What is Pre Seed Funding and How Do you Raise It?

8 min read
What Is Pre-seed Funding? How to Raise a Pre-seed Round

Finding adequate funding is one of the biggest challenges many entrepreneurs face in the course of building their businesses. Lack of resources is an even more glaring issue at the very early stages of the startup journey — you have a fantastic idea, the perfect team, and you’ve done your homework, but you need someone to take a chance on you before you can get the ball rolling. That’s where pre-seed funding comes into play.

Pre-seed funding is the very earliest type of funding a business can receive (besides bootstrapping). Pre-seed funding occurs even before seed funding, which occurs before series A, B, etc. 

The purpose of pre-seed funding is to provide startup founders with the resources to begin developing their ideas. When a founder comes to an investor seeking pre-seed funding, they usually have little more than a concept, a team, some research, and perhaps a prototype.

What’s the Difference Between Pre-seed and Seed Funding?

At first glance, the distinction between pre-seed funding and seed funding may sound insignificant. However, they are actually very different stages of the fundraising process that each require their own unique approach.

Timing

Obviously, pre-seed funding comes before seed funding. But more specifically, pre-seed funding usually happens before product development begins while the startup is still just a promising business idea. Most investors want to see some kind of proof of traction before they’ll invest in a seed round.

Funding Amount

The amount of capital invested at the pre-seed stage is usually much lower than at the seed stage. A successful pre-seed round may generate a few hundred thousand dollars, whereas it’s not unusual for successful seed funding rounds to raise several millions of dollars.

Investor Risk

A pre-seed round is a much riskier investment than a seed round since investors are betting their money on a totally unproven business idea rather than a young company showing signs of early traction. This can make it tricky for founders to persuade investors to provide pre-seed funding — luckily, pre-seed rounds are starting to become more commonplace, whereas little more than a decade ago they were very much the exception.

When Is the Right Time To Raise Pre-seed Funding?

There is no definitive perfect time to begin seeking a pre-seed funding round. It depends heavily on your startup’s unique circumstances and what you need from investors at the pre-seed stage. Some indicators that you might be ready to pursue pre-seed funding include:

You Have a Pitch Deck

Since your startup hasn’t grown much further beyond an idea at this point, your pitch deck is one of your most important tools for winning over pre-seed investors. Your pitch deck should help you clearly articulate the idea behind your startup — most importantly: what problem it solves, how it does so, and for whom — and provide a concise breakdown of your market research and financial projections thus far. It should also contain an overview of your team and the history of your startup (however short it might yet be).

You Have a Prototype

Even if you haven’t launched or have a minimum viable product yet, being able to show investors a working prototype is a huge advantage at the pre-seed stage. It doesn’t need to be a finished product at this point — just enough to demonstrate key features and capabilities. Depending on the type of product you’re proposing, some investors may not even need to see a prototype at all at the pre-seed stage. If it’s not practical to build something yet, try to have at least a blueprint or detailed design of some kind ready for your pre-seed pitch.

You Have a Strong Team 

Many investors would rather bet on a fully assembled core team than a lone founder — no matter how promising their idea might be. Showing pre-seed investors that your startup has the right talent on board to actually build the product and put the business plan directly into action can go a long way toward persuading them to invest.

You Have Evidence of Early Interest

If you have any positive reviews from early supporters, highlight them in your pitch to pre-seed investors. Though you likely haven’t yet built up a significant customer base, you can use any initial enthusiasm for your product to your advantage — even if it’s just a vote of confidence from a friend or family member who has tried your prototype for free and benefited from it.

You’ve Created a Revenue Model 

Investors like to see hard evidence of growth potential in the form of numbers — but since you don’t have those numbers yet at the pre-seed stage, the next best thing you can provide is projections. Coming to a pre-seed funding pitch prepared with an ambitious yet realistic revenue model is a great way to tip the scales in your favor.

How to Find Pre-seed Investors

There are generally fewer sources of capital available to founders at the pre-seed stage than at later stages due to the inherent risks of pre-seed investments. This makes it especially important to know where to look for investors during the pre-seed stage.

Research Investors Who Have Invested in Startups Similar to Yours

The best way to do this is with tools like Crunchbase or AngelList. Make sure you specifically search for pre-seed investors, because many formal investors like VC firms are not interested in providing money at the pre-seed stage.

