As founders and CEOs, many of us live, breathe, and work tirelessly to generate rapid growth and build large and meaningful companies. We plan the work ahead, work the plans, and aim to outperform. The path is often uncertain, to say the least - and in recent weeks, we’ve seen many additional uncertainties enter the picture, given the invasion of Ukraine and turbulence in the global markets.
As a former venture capital (VC) investor and now Co-founder & COO of Capchase, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of founders on how they do financial and capital planning. What is becoming obvious at the moment is that planning for growth and securing necessary capital has become more important than it ever was in recent years. Let’s discuss why that is the case and how you can get prepared to stay on the path of rapid growth and remain resilient for what’s ahead in the changing global financial market trends.
Financial planning matters - and why you should be doing it “continuously”
You just raised a solid round and are ready to beat the plan ahead of you. The plan was most likely prepared for the financing round with quarterly cadence ahead and you expect to check in on it with investors or board/advisors during quarterly meetings. The planning likely took a lot of time, dozens of internal discussions, and trade-offs-as it should-and you’re not looking forward to doing it again.
However, as the times become uncertain, we witness founders take a much more proactive approach to financial planning and fundraising. At Capchase, we recommend our customers switch from point-in-time financial planning (once a year/quarter), to continuous planning (monthly re-calibration), around multiple scenarios and contingencies.
Set yourself up well for the planning journey ahead
Let’s discuss potential scenarios, a framework for specific decision points (which differ from company-to-company), as well as the toolkit you may want to put in place in order to enable the planning process.
You probably already have an ambitious growth plan you put in front of the investors which you’re set on hitting. What if things don’t go perfectly according to plan? It’s helpful to think about a few major scenarios for your business as well as the triggers you’ll want to watch out for to signal if you’re entering a given scenario:
Macro - the unknown
Depending on the funding environment, your end sector, and a lot of other things outside of your control, you might want to have a plan for significantly extending your runway or potentially turning profitable altogether. What does that plan look like, what happens to top line growth and operating expenses (OpEx) in that case?
Big bets - the known
While no scenario is ever black-and-white, it’s helpful to think about a few turning points/bets you will make (hypotheses) and how quickly (time) and how (method) you can check if the efforts are starting to pay off. Conversely, you might need to ask yourself if you need to pair back or redirect investment towards a different product/market that works instead. These big bets are probably few, but very significant when they do come up.
Execution and hiring - the process
The key operating functions of a growing business can benefit from continuous scrutiny, and re-evaluation. In the growth stage of a business, every small change has an outsized impact. A key hire-or delay in making a key hire-can change the way/pace your business grows or how customers might think about your business. Similarly, a competitive development can lead you to adjusting your approach to a given opportunity. These operating decision points will constantly come up, and it’s important to weigh the impact of a given decision to align on the best go-forward approach.
Key decision points in scenario planning
You have finite resources in the bank and so you want to establish a framework for deciding on the incremental investments you’re making, ideally on a quarterly basis, with a view to recalibrate month-after-month. Some of the questions you might want to ask are:
Go-to-market (GTM) hiring
How is the predictability and efficiency of my salesforce? Do I have confidence that the additional account executive (AE) I add will bring $X in additional contribution margin over a specific period of time (proxy for good unit economics)? If so, it’s time to double down. If not, it might be helpful to think about doubling down on increasing efficiency of the existing team instead.
GTM customer acquisition cost (CAC)
Whether paid advertising spend (e.g. Google, Facebook) or other channels, can I easily measure and attribute CAC? What is the acceptable level of CAC I’m willing to support and double down on? Are there things I need to dig into and/or reset before committing to higher spend?
Do I have enough confidence in the existing markets to go after new markets (geos or segments) or do I need to improve unit economics in existing markets instead? What would the incremental investment look like into new markets? Can I afford to get it wrong and if so, by how much?
Given the dynamics on the GTM side, do I need to invest additional resources in improving the existing product (updates) or do I have enough conviction to throw resources behind the next product? What time frame am I operating on, and when will I know if the efforts are paying off?
General & administrative
Do I have the key pieces in place for a scalable infrastructure? Is the organization able to sustain multiples of growth/volume with the resources in place? What are the ‘nice-to-haves’ vs. the ‘need-to-haves’? What is the lead time to execute on any needed initiatives, whether it be headcount or non-headcount related spend?
