How They Raised Series A: Signal AI
The Family (AAA) Stories
Media today moves faster than anybody can keep up with. Social networks, Slack, 24/7 news… It can be overwhelming for any entrepreneur wanting to keep up with what people are saying about their company. Signal AI steps in to give you the tools you need, monitoring around the world for what really matters for your company. Co-founder & CEO David Benigson was kind enough to give us an inside look at how they raised their Series A round in December 2016 📺
How long did it take you to raise Series A?
It took two to three months to prepare and negotiate our term sheet — covering funding, corporate governance, and liquidation. Followed by two months to finalise the documents
In the process, I’ve learned the importance of structuring each round of fundraising with a timeline in mind and working from your close date backwards. Most importantly, don’t underestimate the time it takes to sort the legal side of raising funding. Understanding that the legal process will take longer the larger the round is will allow you to plan accordingly.
Did you think about fundraising/networking with Series A investors since the day you raised seed, or did you ignore it until you felt 100% ready?
I think there’s a delicate balance between proactive networking and sitting back until you’re ready that needs to be found here. As a CEO, founder or business owner, you can waste a lot of time meeting VCs rather than focusing on your vision and building your business. I see a lot of CEOs making that mistake and spending an inordinate amount of time networking at events and at VC meetings straight out of their first round of funding. It shouldn’t dominate your time.
That being said, investors (like customers) buy and invest based on relationships, emotions, and empathy, just as much as they do data and performance. At Seed and Series A they’re backing the people behind a business over pretty much everything else. With this in mind, I proactively networked with the five or so VCs I really wanted to work with, building important relationships that would be mutually beneficial down the line.
How much did you raise and from whom?
For our Series A funding, we ran a relatively tight ship throughout the process, with 10 funds meaningfully engaged. This was a targeted strategy that we put in place, as it was important for us to engage and work with a combination of investors. This included enticing existing investors to continue their investment, new investors to lead the round and set the price, and some angels to add strategic value beyond the capital.
My view is that often the quantum you’re raising is more determined by the ultimate valuation you can achieve. So I always give a range of funding amounts, then as you drive competition into the process, you can actually increase the amount you raise depending on an increase in your valuation.
What was the biggest difference between raising Seed & Series A?
When raising Seed, investors are purely backing the team, the market, and some early evidence of the technology and product. By Series A the above remain the primary deciding factors, however investors also require additional meaningful SaaS metrics and proof of traction.
For a B2B SaaS company working and raising their Series A funding in 2016, there were various metrics we had to measure and prove. At the time investors required proof of roughly $1m Annual Recurring Revenue, evidence of retention at 90% plus, early signs of positive net revenue retention and ability to upsell, data around product market fit via customer references, Net Promoter Score, product engagement, and more.
But ultimately, Series A is led by the same principles as Seed funding. VCs want to invest in backable teams that are solving hard problems in big markets, with a clear pathway to predictable scale and growth.
What do you wish you had known before starting? What would you do differently?
Like many CEOs in the funding machine, I wish I had known more about the timeline and how to manage it. If I had, being able to ensure that the process was structured effectively and efficiently, it would have been incredibly beneficial.
I would have conducted tight pre-screening meetings, which would have allowed us to filter out tyre kickers quickly by asking them for a time commitment, ensuring that we were building a competitive and committed dynamic in the early stages.
What can you tell us about the lawyers, financial advisors or other service providers you used?
Lawyers are absolutely key, but make sure that you use lawyers from within the funding industry. Don’t use your usual solicitors as they won’t know what the market looks like and they won’t be able to hold the VCs to account. You need to invest in lawyers that have worked for the other side, who know the VCs and how the funding game works. There are a handful of firms who operate in the space who all know each other — the VC community is small, use that to your advantage.
Another piece of advice is to push hard for ordinary shares if you can. But if not, make sure you don’t give away any onerous preference rights in your terms sheet. Look out for Liquidation Preferences, good/bad leaver provisions, and onerous board consents. And fight hard to keep a flat share stack and don’t pay VC fees — something that is becoming increasingly standard in market!
We’ve never made use of financial advisors to support fundraising, and at Series A I would strongly recommend against it. It’s important for CEOs and founders to keep this in-house — you can’t outsource this activity. As previously mentioned, VCs are investing in the people behind the business and using a third party firm to do the job doesn’t make sense to me.
Was your data organised? Did you build a data room?
We made sure we were as organised as possible before going into our Series A funding round. Think pre-prep work. Being adequately prepared, even before starting to think about investment, is key. There are vast amounts of great materials online to help you get organised and structure a data room. So you don’t have to kick things off alone.
In summary, the better prepared and organised you are the easier the process will be. So make sure you have your funding deck completed and ready to go, your financials sorted, up-to-date metrics, and a data room in place before starting to fundraise.
What did you learn re deck, pitching & storytelling during funding?
We told a story with our Series A deck by taking the investors on a journey — Signal AI’s journey. Investors know that you are selling your business and vision to them but it still needs to be engaging.
We started by contextualising the space we are working in and how the world is changing. ➡️ This allowed us to present the opportunities available to us and potential investors, and framed the rest of our funding deck. ➡️ From this initial set-up, it was easy to position ourselves as the winners in the race to capitalise on the vast opportunities available. ➡️ This was the moment to share our vision and why the business is doing what it does. ➡️ value proposition and the full presentation of our product. ➡️ The final stage of our funding deck, and the primary difference from Seed stage, is the presentation of evidence. A company at this stage needs to prove its worth. ➡️ Display traction, revenue growth, commercial metrics (retention, upsell, AOV/ARPU, CAC/LTV, payback period), and product metrics. ➡️ This, alongside team, market, and a detailed plan of how we wanted to use funds, proved extremely helpful in portraying our vision.
Any other thoughts / anecdotes about your Series A?
Funding is a relatively stressful experience, so funny anecdotes are far and few between. But a notable moment from our Seed round occurred as we were deciding between a number of terms sheets, one of which was 20% better in valuation than the offer we ultimately took.
Our three founders debated who to go with in a North London cafe for hours, unable to agree or decide.
Eventually we decided to individually write down who we wanted on a scrap of paper and turn it over at the same time. Luckily all three of us chose Frontline and we still have the scraps of paper framed in the office. Despite the smaller valuation, we chose Frontline because we believed they were the best fund to work with — a decision has been totally vindicated. They have been immensely supportive throughout our partnership.
At Series A, the day we were due to sign the term sheet Brexit was announced. Kicking us whilst we were all down, one of the additional VC investors removed their commitment — a fairly distressing turn of events. Luckily, the other investors stepped in and salvaged the situation. External variables that are entirely outside of your control can impact the process. My advice, however easier said than done, is to try and remain calm.
The Family (AAA) is dedicated to helping ambitious founders raise the best Series A possible. Education is a big part of that, so keep an eye out for more of our content. And of course, if you’re thinking of raising a Series A in the next 4–12 months and want to take part in our programme, get in touch! (👉 firstname.lastname@example.org / aaa.thefamily.co)