Co-Founder & COO of Closeup.fm. MA in English Literature. Poet turned businessman. Created & sold portfolio of 30+ mobile apps. Passionate about doing stuff, helping freelancers and creatives build profitable businesses they love travel, Jesus, creativity, and growth. I love bringing clarity & helping people move past challenges. Married to a wise woman & have two rambunctious kiddos.
I'm not trying to be a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian, but can you afford to NOT do proper screening on VCs? If you're averaging $100K/month in revenue, then you'll be the pick of the litter, assuming your pro forma, etc., add up for the investors. A bad fit in an investor can hurt you just as much as a bad fit in an executive, or a dishonest manufacturer, or a lazy employee.
Money typically equals acceleration. So a dollar from Investor A might be worth more than a dollar from Investor B if Investor A has domain expertise, can make introductions, or can set up strategic partnerships. You don't want any ole investor. You want strategic investors.
The thin-slicing needed to decide who is more or less strategic must be done by an executive or founder who knows the company's needs intimately. Someone else can't do your dating for you.
That being said, you could delegate the initial research phase. Hire a virtual assistant to compile a list of the top 200 VCs in the United States. Build a spreadsheet listing their portfolio companies. Use Techcrunch and Angel List to identify the companies that companies that are hardware startups. Now you can make a shortlist of target VCs. This process will have the added bonus of providing your lead-in when contacting VCs: "We noticed that you invested in [such-and-such hardware startup]. Our company, XXX, has created proprietary hardware that helps [your customers] with [customers' problems]. We're going after [market size] because [market potential]."
If you want to discuss in more detail how you can save time while creating a high-quality list, give me a call.
If I were 18 again, I'd tell myself, "Don't waste time chasing women you aren't going to marry." Ha. That was probably the single biggest waste of my time, creativity, and money.
But to get more serious, I wouldn't focus too much on finding your true passion. You will probably have multiple true passions over the course of your life. Rather than wait for "the one," try a bunch of different things. You probably won't find a really good fit right away, but you will eliminate some options. For example, you may quickly discover that you do NOT want to start a dog walking business.
If meeting like-minded people is your goal, then go to conferences, seminars, and meetups. Take notes. Look for patterns. I take it you want to start a business. So before you try to create a product or service, look for a hungry crowd. Focus not on what you enjoy, but focus on what people will pay money for. We can discuss that in more detail later.
Anyway, eventually you'll need to pick something and finish something. Then do it again. Assume you won't find your "true passion" until you're in your middle forties. What will you do in the meantime? What is the very next step you can take?
By the way, college doesn't necessarily equal debt. If college interests you (aside from debt), then hack college: http://riskology.co/hack-college/.
Send me some times, and we'll get on a call and discuss in more details.
Hmm. I think you learn by doing. And from the get-go, you'll want to differentiate between working in the business and working on the business. Working in the business is hammering the nails. Working on the business is courting clients, developing your marketing strategy, and yes, beefing up your knowledge in different areas. That being said, I wouldn't recommend a "formal classroom education." I've never taken a business class, and after three months of trying to run my own business, I knew more than my friends who had graduated with degrees in business administration. Why is that? Well, you can take notes, read a textbook, memorize material, and get an A on a test. But much of what you learned won't be applicable to your business. It's like reading a book about how to swim or how to cast a fly rod. You get a perfect paper score, and then you go drown. And you can't catch dinner. Learn by doing. Your "score" will be repeat customers, making more money, referrals, and hopefully, the freedom you create for yourself by building a self-sustaining business. Show me a textbook about business that can show you how to use Periscope to position yourself as a thought leader. Show me the business textbook that will help you decide whether to use a WordPress plug-in, or Space-Box, or Gumroad, for your shopping cart, payment processing, and fulfillment. You get the point. Read fifty blog posts on any subject you're interested in, and you'll probably know more than your professor/instructor.
The vast majority of experts in business are busy building businesses (and maybe blogging about it) and not giving tests on the subject. I've taught at the university level, so that's I feel comfortable making that statement.
Do you want head knowledge or practical experience? You already know how to get both.
If you want to discuss further, call me! It would be fun to chat.
Austin L. Church
If you are currently living and working in a small rural area, then you might consider moving. Most investors are interested in "windshield money." They're going to invest in companies that are fairly close by. They want to be able to drive to meet you if they need to. Being in a small city will severely restrict the flow in your investor pipeline. I know this from experience. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee. As for a co-founder with a recognized business background, are you looking for a generalist or a specialist? Someone with deep logistics experience, or someone adept with financial modeling, culture, hiring, marketing, and sales? Know the exact skills you need to compliment your own. Then go get in the way of opportunity. Go to conferences, seminars, and meetups. Sounds like you'll need to travel to do that. Plumb your own network, and ask everybody you know if there's anybody. Spend ten hours on LinkedIn, and use something like Lucid Charts to create a mindmap of who know whom. Patterns will emerge. Likely candidates may start to jump out. Connect with them on Twitter. Set up a call to ask for advice. Offer to pay them for their time. I don't think there are any shortcuts here, and even if there were, you'd still be better of entering into this kind of relationship very, very slowly, despite the urgency your business may create. A bad management/founder fit can wreck your business faster than making no money. Worse, a bad fit can wreck your business WHILE you're making money. One last thing: for co-founders to not be co-located during the early stages will become a serious impediment. Despite Skype, Slack, Trello, Google Drive, Dropbox, Voxer, and every other collaboration tool you can work into the mix, working side-by-side can still be much, much more efficient. Just be prepared to follow the business wherever it grows.
