Until recently, it has seemed that “cleantech VC” was a four-letter word.
Or perhaps a term reserved for hushed whisphers of digust and distrust thanks to the financial woes in the sector about ten years ago.
But, it appears that the tide may be turning.
Here are three headlines that might give cleantech entrepreneurs some hope.
Renewal Funds just raised $145M to invest in cleantech (what?)
Here are some highlights (link):
ArcTern Ventures just raised $165M to invest in cleantech (oh my!)
Here are some highlights (link):
Clean Energy Ventures just raised $110M to invest in cleantech (gasp!)
Here are some highlights (link):
Before all of us entrepreneurs get too excited about sending an email to these groups and receiving $10M in growth capital the next day, let’s remember this...
Venture capital firms reject at least 95%+ of all the deals they review
Far less than 1% of startups raise capital from VC firms.
The estimates vary:
In contrast, the last study above showed that “57% of startups are funded by personal loans and credit, while 38% eceive funding from family and friends.”
These VC firms like low company valuations.
Fundraising takes a ton of time, and will distract you from running your business.
Author: Dr. Chris Wedding
If you’re an investor that likes the predictability of debt (check), but loves the upside potential of equity investments (yep), then Revenue Royalty Notes might be worth exploring.
Why might investors like Royalty Notes?
Importantly, future performance cannot be predicted by historical performance, so you’ve gotta feel good about the consistency and duration of a company’s past revenue, plus the sanity they used (or threw out the window) when making forward projections.
A Comparison: Royalty Notes vs. Debt or Equity (CaroFin)
And since it takes two tango…
Why might entrepreneurs like the Royalty Note structure for their growth capital?
One more tiny detail: If there’s no revenue in the business yet, then there’s likely no Royalty Note either. Gotta stick to expensive equity for the time being…
We may not be able to have our cake and eat it, too.
(Although people have been thinking about this since at least the year 1538.)
Nor can we defy the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and know both the velocity and position of subatomic particles at the same time. [Dang it, my life’s dreams ruined…]
(Geek out more here.)
But don’t dismay…
It is, in fact, possible to invest in companies with instruments having both debt and equity characteristics via the Royalty Note.
[Insert a long sigh, and cue inspirational music...]
To learn more about Revenue Royalty Notes, check out this article by CaroFin, a private marketplace for alternative investments:
Photo credit: Pratiksha Mohanty via Unsplash
By: Dr. Chris Wedding
If you think the “energy transition” is just for Democrats or greenies, then consider this quote from a Goldman Sachs natural resource executive:
“I’ve probably spent more time talking with oil company executives about the energy shift and renewables in the last 2 years than the previous 23 put together.”
Last year, $6.4B was invested in hydrocarbons versus $5.8B in renewable energy, according to PitchBook. That’s a pretty tight race.
And a CDP report notes that 2018 expenditure on clean energy sector by the world’s 24 largest oil and gas companies was roughly 1.3% of total budgets vs. 0.7% last year.
On one hand, that’s almost 200% growth year-over-year. Or (slight reframe) its chump change as a fraction of overall investments, with 98.7% of capital still going to conventional energy lines of business.
Plus, over 70% of those investments came from EU-based oil and gas majors. Maybe that’s because the science of climate change is magically different across the ocean. (Yep, sarcasm)
As further evidence that times are changing, here’s a look at three organizations…
Why are oil and gas major making these investments now?
#1. They are already experts in the energy sector.
This is partly a situation of a [very powerful] hammer seeking a nail.
Decades of experience in conventional energy can translate into efficient capital deployment, project development, and new technology commercialization in the new energy sector, too.
Building and operating offshore oil rigs is complicated. The same is true for offshore wind projects, and this is a market expected to reach $60B by 2024. “Have skills, should apply.”
Running gas stations is not rocket science, but profitability is also not a given. So, it makes sense for Chevron to add EV charging to its gas stations, as long as they get the rate tariffs right so they do not drown in pricey demand charges.
#2. Clean energy investments can be a hedge against softer demand for oil and gas.
When Fitch Ratings talks about the growth in electric vehicles potentially creating an “investor death spiral,” it’s worth listening to their reasons.
#3. Renewable energy markets are not little runts to ignore anymore.
Bloomberg projects that over 70% of all new power capacity investment between now and 2050 is expected to be in solar and wind projects.
Their research further shows that clean energy sector investment has exceeded $300B globally for the last five years.
Finally, analysis suggests that the advanced energy economy (clean power, alternative transportation, energy-efficient buildings) now exceeds $1.4T, or twice the size of the global airline industry.
#4. Corporate sustainability reporting is becoming mainstream. “We are watching you.”
At least 85% of Fortune 500 companies now engage in sustainability reporting.
Drivers of this trend include stakeholder demands, global trends towards greater transparency, peer pressure, and a realization that sustainability topics can be material to financial risk and return.
Samples of third-party sustainability reporting include the following:
What kinds of new energy investments are oil and gas majors making in the last two years?
I will only focus on the top four oil and gas majors in terms of their investments in and commitments to lower carbon energy. This includes Total, BP, Equinor, and Shell. (See graph below).
I am mostly listing investments by their VC arms, with some other infrastructure investments sprinkled in here and there.
Finally, I am not listing companies that are “kind of” related to clean energy, such as ride sharing or financial settlement technologies for the energy sector.
Total Energy Ventures
BP Ventures (plus some larger corporate deals)
Equinor Technology Ventures
Shell Ventures (and some bigger Shell New Energies deals)
How will investing in renewable energy be different than their historic energy investments?
If recent history is a good predictor (not always true), then low carbon investments are likely to be different than conventional energy investments in the following ways:
How does the increasing involvement of oil and gas majors create winners or losers in the clean energy sector?
The (potential) winners include:
The (potential) losers include:
Should you be bearish or bullish?
Why these trends can be easily ignored
Why investors and entrepreneurs should pay more attention
In conclusion, here are some potential action items
I will describe these as the 3 “C’’s, with questions for you to ask yourself, answer, and do something about over the next 30 days.
(Or just hide under them rug for a while. What could possibly go wrong?)
#1 - Canary
What do these trends mean in terms of “canaries in the coal mine” for your overall investments in the conventional power, oil, and gas sectors? (Pun intended.)
If a Shell executive refers to their “buying spree” in the low carbon sector like this -- “It’s all about survival” — then how or why would your investment allocation to the conventional energy sector be different, and therefore, not face some new risks?
