Neil Patel

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Leveraging strategic investors for early-stage startups is an excellent approach for sourcing capital. Even as you’re looking at VCs, angel investors, incubators, and accelerators, consider tapping options like strategics.

Most other investors offer you capital and additional assistance like access to their networks, basic expertise, and guidance for scaling. Their primary objective is the company’s profitability so they can exit with rich returns. They may also be concerned about accountability to their shareholders.

Guiding the company through an IPO or successful exit can also make their list of priorities. However, strategic investors have distinct objectives. This funding source comes with its share of pros and cons, which you’ll consider carefully. Read ahead for more information about these investors.

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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

Understand Strategic Investors and How They Function

Strategic investors can be a valuable asset for rapidly scaling your fledgling company. These entities typically operate within your business vertical or a related sphere, selling similar products and services. And could be looking for new technology to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving sphere.

Their objective from the financial investment is to get synergies in return, which may be operational, cultural, or financial.

Unlike in a merger or acquisition, your company remains an independent entity but enhances the strategic’s business model. Or adds to and improves its products and services.

By investing in your business, the strategic looks to influence the product roadmaps you develop and their distribution strategies. For instance, you could build IP or software and technology crucial for the functioning of the strategic’s hardware.

Or, your company could manufacture core components that enable the strategic to capture broader global markets. Or expand its customer base. Certain industries are better suited for such investment options, such as life sciences, health tech, biotechnology, space, and defense.

Large corporations prefer to invest in upcoming startups conducting R&D to develop innovations they can access.

Such companies are limited by their size, which hampers their agility. Smaller companies rely on the money to fund their activities, primarily R&D, since the sector is typically capital intensive.

You can use the capital to supplement the funding you acquire from other sources. For instance, to conduct clinical trials in the life sciences sphere and develop the infrastructure for efficient sales and distribution.

Once the startup demonstrates success, the strategic investor could offer to purchase the company from the founder.

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Leveraging Strategic Investors for Early-Stage Growth Startups – Benefits to Avail

Accessing capital from strategic investors can bring several benefits to your company. Here’s how:

Infusion of Capital and Credibility

Collaborating with a strategic investor allows you to access an infusion of capital for the company. Further, the partnership builds credibility and validity for your brand in the market. It indicates that your business is a robust investment opportunity.

As a result, attracting additional funding from other sources becomes much easier. For instance, a health tech startup may have innovated a home diagnostic device that allows users to take self-EKG readings.

Partnering with a strategic that owns a healthcare chain adds authenticity to the product.

Higher Valuation and Lower Dilution

Strategic investor-backed startups have a higher valuation, which can work to your advantage when raising funds from other investors. Strategics are also open to accepting a smaller share in the equity in exchange for the same capital amount you might get from, say, a venture capital firm.

Access to Networking Opportunities

Since strategics operate within the same business vertical, collaborating with them offers access to their large pool of networks. These connections may include suppliers, vendors, customers, and logistics and distribution channels that will also be open to you.

Minimizing Risk and Ensuring Stability

Partnering with an established company ensures stability for the startup. You can get assurance of a steady cash flow regardless of changing market conditions. Since the partner will purchase your products, your company benefits from steady sales and assured payments.

This stability can prove crucial for long-term success, specifically for verticals that are subject to regulatory compliance. Delays in getting approvals can result in smaller companies struggling to stay afloat because of the high R&D costs.

The backing you’ll get from a strategic partner can keep the company operational until approvals come in. And you can start selling products.

Mentoring and Guidance with Operations

Strategic investors are committed to the long-term stability of their investments. This is why they’ll take an active interest in your company. You can expect operational expertise and professional guidance in navigating challenges. Particularly since the investor has faced them successfully.

For example, developing a new energy drink and tying up with a beverage giant like Coca-Cola. The investor funds the startup, allowing you to test your products in the market with access to ready customers. If the product is successful and well-received, you could be looking at a profitable exit.

Industry-Specific Expertise

Since strategics have extensive experience working in the vertical, they have in-depth expertise about how the market functions. They are also privy to nuances like consumer buying trends, seasonal fluctuations, and other aspects that can influence long-term success.

Access to this expertise eliminates the need to reinvent the wheel. You can take advantage of the available data and leverage analytics to build the startup quickly. Managing the company operations with regard to sales, finance, advertising, and marketing becomes more streamlined.

Since the strategic investor is vested in your company’s success, the entity could make valuable enterprise know-how and IP available. Assets like these raise the chances of success for the startup.

Shared Vision & Mission

Reaching out to and pitching strategic investors in the same business vertical quickly gets you high amounts of funding. They are familiar with the gaps in consumer needs and problems you’re trying to solve. Your vision and mission statements will make sense to them and align with their goals.

The innovations and disruptive concepts you ideate are likely to be better received by people who know and understand the industry. For instance, a fast-food giant could be open to backing a startup developing sustainable proteins.

This strategic investor will want to maintain its edge in the market by switching to plant-based foods. That’s how it can cater to popular demand and changing consumer dietary preferences. Including products developed by your company in its menu will ensure its competitive edge.

