Start an online business, they said.
It’s never been easier, they said…
While it’s true that e-commerce platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, have democratized online entrepreneurship and lowered the barriers to entry, there are still many challenges that face e-commerce business owners.
Like all founders, these new-age entrepreneurs require funding to grow; however, the financial world hasn’t evolved to meet the needs of online founders.
50% of all startups won’t survive their first 5 years and lack of access to capital is cited as a major barrier to success.
Over 80% of Americans do not have access to equity or debt financing—and e-commerce businesses get an even shorter end of the stick since they have fewer hard assets. As a result, only about a third of new businesses survive their first decade.
So what’s an e-commerce entrepreneur to do? The first step to securing the right kind of business funding is to fully understand the different types of e-commerce funding that currently exist, and the pros and cons of each.
There is no correct time to start raising business funding, but you must be clear about your goal and how much funds you’ll require to achieve it. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den, you’ll know that they always ask why you need the money, and what your plans are for executing your strategy. Are you looking to purchase new equipment? Do you need to stock up on inventory or boost your advertising?
Not all types of funding will be appropriate for the stage of your company, especially if you want to retain full ownership. However, growth capital - when allocated effectively - can help you take your business to the next level.
In the next section, we’ll walk you through the different types of business funding to help you determine what’s right for your business.
Not only is it difficult for online businesses to get the funding they need to grow, but their options seem to be shrinking as well. As banks become bigger through expansion and consolidation, small and medium-sized banks are disappearing. This creates a gap in banking solutions for newer companies. In addition, newer, more digitally focused, business models are emerging that traditional forms of funding simply aren’t designed for.
Luckily, at the same time, there are newer forms of funding emerging for the growing segment of e-commerce founders. It’s important to understand all your funding options and know when the best time is to leverage each type.
The businesses that successfully scale are the ones that understand the various ways to acquire business funding, which are best for them, and know when to leverage them for the best business outcomes.
Lucky for you, we’re making it simple!
There are many ways to fund a new business but the six most popular are:
Not every funding model is right for every business. And certain forms of funding make the most sense at different stages of a business.
So let’s dive into the six aforementioned funding solutions and find out which type of financing is right for your business.
Bootstrapping is a clever term for when founders use their own funds as well as the company’s cash flow to fuel business growth. The term originally comes from the expression “pulling up by one’s own bootstraps”, which implied that someone had claimed to do the impossible.
It’s often how many startups begin and typically founders will bootstrap until they are able to launch their brand and prove its market value in order to get other forms of funding.
Some businesses are able to get by on bootstrapping alone; however, those are few and far between—but it can be done. For example, Sarah Blakely scaled women’s undergarment company, Spanx, using her own personal savings and still owns 100% of her business as a result. And software development platform GitHub survived on bootstrapping for its first 4 years of business.
Bootstrapping is often romanticized in the entrepreneurial community because it allows you to retain 100% ownership, and therefore control, over your company.
When done right and backed by a solid business plan, it can definitely be an effective way to scale your business, as long as you have the funds to do it. There is also a certain sense of pride that comes with knowing you ‘did it on your own’, which adds to the allure of bootstrapping.
On the other hand, with this type of funding you run the risk of running out of cash if your revenues aren’t what you project them to be. As mentioned, lack of working capital is a major reason startups fail. With limited capital, you also might not be able to scale as fast as you would with outside help and guidance you can get from VCs, for example.
Crowdfunding dates back to 2006, with IndieGogo launching a year later and Kickstarter not far behind. Crowdfunding involves raising capital from larger groups of people on crowdfunding websites in exchange for exclusive perks like free product or swag. Sometimes, equity can be offered as well but this is less common.
The average crowdfunding campaign is for approximately $7000 and lasts about 9 weeks. So it can be a great way to raise money fast (as long as it’s successful, of course).
Learn how ScrunchIt successfully leveraged Kickstarter and Clearbanc to launch and grow a niche business:
The biggest benefit of launching a business using crowdfunding is that you get to really test the market. If no one seems interested in supporting your campaign, you probably need to rethink your idea. And it’s better to learn that before you launch rather than after! Plus, you mitigate inventory risk in that you generate pre-orders so you can confidently stock up knowing you’ll sell that amount.
