Revenue Capital: An Alternative to Traditional Funding

Many, if not most, entrepreneurs have been frustrated by the time, effort and, often, lack of results as they try to gain funding to get their company to the next level. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is often valuation. The entrepreneur has put his/her heart and soul into building a company from scratch and any funding will require a giving up substantial equity. This is further complicated by huge gap between the entrepreneurs’ pre-money valuation expectation and the number the VC or Angel investor suggests. But it gets even worse…since the investor is betting on the future value of a company, every assumption the entrepreneur makes will be scrutinized with a fine toothed comb. Furthermore, even if a start-up has a solid business with stable growth, but can’t show a clear and believable path towards a 10X or greater increase in valuation, the Angel or VC may not be interested.  Another tricky part of this process is determining how much money the firm really needs as well as how much equity to part with. Often companies won’t fit into a range that makes sense for a VC (generally $5+ million) or an Angel investor (varies, but often in the $500K – $1 million range). Smaller amounts are often garnered by “friends and family”, but in this economy, that isn’t always an option.

The scenario I described has prompted a few firms to offer an alternative to traditional equity capital and debt financing called revenue capital or royalty-based financing (RBF). The concept is pretty simple; instead of the entrepreneur giving up equity or taking on debt in exchange for funding, the investors fund the business and generate returns based on a percentage of company revenue. This means the entrepreneur gives up no equity, requires no physical collateral and doesn’t have to incur personal liability for repayment. The expected payments will range from 1.5 to 4 times the initial investment and are generally expected to be paid back in 5-7 years. The investor may ask for warrants to give them some upside (although this is not always the case) and most will require full payback if there is a change in control.

While the concept of revenue capital isn’t new in industries such as oil/gas, it is beginning to emerge in the technology space. This model can be particularly attractive if the entrepreneur is concerned about dilution. The model is particularly attractive to the investor if you already have substantial revenue, have stable growth and the likely prospect of growing revenue over the next several years.

The revenue capital concept was recently presented to Tech Coast Angels, the angel investing group I participate in, and the largest angel investment group in the US. The presenter, Dr. Rob Wiltbank is from Revenue Capital Management  http://revcapfunds.com and also a professor at Willamette University in Portland. Revenue Capital Management invests in companies with established revenue streams in exchange for a percentage of monthly gross revenue. They typically invest 5%-15% of annual revenues for from 3%-10% of the  company’s revenue stream, paid on a monthly basis. They also typically cap the total payment at 2x the initial investment if paid back within 5 years. They are looking for companies with the following profiles:

  • Established revenue of $2 million – $20 million (but they will consider lower amounts of revenue for smaller investments)
  • Profitable or near break-even with a strong gross profit margins
  • Companies seeking growth capital, including project financing
  • Ownership transfers including company buybacks, generational transfers and ESOPs are considered

Another RBF source is lighter capital http://www.lightercapital.com/ They have a cool website worth checking out even if you aren’t looking for an investment today. Their basic model is similar to Revenue Capital Management’s approach, but they will look for warrants to get some additional upside. Their loans are typically between $50K and $500K. Typical payback is 1% to 5% of revenue, which can ratchet down if certain milestones are hit, with a loan term of up to 5 years. They will generally EITHER cap the payment (1.5x -3.5x investment) or cap the term with 1% to 5% of revenues, ratcheting down if milestones are hit.  They are looking for companies with the following profiles:

  • Early stage / start-up companies, but must be operating and have at least 12 months of revenue history (no pure start-ups)
  • Minimum trailing 12 month revenue of $200K, or growing fast with minimum monthly run-rate of $16K
  • Annual revenues of up to $5 million
  • Gross margins greater than 50%
Revenue capital funding isn’t for everyone. The pure start-up without revenue won’t qualify. Larger companies (over $20 million in revenue) are better suited to traditional debt or equity financing. An early-stage company with some revenue history, solid gross margins and a sustainable revenue stream with funding requirements of $50K to $500K is a strong candidate for royalty-based financing. If you fit the RBF profile, you want to determine whether you are better off giving up equity and pursuing angel/VC funding, or if revenue capital is a better model. This decision may be made for you if you are (for whatever reason) not attractive to angels/VCs. If you are an entrepreneur that believes your future valuation will be astronomical, leveraging revenue capital gives you the ability to fund growth without any dilution of equity.
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7 comments on “Revenue Capital: An Alternative to Traditional Funding

  1. Pingback: Revenue Capital: An Alternative to Traditional Funding « Gil Rachlin's Weblog

  2. Hi Michael,

    I am aware of the bill passing the house and do think that it can provide opportunities for businesses. I also know that the requirements for these smaller individual investments are far less rigorous than angel or VC investments…don’t necessarily need a business plan, don’t need investing experiences, don’t need to file with SEC…I am concerned that many individual investors could be taken advantage of by firms that nobody really should be investing in. I personally like to combined experience and due diligence of a group like Tech Coast Angels, the angel investing group I participate in to help mitigate my personal risk. I would have a hard time investing in a company I don’t know that much about and can’t do comprehensive research on. The individual investing limits are the lesser of $10,000 or 10% of the investors annual income. I think those investing in crowdfunded deals, if it passes the next round, need to be very careful.

    • Hey Gary, thanks for replying. I agree 100% “I think those investing in crowdfunded deals, if it passes the next round, need to be very careful.”

      Currently, I think there is MASSIVE abuse in the CF platforms with no checks and balances they OFFER NO accountability what-so-ever. Case in point… someone ran a OCCUPY newspaper fund on KS, raised $75K and contributors didn’t get an actual paper as promised. They just popped out a PDF. And there is NO email or way to know who they are…. Basically, there is ZERO accountability in ANY CF platform. We will change that in a number of ways.

      My company FOUNDUPS® is an Open Startups (a startup Anyone can Join), however will provide investor accountability investors need by:
      1. Show where the money is going. FOUNDUPS® is the World’s 1st Open Corp and mandated in it’s articles to be 100% fiscally transparent.
      2. Oversees our Open Startups. All Open Startups use a framework I been developing over the last 2 year and based on 16 years of lessons learned from failing.

      My background is in QA&Testing, Gaming, Biz Dev, and NPO capital campaign management. Just as their are requirements in npo fundraising there will be checks in balances in how we raise funds. NCDSinc.net has raised over $1.6BN for npo strategic initiatives (fancy name for startup)… With this law FOUNDUPS® could be the first out the gate doing the same… I am looking for an Angel to help us launch 🙂 Check out foundups.org or watch my talks on foundups.tv if you want to learn more… bewarned, I am a valley startup hater. I don’t hate the startup but rather the lack of framework that it exists in and as a result success has nothing to do with ideas but who you know.

      Cheers,

      Mike

    • From the website it states. $2m max, 10% of annual income up to $10K, No state filings/fees or 499 investor cap. There is a bigger issue here too, that I blogged about in Jan. And that is other countries leeching away talent… See what Startup Chile is doing…

  3. I think this is interesting but we’ll go along co-creating other funding mechanisms. This is a starting point, not the end.

    … and by the way, Startup Chile is more bluff than results. So the grass might seem greener but it is not. Above it all, we mustn’t forget that the real goal of a business is to provide value to customers in a way that part of such value is share with others: employees, managers, shareholders, community and yes – our dear taxes.

    Many entrepreneurs forget that there is an expectation of payback by any funding mechanism.

  4. I like this article Gary, and I’m glad you highlighted that this is usually not an option for a startup. There is a lot of focus at the moment on giving away a chunk of your company to obtain finance, but if you can grow it organically, this can often be a better route.

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