Ready Exit Strategy

The most significant advantage of leveraging strategic investors for early-stage growth startups is the assurance of a profitable exit. If your startup demonstrates exceptional success and sustainable profits, the strategic may be open to purchasing the company.

Expect to get a higher value than if you were to sell in the open market. Your investor is familiar with your company’s potential. It could already be profiting from the synergies you’ve created during the partnership. They may also be keen on preventing the IP you’ve developed from reaching competitors.

If not an M&A deal, you could also be offered the option to continue operating as a subsidiary under the parent company’s brand name. This deal could also open many more doors for your startup.

Keep in mind that in fundraising, storytelling is everything. In this regard, for a winning pitch deck to help you here, take a look at the template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

Downsides of Accepting Strategic Investment – What Founders Should Know

Getting strategic investors to back your new company has multiple advantages. However, it’s also advisable to understand the potential downsides. Read the term sheet carefully and understand the conditions you’ll have to accept.

Ensure that the money does not come with strings that can potentially hamper the startup’s future growth.

Safeguard the Company’s Assets

Leveraging strategic investors for early-stage growth startups can work well. However, founders should be mindful of the clauses in the agreement, which may include obligations and limitations. Keeping up with these conditions could hamper the startup’s future growth prospects.

For instance, the investor may require exclusive rights to any IP you develop in exchange for capital. Or they may demand that you work on specific products and conduct R&D to benefit the investor’s company directly.

Ensure your legal team carefully scrutinizes the contract to look for clauses like the right of first offer. This can be a downside if you want to enter a strategic M&A deal with other potential partners. Most importantly, you’ll secure the rights to the IP you develop.

That includes the right to own, use, monetize, sell, or transfer the intangible assets and earn profits from them. Any impediment to clear ownership rights can be a significant downside.

Offer Limited Decision-Making Rights

Similar to venture capitalists, the strategic investor may want to designate a director to your board. Although the company can benefit from the expertise and guidance, the director could prioritize their own company’s interests.

The director will also get access to confidential information and proprietary secrets that keep your startup operational and competitive. Further, strategic investment is typically not the only source of capital. You may want to bring other investors on board, which may lead to a conflict of interest.

Each participant may bring their interests to the table, which can be detrimental to growth.

Collaborating with a strategic investor is just one of the different sources of capital. Check out this video I have created, where I talk about how to raise startup capital for your business. You’re sure to find it helpful.

Preserve the Right to Accept an Offer for Purchase

Strategic investors offering to buy your company once it is stable and profitable is an advantage. But, this factor can also present a downside. The investor may negotiate for a right of first refusal as part of the investment condition.

This right entitles the investor to purchase the company and supersede any offers you may get from third parties. Although the terms and sale amount could be similar, founders may not want to risk call options. These options may force them to sell the company prematurely.

Be cautious about adding any conditions to the agreement that third-party buyers might object to. They might not want to honor the commitments to the investor after they acquire your company. Terms like these may also make it harder for you to find buyers.

Be Wary of the Risk of a Down Round

As mentioned earlier, leveraging strategic investors for early-stage growth startups has the benefit of a higher valuation. At the same time, you’ll want to be wary of the possibility of a future downround.

A down round occurs when the company has a lower valuation before a fundraising round than the valuation amount after the previous funding round.

A lower valuation results in a loss of investor confidence and credibility in the market. It can also affect overall company morale at the management and employee levels.

For this reason, even though a higher valuation may seem like an attractive prospect, you’ll focus on its long-term impact.

Opt for a lower valuation if it’s in the company’s best interests.

Offer Preemptive Rights with Caution

If the strategic investor requires preemptive rights as part of the agreement, you’ll want to rethink your decision. Preemptive rights are legal privileges that entitle the investor to purchase stakes in the company or shares. But on priority and before you can offer them to external buyers.

When you’re ready to raise future funding rounds, the strategic may exercise its right to buy more company securities. Or even all the available stakes preventing external investors from financing your company. The strategic may also demand the same terms that you might offer to third parties.

However, if you were to accept venture capital, the investor would likely ask for participation rights. This right permits the VCs to participate in future funding rounds but on a pro-rata basis. Their sole objective is to maintain their existing ownership stake and percentage in the company.

If you award preemptive rights to the strategic, third parties may not be able to finance the startup unless the strategic waives their rights.

Be Aware of the Risk of Losing Business

Collaborating with a strategic investor can result in your losing potential business from its competitors. Purchasing products and services from you could indirectly benefit the strategy, which they will want to avoid.

Since the prospect of an acquisition is high, competitors may want to avoid building any kind of a working relationship. This can be detrimental to growth.

The Takeaway

Leveraging strategic investors for early-stage growth startups can be highly beneficial for your company. However, this collaboration comes with its set of downsides you should be aware of. Weight the pros and cons carefully before considering the investment.

You may find our free library of business templates interesting as well. There, you will find every single template you will need when building and scaling your business completely for free. See it here.


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Neil Patel

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