Rhiannon Monks at Travltalk Discusses Identifying Relevant Investors to Pursue
We talked with Rhiannon Monks, Founder and CEO of Travltalk about her current fundraising goals, obstacles and what all Labs Members should keep in mind.
Tell us about your recent funding round. How much did you raise?
We are currently in live conversations around our Series A raise, seeking out £500k - £1million prior to the end of 2019.
How long did it take you to raise your round?
In the last 2 years, I have raised £600k as a sole founder, £80k pre seed from May 2017 - September 2018, £150k SEIS and a further £400k coming in between January - September this year, bringing us to our current Series A raise.
How did you identify the investors you wanted to pursue for this round?
Since founding Travltalk I have done my best to get involved in different startup communities, in the rare moments of free time I have outside of my role as CEO and CTO of Travltalk. The current investors I am speaking to have come via different warms introductions, either in the mobile space, via WeWork Labs, through LinkedIn connections and also through my previous industry connections. Basically I follow as many warm introductions as possible, but also look for strategic and like minded people I come across, who are interested in Sustainable Investment and supporting female founders, and not just maximizing returns at the expense of social responsibility and ethics.
What steps did you take to prepare your company for funding?
Putting in place the right accountants, lawyers and most importantly full time team has been key as a sole founder, given it is impossible past a certain point of growth to do everything yourself.
We also took the time to in house our tech, not only to prove that we had all the intelligence needed to run Travltalk in house, but to ensure our monthly fixed operating costs remained manageable and did not put the future of our company in to the hands of third party suppliers.
Further from the outset I ensured our user data was tracked in line with best practice and invested early in to analytics so investors could see our performance in real time, as well as validate that we were compliant with GDPR.
What surprised you most about the fundraising process or what did you feel least prepared for?
Just the reaction women get from investors. I am dismissed far too often because people seem to not believe I have built out from scratch as a sole founder what I have and to such a high calibre based on industry comparisons. In a way I started to get down about the fact the main difference between investors and myself is simply they were born rich. If I feel like investors use money to validate their importance I lose interest. Travltalk exists because I believe everyone should have access to travel and meet other cultures, regardless of their personal wealth or where they were born. To take money from an investor that chooses to point out weaknesses simply because they have money, rather than acknowledge the hard work and achievement in front of them is the worst part about raising money. But I have discovered there are good people out there, that share a vision of sustainable startups, that respect their users and consider delivering a great experience as important as maximizing profits.
What’s one thing you feel you did really well during the fundraising process?
I never gave up, and I also stayed true to my instincts. I avoided people I thought would damage our culture and vision, and I also kept expanding, rather than keeping money back for salaries, when indeed it would have been better for me, I kept my sights on our end goals, and the idea once we closed our larger round, this would all be worth it!
Looking back, what do you wish you’d done differently or better?
I would have asked more advice from my current investors when I initially went out seeking Series A - and not mentioned a valuation - although my business modeling backed it up, it came across presumptuous. And also been a bit less trusting, it’s hard, you have to trust people and you are looking for an investment partner, so you want to remain open minded, but sometimes as a first time founder it is better to only share information with those you trust, or at least people that are happy to write things down over email, because there is very little protection for startups out there and investors will not sign NDAs. I also wish I did get out a bit more and network, I often worked 16 hours a day, but perhaps if I’d been out networking a few months sooner, it would have been time better spent than purely developing my app or business.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to Labs members about fundraising based on your experience?
If you are a female founder, who runs the tech, but chose to outsource the development - stay close to your tech, and ask for weekly documentation on blockers / challenges rather than only validating new output, so both sides remain 100% accountable for work produced. It’s still tough out there for women in tech.
But above all - don’t lose sight of your vision and involve as many people as possible in it, but also don’t give away sensitive information to people outside your immediate team. Don’t say what you think the investors want to hear, explain what is important to you, as investors do hear the same pitch everyday, but I’ve been told it’s my passion for travel and the technology that hooks people in and I am most happy when talking from the heart about the impact we can have on our travel audience and the wider world, not just the ROI. They say investors don’t want to hear you say you want to ‘make the world a better place’, but I do think this is a great motivation, providing you can illustrate a healthy ROI based upon significant investment.