I’ve raised $20m+ from VCs. I made this step-by-step infographic to help founders determine if they should raise capital for their business or not

by ryanhvaughn. Posted on Sep 12, 2020    404    81

The question I’m most often asked recently is “should I raise (equity) capital?” So I created an infographic to answer this question.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should raise capital, please refer to this infographic for my perspective, after 10 years and $21m experience, on your answer.

Link: http://ryanhvaughn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Raising-equity-capital-flowchart.pdf

Also, if you've raised VC before I'd love your thoughts on how this tracks to your experience. If this is useful, I may also try to answer the logical follow up question next: “How do I raise capital.” Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing that.

NOTE: This post got removed due to a link on the image, so I removed that and am reposting.




GaryARefuge 4

You're not wrong in how there is rampant problems of the privileged circulating support and resources amongst the privileged.

But, how is this in any way relevant to what OP shares?

This feels like copy pasta designed to spam this links.

For that reason I am removing your comment.

Ktanuuuxxxs 16

Could you elaborate the relevance of white men to OPs infographic?

ZephyrBluu 3

Well it was clearly made by a white man which means it's inherently racist /s.

tengable 19

I agree that we all should consider alternatives. But his chart does not demonstrate, or encourage any bias. Bias certainly exists in VC, but you shouldn't be attacking OP about that.


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alina_aboutme 1

Nice! Thank you a lot for this post. What could you advice to do before raising money (but with great product and revenue), should we be already incorporated or inverstors prefer for founder to open a firm from scratch?

RajivSen 1

Thank you for giving more reasons to my belief.

thatDevDude135 1

This is very helpful thank you

goldenalf 1

Love it!

hegezip 1

this looks fantastic thanks for sharing. puts the whole angel > seed > series ABCD into perspective

Kentja 1

Helpful. I agree the fnf round or a distinction between that and “professional” investors.

MattDameon 4

Its a great reference to start from when considering raising.

I think there should be a section for the friends/family round.

It's pretty common for a founder to raise $50 - $200k from people they know to get started.

CollarDesolat 2

It would be helpful to have a similar thing for angel investment, seeing as they have different investment criteria

oldcrobuzon 2

This is great, the only shame it does not further specify which type of equity investment it covers - i.e. does this apply for all investments? Angel / seed / A / B / C / D ? Or only to some?

AdamKyleWilson 2

This is awesome. After working with 100+ startups as a product designer I can say this is one of the MOST confusing topics for founders. Thanks for this!

KiloGrah4m 2

This is great, thanks.

What I'd be more interested in is how did you go about raising $20m+, perhaps you can provide some insights into the process. Even if it's just sharing your story.

AggressiveFeckless 2

Ha...I'm a partner at a small PE fund, and I think this infographic is great. Especially focus on the 'do I need to.' VC money is expensive and comes with challenges, make sure you can't address your opportunity organically or more slowly if possible (as the infographic mentions).

Aerostade 2

Fascinating. Do you find the same exists for Angel investor organizations? I’m currently bootstrapping a startup that a. Doesn’t have a billion-dollar market, b. Doesn’t have a rapid exit strategy, and 3. Has a founder (me) with only 1 other company (it was “successful” but not hugely profitable).

However, it’s a very new service/product combination in the UAV space, which is rapidly growing. There’s money to be made, but not on such a grand scale. Do I keep bootstrapping it until revenue goes the right way, or look for angels?

willbebot 1

look for grants and loans (if you have paying customers). Early equity is the most expensive one! If you can manage without it's huge savings down the line

drsboston 2

I think what is shown is a bit simple as far as raise money or not, there are friends/family type raises, angles etc.. not everything needs $20MM of VC money

orbit99za 4

I am in the same boat, customers are paying for the prototypes, but that doesn't cover further development and R&D, and you must know what works before you cost a prototype. I am not looking for or need millions, it's basically self funding very quickly, for the cost of one unit you must take 10, just the way pcbs and components are printed /sold. So I cost 1 and get 10 "free"

maerdnacirema 3

I was this many days old when I realized I should not be raising capital.


