Raising Too Much Capital Too Early Can Turn Off Investors

An investor shared details of a deal he’s been evaluating. He loves the sector, loves the founder, and loves the product. He hasn’t done the deal because he has concerns around the cap table—specifically, how much capital has been raised from investors in previous rounds and how much is being raised in the current round. The company has an enormous burn rate of around $400 thousand monthly, hasn’t achieved product–market fit yet, and doesn’t have much revenue from customers. Yet, it’s raising a third multimillion-dollar round of capital.

The major concern of this investor is the amount of dilution at such an early stage. The CEO-founder will own less than 20% of the company after the current raise. If the company can raise the current round, find product–market fit, and raise additional rounds of capital at later stages, the CEO-founder could have a small ownership stake in the company. This investor sees the CEO owning less than 10% as a real possibility. If that happens, it will take an enormous outcome and many more years for the CEO’s small equity position to have a major financial impact on his life. Rather than go down that path, the CEO might leave and pursue something else with a more attractive risk/reward ratio. That wouldn’t be ideal for those who invested in the company.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had an investor tell me this, and it likely won’t be the last time this year. Raising too much capital too early can cause lots of downstream problems if the company can’t achieve significant traction. This story highlights the excessive dilution problem and why investors are hesitant to invest when the founders don’t have material equity ownership in an early-stage company.

If you’re an early-stage founder, keep a close eye on your burn rate relative to company traction. If the traction isn’t there (i.e., you haven’t founder product–market fit), don’t be afraid to adjust the burn rate.