Thoughts on startups by investors that
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Can You Find Investors for a Family-Based Team?

Posted by on May 8th, 2012

I had in interesting discussion at the University of Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition last week. One of the teams there included husband and wife and wife’s father, with a very interesting business plan that I hope succeeds. They asked me to what extent family ties affect angel investor or venture capital interest.

Why me? Presumably because my wife and I own our business and our daughter is CEO and her husband COO. We did raise venture capital for the business, but not until we didn’t need it. At the time we had more than $5 million in annual sales, no debt, and positive cash flow.

Unfortunately, most investors look askance at a startup with family members working together. For example, I was once in a group of investors that automatically ruled out the best plan in the group because it was lead by two brothers. I objected, but I was a minority of one, in a group of two dozen.

So should a family-led startup stop looking for investment? No. They should research their target investors carefully to rule out prejudice based on family business. That’s not just a special case. In fact, every startup that needs investment should be pitching only to investors who have basic compatibility of goals, industry experience, and ways of working together.

This is always good advice: Choose an investor like you would choose a spouse.

And for sibling teams, or spouses, or two generations, prepare some extra due diligence information to address investors’ legitimate doubts. Ask yourself how will you answer questions about decision processes and decision hierarchy. Do you cross conversations between family lines and business lines? Do you have a family business code of conduct? Can you show an organization chart with clearly defined areas of responsibility for the various family members? Can you talk about how this works in practice.

You can also point out that there are also worries about lines crossing when friends create businesses together. And you can remind them of outstanding successful sibling or husband-wife teams like Heidi and Peter Roizen, Doug and Gary Carlston, and Michael and Xochi Birch.

What investors want, in my experience, is a good investment with a good risk-return relationship and a reasonable shot at high growth, scalability, defensibility and successful exit. When family members have what it takes to make that happen, you have the advantages of loyalty, compatibility, and hard work.

Written by Tim Berry

user Tim Berry

Tim is the founder of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, the co-founder of Borland International, and the official business planning coach at Entrepreneur.com. He has been called the "Obi-wan Kenobe of business planning" and "The Father of Business Planning." He is a serial author of books and software on business planning.

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