Do you think this chart is different for seeking money from angels?

Henry1502inc 4

So back in 2014, fresh out of high school I got super interested in smart parking and started developing a plan to enter the market. Basically the idea was to embed smart sensors into the curbs of each parking space which would tell you it's occupancy in real time. I got interest a lot of interest from
schools - college admin hated when students parked in their designated spots and tesla charging space. Also colleges already sold parking passes that did not meet demand so students often circled looking for spots especially in larger campuses. So the school could sell you a parking pass for say $600 a semester, and $100 smart parking membership to help you find spots.
local governments - this was interesting because there was a large multi-million dollar company looking to enter the city I lived in but the pitch local officials like was that I was home grown and that large companies will absolutely rip you and you're citizens off if they can legally get away with it. At this time, one of the cities red light camera vendors was found to have been padding up stats to increase their revenue which led to the city effectively losing out on red light camera tickets for 2 years. The city had a $30M budget deficit. My plan was simple, I would tell the city which spots were occupied so parking enforcement ticketing would increase thus leading to higher general parking revenue as more people paid out of fear of parking tickets. The city was currently doing 370k tickets per year generating about $13M annually, I said I could increase the tickets 5x and revenue to $60M. They actually told me to start talking about how this was about public safety although politically it was a way to raise funds without calling it a tax. One Midwest governor, I think Kansas, who wanted to focus on smart cities wanted me to relocate. Looking back now, I could have leveraged it much better than I knew how to then.
property owners - large apartment units could offer tenants with more amenities and keep tract of whos on premise covertly.

I outsource the engineering to MIT engineering grads who build the MVP.
Full dev cost was $30-50k, production was about $200k.
I was seeking roughly $200-250k for 25-30% equity.
14 month breakeven depending on size of the contract. 5-10 year exclusive contract
Market Potential about $10B. NYC generates $500M in parking tickets annually, I could easily increase it to $5B for example.

One VC actually said this was the best pitch and numbers he's seen. I excitedly asked if that meant he would join the round, he said no, we both laughed.

Here's a link - SRCGU Business Plan 2017.docx

Business plan

erelim 2

So why did they say no!

Minister_for_Magic 2
  1. WAY too much execution risk without commitments in hand. Selling to governments is notoriously slow and difficult and "gov tech" has only really caught on in 2017+.
  2. VCs are also super skeptical of outsourcing all the tech talent because it goes tits up more often than not. Hardware takes more time and money than you expect, and someone with no experience in getting products manufactured (especially electronics) can make some expensive rookie mistakes while learning the ropes.
  3. Reputation risk. Not a lot of investors want to be publicly shamed for backing shit like hardware that increases ticket revenue for cities on the backs of city residents. That's a media shitstorm waiting to happen and may screw them when trying to win future deals.
Minister_for_Magic 3

>The city was currently doing 370k tickets per year generating about $13M annually, I said I could increase the tickets 5x and revenue to $60M.

Are you Peter Thiel? This is just lawful evil! I'm conflicted because it is a great pitch to make to a city PD but is societally just the worst.

Henry1502inc 2

Interestingly enough I was accepted into the first round of peter thiels under 20 program where he funds your idea, $100k for 2 years. I got eliminated next round, the winners were wayyy more advanced and had working products.

You could make a huge argument for public safety. I worked in security at a highend neighbor and saw just how slow enforcement whether police or traffic was. Parking enforcement had one person patrolling large sections of the city. They would sometimes only come around once every two hours or twice a day. Sometimes cops were used but cops saw parking enforcement as down time so they didn’t really try.

People double parked, blocking roadway and reducing visibility for other drivers and pedestrians, just so they could shop or buy ice cream, which took more than a second (usually 5-10mins+). The odds of getting caught for parking is extremely low. To prove the point I intentionally illegally parked everywhere and even during my meeting with the official, i had never gotten a ticket.

