50 Most Important Startup Fundraising Terms

Benjamin Debonneville
Founder & CEO
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Have you ever walked into a meeting, and someone threw around words like ‘bootstrapping’ or "unicorn," leaving you nodding while silently wondering what on earth they're talking about?

You're not alone. Many fresh-faced founders often feel like they're drowning in a sea of confusing jargon. But here's the deal: to make your mark, you need to speak the language.

After all, who wants that awkward pause during an investor pitch?

So, for all the brave souls venturing into this world, here's your essential cheat sheet - a glossary of must-know terms to ensure you stride confidently through every boardroom.

50 Must-Know Startup Fundraising Terms for Every Founder

While the lexicon of the startup fundraising realm seems endless, some terms are non-negotiable for every founder.

Here is our list of the 50 most important terms, the daily vernacular shaping interactions in the startup universe. Ready to get fluent?

1. Angel Investor

Angel investors, often just called "angels," are wealthy individuals who sprinkle their personal funds into early-stage startups. They're not just about the money; they often believe in the dreamer behind it.

Typically investing between $10,000 to $250,000, they help breathe life into fledgling ideas when risks are high. Think of them as your startup's guardian angels, guiding you with both capital and wisdom in those crucial early days.

2. Venture Capital, Venture Capitalists, & VC Firms

Venture Capital (or VC for short) is like a booster shot of funds for startups showing promise for big growth. Think of it as the big-league support, significantly when smaller sources just won't cut it.

Now, the people who decide where this money goes? They're the Venture Capitalists, the keen-eyed pros who spot potential hits and jump in, often in exchange for a piece of the startup pie.

And where do these individuals often hang out? At VC Firms, the powerhouse institutions that pool money to invest in the next big thing. So, got a trailblazing idea? These folks are your ticket to the big league!

3. Bootstrapping

Bootstrapping is like the DIY approach to funding a startup. Instead of tapping into outside investors, entrepreneurs dig into their own pockets, maybe even pooling funds from family and friends.

This route offers more freedom, letting founders call the shots without outside pressure. While it's a great way to maintain control and keep all the equity, it also means taking on all the financial risks.

In short, it's about betting on yourself and keeping things close to home.

4. Pre-Seed & Seed Funding

Pre-seed and seed funding are the baby steps in a startup's fundraising journey. Think of pre-seed as the initial cash, often from your own pocket or close ones, that helps nurture a business idea. It's like planting the first seed in a garden.

Seed funding is the next step, typically involving external investors, where that seedling gets a bigger boost to grow, refine its product, and pinpoint its audience. This stage can raise anywhere from $10,000 to $2 million. It's all about taking root and gearing up for growth!

5. Burn Rate

The burn rate is like a startup's financial heartbeat, showing how fast it's spending its initial capital. Imagine it's your monthly cash-out speed before you're making steady money.

Too high, and you might run out of funds; too low, you might need to invest more to grow. Calculated monthly, it's a clear sign of how long your startup can run before needing more cash. Keep a close eye on it to ensure your business stays healthy and thrives!

6. Cap Table (Capitalization Table)

A cap table, short for capitalization table, is like a startup's family tree for shares. Think of it as a clear chart that shows who owns what slice of the company pie.

Whether it's stocks, notes, or other securities, this table lays out ownership percentages, making it super easy to see how things might change after an investment round. It's a snapshot of 'who owns what' in your business, keeping things transparent and straightforward.

7. Convertible Note

A convertible note: Think of it as a savvy IOU for startups. It's a loan that can morph into company shares later on. So, rather than startups stressing over how much they're worth early on, this note keeps things flexible.

Investors lend money and, instead of just getting their cash back with interest, they can opt for a slice of the company pie during the next big funding round. It's a win-win, blending trust with opportunity!

8. Crowdfunding

Imagine throwing a virtual fundraising party where everyone’s invited! It's where a swarm of folks chip in small amounts online to help kickstart your big idea.

Thanks to the power of social media and platforms like Indiegogo, entrepreneurs can pitch directly to the public. Instead of relying on just one big investor, now hundreds or thousands can be part of your startup's success story.

Types of Crowdfunding for Startups:

  • Equity Crowdfunding: Investors receive a portion of company shares in exchange for their funds.
  • Reward-Based Crowdfunding: Backers are given a product or service for their contribution.
  • Debt Crowdfunding (or Peer-to-Peer Lending): Money is loaned in exchange for future repayments with interest.
  • Donation-Based Crowdfunding: Donations are made without any expectations of tangible returns.
  • Royalty Crowdfunding: Investors receive a cut of the startup's future revenue.

