One of my favorite First Round Capital Holiday Videos is the the 2014 release – “It’s All About Burn Rate” set to the tune of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”. I sometimes find myself humming that tune when I am reviewing an investment opportunity from an entrepreneur who does not fully appreciate the importance of understanding how burn rate and cash runway can impact the success/failure of their venture. When analyzing the financial structure of an investment opportunity, I try to evaluate both the amount of time the funding will last as well as the milestones/traction that the funding will enable the company to achieve. Will the proposed funding result in:
- Achieving cash flow “break-even” which allows the company to have some measure of control over their financial destiny?
- An inflection point of milestones/traction that will position the company to raise another round of funding at more attractive valuation levels?
- Landing in the “dead zone” – not enough traction to attract the next round of funding and without further funding in need of cutting expenses.
If the current raise enables the company to generate enough recurring revenue to operate on a break-even basis, then the company can continue as an operating entity without having to lay-off staff, reduce marketing outlays or frankly shut the doors and cease operation. The company needs to have a clear understanding of their variable versus fixed costs – what expenditures are mandatory to allow the company to survive versus those that can be reduced or even eliminated for a period of time. Growth may be slower than desired, but may at least provide the company the time to pivot their strategy or hold out for a more attractive funding environment.
Traction reached for next round:
For most of the companies in which I am investing, there will be multiple rounds of financing required before the company is in a position to exit. It is critical to understand what are the milestones/traction that the next investor will require and how does the company plan to achieve these milestones within the runway provided by the current raise? On the expense side, does the company have a strong grasp of the resources required to execute on the plan? Do the assumptions for revenue recognition take into account a realistic sales cycle for the product/service being offered?
Unfortunately, many companies end up in this position either because they do not raise sufficient capital or do not have the ability to actually execute on the plan that would position them to be attractive to the next investor. I find this oftentimes with companies that utilize convertible notes and end up within sight of the maturity date without enough demonstrated progress. As an investor, I am usually faced with the decision to extend my note, invest more in the company to provide some life support, or hope that there is at least some asset value to be distributed to note holders in the event of liquidation.
Remember as the music states – “It’s All About Burn Rate”