If you want to discuss further, let me know.
Austin L. Church
Use Angel List and Startups.co to create a database. You might even be able to write a little web scraper script that automates everything and populates a spreadsheet for you. Then, activate Yesware on your email accounts, and use it to split-test the open rates with different subject lines. Once you have 2-3 subject lines that get high open rates, you can begin move on to split-testing the email content. Once you have a soft pitch that's getting a decent response rate, you can turn those initial "sales" calls into customer development interviews. By asking the right questions, you can figure out exactly which pain points you should be using in your positioning. Then, hit the accelerator. Direct email and phones calls aren't sexy. But they are a traction channel until you find something else that you can automate.
Let me know if you want to discuss further.
Austin L. Church
Facebook ads and AdWords ads. Run different ads with different brand names, send traffic to dedicated landing pages, and do a side-by-side comparison with conversions. Let the market decide whether your existing brand name or a potential new one resonates.
Feel free to give me a call if you like.
Austin L. Church
Begin building a profitable business by cobbling together free or inexpensive services already in existence. Assemble a stackless stack.
Get some customers. Work closely with them to figure out whether what you think will differentiate your virtual assistance startup will truly have value for them—enough that you'll be able to shoulder into a crowded market.
The Mom Test is a great little read on extracting as many insights as possible from conversations with your customers: http://momtestbook.com/.
I love this line from Gary Vaynerchuk: "Here’s a novel idea: why don’t you build a profitable business with real value and real customers that pay (in whatever form that means for you)? " (Source: https://medium.com/@garyvee/the-best-way-to-raise-money-from-an-angel-investor-or-vc-437082532d9d)
Anyway, let's discuss in more detail.
Yes, I'd contact them one by one. The best time to raise money is when you don't need it. And most investor relationships take awhile to ripen, so to speak, so if you start nurturing those relationships now, then you'll be in a good place with the investors when fundraising becomes a priority.
It can't hurt to reach out along these lines: "Thanks so much for your interest! Were you just checking everything out? What do you think? Let's schedule a time for me to walk you through the current iteration of the product. How about next Tuesday at 9am EST?"
I guess what I'm saying is that why these investors signed up really doesn't matter. You need to build your investor pipeline regardless. And they're making it easy for you!
Hope this helps,
My friend George once told me this old saw he learned from his dad, who was in the printing business: "You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. You can have it good. Pick two."
If you're wanting high-quality web design and development, then you must be prepared to spend a while searching for cheap talent. Or if you do feel a sense of urgency, then you need to forget about trying to save money on the front-end, and focus on what your delays are costing you in terms of lost business. I've run a creative services shop for seven years, and have worked with dozens of freelancers. I've found that every penny I try to save I usually end up "spending" in the form of frustration with the freelancer's professionalism, turnaround times, and communication.
Even if he produces good design, would I have chosen him if I had known he'd drag his feet for two months?
High-quality design and development are an investment. Invest in the best you can possibly afford.
And keep in mind that you may actually need to hire two different people. Not all designers code, and not all coders design.
I've had a lot of success on Upwork, but as often I start on Dribbble and Behance.
If you can, spend top dollar on design and dev because you typically get what you pay for. And find other ways to save money, or even better, increase revenues.
Let's put together a more specific plan for you. I love this stuff!
I don't think there's a right—meaning, sane—answer here. How much capital do you think you'll need over the next 4-5 years? Series A? Series B? So on? Some, but not all, institutional investors will take a look at a cap table made longer by crowdfunding the way kids look at a pool that's been peed in. They might politely decline to hop it. I don't say that to scare you, but just so that you'll be aware. Totally agree with Owen's point: it might make sense to raise LESS money with a MORE strategic investor. One dollar with Investor B might have more long-term value, in the form of introductions or domain expertise, than the same dollar from Investor A. Regardless, ask yourself this question: what is the absolute minimum we need to raise right now? Now multiply that times 1.5. Then, figure out a Plan A, B, C, and D for getting there. Plan A might be a big influx of cash. Plan B might be a mix of cash and some business development from a new advisor. Plan C might include minimal cash, a new channel partner, and a few big contracts. Plan D might be a pivot or hopping into bed with a manufacturer to cut your costs.
Happy to discuss more if you'd like. Get in touch!