The Perils of Seeking Strategic Investors Too Soon: A Founder’s Perspective

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Picking strategic investors too early can doom your startup.

Photo by Ye Jingnan on Unsplash

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A few years ago, we urgently sought an investor for an interim round. Options were limited, and the runway was about three months. One of them was a strategic investor, an international company interested in the B2B space we were building at the time. We feel comfortable with this option:

The team was great. The collaboration brought us an important client in addition to investment. The strategy at that time was completely in this direction.

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It was time for a pivot toward more B2B business, and we realized that the sky was the limit. But things turned out differently than planned…

Entrepreneurs are often looking for ways to increase their chances of success, and many believe that having a strategic investor on board is key to making their startup a success. But there are serious down sides to choosing strategic investors in the startup’s early stage or during the pivot, and it can even lead to the downfall of the startup.

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One of the biggest dangers is that it may limit your options for the future. Strategic investors often look for specific outcomes, such as market opportunities, which can restrict a startup’s freedom, making it difficult to pivot or change direction if circumstances change.

“Strategic investors can be like a ball and chain around your ankle. They can limit your flexibility and freedom. — Tim Ferriss

Another issue with strategic investors is that they can often dictate the exit strategy for the startup, which can be a problem if the investor’s vision for the company’s future is not aligned with the founder’s. For example, if a strategic investor is looking to sell the company but the founder is committed to growing it, this could lead to a problematic and potentially damaging situation.

Finally, strategic investors can harm the startup’s culture. Let’s say an investor is focused on a specific outcome. In that case, they may be less interested in the well-being of the team and more focused on achieving their own goals or working too hard in a specific direction, which can be demotivating. This can create a toxic work environment and eventually lead to startup failure.

When is the right time to seek a strategic investor? It is essential to wait until your strategy is clear and you have a clear exit plan. This will ensure that you are on the same page with your investor and both of you are working towards a common goal.

Additionally, building strategic partnerships or structuring the shareholder agreement wisely is essential. This will help protect the startup’s autonomy while allowing the strategic investor to provide valuable support and resources. For example, a shareholder agreement may include clauses limiting the investor’s control over the company or specify a timeline for an exit strategy.

Another important factor to consider is the stage of your startup. If you are in the early stages of development, focus on building the product and establishing a customer base before seeking a strategic investor. Once you have a solid foundation, you’ll be in a much stronger position to negotiate with investors and secure the terms you want.

Despite the potential drawbacks, there are many advantages to being a strategic investor. They can provide valuable resources, such as capital, expertise and connections, that can help accelerate a startup’s growth. They can also bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, which can help guide a company through the various challenges of startup life.

“Investors who are thinking about long-term value make better partners in the long run.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Strategic investors who are in it for the long haul can provide stability and continuity, which is invaluable to startups.

In our case, our B2B business never took off as planned, and it almost completely failed because the strategic investor blocked another round with new investors, eventually shifting focus to another business model. concentrated which was not in the interest of this company. And here comes the point: the strategic investor has his own interests, which is his right. But a startup in this stage needs the freedom to try new business models or pivot.



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