How to raise seed money for your startup: Best practices for different funding sources

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  1. Introdução
  2. How seed funding is different from other types of funding
  3. Why seed funding is important for startups
  4. Preparing to raise seed money
  5. Sources of seed money
    1. Angel investors
    2. Venture capitalists (VCs)
    3. Crowdfunding
    4. Bootstrapping
    5. Grants
  6. How to raise seed money for a startup
    1. If you’re seeking funds from angel investors
    2. If you’re seeking funds from venture capitalists
    3. If you’re crowdfunding your seed money
    4. If you’re bootstrapping your seed money
    5. If you’re seeking grants
  7. How to negotiate seed funding with investors
  8. Best practices for managing seed money

Seed money—often referred to as seed funding or seed capital—is an initial investment that entrepreneurs or founders use to start a business or a new project, and cover initial operating expenses. This type of funding is usually a relatively small amount of capital, compared to other sources of startup funding.

Seed money can come from a variety of sources. These include the founders themselves, friends and family, angel investors, and early-stage venture capital firms. The amount of seed money required can vary significantly depending on the nature of the business and its initial needs. Seed money allows entrepreneurs to move from the idea stage to a tangible business or product. From there, they can demonstrate the feasibility and potential of their business to attract further investment.

After the seed stage, a startup may seek additional funding rounds—such as Series A, B, and C—which usually involve larger amounts of capital and may come from venture capital firms, private equity, or other investors.

Below, we’ll describe what early-stage founders need to know about how to raise seed money: where to seek it, how to choose the right funding source for specific business goals, how to close the deal, and how to spend seed money wisely.

What’s in this article?

  • How seed funding is different from other types of funding
  • Why seed funding is important for startups
  • Preparing to raise seed money
  • Sources of seed money
  • How to raise seed money for a startup
  • How to negotiate seed funding with investors
  • Best practices for managing seed money

How seed funding is different from other types of funding

Startups go through different stages during their lifecycle. While each stage of development (and the funding round that accompanies it) can vary by the individual startup, there are general traits that define each stage.

The seed stage is arguably the most volatile—and exciting—time for startups. Here’s how seed funding differs from other types of funding that might come later:

  • Purpose and use
    Seed funding is primarily aimed at turning an idea into a viable business concept. This often includes conducting market research, developing the product, and building a team. In contrast, later rounds of funding—such as Series A, B, or C—focus more on scaling the business, expanding market reach, enhancing the product, or entering new markets.

  • Amount
    Generally, the amount raised during the seed stage is much smaller compared to later funding rounds. The average seed round in the first quarter of 2023 was just $3.6 million, compared to an average Series A round of $18.7 million. It’s usually enough to prove a concept or reach a significant milestone. As the startup grows and shows its potential, it can attract larger investments in subsequent rounds.

  • Type of investors
    Seed funding often comes from the founders themselves, friends, family, and angel investors. These are individuals or groups willing to take a risk on a very early-stage idea. In contrast, later stages attract institutional investors such as venture capital firms, which invest larger amounts of money into more established companies with a proven track record. Venture capital firms invested $671 billion across 38,644 deals globally in 2021, representing larger deals than the average seed round.

  • Equity and valuation
    During the seed stage, the valuation of the startup might not be well established yet. As a result, investors can receive significant equity for a relatively small amount of money. In later stages, as the company’s valuation increases, it will give away smaller portions of equity for larger amounts of capital. Every deal is different, but as a general rule, founders should plan to sell approximately 20% of equity in the seed round.

  • Risk and reward
    Seed funding is typically considered higher risk because the business model and market fit may not be fully tested. But there is potential for high reward, as early investors often get a more significant equity stake. As the startup matures and moves into later funding rounds, the risk decreases, and so does the potential reward in terms of equity share.

  • Terms and conditions
    Seed funding agreements usually include fewer terms and conditions compared to later funding rounds. As startups grow and attract more sophisticated investors, the complexity of funding agreements typically increases, with more stringent terms and conditions.