One thing to consider, though, is that if you know to anticipate a certain number of orders you will also need the cash flow to pay for that inventory up front. You can always try to negotiate with your supplier, but this is something to keep in mind to ensure you give your first customers the best experience possible. Bad word of mouth can squash any momentum your crowdfunding campaign helped build.
So long as you meet customer expectations, crowdfunding is an excellent way to attract early adopters and advocates of your brand. Plus, you can collect feedback from them in order to improve your offering and create new or version 2.0 of your existing services or product lines down the road.
The main pitfalls of this type of funding are that you expose yourself to possible competition since you’re showing your hand so to speak and sharing your ideas when they are still young and you aren’t yet established in the marketplace. There are also fees associated with this type of fundraising and the risk of failure is very real. The average success rate of a crowdfunding campaign is 50%.
Grants are essentially “free money” - but not really. If you want to score a grant, you’ll have to really work for it.
You will have access to different grants depending on the location in which your business is founded. There are often grants offered at national and local levels. Grants are also offered through corporations who want to give back and support emerging business. Many grants are also offered based on other eligibility requirements like whether or not you’re a part of a minority group. Typically, they are available for groups such as female founders, minority-owned businesses, environmental businesses, and veterans.
While it’s true grants represent capital you don’t have to pay back, here are some things to consider when researching and applying for one:
As mentioned, business grants are a form of capital you don’t have to pay back, so you can skirt costly fees and interest associated with other forms of funding. They are a great way to acquire a large amount of money; however keep in mind that not all grants are created equal. They can be a little as $500 or as much as $500,000. So depending on how much money you need to fuel business growth, a grant might only represent part of the solution.
You’ll have to apply for the grant you want and this usually takes a lot of time and effort and applications are only accepted during certain times of the year (often only once per year). Grants are often awarded to the more “headline-worthy” small business owners, so they may feel less accessible overall.
Also, be prepared to meet any reporting requirements like grant-specific audited financials for follow-up.
In simple terms, equity financing is when you sell a percentage of ownership of your business in exchange for capital. Here are some of the most popular sources of equity financing:
This is exactly what it sounds like. A friends and family round of funding involves asking the people you have the closest relationships with for funding to get your business off the ground. It is sometimes referred to as the pre-seed round or bridge round.
Friends and family funding doesn’t always have to include equity. If you do decide to give shares, you should definitely consult a lawyer to make sure you’re not diluting your own equity too much down the road.
You’ve likely heard the term before, but what exactly is angel investing? Angel investing is a traditional form of financing where an individual provides financial backing to small startup companies or entrepreneurs in exchange for equity. It’s often a one-time investment and is often driven by who you are as a founder and less about the business since you probably don’t have much data behind it. For this reason the angel is usually someone that has a personal or professional relationship with the founder/entrepreneur.
Angel investing is often higher risk since the company doesn’t have a long track record of success and there are personal relationships tied up with the deal. Nonetheless, angels are often a key vehicle for startups to get off the ground and to a point where VC firms will consider them.
The most common source for angel investors is your pool of professional acquaintances, however, there are also resources like AngelList you can check out.
When choosing the right angel investor for you it’s important to protect yourself and your brand. A lot of people might want to give you money, but not everyone should. So do your due diligence and ask the right questions before landing on the right angel investor for you.
Venture Capital (VC) firms are a very popular form of funding among early stage startups. There are several good VC firms out there, each specializing in a different area. For example, one VC firm might be a better option to fund a SaaS company whereas others specialize more in the retail space.
It’s important to choose the right VC firms for your business because one of the major benefits of VC funding is that you have access to their advice and expertise. Since they have invested in your company, they are essentially part owners so have a vested interest in helping you grow and guiding you in the right direction.
