Global fintech and funding innovation ecosystem

The Real Story of Access to Capital

SEC | Martha Miller | Oct 13, 2021

Martha Miller - The Real Story of Access to CapitalIf you’re taking in news by simply scanning the headlines—particularly those about capital raising activity—you’ve likely missed the story for some splashy titles. Today I’d like to delve into the story and facts behind the headlines about how entrepreneurs are raising capital from investors, deconstructing some of the big numbers we see in large print.

“Entrepreneurs Should Quit Their Day Jobs; Paychecks are Irrelevant”

Many assume that unless an entrepreneur is focused on their startup 100%, they’re not truly dedicated. The reality for most entrepreneurs is that sticking with their day job before their side hustle has been de-risked is not only a smart financial decision, but often a necessary one. Our Office regularly hears from minority and women entrepreneurs who talk about building their companies while maintaining a stable income stream to support their families, pay off student debt, and avoid taking on too much dilutive capital too early. Their decision is a smart one. Entrepreneurs who keep their day jobs while building their businesses are 1/3 less likely to fail than those who quit and go all in from the beginning. Wharton Professor and author Adam Grant attributes this phenomenon to building a balanced risk portfolio, with the stability of the full-time job affording entrepreneurs the freedom to be more creative in their side hustle.

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“Who Needs Diversity? The Market Will Intuit Solutions for All”

It is also easy to buy into the narrative that if there is an unmet need among customers, the “market” will recognize that gap and deliver a solution. The reality is that problem-solvers only set out to solve the problems that they personally understand. Put another way: I can appreciate the challenges that you face, but I cannot fully understand or know them—much less solve them—unless I live them.

This is often the story with underrepresented entrepreneurs who see a need that majority entrepreneurs and investors have not experienced. For fans of Guy Raz’s How I Built This, you may be familiar with the story of Tristan Walker’s company Bevel.  As a black man, Tristan battled embarrassing razor bumps from shaving. After surveying the market, he discovered that many men of color with coarse or curly hair shared the same struggle, which could be solved with a single-blade razor system. He began pitching a direct-to-consumer solution to investors, only to be repeatedly dismissed with “if this were really a problem, the incumbent players would have addressed it.” After a disheartening number of rejections, he finally secured funding, ultimately building a wildly successful brand that subsequently sold to Proctor & Gamble, making Tristan the first black CEO of a P&G subsidiary. His story demonstrates the importance of people who live the problem developing the solution.

While many sophisticated investors recognize the perils of pattern-matching, it is critical that we empower diverse investment decision-makers who can support solutions to problems that they too face.

“If You’re Not First, You’re Last”

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If I were to poll the audience on who has the best competitive advantage: first movers into a new product category, or follow-on market entrants, most of you would probably assume the early bird gets the worm, corners the market, and dominates. The headlines you see likely have skewed this perception. However, when measuring across hundreds of product categories, a classic study found that first movers are 6x more likely to fail—a 47% failure rate—than second movers—an only 8% failure rate.

For those scratching your heads and wondering “yes, but I bet the first movers who do survive capture greater market share,” wrong again. Even for the first movers who survive, they capture on average only 10% of the market share for their category. The second movers capture 28%, almost 3x as much.

We need first movers, and plenty of second movers, to drive innovation forward.

To build successful companies, startups need savvy investors who bring industry experience, customer connections, and strategic guidance for the companies to scale and thrive. However, the accessibility of professional angels and venture capitalists are outside of many entrepreneurs’ personal and geographic networks, which can dramatically impact survival versus failure prospects.

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Investing in the startup ecosystem likewise demands a big picture mindset.

Competition among startups breeds success. That competition among companies pushing each other to develop a better solution is the cornerstone of our capital markets.

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