I have worked with a lot of startup biotech companies looking to raise funds.
When you are sitting across the table from a potential investor, he or she will ask any question that comes to mind. An investor’s goal to make the most informed decision that they can about any investment. They know that entrepeneurs might not have all the answers. But they ask anyway. And that is their right.
And founders and new entrepeneurs want to answer every question. They want to provide the most information possible. Because satisfying those investors might mean that capital will come in. The money that will fund the dream.
But sometimes, giving away all the information to an investor can backfire. Here are two times when it pays to be vague when answering an investor question.
Question: when will you launch your product (or sign a big partnership)?
Hopefully, you have come to your investor meeting with well thought out models. Financial forecasts that include realistic timelines, expenses, and revenues for your product.
Perhaps you have some specific data within your company about when a product will launch. Or, you know the timing of a key meeting that could decide the fate of a future partnership.
But with investors, this is the time to be a little vague. Because in my experience, every product launch and partnership deal takes longer than expected. Especially when your company or product is brand new.
So, don’t give away the farm on this one.
When I say to be vague, tell them an estimate within a quarter.
We hope to launch in the 4th Quarter of 2018.
Even if you think you will actually launch in October 2018. Because now you have set an expectation. And its much better to beat an expectation that you have set with an investor. If you give a specific date, and miss that date even by a few days, that sends a different message to investors.
Investors keep close tabs on the milestones that you set out for your company. Its one of the key metrics they use to understand if you are on top of your business and its operations. So, setting an aggressive timeline and then missing it sends a message that you don’t want to send. Better to be a little vague and then beat expectations.
Question: what is your valuation?
Valuation is somewhat of a cat and mouse game with investors. They, of course, want to know your price expectations up front, and want the price to be as low as possible.
And maybe you have a certain price in your head. You believe that your company is worth $15M. Or, you believe that you have earned a “double” this round over your last round of funding.
But I recommend that you do not give investors a specific price. There are a few things that can go wrong if you do.
The investors can immediately think that your company is too “expensive.” They will back away without learning what makes your company so special.
Investors are also looking for a relationship. If you give a price that feels high relative to the market, they could assume that you are only out for the highest bidder. High quality investors can add a lot of value to companies beyond money. You don’t want to scare them off from building a relationship with you with a price that is beyond your peer group.
So what can you do?
I recommend two things. One possibility is to give an investor a range. This works well with smaller investors in particular.
We think our valuation lies between $12-$17M, and here are the comparables in that range.
That way, investors have a ballpark of pricing, but know there is still room to negotiate.
The second recommendation is to tell investors that you are looking for a great partner. State that price is not your primary goal. You are looking for a partner that will have the resources to help drive your business forward.
Because this is the bottom line, isn’t it? The money will drive the business forward. But the right team members and relationships are worth as much or more. If an investor has those things to offer your company, it becomes a point of negotiation with the price.
It can be hard to stand your ground when an investor asks probing questions. Especially when you are anxious to bring in money to keep your company alive and thriving. But again, investors understand that not every question will have a specific answer. Sometimes the way that you answer can tell them as much as your actual answer. And staying vague on these two points actually signals that you have a handle on your business. Which is a key building block to developing those investor relationships.