There were 3 stages
Stage 1 crowdsourcing parking enforcement via a Snapchat like app that allows you to fill out the report without ever touching the car
If you see a car illegally parked, take a picture and video of it within the app, fill out a report (make, model, plates, location, etc), submit it and walk away. A city official will review it. If they approve it, they issue the ticket. They pay me $10 of the $32 ticket, I give you $5 to $7, everyone’s happy. If you’re report is wrong though, you are fined 3x of what ever the compensation would have been. So you now have to pay $15 in fines. $5 goes to the city for admin cost, $5 goes to the person you incorrectly reported, $5 goes to me. So it really puts accountability back into the system. There are cities where they ticket you to meet a quota regardless of if it’s valid knowing the odds of you appealing is low (why waste 2 hours of you’re day driving to and from court for a $32 ticket?).

A few investors thought it was a great deal for cities who could cut labor and benefit costs which would justify the contract alone.

Phase 2- smart parking described above

Another thing is if you don’t drive a car you don’t necessarily care about this program. Hell you could even make money from it.

If you do have a car, reactions would be 50/50. On one hand you would feel like it only applies to selfish and bad drives who block lanes. You wouldn’t go out of you’re way to report someone for $5+ unless it was egregious.
On the other hand if you’re caught, you would be salty as hell

farmingvillein 7

Perhaps I'm misreading the story here. Why didn't this go anywhere? (Or did it? Again, maybe I'm reading too quickly.)

dilawars 8

Red and green connectors were so hard for me to distinguish (colorblind here). Took my wife help to be sure. Great infographic though.

TiltedPerspectives 9

Hey! Do you use color blind mode on your phone?

dilawars 2

Nope. Didn't know there is such a thing. I use android (samsung).

ChronicTheOne 22

Accessibility > Visibility Enhancements > Enjoy!

TiltedPerspectives 7


Cakelord 4

How do you raise capital to finish your proof of concept, like the concept is there but not the proof because the cost to prove is more than you can earn or raise from family.

bacey_ 18

...and saved for later when I need captial. This was useful. Thanks for sharing!

calisntblack 4

I’d argue that this is useful now as a guide for building a business so that you’ll be ready when you do need capital

santa-la-muerte 16

Hey - just wanted clarity on the first point - I disagree with the notion that you should not raise money unless the market opportunity > 1 Billion $

I am aware of several startups that raised money with a much smaller market opportunity, and were able to scale on account of the money they raised, ultimately giving their investors a solid exit.

They focused on building a sustainable, profitable business, instead of chasing valuations. A little money goes a long way if you know how to use it effectively. Many investors would be happy with a 10x - 50x return.

Wouldn't this also depend on the amount of money you were raising ? Say I'm raising 100k-500k, I don't think investors are going to be looking for a 100M exit from the company, right ?

Minister_for_Magic 1

>Say I'm raising 100k-500k, I don't think investors are going to be looking for a 100M exit from the company, right ?

Only if they don't think you need to raise significantly more money before exit. Early investors get diluted a lot, just like founders, so the more capital intensive your business, the greater possible upside they want to see.

BravewardSweden 2

Is it possible you might be mixing up "Total Available Market," with "Sellable Available Market." Is it possible your friend may have been in a billion dollar total marketplace in terms of the slide deck/presentation they were giving to investors but then they were only selling after a portion of that?

Another possibility would be - different types of investors/marketplaces. This guy appears to be going after sports, which is a highly consumer focused industry, so they need to show big numbers - lower margin, higher volume. If your friend was in something like, "precision metal ingots delivery and verification software," - there may only be like 20 customers, all enterprise with gagillions of dollars...so maybe it's more of a slow/boring industry, more of a long game based upon expertise rather than flash...?

rpcleary 5

Sorta right- earlier stage wants to be convinced you can get to the next investment stage or sell. VC usually wants >$500m exit op (coasts; interior can be closer to >$100m) but smaller investors can have a different thesis. Angels, MicroVC, etc tends to be a bit more flexible.

$50k angel at $1m valuation is happy if you sell for $5m in 3 years but might be happier if you sell for $100m in 7 years.