If McKinsey and Mining.com report that electric vehicles will likely reach cost parity with conventional vehicles in the early 2020’s, and if Fitch Ratings talks about how this shift in transportation choices could cause an “investor death spiral,” how might you view current or future investments in the oil sector?
#2 - Clock
Even if you agree that historic changes are coming to energy markets, the key question is this: When?
When do you (or sources you trust) think that these shifts in energy investments will actually affect your portfolio?
By way of analogy, at some point we may live on Mars, but now is likely not the right time to invest in Martian real estate. (Unless you’re a billionaire who thinks that all hope is lost for long-term survival on this planet.)
#3 - Collaboration
There may be winners and losers, but it is not a zero sum game.
This discussion needs a reframe. Let’s consider a newly created 21st century word: “Coopetition” — collaboration between competitors for mutually beneficial results.
For environmentally minded entrepreneurs, how can oil and gas majors be strategic partners, investors, and customers, instead of the enemy, a monolithic group to badmouth for all the world’s problems, the 800-pound gorilla that must be defeated.
For VC or private equity investors, how can oil and gas major’s investment decisions serve as an anchors to derisk your capital allocation alongside them? How can you build relationships with them for a future exit opportunities?
Finally, thank you...
A big shout out to Pitchbook, IPE Real Assets, Greenbiz, Preqin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Advanced Energy Economy, Greentech Media, Reuters, CDP, RW Baird, Energy Storage News, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Oilprice.com, Bloomberg, Mining.com, McKinsey & Company, ThinkProgress, Wind Power Engineering, and Governance & Accountability Institute for their research and reporting on this topic.
By: Dr. Chris Wedding, Managing Partner
The energy storage market is kind of like the Loch Ness Monster — It’s rarely seen. It’s said to be huge. And many think it’s not real.
If you’re like us, you have dozens of articles and reports on energy storage (and other topics) starred for reading later. But “later” never seems to arrive with the free time you needed to read about this high potential market.
As such, we’re providing this “Cheat Sheet for Energy Storage Finance” based on our work as buy-side and sell-side investment bankers experienced in both energy storage venture capital and project finance.
I’m also including some perspectives from my panel last week at the UNC Cleantech Summit entitled “Financing Energy Storage.”
Thanks to Greentech Media, GTM Research, Utility Dive, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Bloomberg, McKinsey & Company, i3 (Cleantech.com), Lazard, Energy Storage Association, PV Magazine, Rocky Mountain Institute, Renewable Energy World, and Energy Storage News for their great work that helped us compile this research.
The Market Opportunity
Big picture: The rise of energy storage is expected to mirror the giant leap that the solar sector took between 2000 and 2015 (link).
For those of you who rode the solar roller coaster like we did, you might want to get that amusement park seatbelt and whiskey ready. You may need them.
Global Energy Storage Deployment Forecast: 2016-2030E (GWh)
Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance
This September 2018 headline from Bloomberg sums it up well on the residential front: “Residential Energy Storage Surging, No Longer Just a ‘Cool Toy’” (link) Their impetus was two-fold:
U.S. Quarterly Energy Storage Deployment (MW)
Source: Greentech Media
U.S. Energy Storage Internal Rate of Returns for C&I
Source: Greentech Media
U.S. Annual Energy Storage Deployment Forecast: 2012-2022E (millions of dollars)
Source: Greentech Media
U.S. Residential Energy Storage Deployment (MWh): 2013-2018
Source: GTM Research
Angel & Venture Capital Finance
We’re just in the first inning of this game. And for a guy who prefers basketball (born in Kentucky and living in North Carolina), that’s saying a lot.
There’s little doubt that Stem has been the big winner, with almost $300M invested to date. With its focus on artificial intelligence, aggregation of distributed batteries, and managing demand charges for commercial customers, it makes sense.
We’ve also seen a host of energy storage companies get gobbled up by bigger giants eager to get a headstart in the battery game. Enel bought Demand Energy. Wartsila snatched up Greensmith. And Aggreko consumed Younicos. See a longer list here.
No one knows what other innovations will make it to market, but we can guess that they will make storage easy and beautiful, take advantage of multiple revenue streams, serve more than one customer, and be loved by utility giants for the grid problems they’ll help solve.
Here some other statistics for your next dinner party:
Corporate and Venture Capital Activity: 2013-2017
Source: i3 (Cleantech.com)
Top Energy Storage Venture Deals: 2016-2017
Source: i3 (Cleantech.com)
The scale of investments in energy storage project finance will continue to dwarf venture capital investments in the sector.
It’s also worth noting that non-recourse financing -- i.e., no corporate or personal guarantees necessary — is on the way. Three big project developers have won this unique benefit of the project finance model: Powin | RES | Green Charge.
However, limitations to quicker market expansion for battery project finance revolve around these investor considerations:
Here some other fun facts for your quiz later:
Economic Values for Energy Storage
Source: Rocky Mountain Institute
13 Types of Value from Energy Storage
Source: Rocky Mountain Institute
Stacking the Benefits of Energy Storage
If you’re looking for a Blue Ocean Strategy play in clean energy, something with few competitors and new customers, then the time is nearing when you might be late to the party.
But don’t run away crying and defeated just yet.
With $100B of expected investment in the sector over the next 12 years, “the cup runneth over” with opportunities, whether your cup of tea be VC-stage innovation with hundreds of possible winners to choose from, or perhaps project finance targets for lower risk and much bigger capital deployment.
Shout out to Thomas Kelley for the cool Volts photo.
By: Dr. Chris Wedding, Managing Partner
In the last quarter, investors poured more than $324M into blockchain for energy companies.
Can you believe that?
Well, you shouldn’t. But which part is most unbelievable?
While $324M seems shocking, it’s all about context. That amount has indeed been raised, but it’s taken 12 months to do so, according to GTM Research.
What’s more shocking is that over 75% of this capital has been raised via Initial Coin Offerings, or ICOs.
When thinking about this emerging market, it’s kind of like being back in high school: Some investors have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But others think they’re too cool to hang out with the kid who just became popular after years of dork-dom.
But what should you, oh wise capital providers and ye capital-hungry blockchain entrepreneurs who worship the clean energy gods of purity, know about blockchain-focused energy opportunities?
Here are our top 4, out of our longer list of 75. (I exaggerate slightly.)
1. There are 120+ blockchain energy companies. But most are relative newbs.
Yep, that’s a term from my kiddos. I can’t wait to finish this blog so I can go tell them I used their word correctly.
But do I use the word “newbs” to be mean? Heavens, no. I’m a good Catholic-Buddhist, after all. (Oh, they exist.)