Why seed funding is important for startups

While every funding round is important, seed funding might make more of an impact for startups than future investment rounds—even though the investment is often smaller. Seed funding can influence a startup’s trajectory by:

  • Validating the business idea
    Seed funding provides the necessary capital to validate a startup’s concept. This stage is about proving that there’s a market need for the product or service, which is important for attracting future investors. Without seed funding, many ideas would never progress further.

  • Building the foundation
    This initial capital allows startups to set up important operations, hire key team members, and begin initial product development.

  • Facilitating early growth and development
    With seed funding, startups can focus on early growth, refine their product or service, and establish a customer base. This early growth demonstrates the potential for scalability and long-term success.

  • Attracting future funding opportunities
    A successful seed round brings in capital and validates the startup with future investors. It often leads to more substantial funding rounds such as Series A, as it demonstrates that the startup has moved beyond the concept stage and has a viable, growing business.

  • Gaining partners and mentors
    Investors in the seed stage often bring more than just capital; they can be invaluable sources of advice, industry connections, and mentorship. This guidance can be useful for navigating the early challenges of running a startup.

  • Allowing flexibility and autonomy
    Seed funding usually comes with fewer conditions compared to later rounds. Startups have more freedom to experiment and pivot if necessary in this stage, without the pressure of large-scale investor expectations and intricate agreements.

  • Establishing credibility
    Seed funding is often seen as a stamp of approval, enhancing the credibility of the startup in the eyes of customers, partners, and future investors. It’s a sign that knowledgeable individuals or entities believe in the startup’s potential.

Preparing to raise seed money

Startups must do a lot of preparatory work before they reach out to their first potential investors for seed funding. Here’s what you need to do at the beginning of the fundraising process:

  • Refine your business idea
    Before approaching investors, ensure your business idea is clear, innovative, and addresses a genuine market need. This involves conducting thorough market research, understanding your target audience, and developing a unique value proposition.

  • Formulate a solid business plan
    A well-structured business plan should outline your business model, market analysis, operational strategy, financial projections, and long-term goals. This document will be a roadmap for your business and a persuasive tool for potential investors.

  • Develop a prototype or an MVP
    If applicable, develop a prototype or a minimum viable product (MVP). This tangible representation of your idea shows investors that you’ve moved beyond the conceptual stage and have something that works and can be tested in the market.

  • Build a strong team
    Investors don’t just invest in ideas—they invest in people. Assemble a team with diverse skills and experiences. Demonstrating that you have a capable team in place can significantly boost investor confidence in your startup.

  • Incorporate financial planning
    Have a clear understanding of how much funding you need and how you plan to use it. Be ready to explain your financial model and projections, showing a clear path to profitability or growth.

  • Create an investor pitch
    Develop a compelling pitch that succinctly explains your business idea, market opportunity, team, and financials. Your pitch should be engaging, clear, and concise, to attract the attention of potential investors.

  • Identify potential investors
    Research and identify potential investors who are a good fit for your startup. These could include angel investors, venture capitalists, incubators, or accelerators. Understand their investment thesis and portfolio to customize your approach.

  • Network and build relationships
    Start building relationships within the startup environment. Attend industry events, join startup communities, and engage on platforms where you can meet potential investors and mentors.

  • Ensure legal and regulatory compliance
    Ensure your startup complies with all legal and regulatory requirements. This might include incorporating your business, trademarking your brand, or addressing any other industry-specific regulations.

  • Prepare for due diligence
    Investors will conduct thorough due diligence before investing. Organize all of your legal, financial, and business documents so they are ready for review.

Sources of seed money

Where early funding comes from will influence the first phase of the startup’s life, and it will potentially impact its future. This is mostly due to significant differences in the terms of various funding agreements and what kind of relationship founders will have with the investors.

Before you start actively seeking seed money from any source, carefully weigh your options. Make sure you’re choosing a funding source that maximizes the benefits you value most while minimizing the drawbacks and risks you’re most averse to. Here’s an overview of potential seed funding sources:

Angel investors

  • What they are: Angel investors are affluent individuals who provide capital for a business startup, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity. They often are entrepreneurs themselves or retired business executives.

