Why you have to own your process from end-to-end
Roneil Rumburg is a co-founder of Audius, a blockchain-based music streaming platform designed to help artists at all stages of their career publish and monetize their work.
Through the platform, artists can upload songs for free, and fans can listen to an unlimited number of songs. For the moment, that’s also free.
In time, Audius plans to launch ads or enable subscriptions on the platform so that artists can monetize their songs.
Audius differentiates itself from other services like SoundCloud by promising artists full say in what happens to their work. “They maintain complete control over how the content is distributed and who can listen to it,” he says.
“They get all of the data about who is listening to it, and because the audience is fully decentralized, no one else can dictate or control how they are distributing or using the product — ourselves included.”
That focus on control is not just something Roneil has brought to his platform — it was integral to his entire fundraising process. In August 2018 — just two weeks after Roneil and his co-founders started the company — they announced their $5.5 million Series A.
Here are some highlights of how he did it and his top tips for controlling your fundraising process.
Make Timing Your ‘Best Friend’
Audius managed to raise just two weeks after the company launched. For most startups, a full process can take anywhere from 90 days to nine months. It’s a feat Roneil puts down to being strategic with timing.
“The biggest learning I had from my time in venture was that time can either be your best friend or your worst enemy as someone raising money,” Roneil says, continuing:
“You need to make it your best friend. You do that by controlling the process. If you don't control the process, the process will end up controlling you.”
Like other companies that had fast fundraising rounds, Audius’ co-founders used time and VC interest to their advantage by building up funder interest.
“You need to find a way to create interest, or in an ideal scenario, pre-emptive interest,” Roneil says. “That’s what will let you go get all the other ducks in a row.”
In Audius’ case, that time pressure came after Roneil’s co-founder ran into Niko Bonatsos from General Catalyst. Niko took an immediate interest when he heard about Audius’ plans. He quickly set up a meeting with the team and committed to leading the round.
They used Niko’s interest as leverage.
“We went to talk to other folks and said, 'Hey, something's happening here and it's moving quickly. Can you meet in the next couple of days? Otherwise, we probably won't be able to meet,'” Roneil says. “And then things fell into line much more quickly.”
Soon after their first coffee meeting with Niko, Roneil and his co-founders had secured investments from Lightspeed, Pantera, Kleiner Perkins (where Roneil previously worked), 122 West, and Ascolta Ventures.
Keep It All Above-Board
While one VC’s interest can definitely stoke the flames of a round, founders need to leverage that interest carefully when fundraising. During his time in VC, Roneil ran into multiple founders who used a bluff to try and secure capital.
“You really have to keep in mind as an entrepreneur that everyone in venture knows each other and everyone talks to each other about stuff,” Roneil says. “It's just such a poor reflection on your integrity. If you lie like that, and someone finds out, you will become toxic. Not only is it wrong, but it's bad for business.”
Roneil stresses that founders should avoid doing anything to suggest they’re untrustworthy.
“Fundraising is almost like very abbreviated dating before getting married, and the most important part of that is building trust and any small thing that indicates any lack of trust is an immediate 'no,’” Roneil says.
Make It Actionable
It’s rare to get strong interest early on from a VC. But while Roneil and his co-founders were lucky to encounter Niko and to have connections in the space, Roneil says there are other ways to control the timing of a fundraising round.
One way to create more urgency is to get really specific with your requests.
“In our case, we said, ‘Nico is going to be one of the leads on a round — do you want to join?’ That was a very actionable decision, whereas if you show up to someone and say, ‘I’m raising money; come and be involved,’ their next steps are less clear.’”
Nothing can kill interest quicker than an open-ended ask.
“That sends the signal that you’re not serious — that this isn’t a process,” Roneil says. “Don’t just wing it and say, 'Hey, we're raising money. We don't know how much we're raising. We don't know what we need it for, but we know we want money.'”
The important thing is to signal to VCs that this is your process — and it’s happening now.
Go Big Or Go Home
Thinking back to his VC days, Roneil has advice for fellow founders: he urges entrepreneurs to work on the company full-time.
“If you as an entrepreneur don't have the conviction to spend all of your time on this thing, why would we give you money?” he says. “Why would we have that conviction if you don't even have that conviction right now?”
When it comes to tackling family commitments and financial constraints, he suggests raising a friends and family round or going with an angel investor.
“Get a little bit, start with that, and prove out what you need to — and then you go do something bigger,” he says.
Finally, Roneil suggests, staying up-to-date and involved.
“The state of the art keeps changing,” he says. “Venture is a constantly changing landscape — different people have different incentives and those incentives are changing rapidly over time.”
Understanding that large VC funds need to hit certain ownership targets for most of their seed investing, he points out, is important.
“As a founder, go talk to your friends that raised recently, hear how it went for them, hear what they learned, and try to apply that to your process,” he says. “Because even now... we raised a year and a half ago. My information is probably also out of date.”
Aside from that?
“For the most part, just build a good company and the money will come,” Roneil says. “If you don't have a good company, no amount of fundraising strategy will help you.”
Nathan Beckord is the CEO of Foundersuite.com, a software platform that has helped entrepreneurs raise over $1.5 billion in seed and venture capital since 2016. This article is based on an episode of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast, a behind-the-scenes look at how startup founders have raised capital.