The world of startups is a bit like a gold rush right now: there’s lots of money to be made, almost no rules regarding who will make or lose it, and only a few will actually see a sustained profit at the end of the day. Global venture funding hit a record high in the first half of 2021, with $288 billion being poured into early-stage businesses. Numbers that high are probably leaving entrepreneurs everywhere wondering what they need to do to get a bigger slice of that pie.
Small business leaders salivating at the idea of getting a big cash injection from an angel investor need to slow things down a bit and focus on their own company first. The answer to the age-old question of whether your business should be trying to make money or raise money is almost universally the latter. Generating solid revenue streams early on will make many of the fundraising problems much easier to handle later on.
4 Reasons to Focus on Revenue Before Fundraising
1. More Independence
It doesn’t matter how good your idea is, how scalable it can be, or how interested investors are: a startup already making money is in a completely different league from one with no revenue. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with startups that can’t initially generate cash.
Some ideas require larger amounts of capital than others to become viable — but the early establishment of revenue streams completely changes the relationship between your business and its investors.
If you’re already making money, you’ve already proven that you have an established model to maintain a successful business.
Any investors who hop on board later will need to acknowledge that they’re joining an already-successful enterprise, not trying to build one from the ground up. On the other hand, if your company has yet to make any money at all, your investors will want a bigger say in how you eventually go about doing so.
Every dollar you make before allowing investors to come in is a piece of evidence showing that your business works and doesn’t need an investor to come to save it. This can help protect you against any overbearing “angels” later on down the road.
2. More Leverage
Along those same lines, revenue also makes investor negotiations much easier to navigate. If you’re running a business without products currently deployed, it can be difficult to negotiate with investors in good faith. How can either of you confidently give a valuation of a business that doesn’t make money? How will you be able to push back against offers that seem too low, too controlling, or not cash-heavy enough?
The truth is that revenue is your ace in the hole when it comes to negotiation.
Not only does it increase your standing among investors, but it also ensures that your business doesn’t become fixated on ideas that only become profitable at a massive scale, ceding even more control to your investors.
According to Devon Fanfair, co-founder of startup studio Devland, “building companies that demonstrate enterprise value is the best path for new builders because they generate revenue with very little investment.
It allows operators to focus on solving quantifiable problems and building momentum that is fed with every new iteration. Unfortunately, some startup builders get lost solving consumer pains that are harder to validate without scale. This can prove to be adversarial to growing confidence and routine behaviors that breed traction.”
If it’s solid and consistent, even modest revenue can make a world of difference during seed rounds.
3. More Choice
The logic here is pretty simple: there is a relatively small subset of investors interested in investing in startups founded on great ideas that have yet to deploy them at a profit, but nearly all investors working today are willing to invest in companies that have an already-proven ability to make money out in the wild. So the more spoiled for choice you are when it comes to interested investors, the better terms you’ll be able to secure when negotiations eventually rear their ugly head.
If you don’t believe me, listen to Geoff Ralston, President of legendary startup incubator Y Combinator: “Investors need persuading. Usually, a product they can see, use, or touch will not be enough. They will want to know that there is a product-market fit and that the product is experiencing actual growth.
Therefore, founders should raise money when they have figured out what the market opportunity is and who the customer is, and when they have delivered a product that matches their needs and is being adopted at an interestingly rapid rate.”
A revenue stream of practically any size at all proves all of the things listed above — and more.
4. Greater Chance of Long-Term Success
It’s no secret that the vast majority of startups fail within the first 5 years after their founding, whether they received funding or not. While this issue is often thought of as germane only to the world of startups, businesses of all kinds are in constant peril of failure if they can’t find a way to make money.
Investor funding can only prop up an unprofitable business for so long, but it can disguise some of the internal problems young startups often suffer from. Eschewing early investment in favor of revenue generation ensures that your company never has the chance to mask unsustainable losses with investor money.
Secure revenue streams also mean that your business always has something to fall back on.
If plans for expansion and new products go completely awry, you can always be sure that there is at least one pathway for your business to remain viable into the future.
The world is so saturated with seed money right now that it’s easy to lose sight of what running a business is all about. Focus too much on investors, and they’ll never return the favor. Instead — prove that you have a business plan capable of surviving and thriving, and you’ll have no difficulty attracting the interest you want.
Image Credit: dziana hasanbekava; pexels; thank you!