Part one of this eight part series
Hi, my name is Afif Ghannoum and I’ve launched over 10 consumer products that have been sold in 27,081 stores across the US.
I’m a co-inventor on two patents and I’ve licensed technology to a big pharmaceutical company through a royalty deal for a product that is sold in tens of thousands of stores in the Unites States and Canada.
I’ve also raised $8,914,067 and seventy five cents (but who’s counting!) in investor capital for my various companies.
I’m often asked how I went about raising almost $9 million in investor funding.
Let’s get to the good news upfront….
You Really Don’t Need a Lot of Capital Upfront
This post is about how I’ve raised money, and how in turn other Bulkers can raise money to make their products a huge success….but here’s the thing…
You don’t necessarily need that much capital to get through a large part (if not all) of the product launch process.
Part of this is going to depend on the type of product you’re creating.
If it’s a specialty chemical (like a skin cream, car wax, mouthwash, etc.), it’s typically extremely cheap to get a prototype product together.
I’m talking a few dollars a unit (which will get even cheaper when you buy in bulk).
One option is to purchase the ingredients yourself and do your own formulation, which has become a lot easier in the internet age.
In fact, as a Bulk Apothecary customer, you (should) already know that!
Bulk sells a huge range of components for creating products:
The thing I love is that you can purchase in quantities ranging from a small order to entire truckloads. Bulk even sell ready-made products that you can “private label” and put your own branding on.
Point being, for literally less than $100, you could easily start creating and launching a brand of products.
But even when you’re past the “launch” stage and ready to approach major retailers, you can often sell a product to a retailer with just a prototype in hand.
I’ve actually sold major retailers on just a concept of a product with only mock up packaging to share.
I personally have found that by following a step-by-step process that allows me to think through the various steps involved with launching a product, I largely eliminate the chances for unexpected surprises that increase my product launch budget.
I actually created a checklist outlining the steps and various issues involved in the product launch process that keeps me organized, on schedule and…most importantly….ON BUDGET.
You can download it for free HERE.
So the big takeaway upfront is: “I can’t afford to launch my own product” may have been true just a few years ago, but it’s just simply not the case nowadays.
YOU WILL (LIKELY) EVENTUALLY HAVE TO RAISE MONEY
With that being said…even though you can get pretty far down the road to launching a product with a relatively low budget…sooner or later you’re likely going to have to invest capital to make sure you’re able to grow and scale your product.
In fact, even once you’re in market, you may still have to invest significant capital in your business.
I’ll give you a quick personal example….
With one of our biggest launches, our product won “Best New Product” of the year. An award that was especially meaningful (and important), because it was awarded by 100 of the largest retailers in the country.
The Award (that says “Made in Taiwan” on the bottom)
We instantly got distribution in over 20,000 stores…..GREAT NEWS RIGHT!?
Yes, because obviously we were getting mass distribution right off the bat with everyone from Walmart, Target & CVS, all the way down to local independent pharmacy stores.
We were also getting a ton of publicity.
No, because the downside to instantly getting that much distribution with such high profile retailers was that we had to be able to produce over a half a million units in a matter of months.
We also had to pay for a national television, print, and digital advertising campaign in order to support all that distribution.
So while we had raised a substantial amount of funding up to that point, and had money in the bank from sales of other products etc., it was clear we were going to have to raise A LOT more money in order to make sure we could comfortably pay for all of the expenses headed our way.
Well thankfully, I put our fundraising process to work, and we were able to raise millions from investors over a few months and were off to the races with our national product launch!
HOW I RAISE MONEY
Now you may be saying, “Afif, that’s great, but I don’t have a financing background, I’ve never raised any money and I don’t have any venture capital relationships, so I don’t think I can raise money.”
Well when I started, I had never raised money, I didn’t have a financing background, and not a venture capital connection in sight.
In fact I still have never raised a single dollar in institutional venture capital. But yet I’ve raised almost $9 million in investor funding.
The analogy I like to use is that I like to take the Obama approach to fundraising (this is nothing to do with politics…just fundraising…everyone relax).
Basically, when Obama was running for President in 2008, he was up against the Republicans’ giant fundraising machine made up of a Who’s Who of America’s wealthiest families and political donors.
While Obama eventually got those guys on board as well, he started out by reaching out to every day people and basically saying, “I don’t care if you can only spare $5, if you’re willing to donate it, I think it’ll make a difference.”
And slowly but surely those small figures amounted to a TON of capital. Along the way he also added big dog investors, and we all know how the story ended.
That’s sort of how it went for our company.
At first, it was friends and family, some of whom put in just a few thousand dollars, and slowly, as we continued to make progress, we raised a substantial amount of money and attracted very large angel investors.
Point being, you do NOT need any experience, background or connections to successfully raise money for your product and business.
You just need a strategy and a process you will stick to.
THE TOUGHEST PART OF RAISING FUNDING
Now before we get into the meat of the strategy for raising money, it’s incredibly important to address the three toughest parts of raising money:
- Perseverance, and
- Being AND STAYING organized
With attitude, you MUST be willing to reach out to people, and ultimately, you have to ASK them to invest in you.
Trust me, it’s very difficult when you first start asking (especially when someone says no, and they will), but you have to do it.
No one will do it for you.
Over time it gets easier, and the quicker you realize that some people are just never going to invest, the easier it gets.
Which brings me to perseverance. Even when someone says yes, you’re likely going to have to follow up several times to get the paperwork signed and ACTUALLY receive their money.
It can sometimes take months of following up with someone until they finally come on board and even then it can take a while to receive their funding.
Not because they’re just being purposely slow or blowing you off, but sometimes investors have to get things organized on their end to get the money in place and to feel comfortable with your fundraising documents.
It’s also about taking the extra steps that no one wants to do…
Like asking someone who invests (or even someone who doesn’t) if they know of anyone else who may be interested, and making the effort to follow up with the people they introduce you to.
In fact, almost HALF the money I’ve raised has come through asking and following up with referrals from my investors.
Trust me, it is a lot easier to convince someone to invest in your company if someone they know and trust has already decided to invest with you.
In fact, just getting a meeting with a potential investor can often come down to whether you come to them through a personal contact.
Now, all of the attitude and perseverance in the world is meaningless if you don’t stay incredibly well organized.
It’s as simple as keeping a spreadsheet with the name, contact information and status of each and every possible investor, and then following up with each one, again, and again, and AGAIN until they either say they’re in or they’re out.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay organized.
See, the critical thing you must remember is…
when you take other people’s money, it is now your OBLIGATION to make sure you are on top of all the details of their investment.
It’s beyond the scope of this post (and I promise I’ll cover this in detail in a subsequent one), but you’ve got to have a simple but robust system in place for staying on top of potential investors, investor paperwork, updating investors, investor equity holdings etc.
I won’t harp on it, but you’ve got to bring your A Game when it comes to staying organized.
THE 8 STEP STRATEGY TO RAISING MONEY
Ok, so let’s get right into the strategy…
If you are going to have any success in raising money for your company, you must create a compelling fundraising story.
It’s not enough to just tell them about your product and how amazing it is.
That’s important…but that’s not going to shake a dollar loose from anyone.
You have to realize, when people are investing in your company and product, they are investing IN YOU.
Sure you’re product is important, but if investors don’t have confidence in you and (probably more importantly), the confidence that you have your act and strategy together, you’re likely going to have a hard time raising money.
Sophisticated investors have a saying for this: “Back the jockey, not the horse.”
So, how do you create a story around not only your product but yourself as well?
By creating a fundraising story that covers the following 8 components:
- You (what’s your background, why can YOU be successful)
- Your company’s background
- How you’re going to get the product made
- The logistics surrounding the whole product sales distribution process
- How and where you’re going to sell the product
- How you’re going to scale up
- The pathway to being a success (ergo make money)
- Terms of the investment deal
TELLING YOUR STORY THROUGH A FUNDRAISING PRESENTATION
“Ok great Afif, thanks for the quasi-informative general outline of a compelling fundraising story, but how do I ACTUALLY share that story with potential investors”?
