Five Tips for Startup Fundraising 

Many entrepreneurs have excellent business ideas, but have never raised capital before from investors. After raising more than $9 million in capital in my entrepreneurial journey, here are some of my biggest tips for startup fundraising.

What is your social mission?

Many investors will be more interested in your startup if you do not only focus on your plan to generate a profit, but if you also tell them what your social mission is. Many social impact investors exist who want to deploy their capital into businesses that are having a positive social impact. My startup is also a public benefit corporation which means that we are for profit, but we also write our social mission into our bylaws. In your first meeting with an investor, focus on explaining the problem you are solving and how it will improve society. If they believe in your mission, then they will be more excited about supporting you. 

Engage your investors as advisors 

Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of only looking at investors as a source of capital, but this is a mistake. I have chosen to engage all of my investors as advisors and I have created an online discussion forum where they can give input to me on a regular basis. Investors do not want to just write a check and walk away in many cases. They will be more excited about investing if they feel they are joining your team and they may even make helpful introductions for you. There is a saying in Silicon Valley which is that, “if you ask for money, you’ll get advice and if you ask for advice, you’ll get money.” 

Set a minimum investment of $25K-$50K

If this is your first round of financing, consider setting a minimum investment of $25K-50K. Some entrepreneurs make the mistake of accepting $5-10K investments and this will significantly slow down your fundraising process. By setting a minimum investment, you are going to be able to raise capital faster and only attract investors who are serious about your startup! 

Strive to maintain voting control

For our startup, we have set up a dual class stock structure in which the founding management team has full voting control of the company and the investors have an economic interest. The benefit of this model in the beginning is that it allows your team to focus on executing rather than playing shareholder politics. Many of the most successful startups in the world such as Facebook and Google had this structure in their early days. You should still be democratic and involve your investors on your board because they can be a valuable source of input and feedback. However, this voting structure will allow you to focus on executing your vision. 

Hire accountants early 

I recommend hiring a certified public accountants from the first day you have an investor or cash in the business. Your accountants can prepare for you compilated financial statements which you can share with potential investors. This will make you look more professional and will enable you to provide investors with professional financial statements. 

Create an investor power point 

It is ideal if you can create an investor presentation or pitch deck to share with potential investors that cover slides such as the problem you’re solving, the product or service you have created, the business model and how you generate revenue, your customer acquisition strategy, who is on your team, the total addressable market, your fundraising history, financial projections, and any other key information you think is relevant. 

SEC and Blue Sky Filings 

Make sure you file a Form D with the SEC and if you are advertising your investment publicly, then consider using regulation 506(c) which allows you to advertise your investment and raise capital from an accredited investor. It is also important to understand that in addition to your federal Form D filing, each state has blue Sky filing requirements which require you to file in each state you have raised capital in. It is best to consult a securities attorney about the details of these filings because if you do not do them it could make raising capital in the future difficulty. 

All Money is not green 

It is important to understand that not all money is green. In other words, you should not accept an investment from anyone willing to write you a check. Interview your potential investors and make sure your goals are aligned. There’s nothing wrong with turning down money from an investor if you don’t think it’s a good fit. 

Treat your investors as partners 

Treat your investors as more than a source of capital and they will go above and beyond to help you. 

Operating From a Mindset of Helping Others

It is common that you may find yourself uninspired from time to time. From my experience, the best way to keep yourself inspired is to operate from a mindset of helping others. If you are only thinking about helping yourself, you may be less inspired to succeed. However, if you focus on helping others you will be significantly more successful. The reason for this is that you will be operating from a point of “why” and remember why you decided to do what you are doing.

I started my company to help prevent lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes. I was originally volunteering in my local emergency room saw an obese patient pass away from heart disease. I decided that it was time to prevent this and that something more should have been done to help this patient. We needed a lifestyle based program such as the CDC’s Diabetes Prevention Program to prevent so many patients from dying from obesity related conditions.

So the next time you are not inspired – ask yourself the simple question, “Why did I start doing this to begin with?”. It is my opinion that both healthcare entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals must have daily rituals to remember why they are doing what they are doing. It is about helping patients. Remember one patient you helped and find more to help. There is a famous TED Talk from Simon Sinek that talks about how operating from a “why” perspective is so powerful and inspiring which I encourage you to watch here:

Imagine if your actions saved a live. That is more valuable than money. It is the greatest honor to be able to do something that either saves a life or improves someone’s quality of life. There are so many people saying that it is a stupid decision to go to medical school or go into healthcare. Many of these people site how it is a poor financial decision and one could make more money in another job. If you operate from this financial perspective, you will never be fulfilled and happy. You must operate from a mindset of helping others.

