Entrepreneur Laura Bilazarian has an innovative solution for helping companies find great talent. But to convince investors, she’ll need to walk a razor’s edge between confidence and cockiness.
From Gimlet, this is The Pitch. I’m Josh Muccio.
Jillian Manus: Carlos Santana and I built one of them, called Casa Noble.
On this show, we venture into the world of startups, to a critical moment, when aspiring entrepreneurs put it all on the line and pitch investors for funding.
Laura Bilazarian: We quit our nice lives and we moved out here to a garage in Palo Alto.
Howie Diamond: So you’re replacing recruiters?
Laura: Most of you haven’t applied to a job since you were in college, like me.
Sheel Mohnot: I mean any good person doesn’t apply for a job, right?
Today we hear from a brash, East Coast founder who is sure she has the solution for helping companies find great talent. But a solution is just the start: she also has to convince investors she is an entrepreneur worth betting on. And that could be a tough sell.
Phil Nadel is the co-founder of Forefront Venture Partners. He’s all about managing risk, and won’t go in on an investment unless the numbers are rock solid.
Phil: $3 million and we do the whole thing.
Jillian Manus is here representing Structure Capital. Her investment decisions often hinge on whether she could be a good match for the company — by bringing value beyond just the money.
Jillian: I see the merit. I just want to make sure that I always add smart money, just not money.
Jake Chapman’s here with Gelt VC. He has a keen eye for the small details, and as a former lawyer, he’ll hold an founder accountable for their every word.
Jake: They’re going to shut you down on that name. It’s definitely trademark infringement.
Howie Diamond founded the VC firm Ranch Ventures. He’s looking for entrepreneurs who think outside the box, someone with that X factor that you can’t quite put your finger on.
Howie: I dig your mojo, man.
Joining us this week is Sheel Mohnot with 500 StartUps. He isn’t afraid to call things exactly how he sees them. And he’s looking for a founder who can dish it back.
Sheel: As much as I want the business to exist, I don’t know if it can.
Jillian: So I don’t know if you ever tried that. And then we sold it to Crown…
It’s mid-morning in San Francisco, and our investors are waiting on the next entrepreneur. They’re shooting the breeze to pass the time, which, if you’re a big time investor like Jillian Manus, means revealing the details of your latest super bowl party.
Jillian: So, I built the San Francisco bridge, um, it was an acre long in my backyard.
Howie: You built a model of…?
Jillian: Yeah. And then NASA called me the day after my party. And he was like, “Hello, Ms. Manus?” I said, “Yes?” And he said, “This is Lieutenant So-and-so from NASA.”
Laura: This reminds me of my prom entrance or something.
Jillian: Oh, hi!
Laura: Hi, nice to meet you.
Founder Laura Bilazarian enters the room, as Jillian leaves us on a real cliffhanger of a story. Why did NASA want Jillian’s replica? We’ll tell you at the end. But now, we have a pitch to hear.
Laura: Hi. I’m Laura from Teamable, and we’ve built the best way to hire the right teammates via data driven referrals.
Laura explains that she used to work in a Wall Street investment bank. There, like a lot of places, hiring the right talent was incredibly hard, a constant struggle. But she noticed, on average, when they hired people employees knew, those people consistently performed better than people who applied cold.
This isn’t news, right? Companies know that good employees come from referrals. But finding those people is the tricky part. If only there was a way to make it really easy — like to gather all of those friends and associates in one place… like a big… social… network.
Laura: The average person has between 500 and 1500 connections across Facebook, LinkedIn, the oldest social network which is their email. The thing is, they don’t know necessarily who those people are and they’re not thinking about them in terms of positions at their companies.
But with the right technology, it’d be easy for employees to identify and contact qualified applicants through their social networks. Laura decided she had to be the one to build that technology.
Laura: So we did what any normal person would do, we quit our nice lives and we moved out here to a garage at Palo Alto. And so we’re raising $1 million to accelerate our growth.
Howie: Is this your first company?