  • Suitability: Ideal for early-stage startups that need guidance and networking opportunities.

Pros

  • Personalized attention and mentorship

  • Flexible terms and less formal processes

  • Valuable networking opportunities

Cons

  • Limited funding capacity

  • May have less business acumen compared to professional investors

  • Possible conflicts in business direction or strategy

Venture capitalists (VCs)

  • What they are: Venture capitalists are professional groups that manage pooled investments in high-growth startups, in exchange for equity.

  • Suitability: Best for startups with high growth potential and a clear path to substantial revenue and profitability.

Pros

  • Access to significant capital

  • Expertise in scaling businesses

  • Strong networking opportunities

Cons

  • Rigorous vetting process and competitive

  • Loss of some control and equity

  • Pressure to deliver high growth and returns

Crowdfunding

  • What it is: Crowdfunding involves raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically online.

  • Suitability: Suitable for consumer-focused startups, innovative products, or companies with a compelling story or social angle.

Pros

  • Access to a broad audience

  • Validation of the business concept

  • Nondilutive financing (in most cases)

Cons

  • Time-consuming and uncertain

  • Requires compelling marketing

  • May face intellectual property exposure

Bootstrapping

  • What it is: Bootstrapping is when entrepreneurs start a business with little capital, relying on personal finances and the company’s revenue.

  • Suitability: Best for businesses that can be started with minimal capital and founders who want full control.

Pros

  • Full control over the business

  • No dilution of equity

  • Encourages lean operations and resourcefulness

Cons

  • Limited resources can hinder growth

  • Personal financial risk

  • Can be slow to scale

Grants

  • What they are: Grants are nonrepayable funds or products that grant makers—often a government department, corporation, foundation, or trust—disburse to a recipient.

  • Suitability: Suitable for research-oriented, social, educational, or eco-friendly startups, or those in specific industries favored by grant programs.

Pros

  • Nondilutive funding

  • Adds credibility

  • Can fund specific projects

Cons

  • Highly competitive and stringent criteria

  • Often limited in scope and scale

  • Time-consuming application process

How to raise seed money for a startup

Once you feel confident about which funding sources you’re going to pursue, here’s how to strategically approach them:

If you’re seeking funds from angel investors

  • Identify suitable angel investors
    Research and identify investors whose interests align with your startup, using your network, angel investor directories, and industry events. Find angels who understand and are passionate about your industry and vision.

  • Craft a compelling pitch
    Your pitch should weave a compelling narrative about your startup, emphasizing the problem you’re solving and your vision. Support this story with market analysis, financial projections, and a detailed business plan.

  • Build relationships
    Approach each interaction as an opportunity to build a long-term relationship. Engage in genuine conversations, value their advice, and be receptive to feedback. Note that you’re seeking a partner—not just a financier.

  • Be prepared for in-depth discussions
    Be ready to articulate your long-term vision and how the investor’s expertise and network can contribute to your growth.

  • Negotiate terms fairly
    Negotiations with angel investors often allow more flexibility. Clearly communicate your needs, and be prepared to understand and accommodate the investor’s expectations and perspectives.

  • Leverage the relationship
    Once an angel has invested, use their experience and network to your startup’s advantage. Keep them updated and involved in key decisions, turning the investment into a collaborative journey.

If you’re seeking funds from venture capitalists

  • Identify the right VCs
    Research and target venture capitalists with a history of investing in your industry and stage of business. Use your network, online databases, and industry events to find VCs with an investment thesis that aligns with your startup’s goals and needs.

  • Prepare a detailed pitch deck
    Your pitch deck should be comprehensive and data-driven, showcasing your business model, market size, competitive landscape, product, team, and financial projections. VCs are looking for scalable, high-growth-potential businesses, so highlight these aspects convincingly.

  • Demonstrate traction and market fit
    VCs typically invest in startups with some market traction or validation. Present any evidence of customer interest, revenue, growth metrics, or partnerships that demonstrate your startup’s market fit and potential for growth.

  • Understand and prepare for rigorous due diligence
    Be ready for a thorough due diligence process. This will include a deep analysis of your financials, legal matters, business model, market research, and team background. Organize all of your documents and information to streamline this process.

