The first professional investor to a deal at the start-up stage is referred to as the Series A investor. This investment is followed by middle and later stage funding – the Series B, C, and D rounds. The final rounds include mezzanine, late stage and pre-IPO funding. A VC may specialize in provide just one of these series of funding, or may offer funding for all stages of the business life cycle. It’s important to know the preferences of the VC you’re approaching, and to clearly articulate what type of funding you’re seeking:
Seed Capital. If you’re just starting out and have no product or organized company yet, you would be seeking seed capital. Few VCs fund at this stage and the amount invested would probably be small. Investment capital may be used to create a sample product, fund market research, or cover administrative set-up costs.
Startup Capital. At this stage, your company would have a sample product available with at least one principal working full-time. Funding at this stage is also rare. It tends to cover recruitment of other key management, additional market research, and finalizing of the product or service for introduction to the marketplace.
Early Stage Capital. Two to three years into your venture, you’ve gotten your company off the ground, a management team is in place, and sales are increasing. At this stage, VC funding could help you increase sales to the break-even point, improve your productivity, or increase your company’s efficiency.
Expansion Capital. Your company is well established, and now you are looking to a VC to help take your business to the next level of growth. Funding at this stage may help you enter new markets or increase your marketing efforts. You should seek out VCs that specialize in later stage investing.
Late Stage Capital. At this stage, your company has achieved impressive sales and revenue and you have a second level of management in place. You may be looking for funds to increase capacity, ramp up marketing, or increase working capital.
Bridge Financing: You may also be looking for a partner to help you find a merger or acquisition opportunity, or attract public financing through a stock offering. There are VCs that focus on this end of the business spectrum, specializing in initial public offerings (IPOs), buyouts, or recapitalizations. If you are planning an IPO, a VC may also assist with mezzanine or bridge financing – short-term financing that allows you to pay for the costs associated with going public.
A key factor for the VC will be risk versus return. The earlier a VC invests, the greater are the inherent risks and the longer is the time period until the VC’s exit. It follows that the VC will expect a higher return for investing at this early stage, typically a 10 times multiple return in four to seven years. A later stage VC may be seeking a two to four times multiple return within two years.