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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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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.

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Business Finance

Can you afford missing a paycheck? Finance tips for freelancers

(FINANCE) Freelancers who are not always promised a regular paycheck could benefit from staying on top of their finances. Here’s our tips!

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Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay. We all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have to, and remember this is an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start-up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving) or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. If the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on your toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more) of your paycheck.

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax nor investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

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Business Finance

Under-representation of women in fintech: Let’s talk about it

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Representation of women in fintech remains scarce despite a prevalent population of interest. Why is this the case, and what can we do about it?

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Woman reading a document in front of her computer, one of the women in fintech.

Women are 50% of the population – so why are there only 9 of us on the 2020 Forbes Fintech 50?

I’m personally shocked by how underrepresented women are in such a lucrative industry. By 2022, it’s predicted that fintech, or financial tech, will be worth $26.5 trillion, and we cannot afford to miss out.

And I’m serious when I say fintech is truly taking over. This includes payment processing, online and mobile banking, person-to-person payments (think Venmo or Cash App), financial software, to name a few. For some perspective, half of consumers use digital banking services as the primary way to manage their money. That’s a big deal.

So why does it matter that women are drastically underrepresented in leading roles at these companies?

  • Women CEOs receive only 2.7% of all VC funding – that is astonishingly low, considering that the remaining 97.3% is secured by their male counterparts.
  • While a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review on leadership skills found that women scored higher than men in 17 out of 19 categories (I could’ve told you that), women founders make up only 17% of fintech companies. Some of the categories tested on were:
    • Bold leadership
    • Taking initiative
    • Resilience
    • High integrity & honesty
    • Collaboration and teamwork (this is a big one!)
    • Inspiring & motivating others

If you’re a woman interested in business, tech, or entrepreneurship looking to break into the big leagues, here’s some exclusive advice from lady CEOs, founders, and COOs:

  • Stay Passionate
    Suneera Madhani, Founder + CEO of Fattmerchant, says: “…remember why you started and hold that close to your heart when times get tough.”
  • Be Open to Learning
    “Never behave as the smartest person in the room because you may miss some of the best ideas.” Says Snejina, Co-founder + CEO of Insurify.
  • Trust Your Intuition
    As the Founder + CEO of Tala, Shivani Siroya urges us to: “Stay excited, focused on results and be incredibly optimist. It’s okay to really believe in your gut – just make sure that you see the results with it.”

2021 is a new year full of opportunity – even though the odds are (and always have been) stacked against us, let’s have this be the year where women techies and business owners capitalize on their leadership skills. We have lost time – and profit – to account for.

Author’s Note: Thank you to CreditRepair for the linked infographic!

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Business Finance

TikTok users are making bank by copying Congress peoples’ investments

(FINANCE) TikTok, the short-form video platform, has users trading stocks tips. The newest strategy: following Congress peoples’ stock moves.

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TikTok isn’t just for funny dances, crude jokes, and kids born after the year 2000 (but crazy to think, they aren’t kids anymore, they could be 21…time flies). The short-form video platform that soared to be the #1 most downloaded app during the pandemic is giving tips to youngsters and millennials for their finances. The newest strategy: following and copying Congress’ stock moves.

This is in part to the not-so-surprising news of insider trading among politicians and the ability to duplicate trades of another user on platforms such as Iris, whose website says…

“Invest together with your family, friends, and brilliant people all over the world. Get real-time notifications when others make trades and copy their moves.”

Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, are the prime examples of government traders (or traitors, you decide) to watch. For example, Paul made $5.3 million through call options to buy 4,000 shares of Alphabet before the House Judiciary Committee voted on antitrust regulations. He also exercised $1.95 million worth of Microsoft stock just 2 weeks prior to the company’s awarded contract worth $22 billion for the use of their VR headsets in military training. Lastly, before President Joe Biden announced another incentive program for EV manufacturers, he also paid Tesla stock options for $1 million.

Nancy Pelosi at the podium.

Christopher Johns, the cofounder of Iris, said that every trade “inevitably turned out to be such a long-term winner.” Wonder how that’s possible (eye roll). He adds, “if they’re the ones passing the laws, it’s probably smart to keep up and see what they’re buying.”

And yes, their stock picks are considered public trading activity and this is perfectly legal. Trading is no longer a lone man in a dark room behind 3 large computer screens of graphs or Jim Cramer screaming in the background- it’s a full-on social activity, just like everything else nowadays.

There is a whole community behind these meme cryptos, penny stocks, and short squeezes. You’ll find them on r/wallstreetbets, Elon Musk’s Twitter, Facebook groups, and of course, trading TikTok, all contributing to the “Eat the Rich” scheme of Gamestop/AMC, the elaborate rise and fall of Dogecoin, and the now trending, 2nd dog-specific coin, Shiba Inu.

Laugh all you want, but these kids are working smarter, not harder, and even outsmarting the best in the league, by following the best in the league.

AMC, Gamestop, and Dogecoin.

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