A Melbourne entrepreneur has outlined the key lessons he learnt while pitching to an accelerator in the United States, encouraging start-ups to “keep hustling” while they wait for funding news.
Amir Nissen, along with business partner Vita Smid, is the brains behind Melbourne-based start-up 7pm anywhere, which is attempting to disrupt the online dating industry.
The 7pm anywhere web app provides a platform for singles to connect with potential partners in a way that’s fun and engaging, doing away with “boring profiles” and “random messages”.
The app is not dissimilar to a dating game show – women ask questions, men answer, and a match is made depending on who the woman connects with.
About a month ago, Nissen and Smid were invited to pitch for funding from StartEngine, a US-based accelerator program run by Howard Marks, co-founder of gaming empire Activision.
StartEngine offers start-ups up to $20,000 in seed funding in addition to one-on-one mentorship, business resources, and introductions to “dozens” of venture capitalists and angel investors.
As for the invitation extended to 7pm anywhere, Nissen says there was one catch – he and Smid had to be in Los Angeles, ready to pitch, in eight days’ time.
“It was pre-launch, but we had enough momentum and positive feedback from some closed trials that we believed we’d have a decent shot at it,” Nissen says.
“They say be prepared, and we did as much background research as possible.”
“We’d found some previous StartEngine alumni describe the interview process on Quora – that it was loosely structured, intense, and questions could range from ‘Why would employee number 20 join your company?’ to ‘What would you do with the money tomorrow?’”
While 7pm anywhere wasn’t successful in securing funds, Nissen says he made some valuable connections and learned “a metric ton” about pitching.
Nissen outlines three key lessons he learnt during the pitching process:
1. Don’t assume anything
“We walked in ready to get stuck into the details, to stand by our assumptions, share insights, and get grilled on every point we’d written in the application,” Nissen says.
“I’d half expected copies of our application on the table in front of them. And what would you know, they’d seemingly not even read it.”
“In hindsight this makes sense. With so many applicants and interviews, they couldn’t possibly have intimate knowledge of all who applied.”
“Instead of discussing details with someone already familiar, we should have prepared to pitch from scratch – to reaffirm all the points in our application that got us there in the first place.”
2. Don’t hold back
“About halfway through the pitch it was obvious things weren’t going as planned,” Nissen says.
“For whatever reason they just didn’t seem to be grasping the vision; the potential our start-up has to disrupt a massive industry.”
According to Nissen, there’s a lot to be said for Australia’s laidback lifestyle and “fair go” attitude because “you go out of your way not to talk yourself up”.
“That’s great when you’re hanging out with mates [but] not so when trying to convince people to put money in your business idea,” he says.
“Investors want to be sold; they want to believe your start-up is the best thing since sliced bread. And they’re not going to listen long enough for it to come out in the detail.”
3. Keep hustling
“We walked out of the interview knowing we could have done better, but thinking there was still [a] chance of being accepted,” Nissen says.
“We evidently had some time to kill before we’d know where things stood. The only thing to do? Find more people to pitch to.”
“Whilst somewhat excusable given the short notice leading up, being proactive and arranging meetings for our trip in advance would have been worth its weight in gold.”