9. Dilution

Imagine owning a whole cake. As more slices are shared, your piece gets smaller. Similarly, as a company issues more shares, each existing shareholder's piece of the ownership pie reduces.

While dilution decreases individual stake, it's a common outcome of raising capital. It's vital for startups to manage dilution to ensure they and their early supporters reap the deserved rewards as the company grows.

10. Due Diligence

Before diving into a pool, you'd want to ensure it's safe and free from hazards. That's what due diligence in the business world is like. Potential investors dig deep into a startup's affairs, understanding its financial health, market viability, and potential risks.

They'll scrutinize everything from contracts to culture, ensuring they're making a sound investment. It’s rigorous, thorough, and essential for safeguarding investments.

11. Equity

Equity is your ticket to the company ownership carnival. It's a representation of your stake in a business. As startups grow and require funding, they often trade portions of equity for investment.

So, while the company might receive much-needed capital, the founders' original ownership percentage may decrease. It's the balance of growth and ownership.

12. Exit Strategy

Think of it as a startup's endgame plan. Whether dreaming of a jackpot sale or prepping for unforeseen challenges, it’s the roadmap founders and investors devise to cash out. This can mean selling the business, merging, going public, or even winding down.

While aiming for profits, an exit strategy also smartly limits losses. So, whether it's hitting the jackpot through an IPO or a strategic merger, it's all about charting the right exit!

13. Product-Market Fit

Imagine creating a key that perfectly fits a lock. In startup terms, that's achieving product-market fit. It signifies that a startup has successfully developed a product addressing genuine market demands.

It's not just about having a great idea; it's confirming that the market craves, values, and adopts your solution.

14. Grant

It's like receiving a gift, with no need to repay or give something in return. Grants are funds awarded to startups, often for specific purposes or projects.

They’re non-dilutive, meaning they don't reduce owners' stakes in their companies. Typically, governments or institutions offer them to encourage innovation, research, or sectors they want to flourish.

15. Incubator and Accelerators

Incubators and accelerators both support startups, but at different stages and with varying methods. Incubators nurture early-stage startups by offering resources like mentorship, workspace, and foundational guidance. They're like protective cocoons for budding ideas.

Accelerators, on the other hand, fast-track growth for more established startups, often through intensive short-term programs, mentorship, and capital injection. They're the turbo boosters, propelling startups further, and faster. Both play pivotal roles in a startup's journey from concept to market dominance.

16. Initial Public Offering (IPO)

An Initial Public Offering (IPO) is the process where a company sells its shares to the public for the first time on the stock market. It's a pivotal moment, marking a shift from private ownership to public trading.

For startups, it's akin to stepping into the spotlight. This move not only provides them with additional capital but also boosts their stature in the business world. Think of it as a budding artist making their grand debut on a renowned stage.

17. Lead Investor

In every group project, there's a leader steering the ship. In investment rounds, that's the lead investor. They're not just another investor; they contribute a significant part of funds.

They set the terms, and often become a guiding voice in the startup's decisions. Their involvement can also boost the startup's credibility, attracting more investors to join the round.

18. Liquidity Event

A liquidity event is the awaited payday for startup enthusiasts and their backers. It's the significant point when a startup's shares transform into real money.

This metamorphosis can occur in various ways: through a merger with another firm, an acquisition by a bigger player, or by entering the stock market via an IPO.

For all involved, it's the celebratory juncture, signifying the moment their dedication, risks, and investments materialize into tangible financial rewards.

19. Lock-Up Period

When a company goes public, there's usually a set period during which original investors and insiders can't sell their shares. This waiting time, known as the lock-up period, is designed to maintain market stability after the IPO.

It gives new public investors a chance to see how the company's stock performs without the influence of major sell-offs, building confidence in the company's market value. It's like giving a new plant time to root before changing its environment.

20. Market Cap (Market Capitalization)

Market cap shows a company's total value in the stock market. It's found by multiplying the stock's current price by the number of shares available. Think of it as a company's price tag on the stock market.

For startups that go public, this value indicates how the market views them. It's like a progress report for the company, showing its standing and reputation in the public's eyes.

21. Non-Dilutive Funding

Non-dilutive funding is like a financial boon for startups. It's money they receive without giving away any ownership or equity in their company.