Ultimately, unless you run a business that is already generating cash flow, you will likely seek external growth funding - whether from VC to which you sell a chunk of your business, or non-dilutive sources. Key questions to ask are: what sources of capital do I have access to right now? How much capital and how much additional runway does it mean for my business? When do I need to start raising-is it now? What is the process for raising equity, and do I have the right relationships in place with VCs or people who can introduce me to VCs? What is my backup plan (and my backup plan to my backup plan) if I don’t meet the requirements to access funding from the sources available to me today?
In order to set yourself up for success in the above exercises, it’s helpful to set up the basic infrastructure early:
Financial & GTM data - on the financial side
Onboarding early onto a platform like Quickbooks, Xero, Netsuite, etc., and not only updating financials monthly, but also familiarizing yourself with key metrics, movements, and implications. On the GTM side-selecting a customer relationship management (CRM) tool and setting up deal and pipeline processes early will provide an ongoing basis for regular forecasting and scenario planning. Setting up CRM reports and using no-code/low-code tools to feed data from one system to another will ensure (ideally) real-time visibility into the pulse of the business. The same goes for onboarding an HR system, linking payroll costs to the accounting system, and ultimately using it to help with your forecasting. This week, Miguel even sat down with the CEO of Abacum (a forecasting tool for SaaS companies), to discuss how founders can leverage forecasting for growth, and increasingly, our Growth Advisors are discussing it’s importance with our customers.
Flexible company operating model
Setting up a baseline company operating model that can be flexible to run scenarios based on decision point levers is vital-it’s a lot easier to build a flexible framework earlier on in the business when there are less moving pieces. Set up your scenarios and forecasts around assumptions that are easy to update and manipulate month-after-month. A lot will likely change on the fly, but you will be able to link the assumptions to the key decision points and update them when these come. Most of the companies we work with have forward-looking financial models, but we rarely see or hear companies talking about scenario planning, or if-this-then-that plans.
Centralized data repository
Establishing a centralized data repository and visualization tool can go a long way. While there are many great solutions for specific functions of the business (CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, etc.), having centralized dashboards that bring all the metrics together is a very powerful tool, as it normalizes data-driven decision making in your organization. We use Looker, but there are many other great business intelligence (BI) tools out there as well.
How can you best align the “natural pace” or cadence of decision making with planning?
Focus on the “big bets”
Pick key decision points and note them down-particularly around “big bets” and other key investments. It helps to focus your attention and analysis on the true needle-moving situations and provides you with a workable timeline.
Align your decision making
If possible, find a way to align your key decision making meetings with your own natural operating cadence. Some businesses choose to have a monthly leadership meeting to discuss the strategic direction-ideally you work through the quantitative analysis at the same time as you drive qualitative discussions and influence across the organization.
How to couple planning with funding agility
The great thing about agile, continuous planning is that it helps protect your company in uncertain times, allows you to plan for a rapid upswing as uncertainty ceases, and does so gradually or as we like to call it at Capchase: programmatically.
We strongly believe founders should optimize the way they use capital. Practically, that means tapping into the right amount of funding for the particular investments the company is making at a given point in time. To illustrate this, imagine if instead of taking out $2M in funding, you take it out in chunks (e.g. 4x $500K), perfectly aligned with your marketing campaigns and ideally payback periods. That means you pay just for the funding you need, at the time you need it-saving money (a lot of it) in the process.
Recognize that you’re not alone
As a founder, you want to ideally focus on coming up with amazing products and bringing them to market. If the planning sounds time consuming, it’s because it often is. Other than hiring a head of finance/accountant/controller, are there any other resources you can tap into to help with this exercise?
At Capchase, we pride ourselves on being true growth advisors to our customers, helping them plan their capital journeys around pivotal decision points and key investments. Ultimately, we provide access to capital, which funds specific needle-moving initiatives. The better we understand your road ahead, the better we can tailor your frequency and sizes of draws to help minimize the true cost of capital for what you’re trying to achieve. When you connect your data to Capchase, we work tirelessly to offer highly personalized support for your financial planning.
The macro environment is evolving rapidly and your priority is growing your business (as it should be). We at Capchase cannot wait to talk to you and help you in that journey.
Get started with continuous financial planning today: visit Capchase.com/Grow.