For the potential future medical students or physicians that may not be as inspired as they were when they entered the healthcare profession – I simply ask you to remember one patient that you helped or wanted to help. For the entrepreneurs, imagine how many people you could help with your product or service.

Stop listening to the media or reading online blogs from physicians complaining about medicine. Be a leader and change medicine for the better. It is easy to criticize – harder to act and be part of the solution. Help improve healthcare, be a leader, inspire others, and focus on helping that one patient that made you want to go into healthcare to begin with. This will lead you to the most inspiring and fulfilled life possible.

Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.

Which patient gave you your “why?”

Do you really need a VC?

Many young entrepreneurs believe that the best way to get funding for their startup is from venture capital firms who can write them a multi-million dollar check. The reality is that this is not the only way to successfully raise the capital you need to launch your business. Many entrepreneurs, including myself, are using equity crowdfunding to raise capital from a larger number of shareholders.

It is true that a venture capital firm might be able to write you a check for $5 million. However, you could also raise this same $5 million by having 100 customers write you a check for $50K each. This is what our healthcare startup Fruit Street did. We decided to fund our business entirely from physician investors and have raised more than $8 million from 200 physicians investing between $25K and $250K each. Many of these physicians are actually using our product and all of them act as advisors giving us helpful input to the business. Personally, I love having so many investors supporting us who are industry experts in the field that our startup operates in. Our investors are also a constant source of helpful introductions and support.

So ask yourself – would you rather have 200 industry experts supporting you as investors or one VC?

What is the difference between raising $5 million at once or by raising $200K per month in equity for 24 months? The answer is that there is virtually no difference. It may take you a year or two to convince a VC to invest, but in the mean time you can start building your product with the capital from your equity crowdfunding campaign. At a later stage when you have more revenue, you can always approach a VC, but you don’t need them at the beginning.

Publicly traded companies have thousands of shareholders and there is no reason a privately held startup cannot have hundreds of shareholders who support it.

It is my opinion that social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and equity crowdfunding platforms like Angel List and Seed Invest are shifting power away from venture capital firms and back to entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur today can pay $50 to run an ad about their product/investment on social media and reach 1,000 potential customers and investors in an automated way. This is a much faster way to gain investor support and finding the right investors for your business than pitching angel groups or emailing one investor at a time.

Crowdfunding is becoming more popular through platforms like kickstarter and indiegogo. Equity crowdfunding is growing on platforms like angel list and through the most common social media platforms.

In the entire history of my startup, I have not once thought that if I do not raise venture capital money that I will have trouble funding our business.

Even if your startup needed to raise $25 million in capital before becoming profitable, you could simply raise $25 million from 500 customers investing $50K each. Venture capitalists are not the only highly educated people in the world who are willing to support an entrepreneur who has a strong mission that resonates with them.

Which model do you prefer?

1) ONE venture capital firm writing you a check for $5M.

2) 100 passionate customers writing you checks for $50K each for that same total of $5M. People who actually use your product and promote your brand. Who believe in your social mission and your vision.

Both models can work. What’s best for you? That is for you to decide.

Entrepreneurship is a Tool for Social Impact

I have met thousands of different types of investors throughout my career as an entrepreneur. Some investors that I have met unfortunately simply look at business and entrepreneurship as a way to earn a profit. I do not share this view.

I view entrepreneurship as a mechanism for having a positive social impact on society. Profit is simply a byproduct of solving problems for society.

When I founded my digital health startup Fruit Street, my investors and I decided to form it as a Delaware public benefit corporation. A public benefit corporation is a for profit company, but we write our social mission into our bylaws and make accomplishing our social mission just as important as generating revenue. In fact, if we were only generating revenue and not having a social impact – our management team would see little point in what we do every day. Our social mission is so important that we wrote it into our bylaws.

Fruit Street’s social mission is to prevent and treat lifestyle related disease using telemedicine, wearable devices, and mobile applications.

You might ask, why would we do this? Does it scare off investors that we are not a normal Delaware C-Corp?

The reason why we formed our company as a Delaware public benefit corporation is that the reason we started our company was to have a social impact. We wanted to only attract investors who shared our mission. We wanted investors who were not simply investing to get a return on investment like your traditional venture capitalists. We wanted investors who were also investing because they wanted to see their money have a positive impact in the world.

In our case, our physician investors are investing because they want us to develop a product that will actually help the patients they see every day in their clinics ranging from rural Alabama to the city of San Fransisco and all throughout the United States.