Know What You’re Looking For

Just because a prospect may have the ability to invest doesn’t mean they’re the right fit. It’s important to find a pre-seed investor who’s in sync with your startup’s goals and values. When you’re evaluating investors, you should consider factors like their level of experience, their professional background, and what industry or industries they normally invest in.

Types of Pre-seed Investors

Here are a few of the most likely sources of pre-seed funding for most startups:

Angel Investors

Angel investors are some of the most popular sources of initial capital for startups. These investors are generally wealthy individuals who use their money to help startups in which they personally believe get off the ground. Angel investors are usually comfortable with accepting the big risks that come with pre-seed investment for the chance of getting a slice of a success story.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a newer form of pre-seed funding that has gained enormous popularity over the past couple of decades or so. Using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, or many others, founders can publicly present their business ideas and accept donations from individual users who want to see them realized — often in exchange for incentives like early access to the product, extra features, additional merchandise, or just about anything else the founders can think of.

Startup Accelerators

Startup accelerators are another source of pre-seed capital for founders. Accelerators like Y Combinator offer significant monetary investments in addition to other valuable benefits like connections and mentorship. However, acceptance into these programs can be extremely competitive.

Pre-seed Venture Capital Firms

Pre-seed VC firms are venture capital firms that specialize in funding very early-stage startups. Most VC firms aren’t interested in investing until the seed round or later, but pre-seed VC firms cater to founders who are still in the pre-seed stage. They usually offer larger investments than angel investors but also have a longer, more complicated decision-making process.

Friends and Family

Friends and family are some of the most common initial sources of funding for founders. Reaching out to your personal support network is a great way to get started and take stock of what resources you have available to you up front.

How to Use Pre-seed Funding

There’s not one right way to use pre-seed funding. The purpose of a pre-seed investment is to help a business bridge the gap between idea and reality, so the best use of the money depends on what your business needs to get started. Here are a few of the most common ways startups use pre-seed funding:

Setting Up Infrastructure

There are numerous initial expenditures required to get a business up and running, including establishing a legal entity, acquiring office space and equipment, licensing software, and more. These up front costs of building a startup are a perfect use for pre-seed investment funds.

Building the Product

By the time your business receives a pre-seed investment, you may or may not already have a minimum viable product ready. It’s good to create a prototype as soon as possible, but if your product is more complex and expensive to produce, pre-seed funding can provide the means to finalize the designs and actually build a working product for the first time.

Producing Marketing Materials

At the pre-seed stage, your customer base is either very small or nonexistent. Pre-seed money can fund the first round of sales and marketing materials that will help you get your product in front of your target audience and gain a foothold in the market. Pre-seed investors don’t necessarily need to see traction, but it will become much more important in later stages, so many startups use their pre-seed funding to establish that pivotal initial traction that will pave the road to further investments.

Hiring Key Roles 

A strong founding team is important from the very start, but there may still be important team members left to hire after you’ve accepted a pre-seed investment. For example, a non-technical founding team might use pre-seed money to hire someone with the technical know-how to help them build their idea for real — conversely, a technical team with little business experience might use pre-seed money to hire someone with a marketing background to help them establish a customer base.

Navigating the Pre-seed Stage

The pre-seed funding stage is often misunderstood and sometimes overlooked altogether — but the right pre-seed investor is often what launches a great idea into a successful business with real customers.

The earliest stages of the fundraising process are often the hardest, especially for first-time founders. If you’re having trouble navigating any part of the pre-seed stage, like validating your business idea, assembling a team, or building a pitch deck, consider partnering with a mentor to give yourself an extra advantage.

Get 1:1 advice from experienced founders

Itay Forer

Itay Forer

Co-Founder - Cleanly
Y Combinator Alum

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Itay Forer is the co-founder of Cleanly, an on-demand laundry & dry cleaning service backed by YCombinator (W15), Initialized Capital, Soma Capital, Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail), and NFL legend Joe Montana. He is a serial entrepreneur, board member, mentor/coach, and active angel investor who has built a startup from the ground up to a 400+ person workforce. Specializes in PMF and scaling companies from 0 to 10. As a mentor, he has helped over 200 founders realize their full potential.

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Davis Clute

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Ben Katz

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Ben Katz is a serial entrepreneur in the consumer internet space based in Los Angeles. He founded a leading online bank called CARD.com, and currently runs the online leader in hair loss medicine, HappyHead.com. He earned his BS and MBA from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania. Ben's specialties include data-driven marketing, discovering product-market-fit, and business development.

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