4 years ago we kicked off an experiment to define and shape a path of funding distinctly different from the one size fits all venture model of blitzscaling, breaking things and billion-dollar valuations. Despite that model working for the dozen or so companies a year that drive returns for the venture industry, we believed there were hundreds, even thousands, more ambitious founders that could thrive if they didn’t have to continually ask investors for permission to exist.
We wanted a path that gave founders time to deeply understand the levers of their business and the needs of their customers that can only come from focusing on profitability and revenue growth. We wanted founders to experience that the constraints of scarce resources could become superpowers as they began to scale. We wanted founders to see beyond a binary world of “going big or going home” into a world full of alternative outcomes that wouldn’t require them to trade a lifetime of ownership and optionality for a seed round today.
We started small, with a group of 8 companies who were given $100k each, and a focus on helping them raise their revenue, not their next round. The results were anything but small. Among those initial 8, we saw average 12 mo. revenue jump by over 100% (from an average of $250k the year prior to our investment) with that average growing to nearly 300% after 24mo. We have continued to see similar results among our ensuing investments.
Additionally, we curated a peer group of founders whose shared focus on revenue growth and profitability became a powerful force for accelerated learning, accountability, and healthy competition. We worked to surround our Indie.vc companies with a broader community of like-minded founders who have profitably scaled their businesses to 10s, 100s and even billions in revenue. This community and network has proven even more valuable than the dollars we’ve invested.
Of course, the most rewarding piece of our Indie.vc experience has been watching our thesis play out in the lives and businesses of the founders we’ve funded:
“I can honestly say that I wish every founder would get the chance to take money from Indie.vc. My cofounders and I are determined to not only make Nice Healthcare a huge success but also to prove the Indie.vc thesis correct. For the majority of founders, if they viewed sales and distribution the same way as raising capital from traditional VCs they will find they do not need those traditional VCs. We want to grow big, grow fast, and be profitable all at the same time. Fifteen months into operations we achieved $1 million in ARR and are continuing to grow fast. Our gross margins are approaching 50% and January 2019, our 16th month of operations, will be our first cash flow positive month.”- Thompson Aderonkomi, Nice Healthcare “Working with Indie.vc has been extremely transformative for my business. I would describe myself as a person who had fairly low business acumen at the start of my journey with Indie.vc. As a result of the quarterly retreats and my relationship with Bryce, I am much more mature in business. The retreats provided many opportunities to learn from industry giants in small group sessions. Indie.vc also created a space to network and learn from other entrepreneurs who faced many of the same setbacks and issues. I’ve become a pit bull in a skirt who focuses on the health, authenticity, and longevity of her company rather than artificial growth.” Angelica Nwandu, The Shade Room “We chose Indie.vc because we knew the discipline of being customer and revenue focused would put our company in a position of strength. The program has exceeded our expectations in terms of connections, learning and the peer pressure that comes from being a part of the Indie.vc community. Indie.vc gave us the capital and coaching we needed to build a product that customers love without having to give up control or prematurely scale.” Jack Moxon, Blue Canvas “Indie.vc should be your first call if you’re building a business with big ambitions. Once invested, Indie.vc becomes the first call when things are going well and the first call when they’re not. They persist with you and your ambitions. Having a truly professional investor has been a game-changer for us.” Sarah van Dell, Plum Relish “Indie.vc is just enough VC bullsh*t.” Jason Huggins, Tapster
With that as the backdrop, let us share some of the plans we have for the next iteration of the Indie.vc experiment, v3.
For v3 we worked with our friends at Fenwick & West (creators of the Series Seed docs) to design a standard set of investment documents that would be flexible enough to capture a wide range of investor and entrepreneur-friendly outcomes, as well as bring the cost of executing these types of investments as close to zero as possible.
On the surface, our v3 terms are a fairly vanilla version of a convertible note with a few key variables to be negotiated between the investor and the founder:
- Investment amount
- Equity Option
- Repurchase Start Date and Percentage
Investment amount is what it is. We have invested as little as $100k and as much as $1M. Our average check size is around $285k. We have, and will, co-invest with angels and funds willing to sign on to our same terms.
