Its 18th of May and we are closing our first fund-raise at SpeakIn. What a journey it has been – while one hates playing the woman card, there are a series of unique arguments from various sects which came along. Sharing a few for the benefit of other women entrepreneurs raising or looking to raise funds:
VC -“We want to see a million dollar ask, you are raising way too less.”
1) Know your business.
Eat your numbers. After you have done both, trust yourself. Women often underestimate how much they know and put more worth on a stranger’s opinion than in their own wisdom.
2) Raise what you need
– not what you want. There is no right or wrong about how long the round should sustain you, you know the complete equation, your cash flows, your burn-rate, and fund-utilization. Once you do, no number is big or small. It is just yours. 3) Also, do not hesitate to modify the plan as you go along. Remember it is your business, your journey, it is unique and it is unto you to continuously learn and make amends along the way.
Hubby – “It’s too tiresome. You will lose your business traction.”
Counter: Those who value you stick around, those who cannot – were anyway fluid. The whole exercise has opened up my thought process. More than the money – the complete fund raising experience forced me to think about SpeakIn’s strategy, its strengths, weakness and avenues of much greater potential. In fact, in this three-month exercise, SpeakIn signed five long-term client contracts – something which has never happened before. At the same time, since hubby is always right, SpeakIn expanded its senior management to make up for my lost bandwidth towards fund raise – it is tiresome!
Public Bank – “What is your asset base? How many machines are being put into action?”
Well, my business does not run on machines, it runs on people – I am a services company. I must have met a dozen banks to discuss my expansion plans and funding requirements. By default everyone questioned the collateral and mortgage – we are country where women traditionally do not have assets in their name. My paternal house is in my father’s name, my post-marriage house is in my husband’s name. Where do I get the collateral from? Counter: It is important to not accept the fait accompli. You have to believe in your business to not take less than what you are entitled to, it is also important to not rely on one source of information. Which is precisely what I did, from meeting NITI Aayog’s Women Entrepreneurial cell to meeting SIDBI and private investors. Very few people, including those inside the banks know that women can raise collateral free debt. In fact, there is a mandatory MSME/SME loan disbursal meant for women. More here: https://wep.gov.in/schemes/list-of-central-schemes/
A famous Indian angel network, after denying my application – “You were too soft in your presentation, didn’t present forcefully enough about the scale or the potential.”
Counter: “Don’t you know that fine ladies do not speak loudly?” A pitch presentation is not a contest for being the most lady-like. When we speak softly, the message conveyed is one of uncertainly or lack of confidence. Practice to be at an optimal level of volume – pretend that the person farthest away from you is hard of hearing and speak loud enough so that he can hear you. A good combination of volume and gestures will help you convey a sense of authority and subject matter expertise.
Dad – “You cannot keep meeting people, consolidate.”
Counter: It’s a pro-women ecosystem, financial inclusion has women first in line – but none of this will aide while you sit back. You will have to reach out. Ask any successful professional, how they got to where they are, and chances are they had someone – or several someones – helping them along the way. Women are naturally strong collaborators and communicators – meet as many people from the trade you can, learn the language, get experts to critique your business and proposal. The more relationships you have, the more access you have to information and resources. For starters, there is www.speakin.co.in 🙂
A well-wisher – “You don’t need funds, you are a woman. The business is profitable and pays well for your incremental expenses.”
Counter: Well, well. Yeah, the business is profitable, and profitable because it has been run like a business should be. We had made exceptional roadways for SpeakIn with zero marketing expense, and were operating continuously at full capacity. This gave the confidence about the scalability of the model. The counter here was very simple – if we let our decisions be within the boundaries defined by others, we will never know the full potential – go global, explore new customer segments, new geographies, modified product, do not stop looking.
Believe in infinite possibilities. Stay hungry.
I-Banker – “You will lose control.”
Counter: I want to lose control. SpeakIn is all about network and I have always believed in the strength of synergy. For women, control is not manipulation, it is security, a sense of certainty but in an entrepreneurial set up, desire to control can be the biggest limitation. And the sooner we grasp this, the easier life will be. You have to decide whether you want investors for their money or their association, I wanted partnerships. So for us getting funding was not about money, it was about sharing the vision, sharing the control – so that we collectively have a much bigger pie to work on, than just mine. All of the above meant, I went slower. But each counter just made every penny so much more worth it. Who said nice girls do not get the corner office? :))