PS27 Ventures, an early-stage investment firm founded by Jim Stallings, hosted the Female Founders Forum on March 4, 2022, which among the speaker line-up, included a panel of venture capitalists, as well as Ellen Latham, founder of Orange Theory Fitness, an exercise franchise which hit $1 billion in sales in 2018.
There were multiple takeaways specific to entrepreneurship — from what makes a good pitch deck to how to appeal to investors. However, many of the insights were also relevant for solopreneurs who don’t intend to raise money or even in-house professionals who don’t plan to start a business:
Play to your strengths
“Focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have.” – Ellen Latham
Latham repeatedly emphasized the importance of “shifting momentum up” by reminding yourself of what’s going well, instead of focusing on problems. She credits this attitude with enabling her comeback from being laid off from a dream job at a fitness studio to opening her own studio.
If you’re an entrepreneur or executive, homing in only on what’s going wrong or what needs fixing can erode your confidence and keep you from playing to your strengths. Log your wins (use these questions to get started), and start your day by reviewing these. End your day with a list of things you’re grateful for. The Gap and The Gain by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy is great resource for pivoting to more optimistic thinking.
Show courage in your negotiations
“Have the courage to take the money and go after the money. Stand up and ask for it. Fewer women ask for the larger money. Right-value yourself.” — Kelly O’Connell, 360 Venture Collective
360 Venture Collective is a woman-founded and led venture firm based in Miami, FL, with a focus on inclusivity. O’Connell highlighted the relationship between courage and money when asked about mistakes female founders make during the fundraising stage.
However, her comments resonate for entrepreneurs and executives alike, whether it’s raising investment funds or talking about salary or budget for your project. Too many professionals don’t “right-value” themselves, and ask for what they deserve. Take the time to mark yourself to the current market. Learn to be a fearless negotiator.
Tailor your message
“What can you do to make it easy for the investor to preview the company? Write up the email so it embeds the top 3-5 things to see right away. Make it easy to click on your website….If you’re on a pitch night, tailor to the audience. Create a 30-second, 1-minute and 5-minute elevator pitch, plus the pitch decks. You want different formats for audiences, for an initial introduction, for detailed in-person meetings. Accommodate…” – Sallie Jian, SAP.iO New York
SAP.iO is an incubator within SAP, the software company. Jian’s advice to make it easy on the investor is transferable to any relationship you’re trying to nurture – current boss, prospective employer, customer, colleague or other collaborator. While Jian’s example focus on good email writing (so important!), it also applies to your LinkedIn profile (include an easy way for people to get in touch) or even email signature (include your website or LinkedIn URL so people can easily learn more about you).
Creating multiple pitch formats depending on where you are is another gem applicable to both business owners and professionals. You want to have different ways of introducing yourself (the networking pitch) because, depending on the situation, you will have more or less time and your audience will want to know or need to know different things about you. Accommodating your audience, as Jian rightly puts it, is a way of showing you understand and respond to their needs.
Persevere beyond No
Hustle….If you get a No, ask for referrals to other investors in their network. Write a blurb to make the introduction easy….You didn’t see it as a No, you saw another opportunity — Adam Grant, Venture University
Adam Grant splits his time between the US Air Force and venture capital, so given his busy career, it’s fitting that he emphasized hustle and specifically moving past Nos. Given the fierce competition in business and employment, you’ll likely hear No more often than Yes, so having a plan for dealing with the rejection is critical. Grant reminds us that No to a specific request (for funding in his example) does not necessarily mean No to an introduction.
There are many things you can ask for as you network with decision-makers and influential people. You could ask for feedback or information that can help in your next negotiation. You could ask to keep in touch, and maybe the timing will be right for a Yes down the road. Follow up is so important here since genuine relationships are built over time, and you want to avoid transactional interactions.
“Always believe you deserve big things in life….Why not me?” – Ellen Latham