What I’m referring to is the age or maturity of most companies in this sector. Research from Solarplaza suggests that most ventures were formed in 2016 or 2017, and investors at the GTM Blockchain Forum note that most founders have little to no operational business expertise.
That does not mean that these young ventures lack merit. But it does make the hill to success tougher to climb. (Think steep slopes covered in poison ivy and man-sized Venus flytraps.)
As Greentech Media’s Chairman observed [paraphrase]: “We see many white papers for ICOs sponsored by blockchain in energy startups. Some are are interesting. But some are sketchy.”
Another panelist at a recent blockchain energy conference noted: "We're currently working with Atari, but we need to be using Playstation 4 to make most [blockchain for energy use cases] work at scale.”
An investor panelist put it another way [paraphrase]: “Blockchain is today where the Kardashians were in 2008. When their name is on something, it can print money. But then smart people ask ‘Why? What businesses do they really have? Maybe a clothing line, a home video business (get it?), and a few others?’ But then you realize there is a genius marketing mastermind behind it all. The hype is, in fact, part of the cause for success.”
Lastly, all hail innovation. Seriously. This is how it works: First, divergence. Second, convergence. However, we’re very far from the latter.
2. There are a bazillion use cases. And the energy world is 6-trillion-dollars big.
Just in case you thought that 120 companies in the same emerging sector was a lot, think again.
The Energy Web Foundation, co-led by our friends at the Rocky Mountain Institute, see over 200 potential uses cases for blockchain in energy. Even if only half of those scenarios prove to be real, that is still many, many niche markets ripe for multiple companies to do well in many geographies.
Moreover, the energy industry is not a tiny pearl hiding in a small oyster. It’s more like an ocean full of 100-foot long blue whales, as plentiful as squirrels on a college campus.
But seriously...no wine glass in hand...The energy market is one of the biggest industries on the planet, and it’s full of intermediaries that control the flow of electricity and money. This creates a huge playground for diverse and interoperable blockchains, distributed and trusted ecosystems of counterparties, and automated and smart contracting abilities.
Eight Major Use Cases for Blockchain Energy Companies
Source: Greentech Media
Popularity of Use Cases for Blockchain Energy Companies
Projects Announced and Deployed for Blockchain Energy Companies
Source: Greentech Media
3. ICOs are crushing equity investors. But that can (should?) not continue.
In the broader universe of early-stage blockchain companies, ICOs are killing venture capital. I mean, like the Incredible Hulk vs. me in a boxing ring, or some such awful mismatch.
However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is taking a pretty hard look at ICOs — in the past, present, and future. And let’s just say that their eyebrows are raised, you know, where one is raised higher than the other.
While many ICOs have tried to avoid SEC oversight, when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then...It’s a security. (If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at their guidance here.)
All is not lost for conventional equity investors. Venture capital and corporate strategic investors bring value that can be far greater than capital alone. (The latter is the extent of the contribution from ICOs.)
The other benefits of working with institutional equity investors include rich networks that can lead to partners and customers, insights on corporate governance based on lessons learned from dozens of past ventures, and deep sector expertise to allow for threat and opportunity recognition beyond what the core team might focus on while their heads are down building a company.
Capital Raised for Blockchain Energy Companies to Date
Source: Greentech Media
Capital Raised for Blockchain Companies: Q3 2016 to Q4 1017
Equity (blue) vs. ICOs (orange)
Source: CBInsights, Tokendata
4. Blockchain is not just for nerds. It’s for the C-suite.
Some famous venture capitalists have said that they look for the next big investment opportunities by watching what scientists, engineers, and other smart folks are doing outside of work, perhaps late at night or on the weekends.
Blockchain may have started out that way. But today, it’s a topic that rises up to, or comes down from, the highest level in organizations — the C-suite or the Board of Directors.
Why is that?
One guess is that they see blockchain as a disruptive innovation focused on challenging core competencies and going outside of the box to amplify corporate synergies, finding opportunities in AI, and gobbling up low-hanging fruit.
Just kidding. I was trying to use as many meaningless buzzwords as possible in one sentence.
But the reality is not too far off: The top level of management is charged with finding and responding to risks and opportunities that lurk further out, beyond the blocking and tackling of tactical business execution, metaphorically crouching behind a dumpster to surprise the marathon runner in mile 20.
Wrap up, Part 1:
What are some things that investors love about blockchain?
Blockchain-based energy companies can be attractive because...
Wrap up, Part 2:
What are some attributes that investors hate...ur...worry about blockchain-based energy ventures?
Investments in blockchain-based energy companies can be challenged because...
Conclusion: Is there one?
OK, so like many emerging sectors for investment, there is plenty of risk and reward.
But as they say, “Sitting on the sidelines is no way to win a game.” (Can you tell that it’s almost March Madness. I grew up in Kentucky and am a professor at Duke and UNC, so go blue!)
As IBM put it in a recent Tweet, “We do not know where #blockchain will go, but there is a need to jump on board!”
Let’s be clear about one thing. It really could have been you.
You knew about cryptocurrency way earlier than your friends. You could explain blockchain to your grandmother in less than 60 seconds. But you did not pull the trigger.
Some hint of disbelief that something so newfangled and profoundly nerdy could not take over our collective financial imagination.
So, here you are today with a severe case of FOMO, watching cryptocurrency values skyrocket (and plummet and skyrocket again), and your 20/20 hindsight dreams of overnight millions squashed.
We are all feeling it, though funny enough, the ones that are feeling it the most are probably the ones that did invest and are riding that roller coaster up, down, up, up, down, up. Why didn’t I buy more!?!? $1,000 dollars invested in Bitcoin in 2013 would be over $300,000 today (though this could easily spike or plunge 25% just while I am writing this piece). The agony!
As of this writing, Bitcoin had lost more than 60% of its value since its peak at over $19,000 in late December. Heed the crash and avoid Bitcoin like the plague, or buy low as smart investors do during an overcorrection? Again, the agony!
An unintended consequence of the fervor around Bitcoin, as well as some other popular cryptocurrencies like Ether and Ripple, is the new public debate about the potential of blockchain to disrupt (!) industries other than just the financial sector. Any industry that is founded on the flow of information and money qualifies, so that’s basically everything.
But is blockchain a panacea, destined to democratize data and money, all the while disintermediating the entrenched intermediaries that dominate the global economy?
Of course, there are camps firmly planted on both sides of that debate. I am not here to stake my flag on one side or the other. Rather, I aim to take a sober view of where blockchain may actually be the revolutionary technology that it is touted to be, and where it fails to live up the hype.
