Monday, June 20, 2011

How much is enough?

Financing, that is...I had mixed emotions when I read the the press release on the recent funding of iControl Networks.

I was the founding CFO for iControl and spent over 4 years with the company (the reason I call myself a part-time CFO and not interim as I tend to remain longer than most permanent CFO's...) Since the iControl system chronicles all meetings, I was able to find the automatic picture snapped from my first meeting with the founders, Reza Raji and Chris Stevens on April 22, 2004.

Now that iControl has raised over $100M, this got me thinking back to our original business plan. One truth of start-up financing is that it generally takes twice as long and twice as much money to accomplish your milestones. I took a look back at our original financial model we presented to VC's in 2004. The business model (OEM through broadband and home security companies for mass distribution) if not specific product functionality has remained largely the same. But of course, the model had us requiring only $10M equity to breakeven and to achieve $185M in revenues in 2008 (the magic Year 5 in all business plans).

I am no longer an insider, so don't have any view into current financials, but do know that total financing is now 10X the original plan and at the current accelerating growth rate, revenues will still not hit that $185M until 2012 or 2013, so double the time. And this is a company that has managed to get an A+ list of investors and is executing very well. Most companies don't come close to their rose colored financial models prepared when going out for Series A financing.

There are definitely some lessons in the story for entrepreneurs and angel investors, but before discussing, I thought I'd share a bit about the early financing history for iControl. Before the $52M Series D, the $23M Series C, the $15.5M Series B and the $5M Series A, there were angels writing checks with many less 0's. In looking back at the old financials, at the end of Q2 2005, our cash balance was a whopping $546. At this point, Reza and I were funding the company to keep the lights on and servers running. We had spent the $275K raised from our original angels and were actively speaking to any and all angels and VC's we could convince to meet with us. In fact, since the iControl system was busy taking pictures of all entering our conference room, we could put together a photo album of all these meetings.

At this time, we had secured a term sheet from a co-investor from one of my other angel investments (Thanks, Graeme!) offering to invest $75K if we could find another $250K by September 30, 2005. We managed to pull together an angel syndicate and close $450K on 9/30 after working the phones the last few days and anxiously waiting for signature pages to show up on the fax machine and wire confirms to hit the bank account. Less than a month later, we received a term sheet from Charles River Ventures for the Series A and as they say, the rest is financing history...with investments from Intel, Kleiner Perkins, Cisco, GE, Comcast, ADT, Rogers, and others.

So what does this all mean. As I said up front, I have mixed emotions about the financing. While my ownership stake in the company has been diluted through these financings (and the merger with uControl), my carried interest (paper value of my equity) has been going up with each increase in valuation. However, each financing resets the clock as new investors are looking for a multiple of their investment on exit.

Entrepreneurial finance (I should know since I teach the course) is all about options. Staged financing gives investors options in deciding whether and when to invest more and gives entrepreneurs options in how much to raise and when to think about exiting. While bootstrapping, there are multiple options from doing as a side project, changing the business, raising angel or venture, etc. Once you raise a small angel financing, you still keep many of your options, but are now committing to a growth path with an eye towards eventual liquidity. A talent acquisition or bootstrapping are still options, but need to include buy-in from the investors. Once you raise venture capital, you are forced on a path to spend ahead of the business and seek the highest growth business model options. In iControl’s case, there were exit options at different stages, but now with more than $100M invested, the only options where investors will be happy will be an IPO or $1B+ acquisition, which greatly limits strategic options.

Is $120M enough capital to reach these exit goals? I sure hope so, but we'll have to wait and see how the founding team and angels come out at the end of the day. Stay tuned...