Laura: Yes. Yeah. But I was an investment banker, you know, so I was in a lot of these meetings with other people’s companies.
Phil: Tell us more about how it works.
Laura: Well, I’ll just use an example of a company we’re launching in a few days, is Medallia, which is pre-IPO.
Medallia is just one of several dozen Teamable customers — and they’re all using this technology that Laura’s team built over the last couple of years. Here’s how it works: if you’re an employee at one of these companies, Teamable will comb through your networks — Facebook, LinkedIn, even your email contacts — to find matches for open positions. HR flags their favorites, and then you can personally invite those friends to apply.
Laura: And it’s very, very effective.
Howie: So you’re replacing recruiters?
Laura: Yes, we are replacing agencies. We were just talking to Warby Parker in New York yesterday. Their engineers are getting between 20 and 100 messages a day. They’re ignoring them. But when it comes from their friend that they used to work at Google with, they respond.
Howie: So the employee is empowered to reach out to their friends once there’s a match?
Investor: Are the companies making their employees do this? Because if I were an employee, and someone said, show me all of your friends. Nope.
Laura: Yeah. That’s the biggest hold point.
Laura is very clear about this: no one is required to make their networks available to Teamable. It’s entirely voluntary. Usually, a company using Teamable will send out an all-staff email that goes something like this:
Laura: Hey, we all know referrals make great hires, we all don’t have time to go through our networks every time a new position opens. Can you take 30 seconds and upload your contacts into Teamable. By the way, you’re just giving the names, no one can see your Facebook wall, no one can see your LinkedIn. It’s like a spreadsheet-type thing.
Sheel: I think it makes sense. Like, I never respond to recruiters.
Laura: I’m sure most of you haven’t applied to a job since you were in college, like me.
Sheel: Any good person doesn’t apply for a job, right?
Jillian: That’s not true.
Sheel: I’ve never hired anybody who was looking for a job. I’ve hired people who are great people. Great people aren’t just available.
Sheel: So there’s a huge, the biggest challenge my companies all have is talent right now. So I feel the need. There are other players in this space: Broadly, Jobvite —
Sheel: — doing all sorts of other stuff. I’m still struggling for what you do that’s differentiated.
Laura: Yeah, so a couple things we do that’s differentiated is we tap into social graphs, like GitHub and Facebook, which LinkedIn, for example, can’t do. So we’ve spent a lot of time in stealth building that capability. It’s not easy. The other way that we’re different is a lot of companies have tried to automate the matches. But the problem is if you automate the matches, one bad match and people start hating the software. Right? Whereas if you let the recruiters drive it and pick out the matches, then the matches are 100% correct.
Howie: How’s it going overall, for you? As a first-time entrepreneur?
Laura: I mean, I went through the darkness last year where it was like hell —
Howie: You were in the trough of sorrow?
Laura: — and people were like no one is going to pay you to use their own contacts. That kind of stuff. And I really didn’t know… Everything I did I didn’t know what I was doing. But Silicon Valley has been really great. And so things have been — it’s good now.
First time entrepreneurs: they can be a big gamble for investors, which might explain why Howie asked Laura about it. But her answer — that she’s been through the darkness, this proverbial trough of sorrow — is a surprisingly honest response. It could mean that she’s earned her stripes as a founder, or it could mean she doesn’t have the stomach for business.
That’s just one of the questions investors will need to hammer down before putting any money on the table.
Sheel: So tell me about…
Laura: We’ve been growing at 47% month over month. We’re at 42 MRR.
$42,000 in monthly recurring revenue — MRR — is a pretty impressive start.
Laura: Last quarter, with two sales people, who closed $225k in new bookings. We’re good. [laughs]
Jillian: Take it from the beginning.
Laura: From the beginning? So we’re at 42,000 monthly recurring revenue.
Jillian: No. Take us, back up, back up.
Laura: Okay. We charge on a subscription basis. And we charge per employee, per month.
Sheel: How much do you charge?
Laura: Yeah, we charge sometimes as much as $20 per employee, per month.
Phil: What’s the average, though?