Onion_guac 57

With so many answers leading to “do not raise capital”, maybe some insight as to how to build the business without raising capital would be appreciated? Let’s assume no friends or family with hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest.

brystephor 5

Is there a reason you can't get customers or revenue without hundreds of thousands of dollars? Seems like that should be the goal.

Minister_for_Magic 1

Lots of businesses require a few specialized people to build the product plus some R&D capital into testing and prototyping. Beyond lightweight software startups, many growth-oriented companies need some cash to get started.

Onion_guac 4

Definitely is the goal. I am working on a hardware product, so while I could bootstrap to a prototype and then crowdfund, that money isn’t exactly free spending money. It will have to go towards COGS. There will be significant upfront costs for design for manufacturing, tooling, and not to mention marketing/sales funnel creation. The units sold in crowdfunding would also be sold at a discount, leaving less margin to pay for these costs. The way I see it, definitely need other sources of funding besides bootstrapping and crowdfunding. Loans would be nice but from what I understand that’s not realistic.

sandboxsuperhero 3

Some businesses just can't be built without capital. Hardware, Enterprise software, etc.

nxtstepsean 3

This is my philosophy (not raising) and I've created a few companies at this point successfully without having to do so. It is hard, but so is raising and IMHO raising comes with a lot of other challenges that don't interest me (namely control and timing). Instead, I advocate for people to offer services to the same target market then use those proceeds to build their other company (in my case product companies). This is good for several reasons, you keep control and don't have an arbitrary expiration date on your startup, and you're learning more about the challenges in your target market every day and even getting paid to do so. The cons are it's slower and you have to split time. These are OK with me. Especially since it's a marathon and not a sprint.

codefame 3

We’re building ours with customers and SBIR.

simpl_surf 2

Did you write your own SBIR application or work with a grant writer? Also, which phase did you apply for?

codefame 3

We’ve gone through Phase I AFWERX, Phase I NSF, multiple BAAs, and Phase II AFWERX. And as much as I wish we had a grant writer, our tech requires pretty deep knowledge to write about. I haven’t found an experienced grant writer who really knows AI just yet. (Plz send them my way if you know one!)

simpl_surf 1

Makes sense. Did you have to spend 80+ hours on it? I read the tech crunch article which set the time expectations there

codefame 2

80-100 hours is right on Phase 1 applications. It’s more like 120-160 for Phase 2.

Vampiretooth 4


codefame 9
Vampiretooth 4

Super cool, thanks!!

codefame 4

No prob! Happy to answer a few questions if you have any. SBIR can be extremely difficult to navigate.

Onion_guac 4

Can you expand on how you’re doing it with customers? Do you mean you have a large customer (I’m assuming B2B) funding your product development phase?

codefame 3

We had SMB B2B clients for our original SaaS service, but we shut down that service when we shifted to focus on a different industry after SMBs closed shop during covid. Those clients were early paying pilot users. In my experience, if you can’t get early users to pay, you won’t get late users to pay.

The DOD is now our first enterprise client. They are funding R&D for the core elements of our technology, which we’re using as traction to fundraise around a new B2C product.

orbit99za 28

I have done this a few times actually, it's difficult, requires a lot of trust, and good negotiation tactics as well as steel balls. Signing personal gaurentees on hope and faith. It's possible but very difficult, but it gives you experience in exactly what you want capital for, and not just rasing it because it's the fashionable thing to do. A dollar goes a lot further when its your own dollar and not someone elses.

Tiquortoo 3

Only as difficult as the 99.95% of businesses that don't raise any VC, then the X% of those that are still successful by their actual metric. Most of the paths to "don't raise capital" are related to not having high growth business, but a majority of those can still be successful in general business terms, but not VC terms.

Minister_for_Magic 2

>Only as difficult as the 99.95% of businesses that don't raise any VC, then the X% of those that are still successful by their actual metric.

Remove all the restaurants, food trucks, contractors who set up LLCs, and part-time home "businesses" and see what those numbers actually look like. It's irrelevant to say X% of businesses don't raise VC if 50%+ aren't trying to grow at all (contractor LLCs, consultants, and part-time home businesses) and another 30% are restaurants, laundromats, etc.

