After Friends and Family, Where Do I Get Growth Capital?
By: Quinton Jay
Like most entrepreneurs, founders and owners of smaller craft breweries and distilleries often find themselves having to wear many hats. You need to be aware of your internal operations and external logistical factors in your business’s supply chain, as well as understand how to best market and sell your brand’s products.
Arguably one of the most important hats you will have to wear that is not obvious is the one that reads “finance.” Without having a finger on the pulse of your business’s finances, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable failure. Running out of cash is the number 1 killer of businesses within the first two years.
When your finances start leaning towards the red, or you know your business requires an additional injection of capital to grow successfully, it can be easy to feel frustrated and discouraged. But this is simply another part of business; you can’t expect to reap the benefits without having to face and overcome the hurdles and challenges you’re bound to encounter.
If you — like many other small business owners — were able to obtain at least a portion of your original capital through friends, family, or other investors, this may not be a possibility further down the road. This is where that “finance” hat comes into play once more. In order to emerge from uncertainty with a brewery or distillery that is ready to continue growing, you as a founder or owner are required to find alternative means of raising funds, especially if your overarching aim or goal is to land an eventual, profitable exit. But where do you start?
Here are some ways that you can use as means of obtaining additional growth capital for your small brewery or distillery business when reaching back out to friends and family is no longer an option.
Understand the Realm of Private Equity Investments
As the Managing Director of Bacchus Consulting Group and its capital management fund, I have more than twenty years of experience managing, consulting for, and investing in more than a handful of small, independently-owned brewery and distillery businesses. I have helped dozens of businesses in the industry understand their options when it comes to raising growth capital through VC investments, the separate stages of fundraising, and the impact that each fundraising option has on those businesses.
Private Equity Funding
When the time comes to look into raising growth capital for your small brewery or distillery business, the most prominent option you will run into is private equity (PE). To put it simply, PE involves investing in companies using capital that has been sourced from individual or institutional investors, as opposed to investing in companies using capital sourced from public equity markets like the NASDAQ or New York Stock Exchange.
For the sake of insight, the general thesis of any PE investment is three-fold. A PE investment is made to: firstly, purchase a company (or portion of a company) using significant leverage and a minimal amount of equity; secondly, utilize the industry expertise and synergies of the PE investor(s) in order to maximize the growth and efficiency of the acquisition or investment made, and; thirdly, to sell that acquisition in an approximate period of 3-7 years based on the company’s improved metrics and lowered levels of debt.
A common misconception with PE funding is that giving away equity in return for capital is “free,” but this could not be further from the truth. Selling equity for capital is simply a means of delaying payment. With PE funding, there’s no true cap on what you can give away in return for the growth capital you want or need. If you believe in your business, you’re better off acquiring debt rather than selling a portion of your equity. When you give away equity, you’re giving away infinite returns in perpetuity.
Alternative Lenders (Non-Bank Financing)
Some sources of alternative financing include:
● Merchant Cash Advances (e.g., Quickbooks capital, Shopify capital, AMEX Merchant Finance, etc.);
● 2nd Lien Lenders (similar to a 2nd lien on a home mortgage) and;
● Unitraunche Lenders: a hybrid lending model that combines multiple different loans — sometimes from multiple lending parties — into one, with a blended interest rate that tends to average those of the lowest and highest rates of the individual loans lent.
As their name states, these are each an alternative form of financing available for businesses looking for access to growth capital. However, these forms of financing for businesses tend to be riskier on the part of the lender, hence why they charge more for these sources of growth capital.
Traditional Lenders (Bank Financing)
Financing for growth capital through bank loans is another available option for small businesses. This avenue tends to come with lower interest rates than most sources of alternative financing but is usually much more difficult to acquire.
Financing can also be done through debt, rather than its equity, but again: if your small brewery or distillery business is already deep in debt, it may not be the most beneficial option available to you. Although, when acquiring bank debt, or any debt instrument (as opposed to equity via PE financing), there’s always a cap on how much you can pay for the use of those funds received.
Finding the Right Investor for Your Brewery or Distillery Business
Regardless of which financing option you choose to go with when searching for additional growth capital, the most important factor to keep in mind is to find the specific investor, fund, or lending institution that compliments your business and its goals. If your aim is to grow your brewery or distillery into a business that can be acquired by a larger parent company in a multi-million dollar deal, then PE financing is likely your best option. Similarly, if your business has a higher amount of debt, finding an investor that can provide you with acceptable terms for a second lien may be the avenue you wish to pursue.
Whatever type of growth capital investment you wish to see for your business, be sure to ask yourself questions regarding the synergies your investor has with your business. Some examples of these might include:
● Does this investor have good chemistry with me and my core leadership team?
● Does the investor have a willingness to help and mentor me and my team on how to best successfully grow our business in line with our goals?
● Does this investor believe in me, my team, and our ideas for our business?
● Do they have relevant experience and connections we can utilize for additional investment opportunities now and/or in the future?
● Does this investor have the domain and expertise — along with the capital — necessary to help carry our business forward through periods of growth we want to achieve?
If your answer to any one of these questions falls into the realm of anything other than “yes,” then chances are high that they are not the right investor to bestow you and your business with growth capital. Additionally, if you or your core team are not ready or willing to accept mentorship from an investor, then don’t waste their time (or yours) trying to receive an injection of capital for growth solely for the sake of having more cash to fuel your business’s runway. Too many businesses — even smaller breweries and distilleries — land themselves in hot water this way. Don’t become one of them.
Showing What Investors Want to See in Your Business
Before any investor, fund, or firm will agree to make an investment of growth capital in your business, they are going to scrutinize your business from every perceivable angle. Throughout their vetting process, you can (and should) expect any potential investor to analyze no less than the following aspects of your company:
● Business Model: How does your brewery or distillery make money? What are your key business metrics such as revenue and gross margin, operating profit, and EBITDA? Is your current model scalable or does it need to be reworked if your business wishes to continue growing?
● The Team: Does your business’s core team (including you) possess the knowledge, skills, and ability to carry the company through periods of growth? If not, which employee(s) need to be let go and replaced? Is the team able to collectively address and resolve issues?
● Structure and Governance: How is your company structured and led? Is there transparency and accountability across its departments? Does your business have a succession and/or key man insurance plan in place? If so, what does it look like?
● Exit Plan: Does your company have an exit strategy in place? If not, then why not? If so, what does this plan look like, and is it reasonably sound?
All of these factors will play a vital role in your business’s ability to land growth capital. From my own experience as an investor/financier, I am looking for specific reasons not to invest in or finance a company; anyone can fall in love with thier own deals and each deal must stand on its own merits. This means that you, as the founder or owner of your business, will need to know both your company and its market viability inside and out if you wish to gain an investment of capital necessary to grow it in a way that meets your goals.
If you are able to show investors and financiers that you are credible and trustworthy, that your business has shown the capacity to make sales of quality products and grow from its revenue and profits to date, and that it has the potential to continue growing in its existing market or into new markets, then your chances of landing an investment of capital required for growth are much higher.