Column: How To Raise Working Capital Without Selling a Part of Your Company
Lucas Dickey is the co-founder of Fernish.
You've started your company and it seems like the only way to raise the necessary operating capital and get this damn thing going faster is to sell a stake in your company as equity. You'd rather not sell more of the company than you absolutely have to.
There's always the very popular, but least appetizing, option of pooling all your personal credit cards into an ocean of debt (see every episode of "How I Built This" ever). But before you throw the Hail Mary, take a look at some other options. There are actually a number of alternative financing options. And thankfully, the market is responding to interest in non-dilutive capital of this kind and thus is rushing to meet the demand of this particular customer type (ie. you, my fellow entrepreneurs).
Trust me, at Fernish we know just how costly it can be to finance a new venture, what with engineers, warehouses, advertising, and furniture inventory. So, how can you finance your company other than selling a large portion of it off to investors?
Quick caveat: for the most part, raising a small equity round—with friends, family or smaller institutions and strategic angels—will make it easier for you to get access to the other capital sources listed below. Having cash on your balance sheet and/or a reputation with the institutions familiar to these financiers will make it significantly easier for you to get access to them, and with better terms.
Let's dive into a few of the options.
Market leader Clearbanc defines this option succinctly: "No dilution. No board seats. No warrants. No personal guarantee. No personal credit checks. No fixed payment timelines. No bullshit!"
But what does that exactly mean? The company extends anywhere between $10k to $10MM in the form of marketing capital in exchange for a percentage of your generated revenue. Put simply: they'll give you X dollars for marketing purposes, and in exchange you'll pay back that principle, plus interest (6-12%) depending on a number of factors, including your historical ad spend to validate you've achieved a positive return on your ad dollar investment—the ad world jargon is Return On Ad Spend (ROAS). If you're running an ecommerce or marketplace, direct-to-consumer (DTC) business or consumer software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, this is likely a good candidate for you. The capital they provide can be used on most popular ad platforms including Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Amazon, Twitter and more.
Given the density of DTC goods companies, gaming startups, ecommerce platforms and marketplace businesses in L.A., this is certainly an option that most readers here should look into.
Good for: Marketplace or DTC businesses already successfully using performance channels from Facebook, Google, et al, to sell inventory.
Traditional Credit from New Lenders
Many legacy corporate credit card companies expect personal guarantees and a lengthy company credit history. That poses a bit of a catch-22 for companies just getting off the ground.
A new class of credit companies like Brex promise credit limits "10-20x" higher than traditional business cards.They also promise not to charge you interest or fees on your balance — which is materially better than those personal cards you've been using. (And you might want to consider Brex's Cash offering as well if you're tired of being nickel-and-dimed with outrageous ACH and wire transfer fees to pay your various vendors. Oh, and their payout on sales hitting your account are available net-zero—which is definitely helpful in the early days when you're managing your cash flow so closely.)
Good for: Pretty much anyone and everyone. You will inherently need access to "traditional" credit and cash transfer/vendor payment options. Find the one that offers you the most value for the lowest cost — it's that simple!
If your business requires that you procure inventory that you'll in turn sell—or lease, like Fernish or Fair—to your customers over time, you're going to need cash to cover your purchase orders. Better not to use equity dollars you'd rather allocate towards headcount and R&D to pay for this inventory.
Welcome to inventory financing! It's all about covering your upfront outlay, knowing you'll recoup the underlying costs of goods sold as you retail or rent out your wares. The inventory itself serves as the collateral for the loan here, as the lender knows the goods—which have clearly identifiable value—can always be liquidated if need be.
Inventory financing is used by small startups and Amazon alike (though the heavy-hitters will use financial instruments that differ in name, the idea is the same). Why spend cash from your balance sheet when you can always borrow what you know you'll be paying back imminently? A newer L.A. entrant, Captec, plays in this wheelhouse, but definitely look at the array of players out there (NerdWallet has a pretty timely writeup here).
Good for: Consumer brands selling wholesale or DTC The more predictable your sales cycle is with other retailers or with consumers directly, the more likely the lender will be comfortable offering you terms. Beware of warrants, covenants and other legal commitments you may not be comfortable making as part of the exchange. A variant here is equipment financing, which is great for companies manufacturing their own goods, particularly when their supply is being vastly outpaced by demand.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; there's also venture debt, asset-backed lending, receivables-based lending, and other securitization options, but those tend to come into play once your business has matured, established a pretty solid credit history and can justify other forms of capital at better rates through its (hopefully) higher revenue or valuation.
Add up all of the options above, and your capital management might look a little more complex than you might have hoped. But the cost of managing this financial cognitive overhead is negligible when you weigh it against the potential upside when a liquidity event (hopefully!) hits down the road. And, frankly, as your business grows, this financial complexity is something you'll have to face anyway; as your initial investors look to protect their own stake in your company, they'll encourage you to identify non-dilutive funding options like those mentioned above. They, too, want to protect their stake in the company, while also looking for capital to accelerate the pace of your company's growth. Might as well get ahead of the curve early.
Building a business is expensive, but just know you don't necessarily have to sell the proverbial shirt off your back. Take advantage of the opportunity to borrow someone else's shirt instead — for a small fee, of course.
(Quick note: Fernish doesn't endorse any of the specific financiers above, but we have used one or two of them.)
Lucas Dickey is an aspiring polymath, lover of inventions and the co-founder of Fernish.
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