I’m glad you asked, because it’s actually pretty simple!
You tell your fundraising story by putting together a ten to fifteen slide presentation that is visually driven (I like to use a lot of pictures), and a couple of sentences on each slide that you can speak to.
I like my presentation to cover the following topics:
- General Overview of the Company
- How you got started
- how long you’ve been around
- Who is running the company
- brief background bio
- Who are your vendors, suppliers, sales team, logistics details – show them how you and everyone involved has the ability to MAKE THIS HAPPEN
- Your Market
- Details on the size of the market, how big, other products out there
- Gap you see in the market
- The problem that isn’t yet solved for consumers
- Introduce your product
- First you have a TADA! Slide that only shows your product with “Introducing [Name of your product] with a glory picture of your product
- Next are details on your product. For example, “___ is the first product that does ______” and maybe have a simple visual comparison chart showing how it stands out against others in the market
- A slide or two about any traction you have, or the progress you’ve made to date – e.g. “In only two months, we’ve sold over 2000 units through farmers’ markets alone” or “Already have distribution in 100 regional stores” or “Prototype has been created and ready to be commercially manufactured with distributors standing by”
- Any other specifics you have like testimonials, sales data
- Move forward strategy
- Your plans for new distribution, how you’re going to promote and market the product
- How the brand could be expanded down the line
- What’s the opportunity
- What have other brands in your space been sold for (e.g. Brand X sold for three times revenue)
- The Investment Offer
- What are you offering for their investment (e.g. The company is raising $100,000 in preferred shares at a pre-money valuation of $1,000,000)
- Plans for Using Investment Funding
- How are you going to use the money you raise?
- Investors want to understand how their money is going to make the company make significant progress
- Lay out your plans simply
That’s it!…That’s how I like to approach putting an investor presentation together.
Keep Your Presentation Crisp & Clean
It’s very tempting to cram your presentation with every detail you can think of…
DON’T DO THAT! Always error on the side of making your presentation look clean and crisp.
The goal of your presentation is for each slide to highlight a few critical points that you can talk to as you go over the presentation with a potential investor…so at the end of your discussion, the investor has a solid OVERVIEW of your company and the investment you’re offering.
If they’re interested in moving forward, trust me, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to delve into the nitty gritty details once you’ve set the hook and gained their interest in investing.
LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS – BORING BUT CRITICAL
Now one quick final note that is critical! I’m not going to get into the weeds on this here…but it’s important to at least point it out.
In order to raise money, you should hire an experienced lawyer to prepare the appropriate paperwork required for accepting investor funding.
Not your uncle Lou that does divorce law “but knows a thing or two about investments.”
I mean a lawyer with direct experience in creating investor documents.
Don’t skip this step! It’s important you have your legal ducks in a row, and it gives investors confidence that you’re going about things the right way. It’s one more factor that adds to your credibility.
So that’s it! You’ve got the secret sauce laid out that explains my strategy for raising money that’s helped me raise almost $9 million in investor funding.
As with most things in life, the devil’s in the details, so sit down, get yourself organized and start putting your compelling fundraising story together!
If I can do it having never done it before, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to as well, especially with the head start this post should give you in the process.
And remember, if you need help staying organized and making sure you’re thinking through all the steps involved in launching and growing a successful product, you can download the checklist I personally use for every product I launch for free HERE.
Best of luck!
Afif Ghannoum, a formerly frustrated lawyer, has launched over ten products that have sold in 27,081 stores. He also has two patents, licensed technology to a large pharma company for a product sold in tens of thousands of stores in multiple countries, and has raised $8,914,067.75 (and Counting) in venture funding. You can download his 9 Step checklist that includes the same steps he uses to create and launch his products for free HERE.