Laura: I actually don’t know the average. But it’s very close to that $20. We’ve done some bigger deals now that are like a thousand people, and that will go down to like $8 per employee, per month.
Sheel: But that’s sort of weird, because per employee… Shouldn’t it be based on how many people they’re hiring?
Laura: No, it’s per employee, per month, because every employee comes with a value, which is the candidates in their network and their ability to influence their network. And then also like, we can’t account for their close rates.
Howie: So this can scale infinitely? You could scale up to hundreds of thousands of employees?
Laura: Yeah. We can do anyone.
Laura tells investors that Teamable’s largest customer has several thousand employees, and pays six figures a year for the service. But most of Teamable’s customers have fewer employees, so they pay a lot less — $12,000 on average. And then she says something that really gets the investors’ attention.
Laura: Customers pay us up front.
Phil: Oh, they pay you all up front?
Sheel: It’s good for cash flow perspective.
Laura: A lot of times, yeah. Because they’re budget conscious, so we use that as part of the negotiation. Okay, great, you pay us up front, you can do $15 per employee per month.
Sheel: Makes sense.
Jillian: I think you’re disciplined. I think that’s actually the best way to grow. What’s your burn?
In this instance, Jillian is asking about gross burn. In other words, she just wants to know how much money Teamable is spending each month.
Laura: What’s our burn? It’s $20k.
Jillian: How many people?
Laura: We have 27.
Wait. Teamable has 27 employees, and they’re only spending $20,000 a month? Even if they had no other overhead costs, that would be less than $800 per employee, per month.
Laura: I made a contrarian bet on Armenia. I’m ethnically Armenian. So I went there and they have a lot of those top engineers like those other Eastern European countries, but no one is tapping into it. And so we’re the best game in Armenia. And so we have great engineers.
Sheel: What do you pay them?
Laura: I’m not saying on the… They’re the cheapest for the region, so — and I’m blaming my co-founders on this. They’re Armenian, so they set the prices.
Jillian: OK. I love the fact that you’re doing that. I love it. That must give you amazing pride.
Laura: It does. That’s how I made it through the darkness. If we’re talking about like, honestly, if it weren’t for creating an opportunity for Armenia, through those periods where things didn’t work and where no one wanted to buy it and all that stuff. I would have just given up. But it was really for that, that kept me through. And it’s created immense pride and hope and things like that over there.
By keeping employee costs low, Laura is doing something companies at this stage don’t often do: turn a profit. But what is all that profit worth, really? In other words, what’s the price tag on Laura’s company?
Laura: Now we won’t take anything less than a $15 million cap.
Jillian: How much are you raising?
Laura: We would take another 150.
Jillian: So you’re taking a 150 at a 15?
Phil: What’s your MRR going to be by the end of this year, do you think?
Laura: By the end of this year, we’ll get to that $100k.
Jillian: So 15 is a little bit hefty valuation for…
Phil: I agree.
Jillian: Because you’re not yet at the Series A.
Laura: I mean, it’s a cap, right. So it’s your chance to get in or just not.
Howie: But why are you raising $150k?
Jillian: If you don’t need it?
Sheel: Yeah, I don’t get that.
Laura: Uh, just because I’m on the show and I wanted to give you guys a chance to get in. Like, I really don’t..
Jillian: You don’t need it.
Howie: You don’t need us.
Laura: …don’t need it. Yeah.
Phil: So why come on the show?
Laura: Because there’s 40,000 listeners. All of which hiring is a pain point for.
Jillian: I like your strategic mind.
Howie: Very opportunistic.
Phil: Appreciate your honesty.
Laura: So does anyone want to get in at the…
Just moments after Laura revealed that she doesn’t actually need the funding, she’s asking investors if they want in on the deal. Let’s see how this plays out…
Phil: I think the valuation that you’re offering us is a little rich at this stage. I know that you have better insight into where you’ll be in a few months than we do, of course. But I’m very interested. I’m just a little turned off by a $15 million valuation at $42,000 MRR.
