We at Fanminder are recovering from an intense week of participation in Astia’s Doing It Right program. Astia is a global, non-profit organization dedicated to helping women to become better entrepreneurs and leaders of high-growth, innovative businesses.
Doing It Right is only the first stage of our life-long, Astia membership. The program is intended to enlighten entrepreneurs as to how the investment community thinks and the fundamental challenges of running a fast-growth business. Over the next two months we will be paired with three to five Advisors who will devote hours each week to helping us improve our business, and ultimately, our investment pitch. On January 20th we’ll present that pitch to about 100 investors. Astia touts that its graduates achieve a 60 percent funding rate!
To become a member of Astia, we had to complete a short application and pitch to a room full of Astia advisors and employees. After we were accepted into the Fall program based in San Francisco, we found ourselves in a lecture room with 58 other Astia entrepreneurs. There were life sciences companies, cleantech energy firms, Internet software apps and even consumer products. There were a whopping 125 speakers in 48 sessions over the six days.
It’s inspiring to have strong, entrepreneurial women as role models.
On the first day, we found ourselves in a room full of other successful women entrepreneurs, and during breaks we had ample time to get to know each other.
We met dozens of professionals on the many panel sessions, notably Shellye Archambeau, Bill Campbell and Susan Wojcicki. Archambeau told us that she was first woman IBMer to be sent to Japan and Campell shared his passion for helping woman entrepreneurs, including his mentoring of Archambeau.
Susan Wojcicki is one of Google’s earliest employees. Her discussion, the Spark of Innovation, was filled with anecdotes from Google’s history, summing up with points like “Go for the impossible” or “Do the thing you’re scared of doing.”
We practiced the art of pitching.
If the goal of the 30-minute investment pitch is to get asked out on a second date, then the first 60 seconds is a critical first impression. In one workshop, each student pitched herself for 60 seconds in front of the class. During this, it’s important to communicate your founding story, why you started the business, and how your experience is relevant to making your business successful.
Dan Sapp showed us how to bring energy to a room. Using several people as props, Dan demonstrated vital lessons such as, “You have to believe you have the authority (and not permission) to take an audience’s time.” It’s also important to remember to breathe while on stage, to lean forward while speaking, and to use pauses to create silence, which brings gravity to your message. Our favorite: if you touch your hands together while on-stage, envision your head exploding.
On the last day, each team pitched a more polished, 10-minute version of their sales pitch in front of a mix of colleagues, investors and Astia personnel.
We burrowed deep into the mind of the investor.
Gaining investment was the top theme of the week, so dozens of venture capitalists and angels were trotted out to share their hot buttons, insights, and tips for working with entrepreneurs. We learned what to do and what not to do, how to get a deal over the goal line, the state of venture investing, and more. Some favorites:
- Professional Angel associations such as Golden Seeds will not invest in ‘business models’ or ‘power[RR1] points’. They need to see a prototype or working product and a validated value proposition.
- Here’s one VC’s objectives: 1) What is the team’s credibility, i.e., have they come from that industry? 2) How far along is the business, i.e., how deep are our assumptions in the model? 3) Is this a venture opportunity, defined as being a very fast-growing business in 3-5 years?
- What constitutes a credible financial model? Likewise, the company shouldn’t present itself as more of an expert in its assumptions if it’s not yet factual. Avoid surprising investors by being transparent. Don’t withhold competitors if you know of them; immediately send changes to your model if you make them, and disclose weird legal or financing structures.
- An “early exit” is the sale to another company that can generate at least a 3X return in 3-5 years. This is typically the goal for angel investors.
- Why does an early investor typically ask for 20 percent? This price has usually been adjusted by the give and take over time by investors and entrepreneurs, creating enough reward for the investor while still keeping the entrepreneur motivated.
- Capital-efficient business models rule for early stage investors. Efficiency is defined as an almost zero marginal cost to sell the next product or service unit (unlike, say, a retail store where the tenth store is still expensive).
- Promising trend: There are more angel investors and money flowing to promising start-ups.
- Interesting trend: The VC model is acknowledged as broken because of disappointing ten-year returns. Some panel members believe that future investment will flow from big corporate balance sheets, so entrepreneurs should forge deeper partnerships with brand name companies.
During Astia, we continued to field customer calls, write product requirements, and generally run our fast-growing business. We’ve requested Advisors with specific backgrounds and we’re excited about having really smart people dig into our business and help us.
In January we’ll pitch, which seems like a good time for another post to wrap up our thoughts on the program.
How do you think you can benefit from a entrepreneurial bootcamp like Astia?