Startups find necessary funding using all kinds of off-the-wall tactics. For HourlyNerd, its startup dream became a reality when a simple email to Mark Cuban resulted in the funding it needed to take business to the next level.
In a program called “Field Three” at Harvard Business School, MBA students were required to break out in groups of six and launch a company. “One of our team members, Rob, has a father who’s a small-business owner in New York,” says Patrick Petitti, co-founder and co-CEO of HourlyNerd. “There were certain tasks he had trouble doing that Rob could do really efficiently—such as create a forecast in Excel.” Soon, the team realized an imbalance exists between certain things small businesses need and what MBAs are capable of doing.
So Petitti's team set out and dug into some research. Of 20 local businesses in Boston and Cambridge, 19 said they’d hire an MBA to help with a project. And that’s where the idea for HourlyNerd was born.
But project requirements meant they weren’t allowed to use Harvard MBAs—so they turned to social media to start recruiting and got a tremendous response. “We made a really crappy landing page,” Petitti explains. “It basically just allowed MBAs to upload their resumes, but it worked for our needs at the time.”
Things started to fall into place and the concept was garnering tons of interest from small businesses. HourlyNerd was quickly becoming a reality—and the team needed funding to move forward with a more solid development and marketing plan. Given that all four members of the team were working on required Harvard internships in different parts of the world, their part-time summer project proved quite the challenge.
“We had already secured funding from one major investor,” Petitti says. “And the timeline for appearing on Shark Tank just wasn’t going to work out. We needed funds for development and marketing immediately. Plus we didn’t want to risk introducing any issues with our existing investor relationship. One of our team members, Joe, brought up the idea of emailing Mark Cuban, noting that he had heard that Mark sometimes responds to cold emails.
“We were also in talks with other potential investors. It wasn’t a matter of needing Cuban to say yes—we already knew we could secure the funding,” Petitti adds. “So we took a shot in the dark knowing that we were offering a really targeted opportunity that’s in line with Cuban’s interests.”
Interestingly, the team didn’t agonize for hours over finding the perfect pitch to intrigue Mark Cuban. “We had been writing these pitches and sending them out to multiple investors anyway,” Petitti explains. “So we just kind of went for it. We just did it. And Cuban responded—it was honestly less than 15 minutes later, I think. It was practically immediately.”
Now, HourlyNerd is in talks with several major venture capital firms to secure a Series A round of funding. With their existing investments, the team has been able to ramp up the site’s development to make it more functional and user-friendly, as well as more appealing to companies that want to post projects.
HourlyNerd is now taking things to the next level by hiring a full-time development team to implement a ton of new ideas that will create “an incredible user experience for both businesses and MBAs,” Petitti explains. “Also, we’ll be launching a recruiting platform that will help connect MBAs and businesses looking for full-time labor.”
And what attracted Cuban to HourlyNerd? “I think just the fact that it has huge potential to make a big impact on small business, and that’s something Cuban is passionate about,” Petitti says.
The approach isn't one any business can replicate without careful consideration. “Cuban probably hates it every time we tell this story,” Petitti says, laughing. “He probably gets thousands of emails every time.”
The key isn’t just targeting a big-name investor and shooting off emails into outer space. “We approached Mark Cuban because we knew he had the right background and was passionate in the right areas—it was a great fit for both sides,” Petitti says. “It’s all about finding the perfect match.”
For fellow entrepreneurs looking for funding opportunities, Petitti advises, “Take every single meeting, no matter who it is. Over time, you’ll refine your story, and you’ll get lots of advice, good and bad, on your business. You’ll learn why people think it will or won’t work, and that will help you prepare for the pitches that really matter.”
Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer, social media strategist and complete content marketing junkie obsessed with all things Web, written word and marketing.
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