On Wednesday, August 17th, we hosted finance leaders from the High Alpha portfolio for our fifth annual High Alpha Finance Flight School. This event is an invitation-only, half-day of programming with presentations and thought leadership from industry experts.
We had the pleasure of hearing from insightful speakers representing LiftBridge, Salesforce, Lessonly, and Dwolla. With the uncertainty in the market, there was an abundance of valuable takeaways, and below we curated highlights from our speakers.
1. Efficiency metrics are key in the current fundraising market.
According to Ashley Vukovits, the Managing Director at LiftBridge CXO, investors have been on the sidelines since Q2 this year and have been pickier with investments. A report by Ernst & Young projects $225 billion of US venture funding in 2022, which is 30% less than the $320 billion in 2021.
With investors slowing their investment pace in 2022, they will exhibit more scrutiny to financial metrics. While there is never one magic metric, Ashley highlighted three categories (in order of importance) that will be the focus in 2022 for investors:
1. Cash Flow: With less deal volume and lower valuations, investors want companies to show how they plan to extend runway and have a path to cash flow breakeven. Important metrics include Burn Multiple and Net Cash Burn.
2. Revenue Efficiency: While revenue growth is always important, investors will prioritize efficiency of revenue growth in 2022. Key metrics will include Net Revenue Retention, CAC, and Churn %.
3. Gross Margins: For SaaS businesses, high margins have always been table stakes when it comes to fundraising. In a market where many businesses may struggle to keep revenue growth as high as prior years, maintaining gross margin over 80% will be valuable to investors. Companies will be looking for creative ways to reduce COGS to offset the slower growth. Ashley suggested renegotiating vendor contracts if possible. If there are prepaid options available, the long-term benefit to gross margin can outweigh the upfront cash impact.
A changing market requires different strategies to stay ahead, and we believe Ashley said it best: “Perseverance in fundraising is key right now.”
2. Leveraging data to tell the story of your business is a differentiator to investors.
After we concluded our breakout sessions, High Alpha CFO Blake Koriath led a panel discussion with Jason Leet, Senior VP of Finance at Salesforce, and Brian Montminy, CFO at Lessonly. Jason offered a unique perspective from his time with Salesforce, having been involved in over 40 acquisitions over the years.
According to Jason, when starting conversations with a potential acquirer it is important to focus on the big picture. As an early stage company, the key driver to an M&A transaction will be selling the future promise of your business and aligning that with the goals of the acquirer.
Once an investor is sold on the vision, they will inevitably want to see data to back your story. While metrics will differ for every company, Jason suggested that some of the most compelling metrics combine product usage data with financials to provide more context to how your business scales.
3. Be the leader during diligence.
Brian had excellent insights from the perspective of a CFO during Seismic’s acquisition of Lessonly. It is no secret that due diligence is a daunting task, and a CFO often bears the brunt of responsibilities during that process. Brian had great advice to offer finance leaders:
- Do not be intimidated by the acquiring company. Setting the tone early in the acquisition process that you are not the subordinate in the relationship with the buyer can make a big difference.
- Bring in M&A experts. According to Brian, buyers notoriously want the terms of an agreement to be vague and sellers want to be as specific as possible. With so much at stake, having people on your team who have “seen it all” can prevent big hiccups, speed up the process, and level the playing field.
- Delegate work accordingly: Diligence requires information across your entire company, so assigning requests to the correct people can expedite the work. Brian suggested the finance leader be the clearing house for inquiries during diligence. This filters issues that arise through one source and allows them to be passed to the responsible parties.
“Most companies are terrible at acquiring other companies because they don’t do it very often.” – Jason Leet
4. Involve your stakeholders when setting financial goals
We concluded the event with a fireside chat between Scott Dorsey, Managing partner at High Alpha, and Brady Harris, CEO of Dwolla. Scott mentioned the challenge for CEOs to balance ambitious goals with realistic financial projections in an uncertain market. Investors hold companies accountable for setting goals they can realistically achieve, while also wanting them to project reasonable growth.
Brady discussed the nuances of balancing ambitious goals with accurate financial projections. He presented three tips he used when setting goals for his company.
- Make it a team effort. Building financial plans and forecasts should be a partnership with all the right stakeholders in the business that have input with how the business should be performing. This includes working with department leaders as well as open communication with your board members.
- Create three versions of your financial plan. With changing market conditions, it is very difficult to stick with one version of your financial plan. Brady said he always presents Bear, Bull, and Average scenarios and lets the board weigh in on the different options. This often leads to valuable discussion and results in more accurate forecasts.
- Pick the plan you have high conviction you can hit. It can be tempting to pick the plan with overly ambitious numbers, but Brady suggests it is better to take heat from your board for leaning conservative rather than taking heat for missing your goals. This is especially true if you are planning to fundraise, as investors will hold you accountable for achieving goals. To avoid being overly conservative, you should be 80% confident you can hit your numbers.
It was very special to have our first in-person finance flight school at the new office and build connections across our network. Special thanks to Blake Koriath, Katherine Martin, Emma Ryan and all the High Alpha team members that made this event successful. We look forward to seeing everyone back next year! If you are interested in joining the High Alpha family, we have two open positions on our finance team. Please click here to learn more.