Before we get started, there are any number of awesome explanations as to what blockchain is - see here (PwC) and here (IEEE) for two of my favorites.
Here is my heroic attempt to distill blockchain to its bare bones essence:
That sounds kind of revolutionary, so what am I missing?
At its core, blockchain is most suitable in contexts in which data transfer (communication) is challenging, trust and privacy is highly valued, and data security is paramount. Again, this sounds like virtually everything that takes place on the Internet.
This comes to bear primarily in two places: (1) the increasing number of unwieldy, siloed data systems that are highly susceptible to cybersecurity issues (e.g., see here for the 17 biggest data breaches in the 21st century) and (2) markets that are hampered by unnecessary inefficiencies, limitations, and complexities due to costly intermediaries.
Seen through this lens, the energy sector is an excellent test case to take a deeper look into potential applications and pitfalls of blockchain technology.
Sounding the Emergency Horn for Energy Monopolies
The electric grid is arguably the most impressive technological achievement in the modern world. At the very least, it is certainly one of the most impactful to our everyday lives.
The extraordinary cost and complexity of the electric grid initially lent it to monopoly protection by governments seeking order and control over its development and management.
The last several decades have seen the unraveling of the heavy regulation supporting electric utility monopolies in many areas of the world, which have given way to more competitive markets in which many different types of energy providers, generators, and other service providers vy for customers. This has opened the floodgates to a much more diverse set of actors engaging in energy transactions via the grid, yet antiquated regulation and entrenched utility interests still limit the ways in which producers and consumers can transact for power and energy-related services, especially micro-transactions.
Blockchain applications in the energy sector are positioned squarely at the crossroads of deregulation and the empowerment the market participants (e.g., consumers, prosumers, generators, etc.).
Consumers and producers can form a more direct relationship with each other using blockchain technology wherein smart contracts (very smart) are used to transact for power and other grid services.
As direct procurement and contracting scales, the role of the electric utility may be relegated to managing the transmission and distribution infrastructure, which, in many markets, would be a significantly reduced role in the functioning of the market. (Gulp.)
This simple example may naturally lead you to conclude that peer-to-peer (P2P) energy trading is the inevitable future for the energy sector. Imagine you have excess rooftop solar generation you would like to sell your neighbor across the street -- the blissful life of the prosumer.
This fanciful scheme is actually being tested and enacted in a small number of demonstrations. However, for reasons that we will get into shortly, P2P energy trading is neither the most likely nor nearest-term viable application of blockchain technology.
Where Blockchain Finds its Groove in the Energy Sector
Let’s start with the good news.
The ballyhooed explosion of cryptocurrencies, which has fueled the popularity of blockchain, is not the only game in the energy sector. There are a wide range of applications from energy trading (e.g., grid management, microgrids, wholesale and P2P trading) to asset management (e.g., data collection and processing) to renewable energy certificate tracking to mobile payments (e.g., electric vehicle charging), among many others.
To say that there has been an explosion of emerging companies in this space in recent years would be an understatement. But how many companies have a legitimate product, and, importantly, a viable market application with willing [and ready] customers is an entirely different question.
Most energy and blockchain companies still bask in rose-tinted fields of possibility, while precious few have deployed a commercial product beyond demonstration projects.
Not to despair, we are still in the early stages. But neither does that mean that this process of innovation and experimentation will inevitably lead to a wholesale disruption (!) of the electricity sector.
As with many prognostications (especially related to technological innovation), please take my ranking of energy + blockchain applications in order of their long-term viability and timing to market with the requisite grain of salt:
Check out SolarPlaza’s comprehensive guide to companies in the energy + blockchain space. The World Energy Council takes a different tack with their energy + blockchain use case taxonomy. While certainly extensive, I am relatively certain both of these excellent resources have missed some under-the-radar companies and sub-sectors that will emerge in the coming months and years. That said, it is no small task to track this rapidly evolving space.
The bottom line is that blockchain may not be a panacea, but it certainly could be part of an enabling technological solution to drive the transition to a more distributed, digital, secure, and renewable electric grid.
One of the more encouraging developments has been that blockchain has not only unleashed a wave of innovation at the startup level, but also inspired the formation of a number of non-profit consortia working in collaboration to support the energy + blockchain space. The Energy Web Foundation, HyperLedger, and Enerchain are among the most prominent efforts, each of which is backed by the who’s who of corporate behemoths.
So, pick your favorite energy technical challenge (as if I had to even ask) and keep up with the rapid pace of progress.
Energy-backed Cryptocurrency Beat Down
As we started on this journey, I led with the remarkable explosion of interest and speculation in the cryptocurrency markets. To be clear, this is by no means limited to cryptocurrencies that you could recognize by name -- Bitcoin, Ether, Ripple, etc.
Various market tracking websites list over 4,500 cryptocurrencies worth nearly $500B. To put that in perspective, the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a bit over $18T, which means that the global cryptocurrency market is valued at over 5% of the US economy. (You can thank me later for that bit of cocktail chatter.)
If you want to kill a couple of hours, take a look through some of the more esoteric cryptocurrencies, and your mind will be blown at the number of completely ridiculous schemes underpinning these financial instruments: Coins to gain VIP entrance to Las Vegas strip clubs to coins that allow you to buy objects in video games. This explosion of cryptocurrencies are a true testament to human ingenuity. At least one cryptocurrency plainly states that it is merely a means for guileless investors to give them money for nothing. Kudos for the honesty.
In the energy space, there are a number of attempts to use cryptocurrencies or tokens as a medium of exchange for power and other energy services. The general proposition is that a coin or token is minted by a company, which confers upon the owner the right to some future consumptive good. A simple example would be a coin could be exchanged for X kWh of electricity generated by a solar farm. Sounds pretty simple and compelling, right?
Upon deeper inspection, a number of key friction points become clear. First, these coins presuppose that an independent exchange functioning separate and apart from the existing energy markets can arise magically out the much lauded network effect. More consumers demanding, purchasing, utilizing, and trading coins, and more producers generating electricity in exchange for coins, selling those coins for other cryptocurrencies, and then monetizing those cryptocurrencies outside of the exchange.
A producer generates electricity and exchanges the right to consume that electricity for a coin. That coin gets purchased with another more liquid cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ether, which can then be exchanged for a fiat currency like U.S. dollars that has exchange value for other goods and services in today’s economy.
A consumer buys the coin with their Bitcoin, Ether, etc., and then can either consume the services underpinning the coin (e.g., electric power in many cases), hold it, or trade it to someone who places an even greater value on those services.