Laura: But 47% month-over-month growth.
Phil: Yeah, but you’re asking us to invest at valuation levels three months from now.
Laura: And enterprise deals. Like, people would invest in that if you had just one six-figure deal. Like how many companies have six-figure enterprise deals? Not that many?
Phil: But I can tell you, companies that we invest in at $42,000 MRR, which is where you are today, they’re not getting anywhere near $15 million valuation. I know for you, you’re in a good position, because you don’t need the money.
Laura: They also don’t have the same cash flow profile that we have. Because think about the unit economics plus the cost of engineering is a fraction. So our total engineering costs is $15,000 including office a month. So with the cash that we will throw off…
Phil: That’s all part of we’re cash flow positive, which other companies…
Laura: No, that’s part of also the growth, the cashflow.
Sheel: Look, I look at a ton of SAAS businesses. There are other businesses that take cash up front and are cashflow positive. There are tons of them. And I’ve got a company in my portfolio that’s doing a few hundred K MRR but actually they’re taking million dollar contracts up front. So it’s not unique.
Laura: Are they valued at less than 15 million?
Sheel: No. But they’re doing 8x the business you are and they’re valued at 25 or 30 million. So it’s a different level.
Phil: I want to be in. Right? I want to invest. I’m just having trouble with the number. So, I think, regrettably, I’m going to have to pass at 15 million.
Laura: Is there a number at which you wouldn’t pass?
Phil: Yeah. I think for me at 10 I would do it.
Laura: No. Can’t do it.
So Phil just passed, or wait, was it Laura that just passed?
Either way, they couldn’t agree on the valuation. Because Laura won’t go lower than $15 million, Phil won’t get as much of the company as he wants. So he’s out. Here’s Jake.
Jake: So for me, I think there’s three things. First, I think I’m probably not a great investor for you, because I don’t really know the hiring, referral, talent space very well. So for me, I don’t think I could add a ton of value to your company. Two, like everyone’s saying, I think the valuation is definitely a little high. Maybe it makes sense, from what you’re seeing, you know you can close in two months. But today I’ve got to value you at 42,000 MRR and that’s more like a $4 or 5 million cap.
Jake: 10 million is fairly generous. 15 is really off the charts at that. The last one, which is I think the elephant in the room, is, there was a 30 second moment of brutal honesty in your pitch. And I found that a big personal turn off. So, if you’re here because you want the publicity, and you’re open to raising money, that’s fine. Even though you’re not here really to raise money. But the way it was delivered felt very much like this is just a promotional opportunity for me and I don’t care about any of you here or what value you can add. And so for that, I think that was just a little flub, I think you’re a very nice person, but it was definitely a personal turnoff. And in first impressions, that can kill a deal, at least for me.
So, that’s a hard pass from Jake. Here’s Howie.
Howie: I have a totally different view. I get pitched 60 to 70 companies a month. And I hear the same standard banal platitude rhetoric. Like, it was refreshing to hear that. And I think you’re scrappy, and I think you’re opportunistic, and I think you have grit and like gumption, and I think that’s fucking awesome. That’s rare. I don’t see that in the valley that much.
Phil: Howie, let me ask you a question though. Based on what you’ve seen — we’re going to talk about you in front of you —
Phil: — do you see her as a founder who is teachable?
Howie: You know, I don’t see it… It’s interesting, because I sort of pride myself on being a… I started my fund because I think I can identify talent and I think I can read people really well. And that’s when at the early stage I’m mostly betting on people. And as brutally honest as you are, and maybe just because I have a lot of experience, I love working with East Coast founders and companies, it’s just like it’s not an ego or hubris thing. I actually do think you’d be open if we worked together to taking feedback. You don’t seem cantankerous. You actually just seem like you’re crushing it, to be honest. That’s what I get. And I personally, I do think it’s over-valued, but I do think that this could be one of those opportunities where it’s like a half a billion to a billion dollar exit, if not more, based on your hustle, based on all the things that you’ve said, based on your traction; based on you overcoming sort of existential risk and digging yourself out of the trough of sorrow; and then actually delivering results. You’re actually walking the walk. Like, I’m in. I probably want to go in for like, you know, 25 or 30 or something like that. And I’m a creative, and I have empathy for you, and I’m an operator myself. So this gap between venture and entrepreneur is actually very small for me. So I like getting my hands dirty. I like working very closely with my founders.
