When I started down the tech start-up road, it honestly never occurred to me that it would be so difficult. I had a fully issued patent, a serious institutional rolodex, serious experience at high levels of financial institution and government decision-making, and a truly disruptive idea. I had deep experience in creating an internationally successful niche consulting company amid the last great financial crisis in 2008. I thought I was ready. I thought it would be easy.
That was a little over two years ago.
I knew nothing.
I had never heard of Lean-Start Up or agile development. I did not know the difference between angel funding, seed funding, or Series A funding. I did not know that female founders receive only 2.7% of all VC funding in the United States. Possibly most importantly, I did not realize the difference between the value proposition and sales cycle associated with consulting as opposed to product marketing.
Today marks a major milestone. Amid a deepening pandemic health and economic crisis, my company has just announced a significant seed stage funding round.
Platform upgrades, API capabilities, COVID19 daily reporting and policy trend projection using platform data and much more have been fast-tracked to help us meet growing demand. Details HERE. The first upgrades will likely be rolled out in the next 7–10 days.
These are difficult days for everyone globally. The full scope of the economic as well as human damage being wrought by the pandemic is not yet clear. I the hopes of delivering some encouragement to other entrepreneurs, please find below three major lessons learned along the start-up journey so far.
Lesson 1 — Stay True to True North
Along the start-up journey, plenty of people will offer advice and suggestions in an effort to be helpful. This is crucial and valuable, but it does not mean you need to do everything that everyone suggests.
Feedback and advice are very context specific. Professional and life experiences will inform the advice you receive, which is great. But a leader needs to have a vision for where you want to end up.
The start-up road is not linear….but that does not mean that the destination changes.
In our case, our focus is on building enterprise-level B2B data portals for public policy information. Over the last two years a few have suggested we shift to a mass market/retail model. We have resisted this suggestion. As noted below, we have added a mass market/retail element. But we have not shifted strategic focus.
Ironically, this positions us well to help many more people than we ever anticipated…..because of the pandemic. More people, particularly small business owners, need better access to solid information about how current and future government lifelines will help them survive the coming economic storm that will follow after the pandemic peaks. Our ability to deliver at the enterprise level only deepens what we can offer individuals and small businesses.
Lesson 2 — Be Open To Good Ideas
Flexibility is the hallmark of every successful business. It is crucial for survival in the start-up space. This is particularly actionable right now.
Dramatic, simultaneous dislocation can be disorienting and scary….but it also provides opportunity to those companies that can pivot on a dime.
This is where start-ups have a comparative advantage. Massive dislocations level the playing field between the large and the small. So dig deep and be ready to chase a new idea fast as it presents itself. Remember — your competitors and established players often find it much harder to shift years than you do.
In our case, we were fortunate to be included in the 1863 Ventures accelerator program last summer which focused on supporting under-represented founders. Being both female and 50% Hispanic, my company qualified. The accelerator was crucial to changing my mindset and providing access to sales and marketing tools that I had never considered in the past. Their insight on how to think about product marketing, was crucial to our early stage evolution and I am grateful.
Lesson 3 — Choose Your Investors Carefully
The benefit of being a mature entrepreneur is that life experience provides subtle guideposts about what kind of people really understand and support your direction. Investors are like co-founders….these need to be relationships that will stand the test of time (good and bad).
Do your potential investors discuss force amplifying ideas during meetings? Or are they offering a standard solution they have used for thousands of companies in the past? Do they support your vision for corporate direction and growth or are they just looking to graft their own vision onto your technology? Do you like spending time with them? Are they the kind of people that you would invite home for dinner?
As a female founder that has worked in global capital markets, I have found it stunning to see how many potential investors treat start-ups with disdain. Capital will be scarce for the foreseeable future. Strategic alignment will be more crucial than ever.
If you can afford to do so, insist on at least 3 or 4 meetings before taking capital from potential investors. If you do not have a good relationship after those meetings, there is no reason to believe that the relationship will improve after the investment has occurred. We are on a trajectory to be operating in a difficult economy for at least the next 12–18 months. You need a solid relationship with your investors now.
We were fortunate to find Black Lab Studio in our own back yard at a DC Start Up Week event last autumn. They were searching for companies at the intersection of technology and regulatory policy, with mature founders ready to scale. The enjoy being part of the 2.7% of VC funding that supports female founders. They have great ideas and a deep bench for scaling our core technology.
Most importantly, I think we are going to have fun building this company together.
BCMstrategy, Inc. uses patented technology to quantify global public policy risks and anticipate policy trajectories in five main issue areas: COVID19, FinTech (including cryptocurrency), Trade, Brexit, and financial regulation. The company hosts a free and open Slack workspace and provides regular policy analysis through its free blog (Disruption and Data). At the end of March, it launched a daily COVID19 Report powered by the patented technology to assess pandemic-related economic and financial regulation reaction functions available to individuals. More information on the report can be found HERE.