Now, the real magic lies in believing that transacting for kWh’s of electricity in this exchange will be an overall better proposition for the producer.
In other words, will the producer be able to generate more revenue with a similar or greater degree of predictability using some energy-backed coin or token compared to more conventional methods of either project finance using long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) in the case of standalone renewable energy projects or net metering in the case of rooftop solar on homes?
The answer is anyone’s guess. But there are certainly blockchain-based energy companies banking on producers flocking to alternative forms of project finance or market compensation.
There is a part of this puzzle which simply does not make sense. Imagine you have the opportunity to make a wager based on the future value of a kWh of electricity. How bullish are you that kWhs in the future will be worth much more than they are today? History would indicate that electricity prices do not tend to skyrocket in value in well-functioning markets. In the renewable energy space, electricity prices have plummeted in recent years. So, why would someone invest in an energy-backed cryptocurrency if the ceiling is so low on the value of the kWs of electricity backing the coin or token?
From the issuer perspective, part of the appeal of minting an energy-based cryptocurrency is that it is a means for producers to acquire other, more liquid cryptocurrencies which have seen extraordinary increases in value recently. This has had appeal with the growing speculative fervor surrounding Bitcoin, Ether, etc. without using any of your precious dollars.
It is a classic arbitrage scenario for you economics nerds. Imagine, for instance, that you, the producer, generated one MWh of electricity, were granted some energy-backed coin, and exchanged it for 10 Ether on January 1, 2017. At the time, you got a great deal, as the value of the Ether that you received was around $80 ($0.08/kWh), better than what you could have gotten in the merchant markets or through a PPA or net metering agreement. You decided that it was not worth your while to exchange the Ether for dollars, and you just held onto it. Today, you looked at your digital wallet, and lo and behold, the 10 Ether that you received from the original one MWh that you sold is now worth over $8,000. In just over a year, you grew the value derived from that MWh by over 100x! What is not to like about that? But who knows what is going to happen with Ether (or any other cryptocurrency) over the next year? So how long can the dream last?
For the consumer, there needs to be interest in directly consuming those kWh of electricity, but that will not likely cut it. In addition, the consumer will need to believe that the exchange value for the coin or token will have a future speculative value greater than the purchase price. That has been a relatively easy sell to date, but there may be a weakening of that foundation with the growing volatility in many cryptocurrency values in recent months.
The bottom line is that many energy-related cryptocurrencies are, either directly or indirectly, betting on Bitcoin, Ether and the other dominant, liquid cryptocurrencies to continue this meteoric rise (and fall only to rise again) in value, which is driving this explosion of coins and tokens to get a piece of the action. Is that the basis of a healthy, functioning cryptocurrency exchange? Only time with tell...
An Obligatory Word about Energy Consumption
You energy conservationists out there may be exclaiming -- “But doesn’t blockchain use an exorbitant amount of energy to run?!”
Not really, and certainly not for the use cases that we are talking about. The doomsayer prognostications of world energy consumption being dominated by blockchain largely revolve around a faulty extrapolation of energy consumption from Bitcoin mining. Even the NYTimes got in on the hyperbole, though CNBC had a more sanguine view.
Not to slip down that slope, but the bottom line is that this is a symptom of an immature technology scaling exponentially. No right-minded person could have possibly anticipated the speculative fever that would envelope Bitcoin, which has fueled increasingly extravagant investments in energy intensive processing capacity to compete as a Bitcoin miner. This can and will be corrected over time, just like it has been for the Internet, which was consumed by similar criticisms during its early years.
So, this is a bit overwhelming, yet how can I be among the smarter people in the room on energy + blockchain...
With a healthy balance of enthusiasm and skepticism, it is well worth your time and effort to keep a tally on the energy + blockchain space. There will inevitably be a litany of failed companies, over-hyped experiments, and even a likely SEC regulatory backlash (see the SEC Chairman’s latest statement on cryptocurrencies and ICOs).
Notwithstanding, there is literally no doubt in my mind the blockchain technology is here to stay, and will, in all likelihood, catalyze a lot of change in how energy is financed, produced, bought and sold. It will not change everything, and will certainly not do it overnight.
Blockchain is in its toddler years. Stumbling about (think explosion of crypto-schemes, coins, tokens, etc.) and occasionally articulated a coherent word of phrase (think legitimate business value proposition). Over time, and with a lot of falling down and bumping heads (you can tell I have a young child), this little toddler will grow up into being a much more mature little person (even then with a lot of room to grow). Until then, just enjoy the ride (and heed the SEC when they say that things are about the change).
By: Dr. Chris Wedding, Managing Partner
OK, so you’re now ready to take your business to the next level by growing faster with outside investors.
And you’ve already had the “come to Jesus” realization that giving up a percentage of equity and profits just means that you get a smaller piece of a bigger pie pumpkin, instead of owning a larger piece of a smaller pie (or one that’s already been destroyed by mold and cockroaches.)
So, are you ready to hit the road, rack up those frequent flyer miles, pitch to 50+ investors, pre-order the champagne bottles, and get ready to play ping pong in the office between customer meetings?
But let’s agree that there is always room for improvement, and that no one is ever really ready for anything. (Except maybe Michael Phelps.)
Here are 11 items to consider when you get ready to raise investment capital.
1. Your Vision
Are your 5-year plans for the company both ambitious and believable? If you lack ambition (e.g., 3% growth per year), then you might elicit yawns from investors. If your projections are not believable (e.g., zero to 40% market share in 3 years), then you might instead cause laughter. (We’re big fans of humor, but not this kind.)
Do you have competitors? Please do not say, “No.” That’s a surefire way to have your follow up emails and calls ignored. Competition is a sign of market validation, that others believe your idea is a good one. Now the important part: Why are you better? Have you created a table showing 3-6 competitors (column headers) compared quantitatively (e.g., scale of 1 to 4) across 5-10 attributes (rows of the table)? And once you’ve done that, and done so honestly, will your competitive advantage be obvious to investors?
How much capital do you have in the bank to cover both operating needs (i.e., to continue advancing the ball on the proverbial court) and fundraising expenses (e.g., travel, marketing costs) over the next 6-12 months? Or how much near term revenue do you expect to realize with a high degree of certainty? If it’s not enough to cover both buckets of expenses, then you may end up out of breath, sweating and exhausted, before reaching the white tape at the finish line.