Growth businesses that take on actual market risk and/or technology risk for higher potential upside are a totally different type of company than the vast majority of businesses started in the US today. Combining the two together makes no real sense if we want to get a realistic understanding of the landscape and the dynamics of starting and operating these businesses.

Tiquortoo 1

I know. Which is why I was responding to a specific piece of feedback about this specific piece of content having so many endings of "don't raise VC" and the response being you can do it but it's hard. Many of these endings aren't VC appropriate so not raising it isn't an alternative path to that style of Funding, it's just another type of business, like those you mention. There isn't a way to get creative in funding and change that and make them VC appropriate or maybe even private equity appropriate.

The fact still stands that most businesses, as in 99%+ don't raise VC and many are successful. Of the ones remaining that meet all the criteria many will raise VC and still very few will be successful. In the margins is a tiny tiny tiny group who don't raise VC and still build a VC appropriate business. The process of doing that doesn't invent its own form of math relative to spending less than you make and reinvestment with what you can get or finding alternative funding source that are creative to get over funding energy thresholds. In addition, many of the same "don't raise" rules apply to private equity and even more apply to a bank.

orbit99za 10

After some more thought, I need to add it seems a lot of companies don't have good business models that don't rely heavily on external funding. You should first have a client base, letters of intent or footwork before even thinking of rasing money. It seems a lot of investors invest in the idea that it won't really make profits, but the return will be on an exit or acquisition by a larger company, who whants a foothold in the market but not the prime revenue stream.

Minister_for_Magic 6

>You should first have a client base, letters of intent or footwork before even thinking of rasing money.

There are many businesses that require significant R&D to get off the ground. It is unrealistic for most of these companies to get customers without some kind of initial capital infusion. In an environment in which other modes of financing are largely unavailable to these kinds of founders, raising VC & swinging for the fences is a more logical practice for founders who otherwise could never take the first step.

Having said that, there are far to many people building consumer software, lite business saas, consumer D2C tchotchkes, etc. who have absolutely no business raising VC money without real traction, let alone before they make an effort to build a business at all.

dglsfrsr 2

Exactly. I worked at an optical startup in 2000.

At that time, laser pumps for optical amplifiers were over $100K, and one fully populated node had eight OAs. So close to a million dollars just for the laser pumps, none of the other hardware. Just for one fully populated node.

Projects like that eat funding like candy for two years before anything works.

Analyst-Suspicious 1

What do you need capital for?

A couple of dudes need $50 worth of redbull, a $2.99/year domain name and the free resources you get by signing up to a cloud provider. Maybe a 99€/year developer account to Apple when they're ready to ship their iOS app.

Where most people fall flat is they don't have a "couple of dudes". They didn't go to Stanford or some other good university and didn't participate in the countless projects/hackathons/startup courses. They didn't network and don't have a couple of brilliant friends that would be totally game to try out new ideas and probably have most of the code, most of the marketing stuff, most of the pitch decks etc. ready to go because this isn't their first rodeo and they've done this before in the courses/hackathons/projects before.

I mean groups of friends release apps, games websites etc. FOR FUN without ever thinking about how to make a single cent of money out of it. They'd be happy if the ad revenue covers the server costs so they break even and that's it.

Browse this sub. Most people in here are completely incompetent and unprepared. They struggle to get an MVP or to get their first users.

When I was young, we'd make iOS and Android apps and maintain the website + forums for the videogame community we played with. We had chatbots, customer service, webstore to sell merch to help pay for the server costs (back when you needed a $300/month dedicated server to run game servers) and all kinds of things. We did it for fun and because learning how to make mobile apps that integrate with the game and the rest of the community was cool and you could put it on your resume. If we'd hire someone to do it, it would probably cost 150-250k to get it done and a ton of money to keep it maintained.

People think they need money to do things. What they really need is some skills and some friends that also think it's a great idea that also have some skills.

Onion_guac 1

I understand the spirit of where you’re coming. I think it’s a valuable mindset if it can be afforded. Learning to do more with less is definitely (staying hungry and lean) a good way to do business.