Imagine getting funds without selling a piece of your business pie! It's ideal for those who want to grow without changing their ownership structure. This funding can come from grants, competitions, or even revenue.

For startups, it's a way to fuel growth while keeping full control. In the financial world, it's like getting a slice of cake and eating it too.

22. Pitch Deck

A pitch deck is a startup's golden ticket to securing investors. Think of it as a concise, visually appealing presentation that dives into a business's value proposition, team, product, market size, and financial projections.

It's the first impression, the story of your startup in a digestible format. For investors, it’s a window into the company's vision and potential.

For founders, it’s a chance to showcase passion, potential, and proof of concept. In essence, a well-crafted pitch deck can be the launching pad to a startup's next big leap.

23. Pre-Money Valuation & Post-Money Valuation

Pre-money valuation is the worth of a startup before receiving outside funding or investment. Imagine it as the company's price tag just before an investor writes their check.

On the other hand, post-money valuation includes that new investment. It's like assessing the value of a jar before and after filling it with coins.

For startups, these valuations are crucial: they dictate how much equity investors get for their cash injection. In simpler terms, if you’re the founder, you want a higher pre-money valuation to give away less ownership when funds come in.

24. Runway

A startup's "runway" refers to the amount of time it can operate before needing fresh funding, based on its current cash balance.

Think of it as a timer counting down how long a startup can fly before running out of fuel. It's calculated by dividing the company's cash on hand by its monthly expenses.

For founders, a longer runway is ideal as it offers more time to achieve profitability, secure new investments, or adapt strategies. In essence, it's the financial breathing space every startup craves before making their next big move.

25. Pro Rata Rights

Pro Rata Rights give investors the option to maintain their ownership percentage in a startup during future funding rounds.

For instance, if an investor initially buys 10% of a company, they can use these rights to purchase enough shares in subsequent rounds to keep their 10% stake, even as new shares are issued. This ensures that their influence doesn't dilute over time.

For startups, offering pro rata rights can be an enticing carrot to draw in and keep top-tier investors, as it protects their initial investment from being watered down.

26. SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity)

SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) is a popular tool for startups seeking initial capital without setting a specific valuation. Instead of receiving shares immediately, investors get the rights to future shares, typically when a priced funding round occurs.

SAFE agreements are simpler and faster than traditional equity or debt offerings, making them attractive for early-stage ventures.

They allow startups to postpone valuation discussions until their business has grown, which can be beneficial for both founders and investors looking for a streamlined, less complex investment process.

27. Term Sheet

A Term Sheet is an important document in the startup fundraising process, outlining the main terms and conditions of an investment.

It acts as an agreement between a startup and an investor, providing a blueprint for future detailed contracts. While not legally binding, it signifies serious intent.

Key components might include valuation, investment amount, governance rights, and other crucial deal points.

For startups, it's a sign that they're on the brink of securing funding, and for investors, it clarifies the terms of their potential investment. It's the handshake before the deal.

28. Traction

Traction is a buzzword in the startup realm, signaling proof that a business concept is viable and gaining momentum.

Essentially, it's evidence that the startup's product or service has genuine demand in the market. This can be seen through growing user numbers, sales, partnerships, or other indicators of success.

For investors, traction offers reassurance; it implies the startup has moved beyond just an idea, reducing potential risks.

For founders, showcasing traction can be the golden ticket to securing investment, partnerships, or further business opportunities. It's the startup's way of saying, "We're onto something big.

29. Series A, B, C, etc.

Series A, B, C, D and beyond are successive rounds of funding for startups and growing companies. Each round represents a distinct phase of growth.

Starting with Series A, it's often a company's first significant round of venture capital financing, aimed at optimizing product and user base.

Series B usually focuses on scaling and meeting growing demand, while Series C and subsequent rounds are about expanding to new markets, diversifying product lines, or even preparing for an IPO.

With each round, the stakes get higher, valuations often increase, and the company's maturity is reflected in its ability to attract more substantial sums of investment.

30. Unicorn

Ever heard of a startup valued at $1 billion or more? That's a Unicorn! It's not about mythical creatures, but rare business success. Think of it: amidst millions of startups, only a handful reach this dazzling status.

So, when someone talks about building a unicorn, they're dreaming big, eyeing that coveted billion-dollar mark. Impressive, isn't it? Want to spot business magic in action? Look for a unicorn.