4. Prepared Materials - Teaser, Pitch Deck, Financial Model
Based on our experience, I am confident that you are confident that your financial model, pitch deck, teaser, and related fundraising materials are 90% ready to go. However, the devil is in the details. (And we don’t want any devils.) Moreover, there is power in many minds and many eyes taking an outsider’s perspective on your company or project opportunities and challenges. It is common to spend 4-8 weeks conducting internal due diligence and recreating or refining these materials.
5. Your Brand
Brand building may sound like an afterthought, or a consideration only for Fortune 500 companies. However, research suggests that many customers’ buying decisions are largely made before we ever talk to them. Their unconscious analysis is based on word of mouth and online research. Here are questions for which you need to have the right answers:
6. Your Team
Does your team have the relevant experience and credentials to convince investors that you all can “get *$#! done”? This is about breadth and depth. How are they compensated - salary, commission, equity? How motivated are they to see the company succeed? And how about an Advisory Board? Having one helps build credibility and support customer acquisition and/or deal flow. Nobody knows everything, so stand on the shoulders of giants and tell the world how great those shoulders are.
7. How much is enough?
It’s easy to err on the side of raising more money vs. less. But the flip side, of course, is that larger amounts of investor capital may mean a greater burden (e.g., collateral at risk, size of financial returns required) and lack of control for you (e.g., equity ownership). However, the opposite is also true: If you raise too little capital, then you either do not make it to the next important milestone where additional value is created, and/or you are stuck in capital raising mode too frequently, to the detriment of actually running your business. Finally, the amount of capital you seek to raise is a large determinant of the type of investor that will find your venture interesting.
8. Strategic or Financial Investor
As a refresher, financial investors -- e.g., banks, VC, project financiers -- place capital primarily to generate financial returns directly from the entity into which they invest. On the other hand, strategic investors -- e.g., corporate investor -- may be investing to generate returns from your company as well as from synergies that are created through overlap among your expertise and theirs (e.g., different product lines, divisions, geographies, customer base). They tend to be slower to invest, but can sometimes offer preferred investment terms, consider higher valuations for your company (i.e., you get to eat more of that pumpkin pie), and/or create lucrative distribution channels.
9. Use of funds
How will you invest the capital? Why do you plan to allocate dollars that way (versus other scenarios)? Be ready to explain the logic and provide details. Expect to be questioned as if you were sitting in a dark room under a bright lamp in an old industrial warehouse. (I exaggerate slightly.)
No investment is without risk, unless you want to get rich on US Treasury bonds. (Good luck.) And it’s never fun to be blindsided by critics. So, please, please, please do not ignore a thorough discussion of risk factors when talking to investors. However, don’t forget to also provide a point-by-point response for how you seek to minimize those risks.
Below are examples of risk factors to address:
11. Unit costs
Detailed financial models with multiple scenarios and various Excel tabs are not the quickest documents to digest. Similarly, 5-year financial projections are helpful but only show aggregated analysis. What investors really need to understand in the initial conversation is this: A customer-, site-, unit-level assessment of costs and benefits at a high level (e.g., one slide). From this, they can assess the strength of the business case and move on to hear the rest of your pitch.
12. How thick is your skin?
Our job is to ask tough questions, and to play the devil’s advocate. We are on your side, but based on our line of questioning, it may seem like our goal is bury your business plan and financial model in red ink. Au contraire. Our constructive criticism prepares you to handle the tougher questions when they come from investors. We’re like benevolent drill sergeants who guide you through boot camp so that you’re prepared for your best showing when trying to earn investors’ confidence.
To learn more about the capital raising process, here are three related blogs we’ve written on the topic:
I hope you’ve heard this expression before.
(If not, then you may be questioning my politeness or my sanity.)
It goes something like this: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your handsome prince.”
Of course, this is the actual quote from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and refers to seeking true love. (But we’ll leave that topic for someone else’s blog post.)
In the world of finance, this perspective can refer to the lengthy, inefficient, and often frustrating process of finding the right investor in, or buyer of, your company or infrastructure project.
(But it does not require that the investor be handsome.)
So after banging our own heads against the wall to source investors, and after watching dozens of entrepreneurs do the same as we sat on the other side of the table (i.e., with the capital), here are a few tips we’ve collected for bringing in the right investor to finance your renewable energy venture.
1. Know thy investor
Investors are not a single monolith. And one size does not fit all.
They vary by risk tolerance, length of investment period, geographic preferences, sector focus, financial return expectations, cultural, ethics, partnership expectations, type of investment, and...uh...personality.
Consider some profiles of startup investors to avoid from Entrepreneur.com.
As an example, if you’re raising money in the solar sector, consider the wide gap between an early stage venture capital firm which might finance a solar technology company with expectations for 30% IRR vs. an infrastructure private equity firm which might finance a utility-scale solar project with expectations for 9% IRR.
Both are solar investors, but they one is from Mars and the other from Venus.
So, let me put on my professor hat briefly: Do your homework. Dig into the research. Don’t slack on it.
Your extra effort in this due diligence will help you separate the right investors from the wrong ones.
2. Work your network
This is common knowledge. But it is not common practice.
It’s critical to know where you and the potential investor have mutual professional or personal contacts.
This is about getting a foothold and building trust.
To help you establish rapport before and during your initial meetings, you might want to ask questions about or make reference to people and firms that you both know.
But beware: This can also backfire.
I once did this while talking to a CEO that was considering our help raising up to $90M for renewable energy infrastructure development and finance.
I referenced a well known industry leader that had worked with this CEO we were pitching. Oops. He had...um...a less than stellar opinion of this mutual contact. Long silence. Views 180 degrees apart. Yep, awkward.
Luckily, we still won the engagement.
So, make LinkedIn your best friend. Use those 2nd degree connections to make potential investors part of your own professional network.
3. Be systematic
Everybody knows somebody.
And so it goes with a company’s ambitions of raising capital to finance a renewable energy or energy efficiency venture via a few of their own relationships.
Often company executives have their list of five or ten potential investors, and they are excited to bring home the bacon. (Free range and organic, of course.)
But this is not enough.
Most timelines with potential investors take three or six months to play out and arrive at a yes or no decision.
So if you start with a few investor prospects and wait, say, four months to get their answer, you may have just set your company behind schedule by four months or more.
To some degree, this is a numbers game (i.e., in addition to finding the right investor fit).
Instead, a better approach, and the one we take, is to create lists with dozens of prospective investors, each vetted based on fit according to their past investments, current mandate, and other variables.
To do this, we use our own investor network plus databases like Preqin, with over 20,000 investor profiles and 380,000 financial industry contacts.
4. Create an organized data room
I have heard it said before that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
(Are you hearing the voice your mother or grandmother right now? I sure am.)