Howie’s in! Next up…Jillian.
Jillian: Let me understand this, Howie.
Howie: Yes, Jillian.
Jillian: So, what I heard from Laura is, “I’m standing firm at 15.” This is what I heard.
Jillian: Okay. But everybody who has spoken so far has said, “I would come in, but I would come in at a little bit lower.” But if you’re going to give Howie a lower valuation because he’s going to tell you how valuable he is, then you should give that opportunity to all of us. Don’t you think? Or to the ones that you feel will add as much as he will.
Laura: We’re going to map it out with real numbers and stuff. It’s not just, oh hey, the standard pitch that —
Jillian: I can actually, I’ll be very honest, and I’m not going to be humble on this, because pretty much everybody who is listening will know this.
Laura: Don’t be humble, that’s like a woman thing, anyway. I’m trying not to…
Jillian: I’m not a humble person. I can pick up the phone and pretty much call, pretty much get at the highest level, the CEOs, at least to…
Laura: Of which industry?
Jillian: Pretty much any industry. So I’m old. Let me start there.
Howie: I didn’t say it.
Jillian: I’ve been around a long time. But let me just speak about you. You’re a heat-seeking missile. Absolutely. I love your grit. And I love your edge.
Jillian: I was offended, I got to admit, about what you said.
Jillian: But this is what I tell founders all the time. You can be tenacious, but stay gracious. Okay. That’s really, really important. Because business is about relationships. Bottom line. So just be a little bit careful. You want to be cocky, you’re okay, that’s all okay. And you want to get marketing from this. Good for you. I mean, yes, absolutely. And I applaud you on that. It was the presentation of the reality of it. It was like, I don’t need you.
Laura: And it’s actually not the reality. Because one of the reasons is that I want to make sure our cap table is filled with female minority founders. And the fact that you were on here is actually one of the main reasons that I wanted to come. Because, really.
Howie: And totally redeems herself.
Jillian: So, I really love this. I love you. I love the fact that you’re finding jobs for females in tech. I love that piece. Every inch of me wants to put $100 grand into this. I’m absolutely choking on the 15 million. And I’m wondering if there’s any possible way, that you would come down…
Howie: The three of us should get some tequila.
Laura: Some tequila would be good.
Jillian: I’ve got a great tequila company. You get tequila for life with $100 grand.
Laura: No, I don’t need that. You don’t want to give me that.
Sheel: There goes the company!
Jillian: Shots for everyone!
They’re talking tequila but there’s still the matter of how much of the company the investors will get.
Jillian: So I guess the question is back at you. When we said to you 15, you definitely posted it back to us and said, what would you feel comfortable with? Or what would be good? So I’m slinging it back on to you. What do you think? Do you think you could open this up for a couple of us who are interested or whatever at 13? Would you, I mean we’re talking about splicing hairs here.
Laura: Yeah. I’m thinking about the whole chessboard. Not just what’s in this room.
Jillian: And it’s not the money. It’s just not the money.
Howie: At the end of the day it’s actually not going to matter in terms of whether it’s 10, 11, 12 or 15. It’s actually not going to matter.
Laura: At ten? Ten’s like no. Ten definitely no.
Howie: We could fill out that whole 150k at ten.
Laura: I really came in with a real price that I was like…
Jillian: 12? Come on. Give us 12.
Laura: I actually really do want to talk about the real things where you would add value. Because we’ve been having a lot of these conversations for real. And so I do want to…
Sheel: We should all talk. I’d love to chip in as well.
Jillian: I’m going to end this.
Laura: All right, let’s end it. I gotta go. Let’s go.
