A deck of slides and a spreadsheet are usually sufficient to raise a seed round. The deck has received a lot of attention; there is a great variety of quality resources out there on how to go after it. Here, I’ll focus on the spreadsheet, which has mostly gone unnoticed. This is an attempt to provide a rough guide on how to structure it.
Personally, a deck and a couple of meetings are sufficient to get me interested in an opportunity. However, chances are I won’t be making up my mind until I get to see a full spreadsheet. And that’s because there is an amount of information about the costs, actions and targets that can only be communicated through it. What’s more, it really is an eloquent way to showcase that your plan is detailed and well-thought-out, while it balances between remaining realistic and at the same time ambitious enough.
Don’t get me wrong, plans can change easier than anything else at such an early stage – and that’s only a good thing. That said, a plan does matter; when on a bumpy road, a compass can make all the difference between a random walk and getting where you want to go. Here is a pretty rough template that you can take a look at, let me guide you through it.
A seed round typically suffices for 12-24 months; the template assumes 18 months, yet it’s a good idea if you opt in for a plan of 24. What’s important here is the time unit: months -not quarters and definitely not years- is the right one to go with. What’s more, you’d rather focus on the time period at hand; after all much longer projections in the context of a seed round are more of a joke.
The numbers provided in the template are mostly random. Some of them however may be treated as indicative for a startup location as exotic as Greece, and thus can provide for some wild arguments about why it makes sense to start a technology company here – that’s a topic for another post though.
Sheet 1 describes the cost structure. Start by providing the gross salary for all team roles (total cost to company). Make clear who you have hired or find already by adding her name, this will give a good idea on your hiring plan. Other staff costs may include benefits, employee onboarding etc. that are typically calculated on the basis of the team size and the number of new members respectively.
Cost of goods sold includes infrastructure like servers etc., in general everything that it takes you to keep the business running while your whole team is on vacation. Operating expenses is the usual stuff; office costs, software subscriptions, third-party services and travel etc. Make sure to put one-off expenses like setting up your new office in a separate category, so as not to obfuscate the story. Business development includes marketing and sales, like the campaigns you will be running or the external partner you may be paying for.
You may also set aside an amount for off-budget stuff, which in practice turns out to be the case more often than not. A 5% of the total budget is reasonable. Keep in mind this is not a balance sheet of a public company and you are not an accountant, so it does not really matter if, for example, you include a cogs in opex.
What really matters however is the big picture you can now clearly see and the number of sanity checks you are able to run. For example, team (and more specifically its technical part) is the main cost driver for a seed stage technology business, while business development costs will typically be going up as the company gets closer to product-market fit.
Sheet 2 sums up the core actions. I’ve defined three main categories: product, operations and business development. In each one of those, it is a good idea to identify the key actions you intend to pursue. For example, shipping version x, or hiring role y and launching feature z can be high level enough that you want to plan for and include here.
Remember, this is not a document but a spreadsheet, so you’d rather be concise. Moreover, the number of actions may slightly vary per month; while it doesn’t make sense to provide, say, more than five actions per category for your first month, it is also expected that you won’t be able to determine your exact priorities a year and a half from now.
Sheet 3 provides the targets. This is on what your team will work hard to deliver, granted the cost structure of Sheet 1 and following the action plan of Sheet 2. I’m not referring at qualitative targets here, but rather quantitative ones, essentially what it takes to provide a clear understanding of the current status of the business. Most often than not, such metrics would be the core numbers of your funnel, yet this may vary per case.
It is important that you end up with a metric directly related to revenues, which then you can use to calculate your expected cash flow. Assuming that you start with raising the round you are looking for and taking into account both costs and estimated revenues, the above will eventually provide a clear picture of the company’s cash flow and, thus, available runway each time during this period.
This structure is far from a panacea. You may copy the spreadsheet and create a version of it that is a better fit to your business. And I’m sure that, by now, most of you are thinking about what’s missing or why this structure may be wrong. This is exactly the kind of reaction that this post intends to trigger.
If you ask me, the exercise of debating on its exact layout and actually filling this spreadsheet up will eventually offer you a great service. Done right, it might actually be the fastest way for you to turn your thoughts into a plan, answer what needs to be answered and communicate it appropriately. All in all and after creating a solid deck for your seed round, I believe the information that is missing for a positive investment decision can be found here; and that’s exactly what I wish you to be the case for your company.