Inside Look at Founder Hangouts: Lessons from Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
A new series where guest bloggers spill advice they learned during Founder Hangouts. The founder of Zoobean shares her new knowledge on how to make conversations regarding metrics work in your favor and why you shouldn’t pitch over coffee.
By Jordan Lloyd Bookey (Co-founder, Zoobean)
During last week’s Founder Hangouts with Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, I wanted to shout “Amen!” after every single thing she said. Singh Cassidy’s reputation precedes her, and as an ex-Googler myself, I am familiar with her legacy of drive and vision. Even with a reputation like hers, you don’t know if the hangout format will work, but in this case, from start to finish, our nearly 2-hour session with Singh Cassidy resonated with all of us.
I’m co-founder and Chief Mom for Zoobean, a discovery and personalization service that delights families with products curated just for them, beginning with books. We are just closing our seed round, so many of the mistakes Singh Cassidy highlighted tended to be, Oh, man! moments for me, while others are things I have noted to avoid or embrace for future.
Singh Cassidy led the call by asking each of us to say our name, company, and how much we had fundraised to date. She led by introducing herself and announcing that she had raised around $20M for her company JOYUS. With a start like that, you might think that the call would be intimidating. Instead, she took stock (pun intended) on where each of us were, and then let our situations drive the discussion. I have several pages of notes, which I culled to find three of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from the hangout.
Don’t Pitch Before You Pitch
Singh-Cassidy sipped on a cup of java as we talked, but she put it down to remind us not to pitch over coffee! By taking meetings with a potential angel, or especially a potential VC firm, you’re missing a future opportunity. She said something along the lines of:
So you go to just ‘have coffee’ with a potential investor. They ask you about your metrics. They ask you about your vision. You tell them all kinds of information. You leave coffee thinking, ‘that went pretty well.’ And then what?
It’s like dating. First, the investor isn’t a part of a process that you are setting up, so there is no competitive pressure that you can create with coffee. And second, you have now given up a ton of information that would normally be reserved for a formal pitch in a more formal process. Instead, if you must go out for coffee (!), then change the paradigm. Ask the investor about his/her thesis on the future of your market and other information that ensures you are gathering information from them.
Frame your Own Metrics
When we were getting ready to soft launch Zoobean, an adviser to us said, “Once you launch, investors are going to want to know how many books you’ve sold. They won’t care about anything else.” Or, as Singh Cassidy put it, the minute you launch, people judge you on metrics, not your vision.
That is true, but she also said that you have the power to frame the metrics that are important to consider. Determine what really matters for your company: top line revenue, traffic, conversion rate, or something else altogether. And when an investor asks you, “Tell me about X,” you can reframe with, “We’re tracking Y, and here is why it matters.” Control the conversation, while also being honest about the metrics that are truly critical for your business.
After someone asked her about how she exudes so much confidence, she addressed the question as one related to gender, and said something along the lines of:
They’re [investors] looking for the investment with the best return. But they’re used to seeing it in a certain package.
The ‘package’ usually being a young guy in a t-shirt (and maybe hipster glasses for good measure).
Her advice to us was that intensity is the equivalent of salesmanship -make sure people know that you will keep at this, day and night, until you are successful. And the best way to demonstrate intensity is to come from a place of deep, deep knowledge of your business and market. If you can do this, then you will show that the package might not be what is typically expected, but you are immensely investable.
We’re three hangouts in with the initial class of Founder Hangouts, and each one has delivered with lessons that directly and immediately impact the work I’m doing. Getting to spend 2 hours with folks like Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, with an open forum, is an absolute gift. I’m anxious for our next few sessions, and hope they will all continue to be as directly applicable to our work with Zoobean as these first three.
How do you exude intensity and dedication to potential investors?
About the guest blogger: Jordan Lloyd Bookey (@zoobeanforkids) is Chief Mom and Co-Founder at Zoobean. At Zoobean, Jordan leads marketing and outreach and acts as the lead curator for Zoobean’s handpicked catalog. Jordan is Google’s former Head of K-12 Education Outreach, where she was responsible for the company’s worldwide programs to expand access to Computer Science and STEM education.