know a lot more about business than you do, right? But the fact is that you know more about your business.
“I mistook their opinion for being far more considered than it actually was”, Mandeep recalled. “One of our board members, for example, was also on the board of a bunch of billion-dollar businesses, so the amount of time he spent thinking about us and our strategy was negligible. We [the team] were the only ones that were full time in the business, so we were the only ones who really knew what it needed.”
To Mandeep’s surprise, his admission that the company needed to change direction was well-received by his investors. Rather than being met with disappointment and frustration, he was met with understanding and support, which is, according to True CMO and MD, Ella d’Amato, precisely what investors should be there for.
“The ideal setup is that the team have the plan and they own it”, she explained. “We [investors] are there to support them and add value where we can.” She continued to reveal that all investors really want to see is a well-considered plan. “For us, it’s okay if you don’t have a plan ready, but be honest. Tell us: ‘This is what we’re doing, this is the time frame, we’ll come back when it’s ready or if we need help from you.’”
Being honest with investors requires courage. You must speak up if something isn’t working and present them with the facts about the company’s performance in a balanced way. This level of openness helps to build trust and credibility, creating a relationship that will see you through difficult times.
So much value has been attributed to profitability over the last 6 months or so, with experts encouraging businesses to strive for profitability as quickly as possible if they want to survive. Goodlord CEO, William Reeve, and DN Capital MD, Steven Schlenker, both advocated this approach when speaking on different episodes of the All Together podcast. However, our panellists urged business leaders to exercise caution in thinking that profitability is the be all and end all in business.
“Everybody wants to move from not making money to making money, i.e., profit”, admitted serial Chairman and NED, Jules Hydleman, “but sometimes that’s not realistic. Sometimes you need a more achievable goal.” And this assertion was supported by Mandeep, who added, “If you can get there, fantastic. But there’s no point in getting only halfway to breaking even because by the time you’ve slashed everything, you’ve kind of destroyed a lot of the business’ value.”
Stripping away the core of a company to make the P&L look good is never advisable – even in dire straits – if it is not sustainable. “It’s no man’s land”, Mandeep explained, “because no one wants to fund a business that isn’t profitable, so if you don’t get there, you won’t get any PE money, and the VCs won’t back it because you’re no longer a high-growth, interesting business.”
Profitability is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a lot of investors are more likely to be interested in a business that is already turning a profit, but if you fall short, you not only waste time and resources, you risk becoming unattractive to VCs too.
The key is to make sure that any goal you set is achievable. Investors don’t want to see businesses setting their sights too high and risking failure; instead, they want to see a clear plan for achieving success. That means if profitability is your goal, you need to ensure that it’s actually within reach before altering your tactics. “Sometimes you have to run at a brick wall because you’ve got a chance of jumping over it”, Mandeep summarised. “Sometimes it’s better to maintain your growth at a decent level to actually raise money.”
When times are tough, securing new investment for your business can be a challenging task, but our panellists had some innovative tips for when the chips are down. “First of all”, Mandeep began, “you have to be brutally honest about who you can speak to and if there’s a realistic chance of them giving you money because it’s much better to concentrate on a smaller group.”
In Trouva’s case, internal investors represented the most realistic chance of securing more capital, but instead of beginning with the more prominent investors, Mandeep started with the smaller ones. “Our lead investors were hesitant to go first and had other businesses in their portfolios that they were prioritising”, he said. “So, we essentially decided to work backwards off the cap table.”
Starting with their angel investors, Trouva managed to secure a series of conditional investments: the angels would provide capital if their VCs did too. This allowed Mandeep and his team to approach their larger investors and say, ‘You just need to do your bit and it’ll unlock all of this extra capital.’
After agreeing with Mandeep’s argument, Ella also offered an alternative method of increasing your chances of securing investment. “Be honest with yourself on what the milestones of your success are”, she instructed. “If you’re in front of an investor and you want a million pounds, do you need the million all that day? What is the plan for that cash? And then how can you come up with milestones so that in three, six, or twelve months’ time, you can say, ‘Look, we are on the right path, could we have the rest of the money?’”.
For example, you might set a target for reaching a certain number of customers or hitting a revenue milestone and – once these goals have been achieved – investors will be more willing to offer more capital to continue scaling your business.
Capital has undoubtedly become more elusive over the last twelve months than it has been in recent years, but with the right approach, it is certainly still on the table. With that in mind, here are three things you can do today to find new, and manage existing, investment opportunities: