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4 tips for raising a successful seed round of funding

(Business Finance) After seeking a seed round of funding, one entrepreneur learned some difficult lessons and offers a fresh insight into the process.

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seed round

I couldn’t believe what I’d just said.

I don’t think my boss could either, so I repeated “That’s right, we just got a $50,000 check for my new startup and I’ll be leaving in a couple of weeks.” I was on cloud nine. Our funds had just hit the bank and I was on my way to fulfill my entrepreneurial dream, but it wasn’t always this way.

Here’s what I learned through raising a seed round of financing.

1. Have a product and market penetration

In today’s tech landscape if you can’t put together your first product and get some decent validation working out of a garage, dorm room, or basement you are going to have a rough go at raising any good money. When we approached our first investors we already had a product with about 2,500 people using it in our target market and we were growing rapidly every month without much paid advertising. Growth and penetration is so key to raising money. Investors know it’s difficult to do all of this without funding, but that separates the doers from the people that only have an idea.

2. Don’t be afraid to turn people down

Our first “nibble” from an investor was the kind of offer that feels a bit more like an insult, but we didn’t know if we could do better so it was tough to turn it down without a lot of other options out there. We did turn down that offer and we’re glad we did. Our next offer had double the valuation and a lot better investors behind it.

While we were considering this afore mentioned offer I called a board member from my previous company to ask his opinion about that investor. He invited me to his offices to talk about it and ended up writing us check a few weeks later. We didn’t know what a round would look like yet so we agreed on a convertible note for $50k. He liked our idea and started sending me to pitch his friends. They were all kind and told me I could come to them with strategic questions in the future but most said that they weren’t investing at the time.

I reached out to a few investors per week and was networking the best I knew how while working late nights to keep working on our product and marketing efforts. I kept in close contact with the investors that said I could go to them with strategic questions as I continued to reach out to new potential investors. Eventually one of the investors I contacted wrote us another $50k check, but we were still $400k shy of our target seed round. When the new investor came onboard I reached out to those that said I could come back with “strategic questions” to tell them about the exciting news. In short order a few of them wrote me checks as well.

LOOKING BACK: As I look back on this time I have identified a few keys to my success. The first was building good relationships. When I got turned down I maintained as close of a relationship as the potential investor was okay with. That is where most of our money came from. We also had to have good growth, so I couldn’t leave our business behind while raising. When you have a small team you have to continue to grow your business despite the demands on your time to raise money because the people you are raising money from care about your growth.

Once we had 4-5 investors onboard I would get an occasional meeting setup with an angel that wanted to invest in a hot tech startup. Our investors would refer that angel to me, we would talk for 30 minutes, and they would cut me a check in the next few days. These were the good days, but I started to get worried about taking in too much capital and diluting ourselves as founders.

3. Raise money when it wants to be raised

At this point in the fund raising process one of my investors taught me a valuable lesson. As I struggled with whether or not we actually needed more money I gave our lead investor a call to discuss the matter. He laughed a little at my dilemma and said, “Jordan, you raise money when it wants to be raised.” What did he mean? You’re not always going to be the hot company that everybody wants to be involved in. There will be ups and downs. You’re worth more during the up swings. Take the money then, and take as much as you can, within reason.

4. Startups fail because they run out of money

Speaking of taking in as much money as you can I thought I would share this last tidbit on how to think about money as a startup. One day while speaking with one of our investors he mentioned a recent conference he had attended. At the conference a question came up that he gets asked regularly. The question was, “Why do startups fail?” His answer? “Because they run out of money.” I know, it’s super profound! But while it might sound a bit obvious I think there’s a lot to be said for his answer. I firmly believe that most startups can be successful given enough time and resources to pivot and nail a product and market. The problem? One day you’re going to fail if you run out of money. As a founder you have to watch your resources like a hawk and raise as much money as you can. You have to do amazing things regardless of the limited resources, and you need to make sure your company has enough resources. You have to be scrappy.

There are so many other things that go into the process of getting a startup off the ground including achieving product-market fit, building a great team, designing and building product, creating an investor presentation, identifying and understanding your market, growth hacking techniques, and more. Stay tuned as I share what I have learned about these topics through my experiences being a product manager at a small B2B startup that was acquired in December of 2011 by Proofpoint (now a publicly traded company), and starting my own consumer-facing business that is currently disrupting the student housing search.

Most recently Jordan was the Co-founder and CEO at Unbill - a FinTech startup that was acquired by Q2ebanking (QTWO) in January of 2017. Before that, Jordan was an early employee and product manager at NextPage which sold to Proofpoint (PFPT) in December of 2011. Jordan is happily married and has 3 children.

Business Finance

Clyde helps smaller brands to offer product protection programs

(BUSINESS FINANCE) For small brands that sell not-so-little items, Clyde is a big deal! Now you can offer product protection normally reserved for the big brands.

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For small businesses seeking to adapt to their new or growing online presence, Clyde, a platform allowing small business consumers to receive extended warranties and protection on purchases may be the answer.

Due to the current pandemic, online retailers have reported on average, a 200% increase in digital sales. Online commerce is only expected to continue its growth with 52% of consumers suggesting they will not return to in-store shopping, post COVID-19. With online shopping in demand, stolen packages, damaged products, and lost goods are also surging.

If you’re ordering from a superstore like Amazon, Target, or Walmart, chances are your items are protected and will be quickly replaced upon a discovery of any of the above issues. However, for smaller companies, protection on consumer goods is usually not offered, not because smaller companies don’t want to give their customers this option, but because finding insurance for small businesses is hard.

Clyde, a company working to provide product protection programs to small retailers through the navigation and connection to insurance companies, intends to change that. Clyde gives small businesses or as their CEO, Brandon Gell, would say, “everybody that’s not Amazon and Walmart,” the opportunity to provide their customers with individual product protection or an extended warranty contract that can be purchased at checkout.

Clyde also provides the retailer with a portion of the insurance profit, serving as an incentive for smaller companies who usually get left out of this profitable market. Product protection is responsible for a whopping $50 billion market, so getting in on the game is key. The company also provides sellers with critical data analytics, product performance statistics, that otherwise would not be obtainable to smaller companies.

Not only is Clyde protecting consumer purchases, but its mantra acts in the best interest of smaller companies normally left out of big commerce perks. The company’s dedication to provide smaller businesses with access to revenue and its consumers with product protection at a time where the demand is higher than ever may allow this company to flourish.

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Business Finance

Will cash still be king after COVID-19?

(EDITORIAL) Physical cash has been a preferred mode of payment for many, but will COVID-19 push us to a cashless future at an even faster rate?

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No more Cash

Say goodbye to the almighty dollar, at least the paper version. Cashless is where it’s at, and COVID-19 is at least partially to thank–or blame, depending on your perspective.

Let’s face it, we were already headed that direction. Apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay have made cashless transactions painless enough that even stubborn luddites were beginning to migrate to these convenient payment methods. Then COVID-19 hit the world and suddenly, handling cash is a potential danger.

In 2020, the era of COVID-19, the thought of all the possible contaminants traveling around on an old dollar bill makes most of us cringe. Keep your nasty sock money, boob money, and even your pocket money to yourself, sir or madam, because I’ll have none of it! Nobody knows or wants to know where your money has been. We like the idea of taking your money, sure, but not the idea of actually touching it…ewww, David. Just ewww.

There is no hard evidence that cash can transmit COVID-19 from one person to the other, but perception is a powerful agent for changing our behavior. It seems plausible, considering the alarming rate this awful disease is moving through the world. Nobody has proven it can’t move with money.

There was a time when cash was king. Everyone took cash; everyone preferred it. Of course, credit cards have been around forever, but they’ve always been just as problematic as they are convenient. Like GrubHub and similar third party food delivery apps, banks end up charging both the business and the consumer with credit cards. It’s a trap. Cash cut out the (greedy) middle man.

Plus, paying with a credit card could be a pain. Try paying a taxi driver with a credit card prior to, oh, about 2014 when Uber hit the scene big time. Most drivers refused to take cash, because credit cards take a percentage off the top. Enter rideshare companies like Uber. Then in walks Square. Next PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay enter the scene. Suddenly, cabbies would like you to know they now take alternate forms of payment, and with a smile.

It’s good in a way, but it may end up hurting small businesses even more in the long run. The harsh reality of this current moment is that you shouldn’t be handling cash. No less an authority than the CDC recommends contactless forms of payment whenever possible. However, those cabbies weren’t wrong.

The banking industry has been pushing for a reduced reliance on cash since the 1950s, when they came up with the idea of credit cards. It was a stroke of evil genius to come up with more ways to expedite our lifelong journey into crushing debt.

The financial titans are very, very good at what they do, at the expense of all the rest of us. The New York Times reported on the trend, noting:

“In Britain alone, retailers paid 1.3 billion pounds (about $1.7 billion) in third-party fees in 2018, up £70 million from the year before, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Payment and processing companies such as PayPal (whose stock is up about 55 percent this year) and Adyen, based in the Netherlands (up 72 percent), also stand to gain.”

All kinds of banking-related industries stand to benefit as well. Maybe we’ll go back to spending physical cash one day, but I don’t think there’s any hurry. Fewer old grandpas are hiding their cash in their proverbial mattresses, and the younger, most tech-savvy generation seems perfectly content to use their smart phones for everything.

We get it. Convenience plus cleanliness is a sweet combo. If only cashless payments weren’t such a racket.

If this trend towards a cashless future continues, future travelers may not experience what it’s like to fumble with foreign currency, to smile and shrug and hand over a handful of bills because they have no idea how many baht, pesos, or rand those snacks are. They may not experience the realization that other countries’ bills come in different shapes and sizes, and may not come home with the most affordable souvenirs (coins and bills).

We shall see what the future holds. Odds are, it may not be cash money, at least in the U.S. I hope the cashless movement makes room for everyone to participate without being penalized. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, people. We need to find more ways to ease the path for people, not callously profit off of them.

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Business Finance

How NASA helps small businesses reach for the stars

(BUSINESS FINANCE) NASA has been providing $51 million in grants to small businesses and innovators.

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NASA grants

With the political and social climate that we are all trying to survive this summer, there only seems to be a few things that bring us a light of hope. For some it’s the little gestures that keeps the smiles on our faces; little helping hands that keep us going from day to day. But thanks to some forethought in our government system, there are some rather large helping hands coming down from the top as well. The organization that sends people to the moon is also making some dreams come true here on Earth.

NASA has just announced their latest batch of small business grants. Grants that amount to a total of approximately $51 million. This money is being sent out at the most crucial early-stage of small business funding. Over 300 businesses are receiving up to $125,000 to develop and bring new technologies to the world.

This grant system has been in place nearly as long as NASA itself. The Small Business Innovation Research/Technology transfer program is designed to bring in entrepreneurs and inventors’ ideas, and combine them with NASA’s assets to bring their dreams to fruition, bringing something from the lab to the marketplace.

It is set up into a three-phase system. According to The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), the first phase, Idea Generation, provides grantees with up to $125,000 for a 6 – 12 month period to “establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts and to determine the quality of performance of the small business awardee organization prior to providing further Federal support in Phase II”. If they succeed, they may be eligible to move onto Phase II, where they will be awarded a new grant of $750,000 for 2 years to continue the R&D efforts and start on a Prototype Development. Phase III is called the Infusion/Commercialization stage and it is the culmination of years of work and grant access for these businesses. This also includes a few extra requirements like matching funding for things like marketing.

Over the years, the selection has covered numerous disciplines with an extraordinary range of industries. Some of the highlights this year are high-power solar arrays, a smart air traffic control system for urban use, a water purification system for use on the moon, and improved lithium-ion batteries. These are just a few of the many innovative projects. The list covers a huge assortment, but a few people have noted the number of neuromorphic computing efforts as well.

This list is updated periodically throughout the year as each deadline is met from previous grant holders. It’s a constantly updating assortment of tomorrow’s toys, and a great way to look toward the future.

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