31. Valuation

What's your startup worth? That's the burning question, isn't it? Valuation isn't just a number; it's a reflection of a startup's potential, achievements, and future prospects. It's like the price tag of your business in the investor's market.

But here's a twist: it's not solely about revenues. Factors like market demand, competition, and growth potential play their parts. Think of it as a trust score.

Higher valuation? That's confidence in your vision! So, what's your number? Got investors buzzing?

32. Venture Debt

Venture debt, think of it as a loan specifically designed for fast-growing companies. Unlike traditional loans, venture debt is more flexible and usually easier to get.

It gives startups the extra fuel they need to scale without diluting ownership. The catch? Lenders often ask for warrants, which could convert to equity later.

So, it's a win-win: startups get quick cash, and lenders get a piece of the future pie. Ideal for bridging gaps between funding rounds!

33. Vesting

Vesting is the startup world's way of saying, Let's take this relationship slowly. In a nutshell, it's a timeline that dictates when you actually own your shares or options.

Imagine getting 1,000 shares today, but they "vest" over four years. You usually get a chunk after a one-year "cliff," and then the rest trickles in monthly.

This setup keeps everyone invested in the company's success. If you leave early, you walk away with only what's vested. It's like a loyalty program, but with a stake in the company!

34. Convertible Equity

Convertible equity is a bit like a magical ticket for startups. Here's how it works: You give a startup money today, but instead of getting shares immediately, you get a promise.

This promise is that when specific events happen (like a bigger investment round), your contribution will "convert" into shares.

The beauty? You usually get a bonus for hopping on early, like a discount or a rate guarantee. It's a way for early supporters to back a startup, with a side of extra potential upside. Bet early, win big.

35. Down Round

A down round is when a startup raises money at a valuation lower than its previous funding round. Imagine your favorite cafe selling shares for $10 last year and $8 this year. That's a down round.

While it provides much-needed cash, it can affect team morale and investor confidence.

However, it's not the end of the world; many successful companies have had down rounds before bouncing back. It's a wake-up call that says, "Hey, we need to adjust our strategy to grow better."

36. Drag-along Rights

Drag-along rights are like the team captain saying, If I'm traded, you're coming with me. In startup lingo, if the big shareholders decide to sell the company, they can drag along the smaller ones, making them sell their shares too.

It helps make the sale process smoother and quicker. While it might sound bossy, these rights usually benefit everyone by making it easier to find buyers.

So if the big players decide it's time to sell, everyone packs up and goes together. Simple as that!

37. Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is your business idea squeezed into the time it takes to ride an elevator—usually 30 seconds to a minute.

Imagine bumping into a big-time investor and you've got just one floor to impress them. You'd talk about what your startup does, why it's special, and what you're looking to achieve.

The goal is to spark interest, making them say, "Tell me more!" It's like your startup's speed date with destiny—a quick, compelling snapshot that opens doors.

38. Follow-On Investment

Follow-on investment is like giving your plant more water because it’s growing well. Investors who already put money into your startup decide to invest more in a later funding round.

Why? Usually, because they like what they see and want to keep supporting you. It's a vote of confidence, showing that the people who know your business best believe it’s on the right track.

For startups, it's not just more money in the bank but also a pat on the back that says, "Keep going, you're doing great!"

39. Liquidation Preference

Liquidation preference is all about the pecking order when a startup is sold or shut down. It determines who gets paid first from the sale proceeds.

Usually, investors with liquidation preference get their initial investment back before anyone else sees a dime. It's like being at the front of the line when ice cream is being handed out.

If there's any money left after that, it's divided among other shareholders. This term is crucial because it helps investors reduce risk, making them more likely to invest in the first place.

40. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is your startup's first draft. Imagine you're baking cookies for the first time.

Instead of going all out with fancy flavors, you make a simple chocolate chip batch to see if people like it. That's your MVP—a basic version of your product that's good enough to show to customers.

It won't have all the bells and whistles, but it should solve the main problem you're tackling. The goal? To learn fast. Get it out there, see how people react, and then improve.

41. Secondary Market

A secondary market is like a resale shop for startup shares. Normally, you have to wait for a big event like an IPO to sell your shares and make money.

But in a secondary market, current shareholders can sell their stakes to other interested buyers even before that. It's a way for early employees or investors to cash out some of their holdings without the whole company going public.

