Escaping the Entrepreneur Hamster Wheel
Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch podcast. Today’s guest is Julia Pimsleur who is the founder of Little Pim, the author of ‘Million Dollar Women’, and has raised over $5 million between VCs and angels. She has a goal that I absolutely adore, which is to help one million women break one million dollars by 2020, and she’s just the woman to do it. Julia, welcome to the show.
I’m so excited to be here, and to talk about raising money. That’s one of my favorite topics!
I’m one of these weird people who likes to raise money.
Well let’s dig into that, but before we do, I always want to go back and find out your passion. How did you become passionate? Let’s talk about what Little Pim does, and how that relates to your father, because it’s such an interesting journey for people to find. How does someone become so successful and raise money? What is the motivation behind it? How did you get this passion? Did it come from your father? Tell us where you got all that great stuff.
Yeah, I never thought I would be a business person, actually. I was a creative person. I went to school for film making, and I was a documentary filmmaker for many years. I grew up bilingual in French and English, and that’s something that opened so many doors for me throughout my life. I felt like it was just the best gift that my parents ever gave me. When my own son was born about 11 years ago, I went out looking for a great language teaching program to help him learn a second language at the age kids learn best, which is 0-6 year old. I couldn’t believe there was nothing on the market for very little kids. All the studies show,that’s the best time for them to learn.
Drawing on my film-making background, and also being the daughter of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, who invented a language teaching method for adults, I decided to create the first ever language teaching method for very young children, Little Pim.
You know what I love about that already is it’s a personal problem you’re solving that has multiple implications. You know for yourself that it changed your life being bilingual.
It’s so true that being bilingual is an incredible benefit and I reap rewards from that in so many areas; from scholarships to being able to live and work abroad. For me, helping parents be their kids’ first language tutor is also really about democratizing foreign language learning.
If you look out over the landscape, the 1% have always figured out a way to have their kids learn Spanish, or Mandarin, or French, or Italian. In the public school system, kids start as late as 5th grade or middle school learning a language. Then, most of us really never learn, right? That’s what I hear from a lot of parents. They never really mastered a second language. It’s because they’re starting too late.
Well, one of the things in your book, ‘Million Dollar Women’, that I really resonated with was you talk about the need for grit, and how to get off the entrepreneur hamster wheel, and the 8 words that changed your whole life. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Sure. I was working so hard and just running, running, running my business in the first few years which I think is typical when you’re getting your business off the ground. I didn’t stop to look up and think about what the business could be if I had twice as much funding, if I had different partners, if I really embraced the idea of going big. Once I finally did that - I call that getting off the entrepreneur’s hamster wheel; stop running so fast and take a minute to think about where you’re trying to go - then I realized I really needed capital in order to go to the next level. That’s what started the journey of raising venture capital, which ultimately lead me to writing ‘Million Dollar Women’.
We’re going to tweet that. ‘Get off the entrepreneur hamster wheel.’ That’s so great, I love that imagery.
One of the daddies of start-up culture, Michael Gerber of ‘The E-Myth’, said “You need to work on the business, not in the business.” For so many of us, that means taking a step back and figuring out what does this company look like at scale? How am I going to get there?
Tell us of that great story of how prepared you were. That’s what I love, because I’m constantly working with my clients on, “If you want to be confident and come across as someone that people want to invest in, you have to be prepared when the opportunity comes.” Would you take us back to that story of when you were at a party and you were chatting with a friend of your father’s, I believe?
I spent about 9 months getting ready to raise venture capital, watching videos on YouTube, episodes of Shark Tank, talking to any CEO who had raised venture capital who would share their experiences with me. All that time was time away from my business, time away from my 2 little boys, and my family. I just felt, ‘Gosh, this should be easier. Why is it so hard to figure out how to raise capital?’ When I finally raised my $2.1 million, which was really the hardest thing I ever did next to childbirth, I thought ‘I’ve got to make this easier for other women. This is just not okay.’
I created a little fundraising boot camp that I’ve been running for the last 3 years in New York where I would help 10 women at a time learn how to raise angel and venture capital. Their stories really inspired me to write ‘Million Dollar Women’ and help thousands and eventually a million women, learn how to raise capital and take their businesses big.
I love it. Fundraising boot camp, because you really do have to be prepared as if you’re going to battle. One of the terms in the military, which I think is always so interesting is: you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall back on your training. You can’t just think, ‘Oh, I’ll just wing it when I pitch’, you have to be trained, correct?
That’s so true, and you also have to be really ready to find a way no matter what. I remember I was out pitching and I would spend half my day, every day, going to the offices of these VCs and showing my PowerPoint and telling my story over and over again. One day, I came back from a particularly demoralizing meeting where we got a big ‘no’ right away. I walked into my office, and I saw my head of sales and my head of marketing hunkered down, planning our holiday marketing campaign.
I just thought, ‘you know what? I have to raise this money. They can’t do it, I have to do it.’ That day it became a ‘when’ and not an ‘if’. I think that might have made all the difference, that I really fully committed and said “I don’t care if I have to meet another 50 people, I’m going to find this money and they deserve it, and we deserve it. I’m just going it make it happen.”
I love that so much. We’re going to tweet that out. “You’re fully committed when in your mindset, it’s ‘when’ I get funded, not ‘if’ I get funded.”
