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As a founder, any opportunity to talk about the business you've spent days, months, or even years building is a good one. This instance though, was a very new and very different animal. This day I pitched investors on a small sound stage in Brooklyn.
For those of you unfamiliar, Gimlet media has made a name for itself in building riveting podcasts with hundreds of thousands of followers. The Pitch, its not-so-silicon valley shark tank style show featuring startup founders in search of investment is no different. Each week we hear from founders in every industry from aerospace to sports stand before a room of attentive investors and pour out their heart and soul. And each week, the ups and downs of the pitch tug at our heartstrings... at least for founders listening for glimmers of hope for their own funding rounds.
I'd made my way to this tiny recording studio on what felt like a whim. Having engaged extensively on the women focused entrepreneurship community HelloAlice, I was equal parts surprised, delighted, and terrified when they held an open call for pitches and I had made it through the first round.
Needless to say, my fledgling BlackTravelBox was (and is) in need of investment. In just a few short months we've built a delightful following of passionate travelers and lovers of Black owned brands. And our nearly 200 customers have been amazingly wonderful, providing feedback, sending kudos, and of course spending their precious coins with us. But in order to reach more people and actually run a business, BTB was going to need more cash... a lot more cash.
Unfortunately, nearly ten years in brand management didn't quite prepare me for the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of building a startup from nothing. I often joke that figuring out how to mail the first product sale out was an ordeal in and of itself. And no amount of P&L management, big brand budgets, or operations experience was going to make the steps of learning, testing, doing, and doing again any easier.
So here I found myself, behind my self imposed schedule of how far along in funding, sales, product development I should be and hurriedly looking for the right words to make the vision plain for a group of people I had never met (and for thousands who would download later!).
Now I won't get into the details of the pitch itself, nor spoil the ending (though you can probably guess). But I will say, during this pitch which lasted at least an hour longer than what you hear in the final cut, I learned a great deal about myself, our customer, and the consistent underestimation of both. But on a more practical note, here are 3 lessons I learned about pitching a VC...
Lesson #1 Come ready to explain your market.
While I tried to create an immersive narrative upfront to put the audience in my customer's shoes - and explain the pain point, what was missing was a more robust explanation of the market dynamics. This is particularly important for folks in the room who are unfamiliar with the industry, category, and consumer segment.
Looking at cohort driving $63B in market value that has yet to be acknowledged, let alone catered to, seems somewhat a no-brainer for early stage, low risk investment. But only if you have a clear picture of how tap into that market.
Lesson #2 Know and articulate what you're trying to achieve.
I was admittedly a bit tongue tied in trying to answer panel questions that I had not yet fully answered for myself. In retrospect, I should have spent a bit more time in nailing my own understanding of how the beauty and travel intersect and BTB's role in it. My expectations were off in terms of what was important.
Lesson #3 There really isn't a formula
When pitching early stage VC vs Angel, vs later stage VC acting as angel vs men vs women vs people of color - there isn't a magic bullet. I thought by trying to sprinkle in a little (just a smidge) of what I thought each would want I could create a cohesive frankenpitch. Not so. But as I said, it was really a lesson in expectations, and through it, I've developed conviction and direction that I didn't know I had.
I suppose it's in our failings that we learn what we're made of. I don't know if BTB will be around in a year, it certainly won't be exactly as it is today, but this journey has been incredible and I wouldn't take back a single minute.
So, I hope you take a few minutes today to listen to a moment from that journey and see/hear the lessons in action or takeaway a lesson I may have missed.
Who knows? Maybe it'll inspire you too to build something ridiculous and wonderful.
Click the link below to listen:
Orion Brown is very early in her journey as an entrepreneur. In fact, this is her first pitch to venture capitalists! At this early stage, the investors are listening for something a bit different. They just want to know, is this a good idea in a large, untapped market? Find out if Orion can convince the investors that she’s got her finger on the next big thing.
Today's investors are Jenny Fielding, Elizabeth Yin, David Goldberg, Sheel Mohnot and Charles Hudson.
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