Meet 3 Inspirational Startups in the Running for $250k in Funding

This year’s #DF17 Dreampitch finalists share their stories, their inspiration, and their advice for others looking to start a business

What would you do with $250,000 in funding for your startup? For the three finalists of the second annual Dreampitch competition who are preparing to take the main stage at Dreamforce a week from today, this is a very pertinent question.

In case you missed last year’s Dreampitch, the format of this yearly pitch competition is simple: each of the finalists below will have five minutes (sharp) to pitch their startup vision to a panel of judges and an audience of thousands. After answering the judges’ questions and receiving live feedback on their pitches, one winner will be selected to take home a $250,000 investment from Salesforce Ventures.

But let’s not overlook what these three standout startups—Meta SaaS, Loop & Tie, and Retrolux — have already achieved. After all, they were selected from a pool of impressive applicants based on their innovative ideas, inspiring stories and overwhelming passion for their startups. So, we caught up with each of our aspiring Dreampitch winners to learn a little more about what got them to where they are today and how they would advise others who are looking to follow in their footsteps.

Check out their stories below, and mark your calendar for November 7th at 4:30pm PST to watch (online or in-person at Moscone West) as each of these three impressive individuals gives their best pitch at Dreamforce ‘17.

Meet Arlo Gilbert of Meta SaaS

Arlo, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Arlo Gilbert: “I am the CEO and Co-Founder at Meta SaaS. I’ve been building SaaS startups since before it was called SaaS. I bootstrapped my first startup from $0 to $50M in ARR, and didn’t even realize that was an accomplishment until many years later because I was always so focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Even at $50M I felt like we weren’t big enough or growing fast enough.”

How did Meta SaaS get its start?

AG: “Five years ago, I had the idea for Meta SaaS but the market wasn’t big enough and APIs weren’t widely enough available. The concept came about as I was closing out the sale of a company I sold, and discovered how many excess licenses we had and what a headache it was to manage them. Fast-forward to 2016 and now the market has matured, APIs are widely available, and this problem of SaaS management has become pervasive in the enterprise.”

What made you decide to take the leap with starting Meta SaaS?

“A mentor of mine and I were discussing what my next move would be. I had a lot of opportunities available and he said, ‘Arlo, how are you going to feel if somebody else builds this and succeeds?’”

AG: A mentor of mine and I were discussing what my next move would be. I had a lot of opportunities available and he said, “Arlo, how are you going to feel if somebody else builds this and succeeds?” At that point I realized that I would be be filled with regret if I wasn’t the one who owned this category. I haven’t looked back since.”

What are you most excited about for Dreampitch?

AG: The opportunity to present at Dreamforce is really unparalleled. Sharing our vision for Meta SaaS to a room of 5,500 potential customers along with some really forward-thinking investors is a dream scenario that most startups don’t get to experience. Win or lose, I’m genuinely humbled to be selected.”

Who is your role model?

AG: My role model is Daniel Gilbert, Harvard Professor, the author of ‘Stumbling on Happiness,’ and the guy in the Prudential commercials — but most importantly, my father. He is kind, funny, inquisitive, intelligent, and is never afraid to ask the tough questions. He’s set a great example of how to live a life filled with both success and selflessness.”

What’s your advice to other people looking to start their own company?

“Find a way to be at peace with the day-to-day roller coaster and you’ll be a better founder.”

AG: Building a company is not something you do for a few months and it’s rarely as glamorous as the media portrays it. Whether you succeed or fail, your life for years is going to be filled with days of self doubt and fear. Find a way to be at peace with the day-to-day roller coaster and you’ll be a better founder.”

Meet Sara Rodell of Loop & Tie

Sara Rodell is the Founder and CEO of Loop & Tie. She’s based in NYC (but still calls Austin home) and the University of Virginia is her alma mater. She worked at UBS for four years and then set out to change the world of gifting with Loop & Tie. Loop & Tie is proud to have participated in Google Demo Day, the Visa Everywhere Initiative pitch competition, Capital Factory and the National Association of Realtor’s Reach accelerator. Check our our conversation with Sara below.

How did Loop & Tie get started?

Sara Rodell: “Before starting Loop & Tie, I worked at a large investment bank as an institutional equity sales broker. After spending way too much money and time on buying client holiday gift baskets, I decided to create a platform that helps companies quickly send gifts people actually want. I saw an opportunity to use the gift as a source of new customer data and as a communication and feedback tool.”