Hear Founder and former CEO of Exact Media, Daniel Rodic, describe his experience raising his Series A round of funding:
On the flip side, you’re also giving up partial control when you enter into a partnership with venture capitalists. In exchange for their investment, they will have a preferred equity position and often seats on your board, giving them decision-making power when it comes to your company. And if you aren’t strategic about your VC partnerships, their decision making power can sometimes overpower your own, like what happened with Uber and Slack.
Another issue founders face when it comes to VC funding is that it is a longer and more arduous process. It can take up to 6 months to secure VC funding and often involves a lot of travel, which requires a lot of time and money new founders may not have. Then there’s often a lot of pressure for a liquidity event, like a sale or an IPO, for investors to earn their money back
When it comes to e-commerce specifically, the main struggle most businesses face when it comes to VCs is that they are less likely to consider funding you if you don’t have an extensive business history or a proven track record of exceptional performance. Plus, it trends to be a more biased form of funding. For example, women of color CEOs receive less than 1% of VC dollars each year. Often, access to venture capital is dependent on your existing connections.
An IPO is when a business decides to “go public”. But what does that really mean?
Becoming a publicly traded company means you offer shares on a publicly traded market like the New York Stock Exchange. Companies who go public often do so to raise funds, increase liquidity of its assets, and gain clout.
However there are many things to consider before undertaking an IPO. Once public, a company has to make a lot of its information public such as financial reports, customers, and suppliers. In addition, you lose some flexibility and power with IPOs as well.
Equity financing has distinct advantages and drawbacks that are worth considering, especially when it comes to VC funding. VC funding has worked wonders for some e-commerce companies like Warby Parker ,Dollar Shave Club, and Glossier. Being backed by trusted firms like Sequoia is essentially like getting a seal of approval that giants in the space believe in what you’re doing and will (quite literally) put money on it.
Because VC is typically about funding big, risky technology bets like new AI capabilities, it’s expensive capital that puts heavy pressure on rapid growth (we’re talking 10X growth and upwards). Investors will be looking for you to head in the direction toward an exit in order to create returns for them, regardless of the direction you’d like to go.
Since there is more risk associated with their investment, VC funds are designed to take an ownership stake in the ballpark of 10% to 30%, which can add up over multiple rounds of VC funding. These are fairly sizable ownership stakes since the business model is unproven, and therefore will have a louder voice when it comes to making big business decisions.
Debt financing involves taking on debt as a way to generate revenue for your business. In most cases, you’ll likely need to pay interest on the loan over time. There are many forms of of debt financing, including:
Credit cards work in a similar way to loans where you have a pool of money you can pull from anytime, with varying interest rates. Depending on your location and banking options, you’ll want to shop around for the type of card and terms that work best for you and your business.
With business credit cards, however, you can have access to many perks and rewards, like airport lounge access or cash back incentive.
There are many types of business loans available to help launch and grow your business, and there are also area-specific small business loans. Some examples include:
Pretty much all major banks will have a variety of loans for all business sizes, all with varying repayment terms including interest and fees. You definitely want to shop around for the repayment terms that work best for you. Regardless of the loan, the requirements are usually pretty standard.
Lenders will want to know about your previous credit, so they’ll look at your business credit history, or even your personal credit score if your business hasn’t been around that long. They might also look at things like your business cash flow and other financials. In some cases, lenders will also want to see your hard assets, like equipment. This is typically the case to qualify for loans with lower rates and fees.
When you decide on a business loan, keep in mind there are different methods. For example, repayment based on cash flow means you pay back the loan based on cash payments.
An advantage of debt financing is that expenses like principal and interest payments are often classified as tax-deductible business expenses. Plus, you don’t have to give up any ownership in order to acquire debt financing.
The biggest drawback is that these loans must be paid back, even if the business fails. Additionally, there’s usually a high rate of interest, and some loans may require collateral in exchange for the funding. If your business doesn’t generate revenue fast enough to start making payments, it might result in defaulting on the loan and impacting your credit rating, which can have a long term knock-off effect.
There’s a new funding model on the block and it’s becoming an increasingly popular option among DTC and e-commerce businesses that struggle to acquire other forms of funding.
