Editor’s note: Fundraising, especially when it involves VC, is a long, painful, time-sucking process.

DURHAM, N.C. – There’s so much to talk about with Venture Capital funding, so here’s what I won’t be talking about.

I’m not going to discuss all the varieties of financing that can be a part of VC funding, like bridge financing or down rounds. I’m going to stick to the basics and compress a few things. I like to cover the entire universe at a high-level, so you know what the game looks like. There will be plenty of time to drill down into specifics here and elsewhere.

I’m not going to give any advice on how to find, contact, or pitch VCs. That’s been done to death and, in my opinion, there’s no single right way.

I’m not going to talk about the funding process, i.e. term sheets, preferred shares, amended articles of incorporation, and so on. Why? See the previous two things I’m not going to talk about.

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you SHOULD focus on VC, but I will tell you this:

Fundraising, especially when it involves VC, is a long, painful, time-sucking process. It is a full time job. It will drain your resources and your sanity. It is not a measure of success, but it can pave the way to success. It can be dangerous, depending on who ends up with their hands on which control levers. It can be life-changing, when it comes at the right time for the right reasons.

If you don’t know whether or not you need VC funding, you don’t need it, because you’re not ready. You should know exactly how much you need to raise and exactly what you’re going to do with the money. You should already have relationships in place at a handful of Venture Capital firms before you make the decision.

But if you’ve already run the investor gauntlet of Customers, Self, Friends and Family, and Angel, and if you know you need VC funding, and if you know who you’re going to reach out to first, second, and fiftieth, then it’s time. Here’s what the universe looks like:

Funding is the most complex part of startup. How, when, and why you get funded is an individual series of choices, and every startup will take a different path. No one strategy is better than another, but you should definitely have a strategy in place before you raise a dime.

Venture Capital investors are firms that manage funds that invest in startups. VC is what we think of when we think of traditional startup investment, and their money is often referred to as institutional capital (which mostly means the money is not coming from a single individual).

VC firms are usually staffed in a chain with Partners at the top. Limited Partners are investors in the fund, while General or Managing Partners are investors in the fund and also run it. Venture Partners and Principals find and make deals for the fund, and may or may not be invested. Associates are at the bottom of the chain. They create relationships and do research, but often don’t have the authority to green light a deal on their own.

Some VCs will invest small amounts as early as the Seed Stage, alongside the founder, Friends and Family, and any Angel investors. However, most VCs won’t invest until there is progress beyond the Seed Stage, what’s called a Series A round. From there, additional rounds will be called Series B, Series C, and so on.

VCs are always looking for a return on their investment, either through the sale of shares in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) or via merger and acquisition, where the company is sold to another company or to another financial entity like a Private Equity Fund. Sometimes VCs are bought out in future Series rounds when new VCs come in.

In almost every case, once you’re in the VC world, you’re not getting out until the company sells, which is called the exit. Oh, you’re going to need legal and accounting help on hand during the fundraising process and retain that help through the actual funding.

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(C) Joe Procopio