For new investors, it's a chance to hop on board a promising startup that's not quite on the stock market yet.

42. Strategic Investor

A strategic investor is not just any moneybag wanting a piece of your startup; they're more like a wise mentor with deep pockets. These are companies or individuals who invest in you for reasons beyond just making money.

Maybe they have expertise in your industry, or perhaps your businesses can help each other grow. The point is, that they bring something extra to the table—like connections, resources, or knowledge.

So, it's not just about the cash; it's also about forging a partnership that makes both sides stronger.

43. KPI (Key Performance Indicators)

KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are like the vital signs of your startup. These are the numbers and metrics you check to see how healthy your business is.

Think of them as the speedometer, fuel gauge, and GPS for your startup journey. Whether it's sales growth, customer retention, or website traffic, KPIs help you understand what's working and what needs fixing.

They're your go-to stats for quick business check-ups, helping you make informed decisions. In short, if you want to know how you're doing, check your KPIs.

44. Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are pools of money managed by pros who aim for high returns, and they're not afraid to use complex strategies to get there.

While they mostly play in public markets, some hedge funds also invest in startups. Unlike traditional venture capital, they might not offer much mentorship or industry connections.

But what they do offer is a lot of capital, fast. If a hedge fund believes your startup is a winner, they'll back you big time.

45. Go to Market (GTM)

Go-to-Market, or GTM, is like the grand opening of your startup's storefront. It's the plan that outlines how you'll sell your product to customers.

Imagine you've built an awesome bicycle; GTM is deciding who will buy it, where you'll sell it, and how you'll let people know it exists. Will you sell online, in stores, or both? Who's your target customer?

A solid GTM strategy answers these questions and sets the stage for your product to shine. It's your roadmap to making those first crucial sales.

46. Limited Partnerships (LP)

Limited Partnerships (LPs) are the behind-the-scenes supporters of the startup world. Think of them as the silent backers of a big Broadway show.

In the venture capital scene, LPs are the institutions or individuals who provide the funds that VCs invest. They might be pension funds, universities, or wealthy folks.

They typically don't get involved in day-to-day decisions but expect a return on their investment.

For startups, LPs matter because they're the original source of the money that VCs bring to the table. They're the fuel in the VC engine!

47. Investor Updates

Investor updates are like report cards for your startup. They're regular messages—often emails—that you send to your investors to let them know how things are going.

You talk about your wins, your challenges, and your numbers, like sales and growth rates. Think of it as keeping your financial supporters in the loop.

These updates help build trust and could make it easier to raise more money later. It's like saying, ‘Here's what we've done with your investment so far, and here's where we're headed next.’

48. Sales Funnel

A sales funnel is like a guided tour that turns curious onlookers into loyal customers. Imagine a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.

At the top, you've got lots of potential customers just browsing around. As they move down the funnel, they take specific actions like signing up for a newsletter or putting an item in the cart.

At the narrow bottom? Your die-hard customers who actually make a purchase.

Understanding your sales funnel helps you figure out where people drop off so you can fix it and boost sales.

49. Churn Rate

The churn rate is the percentage of customers who leave your service or stop buying your product over a certain period of time.

Imagine you have a gym membership business, and every month, some members quit. That's your churn. It's a crucial number because keeping an existing customer is often cheaper than finding a new one.

A high churn rate could be a red flag that something's wrong—maybe your product isn't up to snuff, or customer service is lacking.

Keeping this rate low helps you build a long-lasting customer base.

50. Nondisclosure agreement (NDA)

A Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) for startups is like a secrecy pact. It's a legal document that says, “Hey, I'll show you my cool startup ideas, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else or steal them."

Whether you're chatting with potential partners, investors, or employees, an NDA ensures that confidential info stays confidential.

It's a safety net, making sure the details of your business, from financials to innovative tricks, remain under wraps.

In the fast-paced startup world, an NDA helps protect your hard-earned secrets from getting into the wrong hands.

Final Thought

And there we go, navigating the maze of startup lingo! Feeling like a pro yet? Whether you aced the terms or just brushed up on a few, give yourself some credit. After all, isn't knowledge power?

With every term you master, you're one step closer to confidently steering your venture in this bustling startup universe. So, did we fill in the blanks? Thrilled to have been your guide.

Until next time, keep innovating and stay curious! How about another dive soon?

Benjamin gave great tips to my start-up Blend for polishing and optimising my pitch deck, refreshing perspective. Recommend!