As uncertainty rises, funding falls. At least that’s what the news would have you believe. But according to Inc. magazine, seed and angel deals are still trending upward, and early-stage companies with proven product are still getting most of the deals. In fact, 64% of venture funding is early stage, and seed deals through Q2 of 2022 were on par with the entirety of 2019 (Q2 NVCA/PitchBook). That means for hyper-growth or ambitious companies and challenger brands, there is still an opportunity for you. So what should you do when VC funding is down and inflation is still driving uncertainty? I’ve been through every recession since 9/11 and I’ve been working with ambitious brands and companies since then as well. So I’ve seen what successful businesses do during recessions to position themselves for competitive advantage, survival and growth, despite the economic hurdles. Over the years I’ve noticed, startups who focus on looking ahead while being laser-focused, and tend to survive tumultuous times, regardless of whether your a consumer brand or a B2B company. These are the the things startups focus on for VC Funding.
Focus Your Energies and Budget
“Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it.”
Look at everything you’re doing and cut out the things you aren’t doing well. For example, let’s say your internal biz development team is excellent, but your event marketing isn’t producing the results you’d hoped for, take that event marketing budget and focus it on one thing your biz dev team says they need to get to the next level.
Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it. Outsourcing is just more nimble. What you outsource, be exceptionally clear about your goals, so you can maximize your reduced budget. Focusing your time and budget has the additional advantage of clearing out the cobwebs and giving you new insight into operational efficiencies too. Who knows? You might decide that outsourcing certain strategies, like PR, simply works better than doing it in-house, anyway.
Startups should also focus on the long term. Think about ways you can increase efficiencies with agency partners, and where you can maximize the partners you have on board.
Bullish on the Future
“Deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam, no matter what happens to the economy,”
What should a startup focus on when thinking about funding? No matter what happens to the economy, innovation rolls forward, and VCs know this. The money isn’t on solving today’s problems, it’s on solving tomorrow’s problems. According to Pitchbook, in Q1 of 2022, VC’s raised more money than in the entirety of 2019. So are coming down? Oh, absolutely, but VC’s know – the future is now.
Even when funding is down, deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam. So do your homework on where your product fits into the biggest challenges or opportunities in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Look at all the challenges the pandemic brought to light – those challenges are still top of mind, and the companies solving those problems will have a head start. Your corporate storytelling should also lean into the future and purpose driven initiatives. These two aspects will allow you to lead against your peers.
FinTech is another area where the gloom and doom may be over-reported – through Q2, FinTech funding was still more than in 2019, but it’s definitely not as frothy as 2021. FinTech founders may wish to focus on thought leadership and tie it into purpose-driven points of view in order to tap into future trends.
And although the cannabis industry has been experiencing its share of disruptions as of late, no one thinks that industry is disappearing, the growth is only projected to increase as more states move to legalize cannabis, and states create interstate sales as California has, and many expect the east coast to do. Experts predict the cannabis industry will be $100 billion by the end of the decade. You can learn a lot about the future of cannabis by reviewing the pitch decks from startups that recently secured funding.
CleanTech is another area of hypergrowth, spurred in part by the Inflation Reduction Act which incentivizes green technology businesses. Experts predict growth in this segment for years to come. But VCs have been burned in this area, so it’s vital that companies raising funds in this segment double down on trust.
PR for AI companies is another area likely to continue growing. While the initial buzz that spiked with the launch of ChatGPT has settled, investors still haven’t settled on the market leaders in this segment. If you’re an AI company, PR is best asset right now, especially if you’re a B2B AI company.
There are always areas of growing investments, and if you’re in one of them, strike while the iron is hot.
Plan For Success
“Companies that survive this time focus… on problem-solving,”
Now is the time to think out loud and do your due diligence for tomorrow. Companies that survive this time focus their operations team on problem-solving. For example, if VC funding doesn’t seem likely for you right now, turn your attention to policy initiatives at the federal and local levels. For example, the last infrastructure project had a lot of opportunities for climate-related startups. And the 2021 infrastructure package held lots of tidbits for infrastructure tech programs, that emerging industries like drones and UOV could take advantage of.
Consumer tech VC funding has taken a sharp nose-dive. Storytelling PR campaigns may not be as attractive as they once were for consumer tech. Now is the time to look at product-based programs which increase awareness but not the budget.
Mental health is still top of mind; that’s part of the reason emerging industries like healthtech, cannabis, and psychedelic treatments remain in the sights of investors. But these industries are not without their challenges and competitors. So brands in these emerging industries need to double down on trust to build more acceptance for the communities they serve.
Direct to Consumer (DTC) funding has radically pulled back because simply having a DTC company isn’t enough to attract investment – today, a DTC strategy is an expectation. But startups can take this time to develop something that can’t easily be replicated, like technology. Or, as investor Caitlin Strandberg said, don’t even ask for investment unless you have an Amazon strategy, because social media isn’t where they see buyers, “if you’re going to be where people buy—people are buying more and more on Amazon—you can expect they’ll search your brand name on Amazon, and you want to be on that search page,” so be looking your sales channels along with SEO and digital PR so your startup is poised for growth.
One of the best ways to stay focused on success is to lay the groundwork for a successful IPO. There is a lot to do, both internally and externally, and getting started earlier will save you money and time as the exit gets closer.
You should take this opportunity to do some scenario planning as well. Now is a great time to plan for a crisis, and create plans for things like cyber breaches ,which will help you secure your future.
Tomorrow’s greatest companies and emerging industries aren’t going to allow this uncertainty to derail them. This is where the rubber meets the road, and strategy makes a difference.