What questions should an investor be asking before investing in a company?

By Chantelle Arneaud, Envestors

When the opportunity to invest in a company is presented, the onus is on the investor to know what to ask. And that can be hard for those new to investing. Here are a few top tips on due diligence:

Exactly who owns the Intellectual Property (IP)?

The question of ownership is a vital one. Assume nothing. Start by checking what IP there is and who owns it. It should be the business. It should not be a director and definitely not a third-party. It does not need to be a deal breaker when it is an innocent mistake. But if they are not willing to change this, think very, very carefully about handing over your money.

Another detail to explore is ownership structures where you are dealing with group companies. What looks like a solid opportunity quickly unravels when you learn that the company offering you equity for your hard-earned cash does not own the IP. Sometimes it is a topco (which you are not investing into), sometimes it is another company all together.

Who is working for the business and why?

Some investors raise an eyebrow when they learn that a family member is working for the business. There may be a good reason for this, but there may not. Make sure all directors have the right skill set for their role and that their salary is in line with market norms for the sector and business stage. If you find a case where there is a really good reason to have a husband and wife founding team, make sure there is a chair or independent non-exec on board to act as arbitrator should issues ever arise.

Ensure there are solid contracts of employment for key personnel with sufficient non-compete and good/bad leaver clauses. This minor detail is an important one as you want to ensure a co-founder does not slink away and re-emerge as the founder of a very similar business.

If that all looks good, make sure that no director has any conflict of interest with any supplier or customer. You want to ensure they do not also own a company which happens to be a vendor to the business.

Are there any unresolved disputes or lawsuits?

The last thing you want is to get blindsided by a dispute with a vendor, employee, customer or, more frighteningly, HMRC that means the company runs out of cash. So, you need to ask about open disputes. Check there are no significant outstanding invoices or purchase disputes that might put the cash flow situation at risk.

Who is keeping an eye on cash flow?

Few relish the idea of investing into a business that needs a cash injection to sustain itself as opposed to driving growth. But many companies fundraise for this reason and so make sure you really understand the motivation behind the raise. Scrutinise the balance sheet and ensure there will be enough cash in the bank to keep going – before the investment comes in and after.

A central part of this process involves giving yourself confidence in their accounting by making sure they have a qualified accountant.

Has all the necessary paperwork been done correctly?

Fundraising in the UK involves many complicated processes – from applying to the Seed/Enterprise Investment Scheme (S/EIS) to preparing the investment agreement. While there are tools on the market to help with things like legals and EIS application, be wary of inexperienced founders who have done a DIY job and not worked with a professional. You want to ensure that the company has dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s before you commit.

What is the exit?

You also want to ensure that the business will exit. Make sure there is a long-term plan for exit and that the founders have the appetite and determination to get you a return. You do not want a no-longer-ambitious CEO who is a little too fond of flying first class to meetings and conferences and shows no sign of driving for exit and return.

So, when it comes to early-stage investing, the devil really is in the detail. All of Envestors’ companies go through the same readiness process. This alerts entrepreneurs to any potential investor red flags prior to going to market, and investors get standardised information supplemented with due diligence flags that indicate areas for further exploration as part of any investment decision. This process, of course, does not take away risk, but it goes a very long way towards minimising it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chantelle Arneaud is from Envestors.Envestors’ digital investment platform brings together entrepreneurs and investors across geographies, communities and sectors – creating the single marketplace for early-stage investment in the UK.

Envestors partners with accelerators, incubators and angel networks to provide a white-label platform empowering them to promote deals, engage investors and connect to other networks.

Founded in 2004, Envestors has helped more than 200 high growth businesses raise more than £100m through its own private investment club.

Envestors is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Web: https://www.envestors.co.uk/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/envestors-llp/

Twitter: @EnvestorsLondon

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