  • Negotiate terms and valuation
    Be prepared for tough negotiations on valuation and terms. Understand your startup’s valuation and be ready to discuss and justify it. Familiarize yourself with common VC terms and conditions, and consider the long-term implications of these on your business.

  • Build a relationship and communicate your vision
    While VCs are primarily focused on returns, building a relationship with them is also important. Communicate your long-term vision and how their funding, network, and expertise can help you achieve your goals.

If you’re crowdfunding your seed money

  • Choose the right platform
    Select a crowdfunding platform that aligns with your startup’s product or service. Different platforms cater to different types of projects and audiences, so choose one that resonates with your target market and type of offering—be it equity, reward, or donation-based crowdfunding.

  • Create a compelling campaign
    Your campaign should tell a compelling story about your startup, why it matters, and what makes it unique. Use engaging visuals and clear, persuasive language. Videos can be particularly effective in conveying your message and connecting emotionally with potential backers.

  • Set realistic goals and rewards
    Set a funding goal that reflects what you need to move your project forward, in a manner that is achievable based on your audience size. For reward-based crowdfunding, design attractive, feasible rewards that incentivize contributions without overextending your resources.

  • Promote your campaign
    Use social media, your personal network, and community forums to announce your campaign. Update your backers and audience regularly about your progress to drive continuous engagement.

  • Engage with your backers
    Treat your backers as more than just funders—they’re your early supporters and potential future customers. Engage with them throughout the campaign with updates, responding to comments and showing appreciation for their support.

  • Plan for post-campaign
    Have a clear plan for what happens after the campaign. This includes fulfilling rewards, continuing communication with backers, and building on the success of your campaign to gain further traction and visibility.

If you’re bootstrapping your seed money

  • Manage finances wisely
    Prioritize financial prudence and budget management. Minimize expenses and reinvest profits back into the business. Keep personal and business finances separate to maintain clear records and avoid unnecessary financial complications.

  • Focus on cash flow
    Cash flow is key in bootstrapping. Develop a business model that generates consistent revenue, and keep a close eye on cash flow management to sustain and grow your business operations.

  • Use existing resources
    Use available resources to their fullest potential. This includes your skills, network, and existing assets. Find low-cost or free tools and services that can support your business operations.

  • Grow gradually
    Bootstrapping often means slower growth. Focus on gradual, sustainable growth rather than rapid expansion. This cautious approach allows you to build a solid foundation for your business without overextending your resources.

  • Implement a customer-centric approach
    Since external funding isn’t influencing the direction of your startup, you can closely align your business to customer needs and feedback. Use this to your advantage by building strong customer relationships and customizing your offerings to market demands.

  • Plan for scaling
    Have a clear strategy for scaling your business. As profits grow, reinvest in areas that will offer the most significant benefits—such as product development, marketing, or key personnel hiring.

If you’re seeking grants

  • Research relevant grants
    Identify grants that align with your startup’s industry, mission, or technology. Use online databases, government websites, and industry publications to find grants that are a good fit for your business model and goals.

  • Understand grant requirements
    Carefully read the eligibility criteria, application requirements, and deadlines for each grant. Grants often have very specific requirements and objectives, so ensure your startup and proposal align with these.

  • Create a detailed proposal
    Include a thorough, compelling proposal in your application. Clearly outline your business idea, its impact, how the grant money will be used, and the expected outcomes. Use clear, concise language and adhere to any specific guidelines the grant provided.

  • Demonstrate impact and innovation
    Many grants focus on funding projects that drive innovation, social impact, or technological advancement. Highlight how your startup meets these criteria, providing evidence of potential impact and innovation.

  • Incorporate budget and financial planning
    Include a detailed budget that shows how the grant funds will be allocated. Demonstrate financial responsibility and a clear understanding of how the funding will advance your project.

  • Prepare for follow-up and reporting
    Be prepared for follow-up if your application is successful. This may include providing progress reports, financial statements, or evidence of milestone achievements as stipulated by the grant terms.

