How Should You Allocate Your Pre-seed Funding?

Benjamin Debonneville
Founder & CEO
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Money. It's a word that sparks a million different emotions. Excitement. Fear. Opportunity. Responsibility.

So what happens when you've got your hands on that precious pre-seed funding for your startup? It's like holding the golden ticket, but will you board the right train?

Launching a startup is a thrilling ride, punctuated with high peaks of joy and deep valleys of challenges. One of the most critical junctures on this roller coaster is securing pre-seed funding.

Finally, you're not just a dreamer with an idea; you're a founder with financial backing. It feels good, doesn't it? But don't pop that champagne just yet.

How to wisely allocate your funds to transform your startup dreams into reality? Just as a skilled chef knows the perfect recipe for a dish, you need to understand the best ingredients for startup success. Money isn't just about what you have; it's about how you use it.

Here we'll explore the art of allocating your pre-seed funding. We'll dive into the essentials, which are pivotal in taking your startup from seed to bloom.

Best Possible Allocation of Pre-Seed Funds

Stepping into the world of startups with pre-seed funding at your disposal is a bit like being given a box of Lego bricks. The pieces you have, their quantity, and how you choose to assemble them will determine what you create.

As startup guru Peter Thiel wisely said, "Poorly managed startups tend to die when they run out of money, but well-managed startups can endure surprisingly long periods of little or no revenue."

The allocation process depends largely on the amount you've raised. Startup founders with compelling startup ideas could expect to raise anything from $150K to $1M at this initial stage.

But remember our golden goal: traction. Your spending decisions should primarily be directed toward creating that irresistible momentum, taking you one step closer to the seed stage.

So, what are the key areas you, as a startup founder, should focus on to allocate funds? Let's take a closer look.

Hiring People

Assembling a startup team is akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle, each piece vital, fitting together to form a successful portrait.

For B2B firms, the primary puzzle pieces are product mavens and sales wizards. Your mission isn't just to fill roles, but to strategically bridge skill gaps. Roughly 40% of your pre-seed funds should cater to hiring, as talent and expertise are paramount at this stage.

Discerning who to onboard requires an analysis of existing skills and unfulfilled needs. As Oliver Kicks of Concept Ventures advised, "Think deeply about whether these hires really are moving the needle for you early on."

If your entrepreneurial charm sells, perhaps there's no pressing need for extra salesforce. If not, consider hiring or investing in coaching because sales are the ultimate goal for any product.

A noteworthy role needing meticulous consideration is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This tech wizard transforms ideas into tangible software while aligning technology with business goals. A savvy CTO signifies not merely a techie hire, but an investment in a strategic tech virtuoso.

Other roles worth investing in span product development, marketing, and customer success.

Remember, each expenditure should fuel the traction pushing you to the next stage.

Personal Branding

In the world of SaaS startups, marketing, and personal branding often go hand-in-hand.

Your personal brand is your company's face, its voice, its soul. It's what sets you apart in the crowded marketplace, and it's something worth investing in at the pre-seed stage.

Firstly, you need to carve out a clear identity by creating a coherent narrative that threads through everything your company does.

Think Slack's playful, approachable brand or Dropbox's clear and simple design ethos.

In terms of allocation, while it's challenging to put an exact figure, around 10% of your budget might be suitable, but it varies based on your company's needs and industry norms. The aim is to carve out a slice of your budget to ensure that your brand gets noticed, without overshadowing other vital areas of business development.

So, how can you maximize this investment in personal branding? Here are five key strategies:

  • Creating a clear identity: This goes beyond a logo or a catchy tagline. It's about weaving a consistent narrative that threads through everything your company does. Take Slack, for example, with its playful, approachable brand, or Dropbox's clear and straightforward design ethos.
  • Crafting compelling content: Exceptional content isn't merely about dazzling prose or eye-catching graphics. It's about telling a compelling story, conveying what your company stands for, and showcasing the unique value of your product or service.
  • Leveraging social media: Being active on relevant social platforms is no longer an option; it's a necessity. Brands like Basecamp brilliantly leverage Twitter and blog posts to reach and engage with their audience.
  • Engaging with the community: Participate in industry forums, attend networking events, and stay active in the community. Building relationships can lead to word-of-mouth referrals, collaborations, and potential partnerships.
  • Consistency is key: Across all your channels, ensure that your brand's voice, message, and visual elements are consistent. Consistency builds trust, and trust builds brands.

