Lessons From A Startup As They Happen: The Fuel

Forgive me for sounding like a cheesy motivational statement on Tumblr, but Winston Churchill’s quote “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” gives legitimacy to the entrepreneurial struggles and makes me believe the phrase “If it were easy everyone would do it…” I get it now. It was about nine months into our new business endeavor before Elisa and I started serious fundraising. The strategy was getting clearer, while the savings were starting to run dry. It was time to start pitching our new brand.

Fundraising is like a necessary drug
Like a drug, your highs put you on the summit of Mt. Everest and your lows plunge you into the Mariana Trench. Regardless of how confident you are in yourself, your knowledge of the industry and your capabilities to operate your business, there is nothing like fundraising. Trying to convince someone that your idea is better than the 10,000 others they’ve heard this month, and begging them to part with their strategically acquired cash is not a natural human state — it’s humbling to the point of humiliation. Here’s another analogy: think of the pity you feel for the poor entrepreneur after watching Mr. Wonderful rip him to shreds and mop him out of the double mahogany doors on a river of tears…. it’s like that.

Don’t get me wrong; the level of drama is hardly TV worthy. As a matter of fact, throughout the capital raising process every potential investor was genuinely interested and supportive of young entrepreneurs. I almost wish it was more cutthroat, because a prompt “No thanks, your idea sucks” would have evoked a strategy shift and a quick recovery. The part that they don’t tell you about on TV is the waiting… the silence. Let me set the scene: an encouraging email comes through on a Tuesday saying, “I might be interested” but is followed on Friday by a caveat, “I don’t know the space” or “I have a few investments in the works already, so I need to see how those pan out” and, “I’ll reach out next week.” Next week comes, then the week after, then the week after that… pure torture.

Values are valuable, and no amount of cash changes that
We got our first serious offer 90 days after our first investor meeting and it was sweet validation. This was followed by a few days of vetting (aka being at the beck and call of your potential suitor, even at 10pm at night and 5am on a Sunday). It was exhilarating and terrifying. Everything that we said and presented was under a microscope and all we wanted to do was give the right answers. After we decided to turn that first offer down, it became apparent that the right answer was just that — truth and transparency. We began to ask ourselves, what do we really want and need in a long-term investor? Do our business goals align with theirs? It became clear that our decision was not just about money, but realizing that every fundraising choice we make will have long-term consequences for our company’s future. Sixty days later, we turned down another offer for twice the amount. We had $14.03 in our bank account.

Chin up; we have finally found the right investors and are launching our company this summer. Every dollar in the bank feels like a million bucks. We are now true believers that the highs and the lows of fundraising are a necessary part of the journey and are why entrepreneurs tout and genuinely own the thousands of self-important quotes like Mr. Churchill stated.

An entrepreneur’s uncommon sense advice for fundraising:

The journey is the destination
Every day and every dollar spent working towards your goal shapes your strategy and makes your successes that much more valuable. You learn with each step.

Ask for help
Entrepreneurs are inherently independent, but also love to give advice. It’s ok to ask for help when you need it.

Never settle
Intuition is powerful. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Listen, analyze and share with those you trust.

Give yourself a hug
You will stumble and question yourself. Acknowledge your feelings and praise yourself for being brave. Then move on.

Love, The Rebel

-Erika McKella

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Uncommon Blog.

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