I didn’t initially set out to build a tech company.
As a content researcher and curator in the advertising space, clients would ask me for images and videos that matched their creative visions and I’d set out on my search. What I found was that something as simple as licensing an image from Flickr took dozens of steps. And there was no product or service that helped facilitate it.
As Mark Andreessen wrote, “In a great market—a market with lots of real potential customers—the market pulls products out of the startup.”
I could feel a product being pulled out of me.
But as much as I understood the need and the product that could fill it, I had very little understanding of how to build a business—much less how to raise funding. Did I want to build a boutique lifestyle firm or a tech platform? What kind of funding would I need? When would I need it? How would I get it?
So, for founders trying to decide when and how to raise their first round, here are 3 must-dos:
1. Find a good finance partner as early as possible. This was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever received. It came from a Silicon Valley founder who had already built a company and had an exit. Though his business was in a different space, his recommendations were absolutely pivotal for me.
He insisted that I needed a CFO advisor and introduced me to someone he trusted. He didn’t become a full-time employee but someone I’d meet once a week to ask questions and get input on our growth trajectory.
This CFO advisor dipped into many different areas. How to hire my first employee, how to incorporate the business, how to set up my accounting, how to think about pricing models and projections, how to build my first investor decks.
Seven years later, he still works with our team at Catch+Release, and even helped me find my full-time CFO!
2. Be prepared to articulate your vision at any time. From 2015 to 2017, I wasn’t in fundraising mode. I was focusing all my energy on business development and making sure we had the infrastructure to process demand.
While I considered how to introduce tech to our content curation and licensing service, I had conversations with engineers. I talked to every founder I could, picking their brains about what they’d been through and what they’d recommend (more on that in a moment). As a result, I honed my pitch—including both vision and business fundamentals—before I knew exactly how I was going to fundraise.
Building a business isn’t just about attracting financial interest, it’s about starting a movement where the world agrees that your product is exciting and necessary. Repeating the vision over and over taught me how to get other people excited about what I was doing, which naturally led to more conversations with more people who could bring my company to life.
3. Build a founder network. One of my most helpful contacts during our seed round was a founder and expert fundraiser. He gave me tons of useful advice: what information to share with potential investors and when, how to engineer FOMO, even how to write and use punctuation in emails to avoid coming off overly eager.
Following this founder’s advice allowed me to raise more in a shorter period of time than I ever could have otherwise.
At the end of the day, I can confidently say it was the people around me who made fundraising for my startup possible. When I felt the knowledge gap on the business side of things, I brought on the consulting CFO and leveraged his expertise in business fundamentals. When I needed more visibility into the venture capital world, I got help from a founder who had navigated it before.
As founders, we may have in-depth knowledge of our industry, its products, and its blind spots. But we also need to understand how to build, scale, and pitch a business—and that can’t be done alone.