Webinar Recap Blog: Extending Your Runway
We at NuBinary, recently hosted an exclusive webinar, "Extending Your Runway - Strategies for Startups and Scaleups," in collaboration with Entreflow Consulting Group. Featuring insights from industry experts, Helina Patience, CEO of Entreflow, and Sina Sadeghian, a partner and fractional CTO at NuBinary, we delved into the art of sustaining success and scaling wisely viewed through the lenses of Finance and Technology.
Helina began by clarifying the concept of "runway" in the context of business finances. Runway was defined as the amount of time, typically expressed in months, an organization can operate before running out of cash. The ideal goal is to have 3 to 6 months' worth of expenses in your bank account. To calculate this, you need the books up to date and a sense of your typical monthly spend, additional bills or expenses for the period, and estimates on collections from a cash perspective (think of when you expect to have the cash in your bank account). This should give you a sense of how many months you have left to go before you run out of cash.
With this understanding, we covered the various pitfalls that startups need to navigate and the opportunities that need to be seized to scale.
Navigating the Top 5 -10 Pitfalls and Seizing Opportunities
Avoiding common financial pitfalls is essential for the success of any startup. Helina provided valuable insights during the webinar, emphasizing the importance of proactive financial management and strategic decision-making. Keeping this in mind, these pitfalls were shared:
Startups often in their early stages neglect and underestimate the importance of good bookkeeping which affects their overall financial hygiene. To mitigate this, it is important to avoid inexperienced or low-cost bookkeepers, as they may cost more in the long run. Also, real-time bookkeeping is crucial for informed financial decision-making. To do this, as a startup, you can employ the use of accounting software while running your books on a monthly basis.
No Budgeting or Forecasting:
Even in the early stages, having a budget and forecast is essential even though there are many unknowns at the start of your business journey. It is beneficial to have a plan as it helps you understand where your business is heading and sets expectations for your team on where you may run into cash flow issues. Having a rough plan is better than no plan at all.
All businesses must do their best to be on the good side of compliance. This means you have to develop an understanding of the requirements and actively meet all compliance requirements related to taxes and annual corporate filings. Depending on the type of business you have, ensure you are aware of when your taxes are due so you can fulfill those obligations. Keep track of deadlines for all forms of taxes related to your business to avoid fines and penalties. For entrepreneurs who may not have the bandwidth to be on top of these deadlines and requirements, it is always advisable to get professional help.
Poor Management of Labor:
This tends to be one of the company’s biggest expense items and something worth mentioning and monitoring. Hiring should be a careful process; hire slow and fire fast. Do your due diligence about the team members to make sure they are a good fit for your company. If you realize they are not a good fit, you should deal with those bad hires as soon as possible. Clearly communicate performance expectations to your team members to help maximize their performance.
Not Emphasizing Sales; Raising Too Late:
Founders should focus on generating revenue alongside product development. Startups must do their best to get their product to market quickly to help generate revenue. It is an error to assume sales will come automatically; develop a sales and marketing strategy to help sustain the business long term. If your business will take time to generate revenue, it is prudent to plan for fundraising or alternate sources of cash.
Sina went on to share valuable insights on technical pitfalls that startups often encounter. From overbuilding to overengineering, he covered the top 5 technical challenges faced by startups. Let's delve into these pitfalls and discover strategies to avoid them.
Overbuilding Without a Clear MVP:
The first and most common pitfall is overbuilding. Startups often add numerous features without a clear definition of their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The key is to define your MVP and stick to it. Avoid the temptation to continually add features that delay your product launch.
Overengineering is another common mistake. Startups can become overly concerned with scalability, cloud infrastructure, and robustness from an engineering perspective. It's crucial to strike a balance between building a robust product and not getting bogged down with unnecessary complexities.
Misconception That Building Product is a 1-Shot Success/Failure:
Some startups assume that once they launch their product, it will either be an instant success or a failure. This is far from reality. Building a startup is an iterative process; launch your MVP, gather feedback, refine, and repeat. Success often requires multiple iterations and even pivots.
Hiring Too Many Full-time Engineers Early On:
Labor costs, especially engineering salaries, are a significant expense for startups. Avoid hiring full-time engineers too early in the process. Instead, consider on-demand or part-time staff to maintain and improve your product post-launch.
Taking Excessive Risks in Quality and Team Composition:
Balancing risk is essential. While you don't need the most expensive or experienced team, relying solely on junior and inexperienced developers can lead to costly rewrites. Ensure you have a technical lead or CTO with startup experience to guide your team and follow best practices.
How to Extend Your Runway
So now that you know about both financial and technical pitfalls, if you happen to find yourself in any of the discussed scenarios, here are some key things Helina and Sina recommended to do to successfully extend your runway.
Have the right team in place for your business's current needs and its future trajectory. She advised against overcomplicating things or cutting corners. It's crucial to strike a balance between your vision for the company and what the market actually demands.
