Stay self-funded as long as possible - Garrett Camp, Uber
I started amber energy from my bedroom in 2009 and until January this year had grown the business to over £2M turnover without any debt or equity being used or issued. It's been an amazing journey and I don't mention a lack of debt or selling shares to mark the type of person I am or the business we are. Truly, we always intended to grow rapidly and we always knew they'd come a point where we'd need funding (we've had times of close cash pressure like any start up business).
A wise man once told me 'stay self-funded as long as possible' - he founded Uber when I founded amber energy so it's a good job I don't see him as competition (a remarkable achievement indeed) but I do wholeheartedly believe in this statement. Too often do those getting into business start their journeys with a thought that 'the first thing I need is funding'. I'd disagree and say you need perspiration and persistency - get your hands dirty, get amongst it and know your business and industry better than anyone else if you want to succeed.
So, going back to the early years, why has it taken until now to raise funding? I think the truth is that my speed of learning, our ability to grow and the opportunity for the business were all running at break-neck speed. I say speed of learning as I started a business in a sector I had no knowledge of in 2009 so I had to learn on the job whilst starting a consultancy start-up.... so, adding cash/investment into the mix wouldn't have necessarily sped us along. I had to work out what the industry needed alongside my vision to lead the sector. Going back to my point of knowing your business and industry inside out - this takes time if you haven't already got the industry part down.
If you are taking investment is that you either definitely need it, or know you are going to definitely need it at a specific date and time (a cash gap). Unless this truly applies......say you could get by without...... THEN YOU SHOULD.
Clearly for a cash-gap scenario an overdraft or a short-term debt facility could be a more appropriate facility when compared to 'getting married' to an investor. I'm a big fan of online crowd-funding (particularly now it comes under a debt wrapper rather than just equity).
We reached a pretty awesome milestone today - we made the shortlist of the Fast Growth 50. It places us and one of the fastest growing firms in Wales. In fact, we made the shortlist for the fastest growing B2B business in Wales. Our numbers submitted were all without any funding - I wonder how many others on the list would be the same?
This is a great achievement for amber and I know the team will be equally proud of how far we've come since they joined the team. Looking back and taking stock from 24 months ago there are teams/businesses growing at amber that didn't even exist then - it's an exciting space to be. I don't slander those who have taken funding by the way - I just ask was it needed and do they feel they made the right call?
Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is - Mark Cuban, Serial Entrepreneur with a net worth of 3.3Billion USD
To achieve our growth, we've relied on the commitment of the team at amber. Several of the early joiners, in particular the first half-dozen people to join the team, had to juggle a number of positions and responsibilities in the early years.
I rewarded this 'sweat equity' in the form of an EMI options scheme in 2016 and asked that we all 'go again' with a 5-year plan through to 1st October 2021. I mention these guys here as you can never truly quantify what these guys did, no shares would represent this. I do know that there own unique journeys and being a crucial part of building something means as much to them as it does to me… Nonetheless a huge thank-you for your undying commitment and drive for the mission and vision. It’s been a great journey so far.
Equity is the most expensive form of debt.
I think this has been said in many a different way by Forbes and is probably a tattoo for some entrepreneur's out there OR perhaps a battle scar! In any case, it's certainly true. It's likely to be necessary on many growth journeys as you can't keep lumping debt on to the balance sheet. We've started our raise via a grant of £130k (free money - yes it still exists in Wales) and a £350k debt facility with funding circle.
The total raise is £480k and supports the £1M growth investment we are making in 2017/18. Further rounds will follow but for anyone considering raising money (particularly in Wales) start with free money, then consider debt before equity.
Funding Circle provided the money to us within a week and I'm happy to plug them here. The process was very easy, non-evasive and the rate was competitive. On the grant side, ours was agreed on a job creation basis but well worth speaking to Welsh Gov for support growing your business.
Finally an award that wasn't best person at writing what the judges wanted to hear wins!