Advice for heading into a Series A raise? Know your business, rally your network, gain your confidence, and prepare for a more emotional process than you expect.
We asked Marjorie about her journey in a rapidly scaling FinTech startup and her lessons learned from raising capital.
Investment Associate, Accelerate Fund
|Before Helcim you were in oil and gas finance leadership and operations. What made you decide to make a career switch to technology?|
CFO of Helcim
|Born and raised in Calgary, and coming out of the University of Calgary, energy seemed like the obvious path for me. I joined a company called Canadian Natural, a multinational oil and gas producer that’s also publicly traded. I was lucky enough to be part of the treasury team, a very small team within a big company, and gained a lot of visibility and exposure to leadership, the opportunity to try different things and get really great experience.|
It was a really difficult choice to make the switch as I loved my team and mentors. But in a big company, it is harder to move around and it does take longer for your career to develop. That always made me curious and open to other opportunities. I’ve known Nic, the founder and CEO of Helcim for many years. I loved how passionate he was and the mission he was on. That was really the trigger for me to start thinking about whether my career could evolve in other ways. When Helcim wanted to pivot to become a true payments company, he made the startup pitch to me: more work, for less pay, and come along for a crazy ride. And I couldn’t help but jump on board.
|Tell us about some pivotal growth moments since the pivot?|
|We took about three years to build all of the infrastructure and technical and compliance processes we needed to get ready for launch, which was a huge undertaking. In June 2020, we launched as our own payments company and had full control of the entire payment experience, giving merchants what they’ve really been asking for.|
Then things started growing really fast. As a startup, we tried to celebrate all the little wins: processing $200,000 a day in sales for our merchants, and then $500,000 and then $1 million. Nic and I then started talking about whether we wanted to continue to bootstrap this thing or start to bring in outside capital. We knew we didn’t want to choke the business by not giving it the capital that it needed to grow.
In March of 2022, we raised our $16M Series A and now had the capital to build out our team and lean into product development and scale. When I joined, I was around employee number 50. We’re now at about 150 people.
|How do you stay calm and strategic in the fast-shifting industry of FinTech?|
|We know our business, our unit economics and how to be disciplined.|
When the market is oscillating, we very much take the approach to stay steady. With many factors like COVID, interest rates, the economy – it’s a lot of noise. We try and tune it down knowing our business model is sound and the opportunity to help our merchants is there. We focus on that. Everything else can go up and down.
|You’re a woman executive in an intensely competitive tech space. How has that shaped your experience?|
|Having different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives is very critical to building a successful business.|
Being a female, the only parent on our executive team and coming from a more corporate background versus a startup background – all of those things give me a valuable voice and help contribute to a more well-rounded discussion at any meeting.
I think many women can find it hard to take that leap and get out of their comfort zone – to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. I would really encourage other women to find the environment, the mentors, and the companies that support inclusive decisions and teams and just really lean in because there’s so much to offer and gain.
|Tell us about Helcim’s Series A raise. Was it the first Series A raise of your career? Was it what you expected?|
|It was nothing like I thought it would be. But nothing could ever prepare us for that experience.|
It was really helpful to Nic and I, having never gone through this before, to draw advice from our network and Nic’s network in particular. We polled people we trusted and asked, what do we need to do? What metrics do we need to have? What story should we have ready to go? We had just started testing the waters in October 2021 and then we closed the following March, so it was an intense six months of being really in it.
|What were some difficult moments or decisions during the raise? What lessons learned are you taking away from your first raise into your next rounds?|
|We learned we needed to be confident in who we are and what we’re good at. And to be okay with some investors saying that “it’s not for me” until we found the right partners.|
Projecting confidence and the notion of being in control of how we want to grow this company is definitely something we want to take away and project into our Series B.
You can feel like you want to change your business model or change who you want to go after because of feedback that you’re getting from investors. And that’s not the right way to go at it. You really need to understand your business, what makes you special, and why you want to lean in.
It was a much more emotional process for a leadership team than I anticipated. It was a long and winding road to be able to trust our business and our team and know that we’re on the right path, and then ultimately project that confidence to potential investors And the metrics and a lot of the paperwork you don’t necessarily think about. Thankfully, we had a really strong network that we were able to draw on to help pull us through.
|Did you have funders you said no to? What made the funders a fit that you chose as partners?|
|We did get a couple of term sheets that we had to really think about. And we didn’t take the highest offer. We needed to find partners that were the right fit for us.|
We talked to our network about potential partners we were evaluating to really get a better sense of how they would behave or what their reputation was in good times but also in bad times, and their approaches to growth. Those conversations made us a lot more mindful of the implications of who we wanted to bring on.
And our lead investors, Information VP and Aquiline Technology Growth, particularly IVP’s reputation in Canada, really precede them in terms of being long-term thinkers and the ones that you want to have in your corner.
|Accelerate Fund is a proud investor of Helcim. Any advice for other Alberta tech entrepreneurs considering Accelerate Fund for funding?|
|We are so proud to be in Alberta and in Calgary. And we are really committed to building a cornerstone of Alberta. Our entire team is in person in Calgary. It was really important for us to find partners within the Alberta ecosystem that could help us continue to grow here. Accelerate Fund was the obvious choice.|
When I talk about the network that has really supported us, David Edmonds has been so critical in opening up that network and introducing us to people who could give us a different perspective or bounce ideas off of. The team’s guidance and outside perspective have just been really invaluable to us.
|Where to next for Helcim? Any personal milestones you’re aiming for?|
|We’ve done our Series A, are on the map in the payments industry, and are now processing hundreds of millions of in payments per month for our merchants. These are huge milestones and we’re not pausing for a second.|
Small businesses don’t have to settle for the legacy players and the bigger payment company names that charge crazy fees and give you terrible customer service. There is a better alternative out there! Helcim just released our new smart terminal, which allows in-person payments as well as online payments for small businesses. It was a huge undertaking for the team but is really important for our merchants.
We’re also releasing a new product called Helcim Fee Saver, which allows small businesses to decide whether they want to pass on credit card fees to a customer but also gives an off-ramp for a customer to choose an alternative payment option to avoid the fee. It’s very much a win-win product for customers and businesses.
And naturally, we’re talking about the right time to do our Series B raise so we can bring even greater value to our customers.
For me personally, I’m always trying to be a better leader, a better mom, and someone who is bringing their best every day. I want to keep contributing as much as I can to help the business grow and hopefully become a better professional along the way.