Or perhaps this expression bears some relevance here: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Honestly, I’m not sure I agree with either of these nuggets of wisdom.
However, many investors will see a correlation between how organized your data room is and whether your company is a serious platform to be trusted with their capital.
These data rooms need clear organization, from easy-to-understand folder systems and clearly named files.
If this sounds boring to you, then don’t do it.
Instead, delegate to a team member who loves creating order from chaos, but is perhaps less equipped to work the magic you can with business development and strategic partnerships.
(SIDE NOTE: No one is great at everything. Play to your team’s strengths. To discover these, consider a simple test like the one at Strengthsfinder. We have used them and found a ton of insight.)
You also need completeness in your data room. No stones left unturned.
Are you missing a spreadsheet showing historical financials, a trusted third-party report discussing the broader market opportunity, or project-level pro formas for infrastructure assets?
If so, then that investor follow up after a great initial phone call might lead to a resounding thud as the likelihood of financing your business with that investor falls to zero.
Consider secure software-as-a-service platforms such as Box or Firmex to create your virtual data rooms.
5. Don’t overpromise
Here’s another overused cliche for you: “Underpromise and overdeliver.”
I very much agree with this one. But I often see the opposite play out when entrepreneurs talk a big game to investor prospects.
The reality is that investors will uncover the truth after they get deeper into due diligence. As such, it’s better to be straightforward from the beginning.
And not all due diligence questions can be easily answered with strong data-driven foundations. So, don’t be shy to say something like, “I don’t know the answer. But here are the three steps I’ll take by Friday to get you a good answer.”
You don’t need to know know everything. Instead, you just need to know where to get it or who can tell you the answer.
That means you need a great team, whether internal or external. Or perhaps a Brain Trust like we have at IronOak Energy Capital with clean energy experts across the US.
6. Be pleasantly persistent.
At IronOak Energy Capital, we pride ourselves on being persistent.
(Read: We’ve been called bulldogs in the past.)
And it’s best to balance that doggedness with the patience that investors require to do their homework and make informed investment decisions.
The point is this: Follow up matter. I mean, it really matters.
There are dozens of reasons that your first string of emails and phone calls to the investor did not get the investor’s attention: Travel, vacation, another deal closing, a sick kid, an ailing grandparent, internal strategy reviews, etc.
So, in the mission of funding your world-changing venture, be a heat-sinking missile on your best-match investor targets.
7. Share some beers.
Now don’t the wrong idea here.
I’m not talking about a case of beer, just one or two cold drafts of microbrew at the popular locally owned place near your investor’s office.
You are hoping to start a new multi-year relationship with another firm, but that firm is made up people, and those people want to actually like the folks with which they do business.
So, be likeable. Ask questions about their family and hobbies. Do it because you want to invest in the social capital required to build a strong partnership for a high-performing business.
And after you both contribute to a successful exit or profitable cash flow, then you can share bottles of champagne to celebrate.
In summary, raising capital is a lot of work.
It’s not just about a few phone calls to those investors who seemed interested. It takes a ton of time and can be a huge distraction from your core business.
That said, it is often required to survive and thrive as an organization.
It reminds me of a phrase I came to love while living in Japan: “仕方が無い.” Or, “sho ga nai” for short. It roughly means “there is no other way, so just do it.”
Said differently, just get ‘er done and worry about the details later.
The question is this: Who will do that work for you and find the right investor to place capital in your business?
P.S. If we can be helpful, drop us an email at info[@]ironoakenergy.capital.
P.S.S. The theme of this blog post is a shout out to my late grandfather whose nickname was Froggy. He built a successful small business out of nothing in small-town Kentucky and ran it successfully for 60 years. An inspiration to all of us out here blazing our own trail as entrepreneurs...
We’ve all been there before.
The big investor meeting has finally arrived.
But somehow we come out of it with a foot in our mouth, not with a deal in hand.
We have made missteps ourselves.
And we’ve seen many renewable energy entrepreneurs, project developers, and executives slip up when pitching to us and our investor partners, too.
Thankfully, there is hope.
“You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing.” - Stella Adler
In that spirit of reframing embarrassing missed opportunities when meeting with investors who could have changed the fate of your business…
...please do NOT DO these things the next time you’re pitching to an investor.
1. DO NOT create a slide deck longer than, say, 15 slides.
Investors, like you, are busy folks.
And as a former CEO and mentor is accustomed to saying, “A new bus comes by every 15 minutes.” The “bus” here refers to another deal in which they can invest.
You should assume that you have 15 minutes or so to convince the investor that your business is worth their time and capital. So, get to the point early in the meeting.
2. DO NOT squeeze your entire knowledge base into each slide.
I’m sure that are the expert on your business. And it should be clear that you’re passionate about it.
However, remember that white space is your friend. Super dense slides have the opposite effect on audience comprehension and retention.
Also consider adding a bordered text box on each slide with the main takeaway you want to stick in the investor’s mind.
3. DO NOT start the meeting before engaging in some pleasantries.
When I first began working in private equity, the leadership team would often spend one-fourth of the meeting on small talk. I was puzzled.
With my “get ‘er done,” Dr. Efficiency mentality, this seemed like a waste of time. Ah, the arrogance I had.
Those Southern pleasantries were of immense importance. They were about establishing rapport, mutual contacts, and areas of common interest inside and outside of the professional world.
What I learned is this…
Despite the investor vs. presenter mentality, these meetings are just another discussion between people. And people trust and like to do business with people they can relate to.
4. DO NOT talk about the investor’s business, as if you understand it better than they do.
To be clear, you should do your due diligence on the investor. You should definitely understand who they are and who they are not, what they can and cannot invest in, etc.
However, do not talk about their business based on their website (e.g., it could be outdated) or based on what you’ve heard second hand (e.g., there could be deal- or time-specific factors that make this market intelligence irrelevant to you).
5. DO NOT get into lots of technical details unless asked.
Most investors are not technical experts in your industry or about your product. For sure, they will need to become more fluent in the details, but not in your first meeting.
More importantly, you need to start big picture: Strengths of the industry and how you ride that wave, challenges in your sector and how you address them, the problem you’re solving for customers, the reason your business has an edge relative to competitors, and why you have the right team.
So, first hook them, assuming it is a fit regarding their investment criteria, available capital, and so forth.
Then, later reel them in with nitty gritty details, as required, to educate the investor on why you will succeed and deliver the appropriate return on their investment capital.
