The counter-intuitive approach of designing deep tech startup milestones around what VCs want

In deep tech, most founders are pulled along by the priorities of the technology.

Fast forward 18 months and there is more advanced technology but a fragile investment case that is hard to communicate and hard for others to get excited about.

I often hear this comment:

“There’s no point doing anything else if the technology doesn’t work.”

Well, that’s true.

The technology needs to work and to progress. But to what milestone? And why is that important? What does that prove about this company’s urgent need to exist?

Instead of working forward intuitively from today, work backwards from the next funding round

I like to imagine the next round and what that looks like.

What will the company be saying to the market in 18 months?

What is the proof that will compel investors to back the next phase of growth?

Here are some questions that milestones can answer:

  • Has the technology development specifically proven that the company will be able to deliver on at least one of its claims? This is like revenue traction in a SaaS company. Is there ‘performance traction’? e.g. if the company is saying that the technology unlocks the cost of goods profile needed to win, what leaps have been made in this sprint?
  • Is there a company here? Or is it still a technology project? Would I be proud to be associated with its mission? What does the company feel like? What have customers and media been saying? Can these people build a company that will attract a market to support them?
  • How have customers responded? Are they sending buying signals? Are they collaborating? Is the company learning from them and adjusting its product pipeline to be more valuable to them?
  • Who is on the team? Is there the right person in the right seat and are the next hires identified and in conversation?

I like to present this to other investors 18 months before it is real as a hypothesis and ask: “What’s missing for you?”

Then… start building.

Isn’t this shallow and mis-directed?

The approach befuddles people because they are experts in the field and they know what to do. Why ‘fake it’ for investors? Well, we are not faking it, we are building the rest of the business. There is no successful company in the history of the world that has built great technology and then magic happened.

Building around milestones that resonate with investors works because investors are asking themselves 2 questions:

“Do I believe this is valuable?”

“Do I believe this team can get there?”

Actually, that is what the whole world wants to know about what you are doing.

If a company’s actions answer these questions then momentum will be stronger. Leaps of value will be more likely. Leaps of value attract a stronger team, more capital, more customer pull.

Ultimately, more impact.

I write about my work building deep tech ventures every day on Twitter. If this was helpful to you, I hope you will follow me and join the conversation.

This post was created with Typeshare

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Phil Morle

Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.