Being new to the technology startup world in 2013, I knew I would need funding to bring out my big idea in the big way needed to make a difference to those who bring the world such a huge amount of joy: The creatives called songwriters.
I also knew to get that funding I was not willing to sell my soul, max out credit cards and leave those companies hanging, or jump off the stable foundation of my life. After all, I’ve read WSJ, Forbes, and Inc. for decades.
I’ve seen all the if-only and woulda-coulda-shoulda stories and cautionary tales of woe about would-be captains of industry in a big, fat, screaming hurry.
By the time I was needing funding, unicorns were all the rage, and if you hadn’t ripped your life apart, were able to show a massive user base, had a spreadsheet with projections going out five years with year-two hockey-stick profit margins, and an exit strategy to make them swoon, then investors were not willing to talk. Therefore…
I wasn’t taking very many meetings.
What was I doing wrong? How could these other companies get massive funding for some silly gee-gaw app solving no problem, and I couldn’t get a meeting for a massive business solution that would positively impact millions around the world and stabilize an out-of-control industry growing more illegal every day?
I began to question the glowing pro forma projections and the happy-trip-to-the-bank assumptions. Based on answers to a couple of questions I asked in private meetings with others who were seeking or who had received funding, my unpopular conclusions were these:
One: Many investors believed in fairy tales if the story was good enough. Yes, the emperor still was naked and the crowds still cheering for plenty of folks who still didn’t mind ginning up the numbers. Hoo. Rah.
Two: The life cycle of those investments was getting too short. “Hey, see my awesome numbers?” “Here’s your check! When can I expect my massively successful exit check?” Investing is smart gambling requiring movement and strategy; it isn’t a passive lottery.
Three: Patience was no longer a virtue. “I want it now and I want it big!” said investors and entrepreneurs who fell in love with the quick fix to the market’s percentile dysfunction. To say otherwise was to invite derisive laughter.
Four: Credentials were all that mattered. “What else have you done?” If an entrepreneur did not have a track record of being involved in other big and/or successful launches and exits, then one could forget any hope of funding.
Five: This method worked for me! Do what I say! Many investors, having been wildly successful once during the go-go days of the tech bubble, became how-to experts and gurus who were worshiped at the shrine of the Pitch Deck. Depending on who you talked to, one either needed a five-, 10-, or 20-page pitch deck — or “Pitch decks are so yesterday.” Each page in that deck should have charts — or no charts. Single words — or whole sentences. Yes, long pro formas — No! Only losers include all that detail.
Six: Entrepreneurs seeking angel investors were being driven crazy. I finally said enough of this. Stop it. I refused to redo my pitch deck again in some far out way because something was wrong with the process. Plenty shook their heads and said I was being naive. Maybe I was. But…
It seems I was being quite forward-thinking. Yes, my anecdotal reports have empirical proof. Here is a “well, duh” quote from the Silicon Valley Bank Startup Outlook Report for 2016:
“Capital is tightening and inflated valuations are declining, prompting companies to adjust to a more balanced funding environment and focus on fundamentals.” And,
“Unbridled optimism has been replaced with rational restraint.”
Granted, in the report is still some of the same language that focuses on the VC at the expense of the much needed angel. Using the same pro forma and other set of facts, in some meetings I was told I wasn’t asking for enough money — and in others I was asking for too much. In either case, I was not to be taken seriously if that was that amount. I was to raise it. I was to lower it. I was…
damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
As the SVB report says, “Most executives said the fundraising environment was extremely or somewhat challenging, and 21 percent named access to financing as their single biggest challenge in running their businesses. Raising money is always challenging, and tightening capital requirements often lead to healthier, more sustainable companies.”
Therefore, my anecdotal experiences were and are valid. Being the person in the room that always knows she doesn’t know, I have a propensity to always ask the questions that make me look like an idiot. But I can tell you that, privately, others come to me and say, “I wish I had the courage to speak up like that.”
I don’t know that what I have is courage.
I think what I have is a huge degree of worry about other people’s effort and how that will impact mine. Contrary to popular opinion, money isn’t easy to come by. They worked hard for it. And it can disappear just as fast.
At the same time, my solution to the protecting and defending of intellectual property data (starting with the most complicated segment of that: the music business), should not be rolled out with only a short-term exit strategy in mind.
I don’t have a gee-whiz gee gaw, and world-changing ideas can make money. But if the money to start it is bad, then real people are hurt in real ways. Especially hurt will be those who believe they now have something they can rely on only to find out that, in the seeking of crazy-making profits, the company sold its soul to the Devil.
I cannot do that. I’ve already turned down two offers because they were very bad for the long-term prospects of the company and the solution it brings to the foundation of the business: Songwriters.
As founder and CEO, it is my job to ask questions about where investor dollars came from. What will happen if funding dries up before we accomplish? What do they want in exchange? Can it be delivered? What if it cannot?
And if I look stupid asking those questions and walking away if the answers don’t make sense? Then so be it. But let me tell you what I am finding.
I’m finding — and validating — others in the same business as myself: Serving the core constituency of the new music business. Others who have jumped through the hoops that lead to the lion’s mouth and have said enough.
I have a clear vision of how one type of existing government agency in each country along with certain private sector service companies can stop — or else massively slow down — wholesale worldwide, systematic theft of intellectual property and redirect the profits that go with them to their rightful owners.
So, while some may look at me, think I’m alone, and write me off, I am not. I know who else is out there looking for the same fine solution to bringing the power of validated and clear data ownership to the people so they can make a living on what they create.
We each have turned down money and partnerships because they were ill-serving. We are each looking for ethical, long-term investors who want to be part of something that will outlast their lives and who will not bully their way to profits at the expense of the content creators.