Raising capital can be challenging under any circumstances – but if you are planning to expand internationally and spend that money outside the U.S., it is doubly so.
Why? Many investors are so focused on the U.S. that they aren’t interested in international opportunities. Others are just not educated on overseas markets. Still others think “international” and only see risk.
While our company, Telly, is based in San Francisco, our revenue stream is primarily from overseas. Yet last year we successfully raised a multimillion-dollar second institutional funding round from some top-tier U.S. venture firms. Here’s what we learned.
Target firms that are savvy about international plays
There are certain venture capital firms and angels who are more excited about international opportunities than others.
Lumia Capital tends to take a global view, as does Formation 8. Research firms to see who already understands your space and has a track record of investing in overseas expansion.
It helps if you already have strong footing in the U.S.
Investing in an already-strong U.S. business is much less risky than investing in a no-name company with big eyes for international expansion.
In our case, we had millions of U.S. customers when we went into fundraising mode. Had we tried to do it sooner, we probably would not have succeeded. Launching cold, without a strong U.S. operation? Then our first piece of advice is especially important.
Raise from U.S. firms first, & take advantage of their knowledge & connections
We raised from Silicon Valley firms DFJ, Azure Capital, and Lumia Capital, and then gave overseas firms the chance to get in on the round.
The advice and introductions we received from our U.S. investors were invaluable as we expanded our fundraising efforts.
This approach had the added benefit of establishing a more founder-friendly, higher valuation (we found that overseas investors were more price sensitive but would readily accept valuations already established by well-known U.S. firms).
But be sure to work overseas investors into the mix
Their local connections will be extremely valuable as you expand.
Our investors in Dubai helped guide us through many facets of our expansion, including pointing us in the right direction for setting up an entity in a tax-free zone and introducing us to potential partners.
Don’t limit yourself only to VC firms overseas
If you’re trying to raise money from overseas — and especially from the Middle East or Asia — get familiar with the term Family Office, which describes private companies or money managers that manage investments and trusts for very wealthy families.
They operate in a similar manner to U.S. VC firms, and sometimes at the same investment levels. Ignore this sector at your peril: In some markets, they comprise the majority of private investments. Personal introductions are key; lean on your U.S. VC firms to introduce you to the right ones.
Mo Al Adham and Mohammad El Saadi are cofounders of Telly.