In my startup investment portfolio, I have found a strong positive correlation between CEOS that regularly communicate with investors and company performance. As a CEO myself when I felt “too busy” to provide regular updates it was usually a sign of avoidance and focusing on the wrong things. The #1 job of an early-stage startup is to NOT RUN OUT OF MONEY. Here is a quick template that I recommend for early-stage portfolio CEOS (up to Series A) and should take less than an hour to create.
There are five sections, all focused on NOT RUNNING OUT OF MONEY. Given a starting amount of money (investment round), there are only three levers to pull that affects the cash-out date: Revenue, fundraising, and expenses. CEOs should focus on telling investors which of these levers are being pulled, how it is going and how they expect the lever pulling to change in the near term.
- Product/Market Fit
- Traction over time
Cash = Time for a start-up. Every company has a cash balance and growth objectives. Cash is spent to grow. Monthly KPIs tell you how you are doing toward those objectives and how much time (cash) you have left. Primary KPIs directly measure time and secondary KPIs are early indicators that should translate to cash and growth.
Update on all relevant KPIs for business as relevant along with MTM % change.
- Cash balance
- Monthly Burn
- Total Revenue
- revenue by segment if important (product vs subscription)
- Gross Margin
- Social followers
- Search rank, keyword rank
Every company starts off with a thesis around a product that can reach a big market. Once customers are engaged, the company responds to customer feedback and invests in product features that customers say they want. Tracking this iterative process is what this section is about.
- product development updates
- customer adoption/engagement trends
- competitive landscape update
Traction over time:
Very few things are always growing up and to the right. By showing monthly graphs over time for key traction metrics, the company can communicate bumps in the road. There are always bumps in the road. The important thing is how do you respond to the bumps? By communicating the bumps to investors, management can get a wider view of them and potentially some additional action options they may not have considered.
- MTM cohort data for relevant traction metrics.
- Include Revenue, customer usage, web traffic, transactions, waitlist growth, etc.
- Partnerships and impact
- Software, operations, other department traction.
Many CEOs are hesitant to say anything negative to investors. As an investor, this may be the most important section. It tells me management is self-aware and not problem-avoidant. It opens opportunities for me to help where I can.
- What is not going well? What are you going to do about it?
This is another opportunity for the CEO to engage investors. At Incisive Ventures, I have the rule to take at least one action to support company goals immediately after receiving each monthly report. Sometimes that is a hire reference, or a business development connection, often it is an additional investor connection. When I know what is coming up, there is always something I can do.
- CEO commentary on traction, areas for improvement, major upcoming milestones or goals.
- Asks from investors including hiring, business development, finance leads, etc.
PRO TIP: Try a tool like VSBL.IO to make your updates easier.