Fruit Street is a grassroots movement of physicians who want to improve healthcare with technology. There are no hedge funds involved or private equity funds with Fruit Street. Just a small committed group of citizens and healthcare professionals who want to change the world.

I would suggest to all entrepreneurs that want to change the world that you form your company as a public benefit corporation. If an investor has a problem with you wanting to make a profit while having a social impact at the same time, don’t take their money. There are plenty of investors who will share your vision for having a social impact.

Another phenomenon I have noticed is that there are two types of investors and two types of entrepreneurs. The first time of entrepreneur is the type that wants to be the founder of a startup because they think it’s the sexy thing to do and a way for them to make money. They decided they want to be an entrepreneur before they decide what the product or service is that they want to build.

The second type of entrepreneur is the one that recognizes a problem in society and decides he or she wants to solve it. That entrepreneur then realizes that starting a company and finding a team of great investors and entrepreneurs is a way to solve that problem at scale for society. This is the type of entrepreneur I am. When I volunteered in my local emergency room, I saw patients with preventable conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and decided something had to change. We needed to develop a way to deliver the diabetes prevention program at scale to millions of people using technology.

It is my opinion that entrepreneurs whose primary motivation is a social impact are more successful than those that are just looking for a quick exit.

If you build a team of entrepreneurs and investors that want to change the world, you just might.

Because someone once said that you should never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

PRESS RELEASE: Fruit Street Becomes the First Digital Health Company to Deliver the CDC’s Diabetes Prevention Program via Live Group Telehealth Classes

The digital health and telemedicine company Fruit Street Health has announced that it is the first organization with pending recognition status from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) to deliver the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (“DPP”) via group telehealth classes and live video conferencing.
The DPP resulted from clinical work conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, which conducted a major multicenter clinical research study that was published in 2002. The study contained 3,234 participants who were overweight and had prediabetes, and was aimed at discovering whether modest weight loss through dietary changes and increased physical activity or treatment with the oral diabetes drug metformin (Glucophase) was more effective at preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes. Among its findings, the study showed that people at risk for developing diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by losing a modest amount of weight through diet and exercise. DPP participants in the lifestyle intervention group reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent during the study. Lifestyle changes worked particularly well for participants aged 60 and older, reducing their risk by 71 percent.
The DPP was originally facilitated to groups of 10-20 prediabetes patients meeting with a trained lifestyle coach in a physical location such as the YMCA. The lifestyle coach would facilitate 16 1-hour long group classes in the first six months and 6 1-hour long group classes in the last six months. Patients would physically drive to these classes which can be inconvenient especially if they live in a rural area where they may have to drive 30 to 60 minutes in one direction to attend class.
Fruit Street addresses the limitations and barriers of physical class attendance by allowing patients to attend their DPP classes via group telehealth video calls, which eliminates both the cost and wasted travel time of commuting to a physical class.
In the Fruit Street DPP delivery model, a registered dietitian conducts these classes via group video where all of the patients can see and speak to one another. In addition, each patient is issued a Fitbit, wireless scale, and the Fruit Street mobile application which allows them to take pictures of their food and receive feedback from their lifestyle coach. The wireless scale records the weight of the patients throughout the DPP and the Fitbit both encourages and healthy lifestyle and transmits exercise data back to the registered dietitian in a HIPAA compliant environment.
Laurence Girard, CEO and Founder of Fruit Street, believes that the Fruit Street DPP is an unique and effective approach to diabetes prevention. “It is true,” states Girard, “that there are other successful virtual diabetes prevention programs, but Fruit Street is very different from these virtual models. For example, one virtual program delivers the majority of its DPP curriculum through articles and recorded content that patients read on their own time. This model is convenient for patients who want to read content on their own time and cannot meet with a lifestyle coach at the same time every week. We believe, however, that many patients would prefer to speak with a live registered dietitian and the other participants in the group via live video conferencing which is more similar to an in-person interaction.”
Fruit Street’s DPP telehealth model is a digital version and very similar to the structure of the original DPP clinical trial where patients met with a lifestyle coach at a YMCA in-person. Instead of sitting at a physical table, patients are sitting at a virtual table via group video conferencing conducted on the Fruit Street digital health platform. Girard stated, “Fruit Street’s similarity to the original DPP clinical trial gives us the ability to protect the DPP program integrity and we believe will enable us to deliver excellent clinical outcomes. This similarity combined with the fact patients can do these classes from the convenience of their home or office via telehealth makes the Fruit Street telehealth DPP model a great option for patients.”
Laurence Girard
CEO & Founder
85 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, New York, 10004