How to negotiate seed funding with investors

Potential investors will negotiate on their own behalf, or on behalf of the investors in their fund. Here’s how to successfully advocate for yourself during the negotiation:

  • Understand the investor’s perspective
    Investors are looking for a return on their investment. They might love your idea, but ultimately they’re assessing risk versus reward. Recognizing this will help you frame your arguments and understand their counterpoints.

  • Know your worth
    Before entering any negotiation, have a clear understanding of your startup’s valuation. Beyond the numbers, this includes your business’s potential, the market, and how much you’ve already achieved. Be prepared to defend your valuation with data and confidence.

  • Listen to the investor
    Good negotiation is rooted in effective communication. This means actively listening to what the investor is saying and responding thoughtfully. It’s not about pushing your agenda—it’s about finding common ground and a deal that benefits both parties.

  • Be prepared to walk away
    One of your biggest strengths in any negotiation is the willingness to walk away. This doesn’t mean being confrontational, but rather being firm about what you need for your startup to succeed. If an investor’s terms undervalue your company or don’t align with your vision, be prepared to say no.

  • Be flexible, within reason
    While it’s important to know what you want, being too rigid can be a deal-breaker. Have clear boundaries, but be flexible within your boundaries. This might mean negotiating on equity, the structure of the investment, or other terms.

  • Value long-term relationships
    Remember, you’re potentially entering into a long-term relationship with your investor. Approach negotiations with respect and the desire for partnership. The goal is not just to secure funding, but also to build a relationship that will support your startup’s growth.

  • Pay attention to the details
    Pay close attention to the terms of the deal—not just the headline figures. This includes understanding clauses such as liquidation preferences, antidilution provisions, and board rights. It’s often worth obtaining legal advice to ensure you fully understand the implications of these terms.

  • Communicate post-negotiation
    After a successful negotiation, maintain open lines of communication with your investors. Keeping them informed and involved (to an appropriate degree) can build a strong, ongoing relationship.

Best practices for managing seed money

Once you’ve secured your seed funding, then you need to decide how you use it. Here are some best practices:

  • Prioritize spending based on your business plan
    Start by revisiting your business plan. You should primarily allocate funds to the areas that drive business growth and development, as outlined in your business plan. This might include product development, market research, or key hires. Following your business plan ensures you’re using your funds to achieve specific, strategic goals.

  • Avoid unnecessary expenses
    Exercise frugality without compromising on quality. This means carefully considering each expense and avoiding unnecessary spending. For instance, opt for functional, cost-effective office space rather than luxurious premises. Note that every dollar saved is a dollar that can be invested in areas that directly contribute to growth.

  • Invest in talent wisely
    Your team is your most valuable asset. Hire skilled individuals who share your vision and are committed to the startup’s success. However, be judicious in how you expand your team. Overhiring too early can quickly deplete your resources.

  • Focus on product development and market fit
    Use a significant portion of your seed money to refine your product or service. This includes investing in development, testing, and feedback mechanisms to ensure your offering meets market needs and is competitive.

  • Be strategic about marketing and customer acquisition
    Invest in cost-effective, targeted marketing strategies. Focus on channels that offer the highest return on investment and closely track the performance of your marketing campaigns.

  • Maintain a cash reserve
    Keep a portion of your seed money as a cash reserve. This can be useful for unforeseen expenses or if the business hits a rough patch. A reserve can give you the flexibility and security to address challenges with less financial stress.

  • Monitor cash flow closely
    Regularly monitor your cash flow to ensure your startup stays financially healthy, and adjust your spending as necessary.

  • Reinvest profits back into the business
    If your startup begins generating profit, consider reinvesting a significant portion back into the business. This reinvestment can fuel further growth and reduce the need for additional external funding.

  • Seek advice from mentors or financial advisors
    Don’t hesitate to seek advice from mentors or financial advisors. Their experience and perspective can be invaluable in helping you make sound financial decisions.

  • Be prepared to pivot
    Be flexible and ready to pivot your strategy if necessary. The startup environment is dynamic, and the ability to adapt your spending in response to market feedback or new opportunities can impact your success.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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