6. DO NOT refute feedback from the investor, as if they are uneducated newbies.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
This was a problem for me many years ago. Criticism was a threat. Ah, such a fragile little flower I was.
And when I first presented about the business logic of green building many years ago, an investment executive questioned a fundamental part of my thesis. In a room full of investment professionals, he had put me on my heels.
But his goal was not my explosive destruction. Instead, he wsa offering great feedback, and I needed to incorporate it in future meetings like this.
So, step out of your protective glass bubble.
Don’t get defensive. Instead, provide a counterpoint if need be, but emphasize that it is a good point, and you will give it more thought, discuss it with your team, or do some more research.
7. DO NOT go too blue sky with overly ambitious and far off projections.
I can’t tell you how many pitch presentations I have sat through where I thought:
“If those projections are correct, then I need to quit my job in finance and go work for this startup or project developer.”
So, avoid the borderline unbelievable projections for your business or for the market in which you’re operating. Even if you believe they are real.
And only rely on the most trusted data sources. Referencing something like www.ecodorks.info from 10 years ago as the basis for your strategy will not work.
Lastly, do not flash forward to what the world will look like 15 or 30 years from now. Investors care about what will happen mostly within the period of their investment with you.
This doesn’t make them callous, profit-driven robots.
This makes them good investors, often serving as fiduciaries to protect and generate returns for their investors (e.g., pension funds).
8. DO NOT show internal disagreement among your team.
No team is perfect alignment all the time.
(Obviously, you’re opinion is the only correct one though.)
But do not let any difference of opinion or lack of group confidence come across during your investor meeting.
One. Unified. Force.
9. DO NOT leave the meeting without asking for advice.
I received some great feedback before raising angel capital for one of my startups:
“If you want capital, then seek advice. If you want advice, then seek capital.”
This worked well for that raise. I went seeking advice, and never led with an ask for capital. But I raised the capital we needed.
Don’t get me wrong…
If you have done your due diligence on the investors, and you know that they are a good fit for your business, then you should include an “ask” slide in your meeting regarding capital needs.
But their advice can sometimes be more valuable than the capital they might or might not provide.
Said differently, intellectual capital or network capital can be as important or more important than investment capital in growing a successful business.
10. DO NOT show up late, or go over your allotted meeting time.
“If you’re on time, then you are late.”
Or so it is often said among military professionals.
Being on time for the beginning and end of your meeting is a sign of respect. And respect is the great foundation for an investor-entrepreneur relationship.
11. DO NOT delay on following up to your meeting.
Although Woody Allen suggests that showing up accounts for 80%+ of success, I have to disagree.
Following up is equally or more important.
And that’s partially true because most people are very bad at follow ups.
They might forget about it, or take a week to get back in touch.
Maybe they don’t say, “Thank you for your time.”
Or they don’t sufficiently respond to questions and criticisms raised in the investor meeting.
So, think about a detailed, respectful follow up within 1-2 days of your meeting.
OK, all done.
I hope that was as cathartic for you as it was for me.
Now you know about 11 things to NOT do. But how about the top tips for what you SHOULD do?
Look forward to more details in our next blog post.
(Oh yeah, a cliff hanger.)
By: Dr. Chris Wedding, Managing Partner
You may need investors. And they might need you.
But how do you know which investor is the right fit for your business?
Based on IronOak Energy Capital’s work in raising capital, sourcing investment opportunities, and conducting strategic analysis in clean energy sector, we have advised private equity, venture capital, and angel investors with experience investing in over 600 companies and projects.
From that experience, we know that the investment community is hunting for opportunities in the growing sector. But they are sometimes left unsatisfied.
And despite the best intentions, the process of developers and entrepreneurs finding the right investor is inefficient and frustrating.
We learned this the hard way through our own mistakes, and by having to tell so many innovators that the capital we represent was not the right fit for them.
We are eager to see this change. The advanced energy economy now exceeds $1.4T. And environmental challenges like climate change need solutions from the investment world.
Here are 10 questions that you could ask potential investors in your business.
1. What is the size of your current fund?
Bigger is not always better. Instead, it is best to seek the right amount of capital from the right investor. However, be wary of the size of investment you are seeking relative to the size of the investor’s fund. Concentration risk can be a limiting factor.
2. How much dry powder remains in the fund?
Investor websites are not always up to date. Always ask for the latest information. Here, dry powder refers to the amount of capital left to place from a fund. For investors in evergreen vehicles, this may refer to investment targets that have yet to be met for a given year.
3. What is the investment period for the fund?
Investment fund managers are typically required to make investments within the first 3-6 years of a fund’s inception. Even if capital remains, managers may only be allowed to make follow-on, not new investments. For evergreen investors such as family offices, this may not be a limitation.
4. Do you have discretion over investments?
You want to work with investment professionals that have the final say regarding an investment decision. Some fund managers have to obtain approval from their investors for every decision. This requires delay and uncertainty in the process.
5. Are you a financial or strategic investor?
Financial investors are typically passive and do not add incredible value to a company’s chance of success. However, strategic investors seek to provide strategic advice and important industry network benefits, on top of their capital investment. But they are not passive.
6. What is your cost of capital?
Sometimes the answer will be, “It depends on risk, team, etc.” However, you deserve an answer, even if it is just a range of Internal Rate of Return (IRR). Plus, many investors are more driven by Equity Multiple (total cash out vs. total cash invested), which is always correlated with a strong IRR.
7. How do you describe your risk tolerance?
Every investor is different. And you need to know the nuances. Angel and venture capital investors like risk and expect high returns. However, infrastructure investors and debt providers are more risk averse, but can often place much larger amounts of capital.
8. What is your typical hold period?
Outside investment capital is frequently needed to grow your business. However, that comes with expectations for an exit, the sale of the company. Some investors look for 3-year hold periods, while others aim for 20-30 years. Your time horizon needs to align with theirs, or you may feel the fire.
9. Can you provide references?
It is often assumed that only investors conduct due diligence on you and your company. But an investment is a partnership. And you should vet the capital providers, too. Ask around and talk to those who have worked with them in the past. Any red flags?
10. Why are you interested in investing in my company?
You should not seek to be just one more investment for a capital allocator. Make the investor tell you why you and your company are of unique interest to them. Why are they best positioned to help you succeed?
This is not the final list, of course. But it should raise your game in future investor meetings.
Our goal is to remind entrepreneurs, executives, and developers that without good investments, investors have no business.
Don’t go into investor meetings begging.
Instead, vet the investor while they also vet you. It could be the beginning of a fruitful, 3-10 year partnership. Or the opposite if you’re not careful.
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