Jillian: Okay, by saying this. I’m going to give you $100,000 at 15.
Jillian: Hold on. There’s a caveat here. If after sitting down with me and having a larger conversation, okay, you feel that I add more value than you expected me to, then you will consider lowering the valuation.
Laura: Sounds good.
Jillian: Deal. All right. That’s it.
Laura: Yay! I got another female investor! Woo! Thank you. Welcome to the team. And we’ll talk.
Howie: Yeah and I’m in for $25k.
Sheel: I would say I’m in for $50k at 15 with a 35% discount.
Howie: Next steps, let’s all get tequila, and we’ll figure it out.
Jillian: We’ll go to Poso’s.
Sheel: Jillian’s buying.
Jillian: How is Jillian buying? she put the most money in! You guys all buy! Hey!
A lot just happened there, so a quick recap: Jillian just came in for $100,000. Howie wants in for $25,000, and Sheel’s in for $50,000, for a total of $175,000.
When we come back, Laura leaves the room and we hear what investors really thought about her. And then, I get Laura on the phone to find out, how things panned out after the fact. Stay tuned.
Welcome back, Laura just stepped out of the studio and our investors speak freely.
Sheel: So meeting her, right off the bat I liked the company. But actually I hated her at the beginning.
Sheel: She was super, super cocky.
Phil: Very cocky.
Jillian: I didn’t hate her.
Sheel: I hate this person. I definitely warmed up to her over time. But it’s interesting, Howie it sounds like you liked that.
Howie: I got her right away. I didn’t think she was cocky.
Jillian: She was cocky.
Sheel: She is cocky.
Howie: I think it was just a display layer. It was just this thing that she was putting on and I knew that it wasn’t really her.
Jillian: But I have to tell you something. I come against this all the time, when a woman has to pitch, especially to a majority of men, you have to come off tough.
Sheel: That’s fair.
Jillian: You have to. And it’s unfortunately it’s a Catch-22 for women.
Sheel: Either you’re cocky or meek.
Jillian: Yeah. If that was a man standing up here and being like that, you would be like, he is all that. The fact that it’s a woman standing up there.
Sheel: I don’t think I would!
Jillian: I do talk a lot to female founders. And just say, you know what, you don’t have to be that extra, extra tough. Because you do have to be tenacious, but I say this all the time: tenacious and gracious. There has to be — you have to have a kindness about you. I actually saw the kindness when she was saying, “Armenia got me through those dark days.”
Sheel: Yeah, I liked that.
Phil: Yeah, that was really a human thing.
Jillian: And then all of a sudden, I saw her heart.
Sheel: Yeah. Totally.
Jillian: I didn’t see her heart before.
Sheel: Totally, I loved that.
Phil: Yeah, I agree with you.
Howie: I think that she’s an East Coaster.
Jillian: She is an East Coaster.
Howie: And we’re not used to the East Coasters.
Jillian: Oh, I am, I’m from the East Coast.
Howie: You’re from the East Coast. There’s no bullshit. There was no bullshit there. And to your point, I agree, she should have said I appreciate, and thank you.
Jillian: She should have said that. She was like, I don’t even have to be here. I don’t need your money.
Howie: Okay, the tenaciousness, I love. To your point, there should have been a little bit of graciousness. A little bit. A little bit would have been nice but at the same time —
Jillian: I agree!
Jake: It’s okay to be cocky and confident.
Jillian: But not obnoxious.
Jake: That’s fantastic. But the, I don’t need your money, I’m here for the publicity.
Jillian: That was wrong, Howie.
Phil: A turn off.
Howie: I disagree, respectfully. Because I looked at it as being opportunistic, I looked at it as being scrappy. I don’t see that level of entrepreneurship anymore. And I love it because that’s rare to me. And I have a Sunday test. All my founders that I invest in I have to be able to hang out with them on a Sunday, otherwise I’m not going to invest. And I can see myself hanging out with her and just riffing on ideas, brainstorming, hustling. And that’s just the vibe I got from her. She was just a tough vibe, but…
Jillian: She smiled. When you saw her smile, you said, okay. And also she said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I said that.” And that spoke volumes to me. Someone can own their bad, I actually think is the kind of founder that I can work with. Because I have a lot of female founders, and they are pit bulls. And they have to be.
