This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
“I’m terrified. I have no clue what I’m doing.” When you’re trying to build an exciting business you would think the description would be a little different but my friend continued. “I have a great idea for a business and I know it will work. I just need $300,000 to make it happen. I want to ask my family and friends for money but I don’t know how. How does it work? Is it a good idea? What if I let them down?”
Starting a business is extremely difficult and like any business, it requires capital. We often read stories about people raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists but most people don’t have access or the means to raise money from a VC. For the vast majority of people, money is raised from banks, from personal savings, and from family and friends. So it’s no wonder my friend was terrified. There’s an emotional tax associated with a capital raise from close relatives. It’s the feeling of losing dollars and trust from your strongest supporters.
Nonetheless, the thought of losing family money shouldn’t prevent you from doing so. So what do you need to know if you want to raise money from family and friends? What are the important things to think about? Here are a few points to consider:
They know all about risk and reward, right? My friend heard about my new business and asked me if he could invest. I said no to him three different times and on three separate occasions. On the fourth time he said something that stuck with me and I ultimately changed my mind. He said, “I’ve invested before and I’m not afraid to lose this money.” Good point, friend. If you’re talking to friends and family that can afford to invest, it’s likely they understand the concept of risk and reward. After all, that’s probably why they can afford to invest some of their money in the first place.
Give fair and favorable terms. Taking money from close friends and family may typically happen in the very early stages of a company. The earlier a venture the riskier it is. If you have a friend or family member that wants to help you get off the ground you should consider giving them favorable terms on their investment. You can make them a larger equity holder. Or perhaps you give them favorable interest rates on a loan they give you. As long as you’re having an honest conversation with them, you can figure out a fair deal structure. Which brings me to my next point.
Be honest. If you’re involved in financial transactions with close friends, it’s extremely important that you are brutally honest and transparent. Sure, you’ll discuss things like terms of the investment and how the business will grow and make money. It’s also important however to talk about expectations. The last thing you want to do is build your business at the expense of a trusted relationship.
Diversify your investment base. When you’re making fundraising rounds with friends and family you may have the opportunity to take money from more then one person. If you do this, you’ll diversify your investment base. You’ll be able to provide some risk protection for your investors even though you’ll be limiting their upside potential. Less money in means less money out. On the other hand, having more investors means managing expectations and communications among more stakeholders. This can get very time-consuming especially when you are trying to run a business. But hey, there is a reason you often hear the word “diversification” when it comes to money management.
Social Proof. Would you invest in a company or entrepreneur that couldn’t raise a single dollar? Probably not. Raising money from your friends and family is a decent indicator that you can successfully convince someone to believe and invest in you. Even if it’s from your parents or your best friend. It sets a baseline precedent that you are capable and trustworthy of managing capital and this is very important for more meaningful capital raises and conversations later on.
Today, there are new technologies that make it easier than ever to raise money. These are crowd-funding platforms that facilitate investments among large networks of individuals. However, it’s often easiest and perhaps most problematic to mix funding with family. If you go down that path, make sure you are thinking about some of the implications. You might all become rich but you also might shake up a relationship or two and that might make for an awkward family dinner.
Have you ever taken an investment from a close friend or family member? Have you ever invested in one? What advice would you give?
Dan Reich is a tech entrepreneur and engineer. He has founded and sold multiple companies, the most recent of which was acquired by Buddy Media, which in turn was acquired by Salesforce. Follow him on Twitter at @DanReich.