What We’re Building
My friend Rachel recently asked me, “what exactly do you mean by pitching?” And I realized that we’ve been so buried in pitch decks, accelerator applications, founder workshops, and interviews (all while running and growing our company), that I forgot that not everyone (in fact, not most people) will submit themselves to the kind of torture that entrepreneurs do on a daily basis.
I’ll give a more hearty analysis of the whole process of applications and pitching later. But for my friends who I now rarely see because of Knit taking over my life (in a good way), the quick recap is that we’ve been applying to accelerators and incubators, which are programs that offer mentoring, sometimes office space, sometimes money, and all aim to help you scale your business. Some cost money, some are free, and some give you money in exchange for a percentage of your company. They all require an application which makes you answer all sorts of questions about your finances and your team. You have to prove that your company generates money, and at the same time you’re willing to live a life of simplicity (AKA not pay yourself a penny). They also sometimes ask for a video and a pitch deck, which are just other mediums to show how disruptive your vision is, how massive your company will become, and how dire the problem is you’re solving.
So when I say we’re pitching, I guess you can picture us on different forms of “Shark Tank” as we pour out our hearts about Knit Marketing and hope that the people on the other side of the table feel the same way we do.
The In-Depth Analysis
For my b-school classmates or anyone else interested in knowing more of the nitty-gritty, here it is. In May, we applied to 8 incubators, accelerators, and pitch competitions, from all of which we’re still waiting to hear back. This whole process has both taught us a lot, and forced us to ask ourselves a lot of really important questions. It has also made us realize that we are building something much bigger than ourselves.
The truth is that we didn’t start applying to accelerators because we actually thought we could get in. (I suppose I shouldn’t say “we,” because my team is insanely optimistic and believes we can pretty much make anything happen. I love working with 17 and 18-year-olds!) Since grad school, I’ve been set on bootstrapping this business, for many reasons, but one main reason being pride – I don’t need anyone else’s money to build this thing! At the same time, I’ve doubted our potential, thinking we’re a small social media company and wondering who would even consider investing time or money in us. Imposter syndrome anyone?
In fact, we started applying to accelerators, because we wanted to get a closer look at the startup world. Perhaps incubators could be a good client pipeline for us? But as we got deeper and deeper in the process, it became clear that we’re actually much farther along than some of our competition, and that do-it-myself attitude was actually a good thing to get us to where we are. June 4th, Knit Marketing turned 2 years old, and in that time, with no outside capital, we’ve hired 4 teen paid interns (3 still a part of our team) and our full-time operations manager. We’ve worked with 20 clients, are still working with many of the same clients, and have brought in enough revenue to sustain our team this far.
We exhibited and pitched at the annual ACG101 pitch competition in Agoura Hills, which was a demo-day-style pitch event where startups set up booths and pitched all night to interested attendees, judges, and potential investors. We wanted to come prepared, so a few days prior, we gathered some friends together and had them drill us on our pitch and presentation. Shout out to Allen, Benji, Leah, and Shar for helping us out! That really helped us define the most important parts of our pitch. We boiled it down to the fact that marketing to young people is a humongous economic opportunity and equally important is our social mission of quality job creation for LA youth.
In truth, our friends acting as the Shark Tank judges was far more helpful than the event itself, but we’re glad we had both experiences. The event was great practice because we had to tell our story dozens of times to people that had no idea who we are, and had the opportunity to convince them that we’re offering a really innovative solution to both job generation and Gen Z/ Millennial Marketing. Everyone that we spoke to found our approach to digital marketing to be refreshing and unique.
The problem with the event was that at the end of the night, we witnessed what we’ve been told all along – the VC judges were all about the money, and had very little interest in really hearing anyone’s story. The founder that won absolutely deserved to win; Lumenus sells really cool sensory lighting technology that helps keep bikers safe. However, they were supposed to pick a winner among 20+ startups, and it became very clear by speaking to other participants that they probably only spoke to 10-15% of all the teams in the venue. We didn’t meet any of the 5 secret judges. Teams who are pouring all of their time and energy into their babies weren’t even given a shot at receiving feedback, which is what most of us were there for. The secret VC judges were the epitome of everything that is wrong with venture capital and could not have fit the VC stereotypes better with their homogeneity, arrogant demeanor, and one-size-fits-all recommendations. I was contented to realize that these guys must leave billions of dollars on the table missing 10x opportunities simply because as clever as they think they are, they really don’t venture out of their own little boxes. Best of luck to all our fellow exhibitors in future competitions!
Even with the weird pitching experience, this process has allowed us to dream bigger, and helped us to understand what we really have. We have both an amazing opportunity to change the lives of hundreds, possibly even thousands of young people, and also we have a direct connection to the people some of the biggest brands in the world are challenged to reach. We could keep bootstrapping and continue to grow organically, but what we have come see is that Knit is bigger than our current 5-person team who I love so dearly. It’s bigger than even double, triple or 200 times what we are today.
So now when we go into interviews and pitches, we know that we’re not selling ourselves or putting on a VC formulaic act, but we’re inviting the people across the table to be a part of what we’re building. We have to get in front of people that care and are willing to listen, and we might have to be more creative than others, but creativity is certainly not a challenge for us!
Are you pitching?
If you’re pitching, here are some resources we found useful:
- Pitch Genius Workshops – for learning how to make the perfect deck
- Quake Capital blog – to learn what investors are looking for
- Pitch Perfect by Bill McGowan – to present your best pitch
- Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman – to understand what kind of a founder you are
- Building a Story Brand – to get your messaging down (more for customer-facing messaging than for investors, but still helpful)
- The Pitch Podcast – to hear live pitches entrepreneurs, and get the investors’ perspectives
If you’re interested in learning more about what we’ve been up to or partnership opportunities, schedule a call.