Ellivent is on a mission to bring transparency to the trade show industry. Ellivent provides a marketplace for exhibitors to discover, compare, and review the business events they attend and suppliers they use. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Gregory Crisci, tells how they raised their pre-seed round.
How many people are on your founding team?
We have 3 full-time team members.
How long did it take for you to raise pre-seed funding?
We initially set a timeframe of 2-months to do our pre-seed round. The clock started ticking from our first investor outreach. We decided that no matter what, we would try to keep it at two months. This allowed us to stay focused on also building the product. It was a balance.
What do you wish you had known before you started fundraising?
I was fortunate enough to have already raised a couple rounds for my previous startup so my expectations going into this round were a lot more realistic. However, I think a couple things are always good to keep in mind: (1) Things always take longer. Just setting up the first meeting is one to two weeks away; (2) The less a potential investor knows about your space, the more you’ll want to do some education upfront: Send articles, share links, send visuals. For example, we’re in the trade show space. Not many people understand what it is, how it works, what the problems are, etc. So, we have multiple versions of our deck, depending on who we were talking with; and (3) It’s not over till the money is in the bank account. There are plenty of things that could happen between when they say yes and when the funds are in your bank account.
How did you approach investor outreach when fundraising?
First, we made sure that the team was aligned on what each person would do. I was the quarterback for all things fundraising, while my co-founders would be responsible for making traction on the product. However, the expectation was that they would be ready at a moment’s notice if I needed them to join a call or meeting with an investor. Second, we treated it like a sales pipeline. We created a new pipeline in our CRM, we created personas, deals, etc. This allowed us to keep things organized. We paired our CRM with DocSend to monitor and track the deck. Lastly, we were persistent. We made sure to get a yes, no, or “not right now” for every investor we chatted with. For any investor that was a not right now, we asked if they wanted to be included on our monthly update email to keep in touch with our progress.
Did you change your pitch deck at all during your round, and if so, how often?
Yes! I believe we ended up creating around 14 versions of the same deck. We would make adjustments based off conversations we had with investors and mentors. In addition, we used the analytics provided by DocSend to let us know where people were spending the most time. If we noticed a particular slide was getting more attention, we would make that slide stand out more or add to it.
How did you present your product in your pitch deck?
When fundraising, you have to be prepared for all the different ways investors like to learn. Some are ok with product details in a deck, some want a demo, some are ok with just explaining it. We were prepared to cater to them all. In our master deck, we had one product overview slide and then two to three accompanying slides. In addition, we had more product screenshots in an appendix. Lastly, we created a clickable demo in InVision that we sent along with our materials.
What sort of traction did you have when you started your pre-seed round, and how did you convey that in your pitch deck?
Since this was my second startup, I relied more on vision and inspiration than actual traction for our pre-seed round. We did not have any of the top traction metrics that an investor may be looking for, however, we did have our industry experience and we spent a few months interviewing around 100 folks all across the industry. This allowed us to validate parts of our idea and start building the product. I did make sure to let my investors know this to set their expectation that this pre-seed round was to build a couple of early prototypes and to get market validation.
How did the ability to track potential investors’ engagement with DocSend impact your approach to fundraising?
Ultimately, just the idea that an investor looked at our deck gave us that sort of dopamine rush that an entrepreneur needs to keep going. As an entrepreneur, we rarely get positive feedback when trying to raise money, but these little things helped us know that it was being looked at. Then it became our job to convince them that we were onto something.
How was your pre-seed round different than you expected? Was anything the same?
It actually felt familiar. I think this time around, a lot more investors were looking for products that were a lot farther along but there were still some that believed in hearing the vision and our strategy to tackle the problems.
What is one thing you would change about your pre-seed round?
If we were to change one thing, I think it would have been to spend a little more time narrowing down our investor list to those who have expressed some interest in the event space. The problems we’re solving are only really known by those who have seen them. In my experience, those meetings with investors went a lot smoother and typically resulted in additional introductions.