Revenue-share models, like Clearbanc, typically use predictive models and machine learning methods to analyze a business and generate a series of investment offers based on their performance. Similar to a traditional merchant cash advance, Clearbanc’s funding offers are based on your future sales. Since the offers are based purely on the data, it tends to be a drastically less biased form of funding and much more accessible since it’s all done online or over the phone, no travel required.
Revenue-share democratizes capital by looking at business data, not on whether the founders know the right people or have the right academic credentials.
With revenue-share, you often won’t be asked to sign any risky personal guarantees and you won’t have to give up equity in your business. So you maintain full ownership and decision-making power for your business.
Because revenue-share is based on cold hard data, there is a chance that the emphasis on business priorities will tend to revolve around methods that generate immediate revenue. This can potentially hinder the achievement of longer term goals of the business if not managed carefully and strategically. So remember to always keep your long-term strategy hat on!
Raising capital is a big decision. Before starting the process, do comprehensive research into the pros and cons of raising capital. For most entrepreneurs, the raising process takes anywhere from 6 to 9 months.
A strong business plan is required for pitching to VCs. Essentially, you want your business plan to persuade investors to provide you with the capital you need to achieve the goals you’ve set out. This means you need to be convincing, yet concise.
Your business plan should at least include the following sections:
Your pitch deck is your secret weapon. It should be able to stand alone without a presentation, and its purpose is to share your vision with potential investors. Similar to your business plan, your pitch deck should be compelling, convincing, and concise.
There are many pitch deck templates available. Look to these for inspiration, but make sure to tailor it to your audience and personalize it with your company’s personality.
When pitching to a VC, you also want to make sure that their values are aligned with your goals. While it may feel like you have less bargaining power and just want access to capital, remember that you’re giving away ownership of a percentage of your company.
Identify individuals or firms that have experience with companies in your industry and stage, and make sure there’s a personal fit.
Be prepared. A VC pitch isn’t something you can - or should - figure out on the spot. Practice your pitch in front of your team, family members, or anyone else who can give you feedback. Test between different “hooks” to see what captures the most attention. Make sure you’re well-prepared for any questions that may arise.
This is your chance to make a good impression and secure funding. Keep calm and don’t forget everything you’ve practiced. Arrive early and be respectful to everyone you meet. When presenting, remember to communicate clearly and be open to questions.
If all goes well, you will receive a term sheet from the VC firm. Congratulations, this is already a huge achievement! A term sheet is a non-binding agreement that lists the terms and conditions of the investment. It usually includes the company valuation, investment amount, percentage of ownership, and other provisions.
Depending on the VC, there may or may not be room to negotiate, so a good rule of thumb is to practice the rule of 3: focus on the three most important issues. These issues can include the valuation of your company, your board of directors, the exclusivity period for other investors, etc.
When reviewing a term sheet, have a trusted advisor or experienced lawyer with you to make sure you don’t miss any important information.
If all goes well with the negotiations and with due diligence, you and your investors will sign the final contract. It may take weeks or months before you move from the term sheet to final contract stage.
Before starting the loan application process, determine what your goal is and exactly how much money you’ll need to achieve it. When applying, you want to make sure you’re not asking for too much or too little.
There are many loan options available and you have to do your research to determine what financing will best suit your business needs. A few of these options include:
Bankers and other lenders will evaluate your loan application based on the 5 Cs of lending: character, capacity, capital, conditions, and collateral. This includes a variety of factors including, but not limited to:
Different lenders will require different documents. Your bank and financial statements are the most important as they display how much you’re earning and how you’re spending your money. You’ll also likely need other documents including tax returns, proof of business registration, personal identification card, and your personal financial information.
Each financial institution will offer business loans with varying terms. To make sure you’re getting the best deal for your business, look at the fine print.
The interest rate is not the only factor you should take into consideration. Consider the loan terms, size, collateral, and repayment flexibility.
Once you meet all the requirements and can provide the proper documentation, you must meet with your banker to complete your loan application. Afterwards, it may take weeks or months to get approved.
Unlike traditional loans or venture capital, we don’t take equity, interest, or a personal guarantee. With Clearbanc, all you need to do is connect your relevant accounts to our online application, and our system will generate unique funding offers for your business within 24 hours.
