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Diary of an entrepreneur raising capital: Hasta la vista, baby!


Oodles.com founder Steve Sherlock has set himself the goal of raising a multimillion dollar Series A funding round by early 2010. He is documenting his trials and tribulations and seeking feedback from readers on AnthillOnline.com. This is the eleventh post in his series.

Week 11: Hasta la vista, baby!

Sometimes a diary needs to remain private, and unfortunately this is one of those times.

After three months of publicly discussing the issues I’ve encountered while trying to raise capital for Oodles, the process is now at a point where several parties have expressed a genuine interest in acquiring a controlling stake. As a result, I now need to employ some uncharacteristic discretion. Besides, until something tangible actually happens, there’s not a lot I can say.

I promise to come back and provide a final update once we reach a conclusion, but in the meantime I’m going to sign off by reflecting on what I’ve learnt about capital raising over last few months, what I’d do again and what I’d do differently.

First the things (I think) I got right.

Top of the list was pretty much everything I did in trying to expand my network of business contacts and gather feedback by seeking out experts, potential advisors and experienced operators.

These activities, which ranged from endless coffees with well-connected friends (Who you gonna call?) to a trip to London to observe a ‘Dragon’s Den’ (Enter the Dragon), generated excellent referrals and, thanks to the generosity of the entrepreneurs I met, provided invaluable advice on my business strategy.

I also feel my time was well spent investigating the different kinds of investment channels, including The Australian Small Scale Offerings Board (The Clayton’s Stockmarket). This not only broadened my understanding of the various capital-raising avenues, it also helped clarify my thinking on our ideal investor.

That contributed to the excellent, albeit risky decision to effectively eliminate many potential investors by narrowing my search focus exclusively to strategically-aligned companies. Talking to people who understand your sector definitely makes it easier to explain your company’s value, and can lead to opportunities beyond the capital-raising process.

In my case, however, it also raised some unavoidable issues, including the need for our existing investors to stand aside (for potential partners with the skills and resources to take the company forward).

Now the things I think I could have done better.

For a start, before embarking on the capital raising process I could have thought more deeply about the value we offered each set of prospective partners and ways to more effectively express the potential return on their investment (especially versus competing investment opportunities).

Clarity inevitably comes with experience, but clearer thinking early on could have saved some time (mine and investors). It might have also curbed my enthusiasm for talking techno babble about cool bits of code, etc., to people who just wanted hard numbers.

Looking back, I suspect I could have also been a little more strategic about playing potential investors off against each other.

One thing I don’t regret is writing this blog. Plenty of people looked at me with horror when I said I’d publicly set a deadline for raising money, and committed to sharing my experiences. But doing so has undoubtedly helped inject some discipline into the process and forced me to continually collect my thoughts and reassess my strategy.

Hopefully it’s been of value (even if it’s only entertainment value) to other entrepreneurs.

As I said at the beginning, this is the penultimate column. Look out for the final instalment soon.

Steve Sherlock is co-founder of Oodles.com, one of Australia’s leading online car rental aggregators.