When you have successfully pitched to a VC, the next step is due diligence.
“Generally, due diligence refers to the care a reasonable person should take before entering into an agreement or a transaction with another party.”
For the hackers amongst you, due diligence is similar to code review, but for companies:
Most deals, M&A as well as investment deals, are done on the basis of several different types of due diligence:
– Commercial: looks at business environment of the company
– Financial: is concerned with the financial forecasts of the company
– Technical: looks at the technology of the company
– Accounting: looks at the accounts (or the financial ‘past’ in other words)
– Legal: looks at legal agreements and legal risks
In a VC deal, the investor would usually conduct the due diligence in the order that I have outlined above. When you are entering due diligence, the VC will clarify who will work on the deal. This is usually a partner who is supported by an Associate.
In a first step, the VC will talk to existing or potential customers, as well as industry specialists about your company to confirm that the company has a strong commercial position. In the vast number of circumstances, a VC will not hire an investment bank to help with the financial due diligence, but she will look at the numbers herself. There will be a lot of questions regarding the business model and the financial forecasts that you will have to be able to answer. Depending on the technical background of the VC, she would either conduct technical due diligence herself, or, more frequently, she would ask an expert in the field (e.g. a professor) to take a look. There will be various requests for documentation from the VC and the technical expert throughout the due diligence process.
Once the VC is really happy with the commercial and financial prospects as well as the technical underpinning of the company, the next step is Full Partner Presentation and if that works well, a term sheet.
It is only after you have signed an exclusive term sheet that the VC will start to conduct accounting and legal due diligence. The reason for this is simply that these two steps are very cost intensive. The VC wants to have the knowledge that they are very close to doing a deal before incurring these expenses. Also, a term sheet has one binding aspect: you, the start-up company, will have to pay the costs of the due diligence when the deal completes. You may not necessarily have to pay the costs of the due diligence when the deals does not complete, but that depends on how well you negotiate the term sheet. To be clear: you will almost always have to pay the VC’s due diligence cost, if the deal completes. Should the deal not complete, then as a minimum, you obviously have to pay your own expenses, but you still may have to pay the VC’s costs, too, even when they end up not investing, unless you have managed to negotiate that part of it away.
Due diligence pre Full Partner Presentation usually takes some 8-12 weeks. During this period of type, you will have some very extensive contact with the VC firm and will be talking to them on a very regular basis (say 2-3 times a week). There may be several meetings with various people to discuss various aspects of the company and the deal.
Overall, this phase is there to solidify the original impression of the parter that this is an interesting deal. The partner is trying to poke holes in your story. It is your job not to let that happen. For you as a founder/manager, this is a great opportunity to get to know the people at the VC firm and understand whether you think you can work with them going forward.
As a side note: I strongly suggest that you use the time during which the VC does due diligence on you to do due diligence on the VC. By far the best way to do this is to talk to current and past CEOs who have taken money from the VC firm. You want to understand how the individuals at the VC firm reacted when the going got rough at a company. Were they supportive or did they just fire the management and put somebody else in? Or when a company received an offer to get acquired for only 2x money invested, how did the VC react? There are many questions like this that will clarify whether the partner and the VC firm in general seem like a good fit.
I suggest you do this when you are in due diligence, as you will have little time to do this in the next phases which are Full Partner Presentation and Term Sheet.