In short, personal branding isn't just about being seen; it's about being remembered.

Product Design

How can you ensure that your product doesn’t just end up as one of the many solutions lost in the sea of software available today? The answer lies in stellar product design.

Product design is a broad concept that encompasses everything from the user interface (UI), and user experience (UX), to the feature set of your software. Given its importance, it's advisable to allocate about 20-25% of your pre-seed funding to this aspect.

Let's delve into what this allocation entails:

  • User-Centric Approach: The best product designs are rooted in a deep understanding of the end user. Understand their pain points, their needs, and their workflows, then design your product to address these.
  • Simplicity and Intuitiveness: A clean, simple, and intuitive design goes a long way. Think about Stripe. Its product design made online payments, which was once a complex process, accessible and easy for developers to integrate.
  • Differentiation: What sets your product apart from the competition? Unique features, better user experience, or maybe superior customer support? Ensure your product design communicates this differentiation clearly.
  • Iterative Improvements: Good product design is never a one-time thing. It's a continuous process of iteration and improvement based on user feedback and market trends.
  • Scalability: Plan for growth. Design your product in such a way that it can scale up easily as your customer base grows. Can your design handle a hundred users? A thousand? Ten thousand?

Remember, your product is not just a tool, it's an experience. Make it count.

User Testing and Feedback

Did you ever wonder how successful SaaS companies manage to create products that users love? The secret sauce is user testing.

User testing is all about understanding how your users interact with your product and discovering what works and what doesn't. By spending some amount from your pre-seed funds for this critical process, you're investing in understanding user behavior, improving product usability, and ultimately, driving user satisfaction and retention.

Here's how you should focus your efforts:

  • Diverse User Groups: It's crucial to test your product with a diverse set of users, covering different demographics and user personas. This ensures you capture a broad range of experiences and insights.
  • Real-World Scenarios: User testing isn't just about running through a checklist of functions. It involves simulating real-world scenarios and workflows that your users would typically encounter.
  • Feedback Collection: User feedback is gold. Make sure you have robust mechanisms in place to collect, manage, and analyze this data. Remember, every piece of feedback is an opportunity to improve.
  • Iterative Testing: User testing is not a one-off event, but an ongoing process. Your product will evolve over time, and so should your testing strategies. Keep testing, keep learning, and keep refining.

As the old saying goes, "You are not your user." Remember this mantra, and you'll recognize why user testing is such an indispensable part of your product journey.

Remember, each strategic allocation of your pre-seed funds is fuel for your startup's journey, propelling you closer to customer traction, then to seed funding, and ultimately, success. It's this virtuous cycle that transforms dreams into startup reality.

How Long should Pre-Seed Funding Last?

So, you've got your pre-seed funds, and you're ready to tackle the startup world. But here's a crucial question: "Just how long should this funding last me?"

A smart entrepreneur would tell you, your pre-seed funding should ideally stretch for about 12-18 months. This timeline provides you with a robust runway to sail through unpredictable market conditions and obtain that critical approval from your initial users.

Taking a page from the startup playbook, let's remember that "The objective isn't just to fund the journey, but to fund a journey well-planned and executed. 12-18 months of runway lets you do just that," a widely accepted principle in the startup sphere.

Careful planning is your best ally here. You need to be clear about when your seed round is on the horizon.

Remember, the ultimate goal isn't just survival, but achieving meaningful, strategic growth.

Conclusion: The Next Step

In the unpredictable terrain of startup success, pre-seed funding is your compass and survival kit. The art of effectively allocating these initial funds sets the trajectory of your venture, with each decision leaving an indelible imprint on your startup's path.

At the core, your team is the heart and brain of your operation, deserving a healthy slice of your fund pie. Balancing this with investments in personal branding and product design lays the groundwork for your venture's identity and value in the marketplace.

Your fund's life cycle should ideally stretch over 12-18 months, the critical period for your startup to gain traction and customer approval, teeing you up perfectly for your seed round.

In conclusion, pre-seed funding isn't merely about survival, it's about strategic thriving. It's about setting up your SaaS startup for success and crafting a compelling narrative to draw seed investors aboard.

The journey is challenging, but with wise steps, it's a road to opportunity and success.

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