Our sales team can answer any questions you may have about your funding offers, and they can help you decide which is the best for your current position. Your designated Investment Analyst will also show you our partners and welcome you to our founders community.
Once you qualify and accept an offer from Clearbanc, we can provide you with the growth capital you need to scale your business in just a few days. Plus, as your business expands, we can offer you more capital via topups.
So now that you’ve secured e-commerce funding, how can you use it to effectively grow your business? Here are four strategies and resources you can use to allocate your business funding and achieve your growth goals.
When growing your eCommerce business, having the right technology in place can help streamline your operations and save time. The best technology partners will vary depending on your product and your vertical but typically, successful eCommerce companies will have:
If you’re unsure where to start, think about your current tasks and figure out what can be automated. As a founder, your time is valuable and should be dedicated to growing your company.
There are plenty of tech options that can help your company scale. If you’re looking for the right partner, Clearbanc can help. We have a directory of tech partners that can provide you with the tools you need to get to the next level.
If you need help acquiring more customers, improving your landing page, optimizing your paid advertising, or just boosting your overall marketing strategy, you may want to look into working with an agency.
As a founder, don’t get the impression that you have to be an expert in every part of your company. You’ll likely get better results hiring an employee or partnering with an agency to help you achieve your marketing goals, if it isn’t your expertise.
So what should you be looking for when selecting the right agency? Consider the following questions:
At Clearbanc, we have a network of agency partners that can help you achieve your marketing goals. Click here to get in contact with our partner matchmaker and find the right agency to help you with anything from paid Facebook ads to UX design.
When running an eCommerce brand, you need to make sure that consumers know about your product, entice them to complete their purchase, and ultimately, become loyal customers.
While there are brands that have successfully grown organically, investing in paid advertising can get you to the next level. Some of the effective marketing strategies eCommerce brands have been using include:
These are just a few of the opportunities in the digital commerce space, and success is dependent on your target market and your execution.
If you need growth capital to invest in these marketing strategies, Clearbanc provides data-driven funding for eCommerce companies, without requiring a credit check, personal guarantee, or interest. Click here to learn more.
Inventory management is essential for any product-based business. While too much inventory can add unnecessary holding expenses to your business, there’s also the risk of not carrying enough product. If you don’t maintain an adequate level of inventory, you may lose out on potential customers and revenue.
As a business, you should be able to provide customers with the product they want, when they want it. Strong inventory management means having enough product on hand.
We identified a clear gap in our customers' needs to buy inventory at scale and a lack of financial products available to service companies of their size. Now, we’ll purchase inventory on your behalf and be paid back once your product sells. Click here to learn more.
In just six months after partnering with Clearbanc, Haus, the first D2C company in the liquor space, grew 5X and experienced a 2.5X increase in return on ad spend. Now, they have the capital for paid ads and can reach new audiences.
Read more: HAUS + CLEARBANC | Case Study
Vanity Planet faced unexpected demand as more consumers looked to bring the spa experience to their home. After reviewing their options, they chose Clearbanc for their easy application process. In just the first month of partnering with Clearbanc, Vanity Planet saw revenues grow by 98%.
Read more: VANITY-PLANET + CLEARBANC | Case Study
Willful is an online estate planning tool that makes it easier to create a will without going to a lawyer. They faced a problem: they needed to educate people about the uncomfortable yet important topic of estate planning. They used their growth capital to power paid ads and partner with influencers, resulting in 300X sales growth in their first year.
Ace Marks founder Paul had a mission to change the shoe industry and he knew that in order to scale, he needed business funding to grow their customer base. They used their growth capital to partner with a digital agency, MuteSix, and built a successful ad strategy, growing their revenue by 218%.
Read more: ACE-MARKS + CLEARBANC | Case Study
BisouLovely creates ethereal jewelry for the modern starchild. After seeing tremendous growth following their features in Vogue and Vanity Fair, they looked for funding alternatives to keep up the momentum. For the first time, they have free cash flow for paid ad campaigns and have grown their team.