The six strategic stages of seed fundraising in 2020
Seed fundraising is rarely easy, but it certainly used to be a lot less complicated than it is today. In a simpler world, a seed investor (or maybe two) would lead a round, which meant that they would write the terms of the deal in a term sheet and then pass that document to their friends to flesh out the funds and eventually close the round. That universe of investors was small and (unfortunately) often cliquish, but everyone sort of knew each other and founders always knew at least who to start with in these early fundraises.
That world is long since gone, particularly at the seed stage. Now there are thousands of people who write checks into the earliest startup venture rounds, making it increasingly challenging for founders to find the right investors. “Pre-seed,” “seed,” “post-seed,” “seed extension,” “pre-Series A” and more terms get batted about, none of which are all that specific about what kinds of startups these investors actually invest in.
Worse, obvious metrics in the past that helped stack-rank investors — like size of potential check — have come to matter far less. In their place are more nuanced metrics like the ability to accelerate a deal to its closing. Today, your greatest lead investor may be the one who ends up writing the smallest check.
Given how much the landscape has changed, I wanted to do two things for founders thinking through a seed fundraise. First, I want to talk about how to strategize around a seed fundraise today, given the radical changes in the market over the past few years. Second, I want to talk about a couple of the archetypes of startup stages you see in the market today and discuss how to handle each of them.
This article focuses on “conventional” seed fundraising and doesn’t get into a bunch of alternative models of VC that I intend to explore in the coming weeks. If you thought traditional seed investing is complicated, wait until you see what the alternatives look like. The upshot, though, is that founders with the right strategy have more choices than ever, and, ultimately, that means there are more efficient ways to use capital to get the desired outcome for your startup.
Thinking through a seed fundraise strategy
Let’s get some preliminaries out of the way. This discussion assumes that you are a startup, looking to fundraise a seed round of some kind (i.e. you’re not looking to bootstrap your company) and that you are looking to close some sort of conventional venture capital round (i.e. not debt, but equity).
The problem with most seed fundraising advice is that it isn’t tailored to the specific stage of the startup under discussion. As I see it, there are now roughly six stages for startups before they reach scale. Those stages are: