Find your funding
Is funding the only fuel for growth?
Hanadi Jabado, Colin Oakman and Tim Rea from the Cambridge Judge Business School explain how businesses can keep growing, while still generating capital.
“When you ask growth companies what keeps them awake at night, 99% of the time it’s finance and funding,”* says Hanadi Jabadi, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Cambridge Judge Business School.
While funding is one important way to accelerate your company’s growth, it isn’t the only tool to support your growth trajectory. More often than not it’s down to the ambition of your founder and your management team.
Many entrepreneurs are quick to reach out for funding without considering if they actually need those funds, and more importantly: they don’t consider how they’ll use this capital.
The decision to seek capital is usually based on marketing, recruitment, and research and development, but it’s important to consider your business’ full growth strategy before you put all of your focus into funding.
“If you have your strategy, operations and marketing nailed down, funding will actually be a piece of cake,” says Hanadi.
“Funding might not be necessary, once you’ve built your full growth plan,” says Colin Oakman, who works alongside Hanadi and Tim Rea as part of the Barclays Scale-Up UK programme.
“There’s an overwhelming reliance and obsession with start-ups reaching out for funding, without first considering reinvesting profits to promote growth.”
This is certainly true for Colin, who recently started his own consultancy after working at a high-growth software development company.
It’s “all privately owned and privately funded through revenue,” he says. “So I understand and support what it takes to grow a business that's essentially self-funded.”
One of the main benefits of self-funded growth is retaining control. Ultimately, it prevents you having to answer to venture capitalist firms and investors like Tim, who’s spent the past 20 years immersed in the venture capital world.
“I've been involved in over 120 investments, in different stages, sectors and geographies, and I’ve been party to deploying well over $1bn in capital,” says Tim. “I've learned that there are lots of interesting ways to fail – and a few interesting ways to succeed.”
One way growth companies might fail is by placing too much emphasis on securing funding, at the expense of other areas of their business. “As a start-up, if somebody's offering you money, you’ll go for it and you might not understand that it can be a distraction,” says Hanadi.
She uses the following example: “There was a company that was set up to deliver software. But it’s much harder to sell software to a large corporation than to sell consultancy services. We helped them identify that all their resources were being put into their consultancy clients, while they were neglecting the[ir] software development. Their revenue was plateauing at £2m or £3m, but the big prize would’ve been launching that software and selling licences.”
“It’s also important to remember that all investors will ultimately be expecting a return on their investment,” says Tim, which, while understandable, can become a distraction.
“Companies often get caught up in the very real fact that they need cash to grow their business, and forget that the people on the other side of the table have an equally or sometimes bigger problem of having to get rid of cash,” he says.
“They're not sitting there trying to find ways not to invest. They're sitting there trying to find ways to invest. It's the company's job to present its vision, the opportunity and a good, credible investment.”
“I see a lot of companies that – even with a good business and understanding of what they want to do – fail to understand how to engage with investors, how to support them through an investment process, and how to engage with them after they’ve invested.”
The funding workshop in our Scale-Up UK programme covers all these topics, as well as other tips for a growing business. “A lot of our subject matter covers funding and fuelling growth,” says Colin. “As well as more straightforward, technical aspects of running a business financially, and the kinds of decisions that you’ll need to understand and make.”
Find out more about the programme and its modules.
*Quotations have been edited for length and clarity.
- Funding options – your revenue and investment
- Retaining focus on your business activities while funding
- Your relationships with potential and existing investors
- Identifying the right areas to enable growth
- A bespoke funding strategy