Sheel: I think we got to get out of here
Phil: I think we got to go.
Sheel: All right guys.
Jillian: Oh, we’re breaking?
Sheel: Do we have food?
Jillian: Right. Good.
Howie: I liked her.
It’s been almost a year now — and in the world of startups, a year is a lifetime. Look at this show, for instance. Since we recorded Laura’s pitch, we joined a network — thanks, Gimlet! — and we are wrapping up our second season.
But what’s happened with Teamable? After her pitch, did Laura stick to her guns on the $15 million valuation? And of course, the obvious question, did the money come through?
Josh: All right so Jillian committed $100k, Howie $25k, and Sheel $50k. What happened after the pitch was over?
Laura: Yeah, Howie — Howie invested uh, the valuation we discussed.
Josh: The full 25 at 15?
Laura: He actually put in 30. Yeah.
Josh: Oh, oh great. And then Sheel – he put in 50K?
Laura: No, Sheel just took longer than I usually do for these things. And since it wasn’t like we needed the money we just punted.
Josh: Oh really. Did he flake out or you just like stopped pursuing him? What – what happened?
Laura: No, it was pretty mutual. I mean to me if it doesn’t close within 24 to 48 hours I’ll move on. It’s just a test of responsiveness and it’s responsiveness of the partner for…
Josh: 24 to 48 hours?
Laura: Yeah, I believe in closing.
Josh: You are in that much demand that you can ask that from your investors?
Laura: I don’t think it’s demand. I think it’s just good, good business. And so if it doesn’t close quickly, yeah I move on.
Josh: All right so let’s come to Jillian. She committed $100k on the show…what happened after the fact?
Laura: I think she committed $100K invested personally from her fund, whose name I love, is called Broad Strategy. So Jillian. And she also invested $200K from her fund Structure.
Josh: Wow, so you got $300K in total through Jillian, essentially.
Laura: That’s right.
Josh: Alright, bringing the total to $330K on the show.
Laura: Correct. Yes that’s right. Yup.
Josh: Wow she’s awesome. So yeah, what’s it been like working with Jillian since the pitch?
Laura: Yeah, I mean Jillian, Howie, they’ve all been, they’ve all been great: super great energy, a super great partner. Calls you out when you’re you know doing something irrational or cutting off a process. It’s hard as a CEO that’s doing well to find people that will challenge you with love.
Josh: Yeah. I am curious. Have you changed the like what you’re paying your developers in Armenia at all?
Laura: Yeah. We doubled it. Yeah.
Josh: Doubled it? Whoa. What caused you to do that?
Laura: I mean, pre-series A we were like very lean. Like, I lived off of $1500 a month for two and a half years.
Josh: In San Francisco??
Laura: And you know so I actually get the same salary some of them were getting. And you can live really well in Armenia off off like $400. I’ve lived there and done it. So I’m not just saying something like an ass.
Josh: Um, alright, so, if you can remember back to your pitch: what it was like in the room pitching those five investors, what sticks out in your mind?
Laura: That like record stopping moment when I said like I didn’t need them. I don’t remember exactly what I said but —
Josh: Yeah you said, we don’t need the money.
Laura: — yeah, usually when you’re like belligerent like that about, and authentic like that, usually there’s like one that will come, you know, to your defense. Or just like, really like the breath of fresh air. And for a second there I thought there wasn’t going to be any. And it was literally going to be, like a, you know, I was just going to have to shake their hand.
Josh: This is going to be over.
Laura: Yeah. And go. And I remember just being like, you know, keep your mouth shut, keep your mouth shut, keep your mouth shut. Like deal with the awkward pause. I knew that actually like not needing investment is one of the best ways to get investment and so I thought if nothing else, I would at least put that knowledge out there.