An equity option is much more straightforward than any variations we’ve come to accept in convertible notes. Valuation caps, in general, can be quite misleading and full of surprises for founders and investors at the time of conversion. And preferred shares, which appear to be simple, have many layers of complexity that founders often discover when they have the least leverage. With v3 we’ve kept it a simple fixed percentage which converts into that % of shares at the time of a sale OR into that % shares prior to a qualified financing.
Of course, those scenarios only come into play if a founder chooses to sell or raise additional capital. So, what happens if a founder decides they never want to sell or raise?
With prior versions of our terms, we tried to create incentives for founders to effectively “repurchase” shares and “shrink” our equity option while increasing their ownership. Unfortunately, our past attempts have been messy at best and confusing at worst.
With v3 we aimed to capture the spirit of preserving equity for founders while simplifying the process in a tax-efficient way for investors. To do this we establish a “repurchase start date”. We chose 24 months from the time of our investment (but can be whatever date the founders and investors agree upon) and a % of gross revenue shared to repurchase the shares. With each revenue share payment, our equity option decreases and the founder’s equity increases. With v3, a team can repurchase up to 90% of the original equity option back at any point prior to a qualified financing through monthly revenue share payments, a lump or some combination of both until they reach a 3x cap.
The obvious benefit to founders is an opportunity to own and control more, not less, of their company and destiny over time. The benefit to investors is to be able to realize a return through a revenue share that gets treated as gains instead of income. All without the pressure to exit.
Below, we’ve used Capshare data to visualize the impact on the cap table of the traditional VC path of Seed, Series A and B funding vs. the Indie.vc path (assumes Indie.vc is the seed funding, “Series A” is funded via profitable revenue growth, then a Series B- of course, the numbers look even better if no Series B is raised!):
(tap here for the best view on mobile)
We think the contrast of the traditional VC route with v3 is simple, stark and compelling. It should be the obvious, if not always easy, choice for ambitious founders.
We, and others have already begun investing under these v3 terms. As with all past versions, we’ve made v3 investment documents available for free on Github.
With v1 of Indie.vc we made our investments as a batch of 8 companies. That year we hosted quarterly retreats in San Francisco (2x), NYC and Chicago. We learned from world-class investors, thinkers, and founders. We also developed a format designed for in-person learning and accountability among our team members that helped everyone to level up quickly. With v2 we made our investments on a rolling basis in an attempt to contrast the experience and impact on the community.
For v3 we will be going back to a batch format with 4 quarterly retreats.
Over the last few years, we’ve had the chance to host many events that expose founders to an alternative universe where companies they’ve been told can’t be built without massive amounts of VC funding are thriving with little, to no, outside investment. We often start these events by warning attendees that they won’t be able to unsee what they’re about to see. Many leave these events with a whole new perspective on not only what is possible, but why limiting exposure the traditional venture business model is beneficial for founders, employees and the cultures and values they’re hoping to embody with their businesses.
Rather than write another blog post or clever FAQ, we wanted to bring that same in-person experience to those considering investment from Indie.vc.
Over the next 2 months, we’ll be embarking on a tour of most major metros in the US (we tried picking towns that were a short-ish road trip away from just about anywhere). Our goal with these info sessions is to share our experiences and motives directly with the Indie-curious. They are open to founders interested in taking investment from Indie.vc and Angels/Funds interested in funding companies the way we do. We’re planning to have some founders we’ve backed, and founders who’ve built and scaled profitable businesses, join us for these events to answer questions and share their experiences embracing the values and tactics we preach.
We are opening applications for our v3 batch today. Applications will close on March 1st. Final decisions will be made by March 15th. We will host the v3 Kickoff in San Francisco on April 8th through the 11th.
*A note: Indie.vc is for post-revenue companies. We do not have a minimum revenue number for applicants, but the companies we’ve funded averaged around $250k in revenue the year prior to taking investment from us. We do not have a fixed check size and have funded companies with checks between $100k and $1M (our average check size is $285k). 50% of the companies we’ve backed are led by female founders. Nearly 20% are led by black founders. The vast majority of them are based outside of the Bay Area or NYC. Indie.vc is probably not a great fit for products that require significant investment and extended periods of R&D prior to commercialization. Winner takes all, land grab, style markets. Teams who don’t like to sell. Founders who enjoy owning single-digit percentages of their businesses.*
You can apply here.