What moment inspired you to go for it?

“I never really set out to start a company, I more so had an idea that I felt needed to exist.”

SR: “I never really set out to start a company, I more so had an idea that I felt needed to exist. I’m the kind of person who would rather regret having done something than having not tried. I was comfortable and successful in my corporate job, but I needed to prove myself to myself, so I decided to take the leap. I’m grateful that I’ve learned the trials and tribulations of running a company incrementally. I think if I would have known what I was getting myself into it would’ve seemed far more daunting!”

What are you most excited about as a finalist?

SR: “I’m excited about the opportunity to share an idea I’m passionate about with a room full of people looking to learn, grow and innovate. Every time I present Loop & Tie to an audience, I have a moment right before I walk on stage where I feel so much gratitude for the opportunity to share something our team created. Salesforce has been a dream partner of mine from the beginning, so this is particularly exciting. There’s so much synergy between the relationship-building support both of our companies facilitate.”

Who is your role model?

SR: “On really hard days, I think about my grandfather and the life he built here from nothing. He immigrated from Nuremberg alone at 16, speaking no English. His first job was a bus boy at a fancy restaurant in midtown NYC. He mastered English (and feigned confidence!) and elevated himself to work for the CIA during WWII, and afterwards as a war crimes interrogator. I was lucky enough to find a menu from the restaurant he worked at, which I keep near my desk as a reminder of fortitude, perseverance and possibility.

What’s your advice to other people looking to start their own company?

SR: “Understand your motivations and make sure they’ll stick with you through all the low points, because there will be many! Someone once told me that entrepreneurs are the only people who trade more money and shorter days for less pay and more work, which is so true! Money can’t be your main motivator because building a company from scratch is probably one of the hardest and riskiest ways to earn a living.

“Give yourself signposts as to what success and failure look like, and have the humility to re-assess your path.”

SR: “Give yourself signposts as to what success and failure look like, and have the humility to re-assess your path. It gets murky once you’re in it, rely on good mentors and friends who will help you remember your north.”

Meet Leif Elgethun of Retrolux

Retrolux provides technology and services that bring sustainable, productive and healthy solutions to smart buildings. The genesis for the startup was an internal spreadsheet that founder and clean-tech entrepreneur Leif Elgethun lovingly named his ‘Franken-sheet’ because it had a life of it’s own. The goal of this spreadsheet was to make lighting retrofit projects easier to complete — and at some point, friends at several other companies began to “borrow” it.

Elgethun realized there might be a need in the market for software and started doing prospective customer interviews to determine how persistent the problems were, and what other problems might exist that software could solve. He found the industry hadn’t changed much in 60 years and a number of pain points needed fixing. The market was willing to pay for it, so Retrolux was born. Check out our conversation with Leif below.

What moment inspired you to go for it with Retrolux?

Leif Elgethun: “The moment that inspired me to go for it followed two months of soul searching after exiting another successful startup in solar development.

“I had multiple ideas for what to do next, including many with much better short-term financial prospects, but couldn’t shake an internal passion for building Retrolux.”

LE: “I had multiple ideas for what to do next, including many with much better short-term financial prospects, but couldn’t shake an internal passion for building Retrolux. The moment that inspired me to go for it was at the end of a conversation with my soulmate where she asked me what I was passionate about. I didn’t have to think about it and blurted out Retrolux. It was obvious I had to go for it.”

What are you most excited about for November 7th?

LE: “I’m most excited about the opportunity to share the Retrolux story with the Salesforce community and learn about other startups partnering with Salesforce.”

Who is your role model?

LE: “I don’t have a single role model, but frequently cite Elon Musk for his technical and visionary genius, Steve Jobs for his marketing and attention to detail, and the Dalai Lama for his spiritual clarity.”

What’s your advice to other people looking to start their own company?

“My advice for folks looking to start their own company is to only pull the trigger if they are absolutely passionate about what they want to accomplish.”

LE: “My advice for folks looking to start their own company is to only pull the trigger if they are absolutely passionate about what they want to accomplish. Starting a company is hard work, the odds are against you, and you need unrelenting passion to make it worthwhile.”


Don’t miss all the action on November 7th. Sign up to watch Dreampitch online or in-person at #DF17.