1. Focus on Sales
Sales are the lifeblood of any business. It's essential to get your product or service to market quickly, even in the form of a minimum viable product (MVP) that generates revenue and gathers market feedback. Stay hyper-focused on delivering something clear and desirable to your target audience.
To achieve these sales goals it is of great significance to listen to customer feedback, especially in the early stages of your business. Customer input can guide your product development and help you avoid overbuilding or investing in something the market doesn't want. Be open to change and adjust your plans as needed.
If your sales haven't picked up yet, Helina advised managing your spending carefully. Avoid getting distracted by unnecessary expenses and stay committed to your goal of getting to market. If needed, consider securing capital to sustain the business until it becomes profitable.
2. Capital Options
Three main sources of capital were shared: grants, loans, and investments. Below are the pros and cons of each:
Grants: Usually the first way of getting money into the company. They are non-dilutive (meaning they do not impact your ownership or your founders’ ownership of the company). Non-dilutive funding can be challenging to access due to timing and reporting requirements. It is therefore important to note the application window and requirements so you prepare ahead of time to apply for this category of funding for your business.
Some grant programs include IRAP, SRED (Scientific Research and Experimental Development), MITACS, CanExport, and various provincial programs like OCI grants (Ontario). Each program has its own eligibility criteria and funding focus.
Loans & Lines of Credit: These are also non-dilutive and can have a quick turnaround time. It gives quick access to capital but comes with interest and may require a personal guarantee. It is important to stay aware of the interest rates to know the best time to get a loan. There are many online options now (such as https://levr.ai) while the high street banks could still be an option, but prove to be quite conservative. LOCs typically offer the cheapest debt options generally because you pay for what you use and at a lower interest rate.
Investments: For this funding option, there is no requirement to pay it back, but investors will dilute your ownership and influence. Founders should be mindful of who they choose to invest in their business as relationships can impact the business. Some mechanisms for getting investments are SAFEs, Convertible Debt, and Investment rounds. These may, however, require valuations.
Traditional equity rounds can be time-consuming and require careful consideration of investor fit. Investors are primarily interested in the long-term success and growth potential of your business. Therefore, building trust, being realistic about timelines, and leveraging their expertise can strengthen your relationship with investors.
On the technical side, Sina provided some key considerations founders should have in order to extend their runway.
1. Increase Margins
A valuable strategy for startups in their early stages is not to worry about building a complete product. He explained that it's acceptable to generate revenue even before having a complete product. Investors, particularly in B2B scenarios, are often open to funding startups that offer valuable services, even if they're not fully productized yet.
2. Reduce Product Development Costs
The Lean Startup methodology, which is all about systematically managing risk by continuously gathering customer feedback and implementing it, was highly recommended for startups. The focus of this methodology is on validating the problem, solution, and market fit before investing heavily in product development. This approach minimizes the chances of building something that customers don't need or want.
Also, to save on development costs, startups can explore existing solutions, open-source platforms, and integrations before building from scratch. Offshore hiring can be beneficial, as it can tap into talent at lower salaries. Additionally, choosing a well-supported framework for in-house development was advised, rather than opting for newer, riskier technologies.
3. Cash Flow Management:
Sadeghian stressed the importance of prudent cash flow management, particularly in the early stages of a startup. He advised founders to focus their spending on addressing problems that will affect the business in the next 12-24 months, rather than trying to solve distant issues. Waiting to address problems until they become immediate and having more capital to do so can be a more cost-effective approach.
The path to extending your runway requires a holistic approach that balances financial stability with technical efficiency. Successful startups are those that listen to their customers, stay adaptable, and make informed decisions. By managing your finances wisely and optimizing your technical development, you can pave the way for sustained growth and success in the competitive world of startups.
How can NuBinary Help with Your Company’s Software Development?
NuBinary can help your company with AI strategy and through the entire software development lifecycle. Our CTOs are capable of figuring out the best technology strategy for your company. We’ve done it several times in the past, on a wide range of different startups. We have all the necessary knowledge and tools to keep your development needs on track. This can be either through outsourcing or hiring internal teams.
About the Speakers:
Sina Sadeghian - Partner & Fractional CTO
Sina is an avid software architect and developer. He has built and led high-performing web and mobile development teams, co-founded one of Canada's unicorn tech startups, ApplyBoard, and previously worked as a software engineer at various companies including IBM. Sina is a University of Waterloo Computer Science Masters graduate.
Helina Patience, CPA, CMA
Helina has over 15 years of global experience in finance and HR across many industries, including tech and manufacturing. After working as a financial analyst at Lululemon Athletica, she founded Entreflow Consulting Group, a cloud accounting CPA public practice and licensed recruitment firm. With a team of 20, Entreflow accelerates business growth through accounting, fractional CFO, HR, and software implementation services. The firm has supported hundreds of startups and scaleups to crush their goals. Helina is a QuickBooks Elite Level ProAdvisor, and a mentor for CPABC, Futurpreneur, and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.