That’s right, even though it may take months. Fundraising is brutal, it really is. As women, we face additional challenges because we often don’t have the kind of networks that some of our male counterparts do where we can just pick up the phone and have an easy entree to someone in a VC firm. We have additional obstacles as women not having the same kind of networks that men do. Also, frankly, facing discrimination here and there.
I wanted to help women and make it much easier for them to raise money, much easier than it was for me. I don’t think that women or men should be treated any differently by VCs. But I do think that because women are newer to the fundraising game that we have a lot of catching up to do. The book is to help women catch up more quickly. I think the biggest thing in the way for women raising money is just not knowing the fundraising dance.
I’d been a professional fundraiser in the non-profit world for several years before I went out raising money for Little Pim. Even for me, it was totally intimidating. There is a whole new set of vocabulary to learn, and I want to help women master that much more quickly so that they can get that 4% number up to the double digits, quickly.
Right. Well, I love the fact that you call it a fundraising dance. Just calling it a dance somehow takes the edge off it, just a little bit. If we think of it as a dance; the conversation, the negotiation, the due diligence, and all that good stuff is a dance. And much like preparing for a dance, you probably want to rehearse the steps before you go out on the dance floor, right? If you’re going to keep that analogy going a little bit.
Absolutely, and the truth is that one of the ways that raising money is like a dance is that you have to do the dance that is already happening on the dance floor. You can’t go to salsa and start doing tango, right? I think the best thing for women to realize is that venture capital has been functioning a certain way for many, many years. While we think that landscape could change as more women become VCs and become investors, for now we have to dance the dance that’s already being danced. That’s something that’s not as hard as you think, but it does need to be explained and practice. Then, women can be just as successful as men in pitching.
One of the things in your book, ‘Million Dollar Women’, that I really loved, was how prepared you were when the opportunity presented itself for you to whip out financials to show somebody who had indicated some interest. Then, you heard those magic 8 words. Would you tell us about that?
Yes. The magic 8 words were: “I can help you find a million dollars.”
Music to your ears. Continue the dance analogy.
Absolutely. Any entrepreneur would love to hear that. That was actually back in my angel capital fundraising days. I sat down with a friend of the family who had actually given me my first job in high school. He was pretty much the only person I knew in the banking world; speaking again to women and their networks. Even though I went to an ivy league college, and I have a lot of friends who are consultants and lawyers, I didn’t actually know anyone in banking, or in the investment world. So I sat down with this friend of the family who had known I was growing Little Pim and had watched me working two jobs, and getting out our first videos, and setting everything up.
I said to him, “I think I’m ready to go full time, you know? We made close to $80,000 in our first year without anyone even working in the company. And, there’s such a high demand for language learning. Do you have any resources for me?” I thought he’d be telling me about a government grant, or something I could apply for.
Instead he said, “I can help you find a million dollars.” Thus my angel investing dance began. He and I went out and pitched. I pitched, but he made a lot of the introductions to raise the first million for my to fund Little Pim.
That’s such a great story. The big takeaways for the readers are 1) you talked about the traction you already have, and 2) how big the market was, all in one sentence. That’s really so succinct and compelling, that those are the key things people are looking for in addition to, of course, investing in you. If someone has known you since high school, they know you’re a go-getter, and tenacity is your key strength.
That really helped, and I also think that hearing that we had already sold so many without even putting any marketing dollars in was critical. I always think of cash as sort of the gas that you’re putting in the tank of your car, right?
You can’t go very far very fast if you have not very much gas in the tank. So, for him to hear that we’d already made this traction without really anything in the tank, gave him the idea that if we filled it up, we could go pretty far, pretty fast, which we did.
We grew so much once we raised that capital, and then after the venture capital, re-doubled our sales again. That was exciting.
Hitting those milestones. Well, that’s another great tweet. “Cash is the gas in the tank.” I love it. What advice do you have for the readers about pitching in specific, since you run a funding boot camp? Are there certain key elements that you work with, the women that are in your funding boot camp, on their pitch that you could share with us?
Yes. Some of the key things about pitching are knowing how to credential yourself. This is an area where women sometimes don’t come off as powerfully as men, where I’ve had women who get up and pitch. They say, “I have this great idea, and I’m going to start this new bio-tech company.” 20 minutes later they mention at the end that they have a PhD, right?
It’s like, if you have a PhD in the science field and you’re running a science company, you should probably mention that right up front. So, for women to really own their domain expertise and be able to talk about why they are the right person to start this company and to take it to scale is really important. Sometimes women are nervous that if they haven’t already grown a multi-million dollar company, that they’ll have trouble getting the credibility they need.
The truth is that investors are listening for much more than just what the last company was you took public. If you’ve done that - great - but very few people have. They want to know when have you been in a situation in your professional life where you had to just give it everything and get through really tough challenges. That’s what being an entrepreneur is, and the investors know it.
But wait, there’s more!?
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To learn more, watch my Get Funded Fast video.
As a funding strategist, John Livesay helps CEOs craft a compelling pitch which engages investors in a way that inspires them to join a startup’s team.
After a successful 20-year career in media sales with Conde Nast where he worked across all 22 brands in their corporate division [GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, W and Vogue] and created integrated programs for clients such as Lexus, Hyundai and Guess, John won salesperson of the year in 2012 across the entire company.
Follow John on Twitter at @john_livesay. We welcome your comments.