Startup Funding Option: Family and Friends

Jim Cooper is an expert on startup funding and at this talk he will go through some of the lesser known funding options for entrepreneurs.
Jim Cooper is an expert on startup funding

I am sitting here watching a great presentation by startup expert Jim Cooper, co-founder of Braid Theory, and he is talking about funding. It’s a complicated subject, or at least it can get that way, but I think one of the main complications is that people make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Many of the entrepreneurs that I talk with think that they should be looking for funding from an Angel group or VCs. Basically, to these entrepreneurs, that’s the only way they can think of to raise money for what they are doing. Starting a business is tough and oftentimes expensive so I understand why people, especially first time entrepreneurs, think that in order to raise funds they have to go through professional investors.

But that’s not the case. Not only is that not the case, the vast majority of startups do not get their first funds from professional investors. Ideas are great but they just don’t make for great investments all that frequently.

So, how do most startups get, well, started?

Self funding is one way. And raising funds from family and friends is another popular way for early stage companies. And the reason why is simple: you, your family, and your friends are the people most likely to believe in you. They are willing to take that chance… and it is a very big risk because most startups don’t end up making much, if any, money.

Jim did provide a couple of great tips for entrepreneurs who are approaching family and friends for investment funds:

  • Get it in writing!
    • Any agreement involving money and equity must be documented. Future investors will want to see who owns what and getting agreements written down will help to curtail any disagreements in the future.
  • If you don’t want your family and friends controlling your business sell them shares that do not include voting rights.
    • Selling equity that doesn’t come with voting rights is a normal thing in the startup world but most non-professional investors probably haven’t heard about this and might become offended if one of their family members or friends tries to sell them shares that don’t come with voting rights. Entrepreneurs should tread carefully here but the entrepreneur needs to be the leader and making the argument for why they need to maintain control of their business, especially during the earliest stages of a venture’s life.
  • Don’t raise more than $500,000 from family and friends
    • I think this is more a rule of thumb for Jim but I can see his reasoning here. Startups aren’t worth a lot in the beginning and $500,000 would probably represent a sizable chunk of the business’ equity. Sure, if an entrepreneur could convince a rich uncle to invest that amount of money and not require voting rights then the entrepreneur would still have control of his business but would probably only have a fraction of the equity.

Jim’s talk contained a lot more information than what I’ve been writing about. I hope that we will be able to publish some of the more important segments from Jim’s talk in the future as part of our Knowledge @ CSUF Entrepreneurship series. And to work with mentors like Jim and those that you can find at the CSUF Startup Incubator get in touch with us by sending us an email at csufentrepreneurship@fullerton.edu.


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