I wouldn’t disparage those who are seeking knowledge and trying to raise capital though. I would say most people on this sub are doing their best to learn. Maybe some find out a startup isn’t for them - good, they can devote their time to something more worthwhile for them. Others are learning from others’ mistakes and successes - much less painful than doing things yourself, and removes redundancy! As you said, not everyone has “a couple of dudes” - if they’re trying to make it happen without that, power to them. If they make it, they must be doing something right.

Also, sometimes you just need capital. I’m developing a hardware product. Do I need tens of millions? No. A million? It would be nice. A few hundred thousand? Definitely. I will definitely need a few hundred thousand, being very optimistic, to get the product to manufacturing. Even if I was doing software - the company could benefit from some capital. Maybe it doesn’t need as much as people try to pump in getting their 100x return, but there’s a reason people seek it out. Competitiveness. Defensibility. Speed. The list goes on and on.


Do you really need to take things to manufacturing to make an MVP and start selling the hand-crafted prototypes? No you don't.

Everyone benefits from money. Need =/= want. Everyone wants money, that is just natural. But startups don't need money beyond let's say 10k for materials, compute credit etc.

If you had the perfect skills and the perfect team and the perfect network, would you still need capital? The answer to that is "probably no". Sure you'll need a thousand bucks to keep things running, but you don't really need an investor for that. Hell, even a few tens of thousands is easy for the average person to save up over the years.

When people say "I need capital", what they really mean is "I don't have the competency, my team is shit and I don't know what I'm doing".

You don't need capital from investors to start making a product. Sure it might be hand-crafted and not very profitable because of economies of scale and you might price out most of the market, but you don't NEED it.

Investments are a cheat-code to speed up scaling up, improving the yield, speed up the growth etc. If you "need" capital to make it happen (instead of speeding things up), then you've already failed and haven't thought it through.

Typical scenario on this hub: Get a bunch of money together (your own and maybe friends and family), hire some people, by some miracle have it not fail miserably aaaaaand nobody wants your product.

Now instead of $50 in Arduino stuff and $10 in 3d printer filament and your own time, you've spent 100k on something that nobody wants.

You don't need capital for startups. For traditional businesses such as a restaurant or a factory or whatever, sure. And you take out a bank loan for that and use the equipment you buy as collateral and so on.

But for a startup that is based on innovation, you don't need capital. You need skills, you need knowledge, you need connections. Things you don't need money for.

I for example know a local society, a "hacklab" of sorts. They have 3D printers, they have a CNC machine, they have a laser engraver etc. and they have a deal with the local trade school that they can use their equipment after school hours so there's pretty much a full workshop you have access to. Startup activity is perfectly fine, in fact that's basically where all the local startups come from. I just happen to know a guy that knows a guy and voila, no need for 80k-150k worth of equipment because I had the necessary connections. I could start a startup and start producing and selling the product (even if it's not the final form and the price is outrageous and I don't really make a big profit on it). It's sales and it's not that I NEED capital, it's that a potential investor could speed things up and make money by themselves. But I am just fine without the capital, I just won't make as much money as fast. Maybe the exit will be 150k instead of 150 million, maybe it will be in 5 years instead of 3 years. But I don't NEED capital.

Onion_guac 1

I mean you’re not wrong, but I definitely don’t think limiting yourself to only what you NEED is the right course of action. Think smarter, not harder. By your logic I should walk everywhere because I don’t NEED a car. “I’ll still get there, it will just take longer.”

Business is competitive - startups and entrepreneurs needs to remain competitive. If the local hobby shop wants to sponsor your startup, go for it. And that may be the right way to go to validate, maybe even good advice. But if the opportunity to inject some cash comes along I don’t see why not. No excuse to act haphazardly, you still need a good decision making process. But it will help.

Analyst-Suspicious 1

The logic is "I need a car, then I can do X" which is stupid. You can definitely do X by taking a bus/riding a bike/trying to carpool etc.

If you focus on "if I get funding, then I'll do fine" then you're setting yourself up for failure. You're not going to be fine.

codefame 1

Customers and SBIR.