Read Nathaniel Jewell’s new post, My 8-Step Fundraising Process: Investor Targets, Reach Out, & Organization.
Lockdown murmurs began right after my sister, Lou, and I launched So Syncd, a dating app that matches compatible Myers-Briggs personality types. Launching a business is a significant undertaking, let alone launching a dating app during a global pandemic.
With no choice but to wait and see how the pandemic would impact how people used dating apps, we saw our active users jump up 45% just by heading into lockdown. Turns out people were craving meaningful connections more than ever in such an uncertain and lonely time.
Additionally, I’m proud to say we recently raised $1M in seed funding, a milestone that greatly accelerates our speed moving forward. But as two non-technical founders who held full-time jobs for the majority of this time, we learned some lessons along the way. Here are five how-tos for founders looking to navigate their first startup.
How to: go all in and quit your day job
The silver lining of lockdown for us was that we could focus on So Syncd with very few distractions. While we both had full-time jobs during the day, it was easy to direct all of our attention in the evenings and weekends to the app—that is, until we couldn’t.
Fundraising is a full-time job. If you ask any founder, they’ll tell you there comes a point when it’s simply not possible to do it all, even taking into account your already non-existent social life. There was a definitive moment that was the tipping point but things just kept piling up. With full-time 9-5 jobs, we just didn’t have the time we needed – and wanted – to talk and listen to our customers, manage the tech team on a daily basis, or think about a strategic marketing and PR plan.
Before taking the leap, take a step back and evaluate how you can fund the motions of the business until you raise. For us, we were always confident our app would be successful and we were the right team to do it, but when we launched our app we just decided to build it as soon as we thought of the idea—we didn’t plan for it ahead of time.
Because of this, we had to keep working our full-time jobs for a period of time and use our entire savings to fund the ongoing development costs. Eventually, we had the resources and funds to jump all the way. We launched So Syncd in January 2020, but I didn’t leave my job until that November, and my sister left hers in early 2021 just before our first raise.
How to: find a reliable technical expert
My sister and I don’t have technical backgrounds. While Lou previously helped scale a different start-up to unicorn status, my background has largely been finance. Between the two of us, we covered a lot of business aspects like fundraising, legal, HR, marketing, and design, but our technical shortcomings were impossible to ignore.
Early on, we couldn’t make a monetary commitment so we used contractors to help us build our app. Three or four months in, we knew we needed someone more permanent to help manage both the strategy and tactics so we brought on a part-time CTO. It’s been so comforting having him around to handle any technical urgencies and strategic technical decisions we need to make.
If you’re a non-technical founder, keep your ears and eyes open – always – because like us, you might find the right resource when you least expect it. I met our CTO at an event hosted by a mutual friend and just happened to strike up a conversation with him about the work we were doing. At the end of our conversation, he said, “If you ever need any help, give me a call.” A few weeks later, I took him up on his offer and he still works part-time as our CTO today.
How to: build a network for yourself
Over the next 10 years, I’m hopeful we’ll see far less emphasis placed on warm intros because it reduces the chances for diverse founders and ideas getting funding. But for now, this is how fundraising works and to be successful, you have to play the game.
Fundraising without an existing network or warm intros is near impossible. Lou and I had neither to start with and I wish I had realized the importance of this sooner. In the beginning, I sent out over a hundred cold emails with very few responses and no meetings.
After realizing we weren’t making any meaningful traction, I looked for ways to expand my network. I used Lunchclub, a networking platform, to start building out my network with professional connections.
As I got to know more and more people, someone would know another dating app founder I could chat with or an investor who expressed interest in the space. By the time we were ready to properly fundraise, I felt like I was on the inside of a circle—instead of hovering at the entrance as an outsider.
How to: gauge investor interest even without a response
In addition to investing in and expanding our fundraising connections, founders must use their resources and access to technology to their advantage. At the end of the day, investors tend to always have the upper hand in fundraising — until they don’t.
We discovered DocSend through a recommendation from an angel investor we met with. He used DocSend and the companies he invests in use it too.
The tool gives us unique insight into who’s looking at our pitch deck, what pages they focus on, and how much time they spend on each. It tends to even the playing field by allowing me to gauge investor interest, follow up when reasonable, and cater to their focus areas during a meeting. For example, when we saw investors get through the entire deck from start to finish, we knew our slides and narrative were in a logical order that made sense to our audience.
How to: find investors who are aligned with your vision
One thing that I’ve learned throughout this process is how important it is that your investors are aligned with your vision. We had a couple of investors early on who were interested in investing but they clearly wanted to take the company in a completely different direction to where we wanted to take it. Not so long after, we found an amazing lead investor who was aligned with our vision. The conversations were much smoother and it was clear from the first (virtual) meeting that we were on the same wavelength.
Your gut instinct and the chemistry you and an investor have is so important. I have heard horror stories from friends who are founders where they ended up in tricky situations because their investors weren’t on the same page. If possible, it’s worth holding out for the right investors. You’ll know it when you make that connection.
Building So Syncd has been a steep learning curve. One of the key steps to successfully raising a funding round is to have confidence in yourself and your pitch. Knowing your worth is key when it comes to business in general and particularly when it comes to fundraising. You’ll have investors push back on a number of points and you have to be prepared to hold your ground, which is much easier if you are truly confident in what you are pitching.One of the key steps to successfully raising a funding round is to have confidence in yourself and your pitch. Knowing your worth is key when it comes to business in general and particularly when it comes to fundraising. Click To Tweet
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