Josh: After you left the room, investors said that you are cocky and, like why do you think that is, that they they pushed back so much on your attitude and demeanor?
Laura: I definitely — like I know this. I’ve improved a hundred percent and I still have like 7000 percent more to go. Like I need to pick my words better for people on the West Coast. East Coast style is to like bark something at someone and they bark back and you know. It’s a nontraditional style for my gender, that could be it.
Josh: Yeah. And I mean they actually said that after the fact. Jillian brought that up, she said, you know, if this was a man in here pitching this with the same attitude you would have not said she’s cocky but it’s because she’s a woman that you said that. So she called him out on that and they said no no no no that’s not what happened. We wouldn’t have done that.
Laura: I really don’t want to get into this narrative of, like competitive disadvantages because I think there’s so many competitive advantages to being a woman. But, to me, words are words right. That’s great that she called me cocky but she invested. And I definitely don’t want like any woman that’s listening to this to think we have like a competitive disadvantage because there are so many competitive advantages. What would be worse would be my engaging in the narrative of, like, I have a losing hand because I’m a woman. It’s just like, that would be, you know, then I would have lost. Right. Like there’s always competitive advantages.
Josh: Yeah like, what are your competitive advantages, you feel?
Laura: I think one is that people trust me right. And so it’s like you know if people trust each other they’re willing to be more open, more collaborative, take risks, and all these things.
Josh: And you think like, as a woman, like finding that you know maybe maybe it’s not that people trust you. Maybe it is. But like finding whatever your unique competitive advantage is and just embracing that and not even thinking about like, the sex side of it.
Laura: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah I mean it’s like any — I mean I was a rugby player right. And so like there were advantages I had because I was low to the ground, right? And that was like a low center of gravity. Right so there’s going to be advantages that you had just from your structure. And then there were advantages I had because it was me, which is like, I knew what people were going to do before they did it, right? And that’s like a very unique-to-me advantage and I use that. So I always look like the fastest person. But actually if you looked at my 40 time, it was slow. Right, and so you need to figure out what are your women advantages and then what are your unique advantages.
Whether you’re playing rugby or pitching to investors, there are always a lot of subtle dynamics at play — strategy, attitude, gender. And you never know which will prove to be the deciding factor.
Laura told our investors she didn’t need any money, yet she still walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, more than any other startup on our show so far.
How did she do it? I tend to agree with Laura, that she got this funding because investors trusted her. And they trusted her because she was brutally honest.
In every pitch, investors try to see behind an entrepreneur’s mask, to see who they really are as a founder. Laura made that easy with her blunt delivery. That can be a polarizing strategy, but polarizing isn’t always a bad thing. The investors who do appreciate that approach won’t need much more convincing.
This is the final episode of Season 2. We’ll be on break until October 25th, when Season 3 starts. We just recorded those pitches earlier this month — and let me just say, you’re not gonna want to miss ’em.
Oh and before I go: remember that Golden Gate Bridge replica that Jillian was talking about earlier? NASA did buy it and they’re now using it for wind tunnel testing. Pretty cool.
All right — thank you SO much for listening. I’ll see you this fall.
Our show is produced by me, Josh Muccio, Asthaa Chaturvedi, and Rob Szypko. We are edited by Devon Taylor with help from Alex Blumberg.
Special thanks to Colleen Pellisier and Allison Behringer, who originally produced this episode back in our indie podcast days.
Our Theme Music is by Breakmaster Cylinder, with original music composed by The Muse Maker, Bobby Lord, Jeff Broadski, Christian Bjoerklund, John Kimbrough, Louis Weeks, Bienart and Edwin. We were mixed by Enoch Kim.
Thanks to Lisa Muccio for planning the Season 2 recording event last fall.
And a quick disclaimer: no offer to invest is being made to or solicited from the listening audience on today’s show.
Also, I want to say a quick thank you to the original sponsor of Season 2, the It’s Worth Doing Right Family.
All right — you’ve been listening to The Pitch from Gimlet Media. I’m Josh Muccio. See you next season.