How to Raise Funding When You're Not a "Tech Bro" by Sarah Chung

Automatic Summary

Raising Funds When You Aren't a Tech Pro: A Success Story from Sarah Chung, CEO of Landing International

Sarah Chung, CEO of Landing International, is proof that you don't have to be a tech pro to successfully fundraise for a tech startup. As the brain behind a mobile training application for beauty advisors in the retail sector, Sarah has managed to bootstrap her company to profitability and successfully closed a $1.6M seed round. Not only that, but now she finds herself on the receiving end of inbound calls from Venture Capitalists (VCs).

Journey of Fundraising

Sarah candidly admits that she has made mistakes throughout her fundraising journey, however believes these have equipped her with valuable knowledge on what works, and what doesn't.

Challenges Faced by Women in Fundraising

The disparity between female and male tech leaders securing VC backing is significant. It's recognized that it's hugely challenging to raise funding when most investors are male and tend to favor other males. This issue seems to stem from the fact that long-term investor-founder relationships often involve daily conversations and decision making, leaving many male investors more inclined to build rapport with those who are similar.

Investors’ socialization and networking often revolve around traditionally male-oriented activities, and the startup culture frequently glorifies the archetype of the strong male founder doing whatever it takes to succeed. Regrettably, the industry terminology also appears non-inclusive to women.

Strategies for Successful Fundraising

Sarah believes it's essential for women to approach fundraising tables with an understanding of what the investors are looking for. From the investment criteria, the lifecycle stage of their fund, to knowing your numbers inside out and even understanding the implications of their investment, she emphasizes it's about concentrating on what it means for the investor, not the female founder.

Story and Background – The Key

According to Sarah, one of the most crucial aspects of being a successful founder is to come prepared with your narrative and be able to articulate how your life and work experiences have brought you to starting your startup. Developing strong relationships by demonstrating your expertise and credibility can help you stand out and be seen as a valuable partner.

Non-Technical Founders in a Tech World

Despite not being a technical founder, Sarah believes one can effectively seize fundraising opportunities by spotlighting their industry expertise and demonstrating why they are the best fit for their product. In addition, she recommends learning the basics of your tech stack and living your product to ensure a close alignment between technology and sales.

Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

From her experience, Sarah points out common mistakes made by most founders when fundraising. She emphasizes that it is crucial to understand that all investors are not the same and to prepare for due diligence. Overall, it's about learning how to stick talking points and present oneself as the best investment.

Despite the challenges she faced as a non-technical female founder in a male-dominated field, Sarah’s fundraising journey has demonstrated the power of resilience, valuable insight, and the art of effective communication. Her story serves as a practical guide for those intending to embark on similar paths.

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. Um, thank you so much for joining my talk, how to fundraise when you're not a tech pro. Um, I wanted to give a little bit of background on myself and my company, my name is Sarah Chung.I'm the CEO of Landing International and we are a tech start up in the beauty space and we've created mobile training app for beauty advisors in retail. And what that means is, um, we've all been in the store and we've, uh, interacted with a customer service person on the floor and it's a mobile app that, um, allows them to get trained on the products that are on shelf and in terms of, uh, my start up journey and, um, raising money while not a tech bro.

Um, I actually, uh, started my, um, my company and bootstrapped it to profitability and then, um, really spent, uh, several times throughout the course of, um, eight years attempting to fund raise and I've made a lot of mistakes and, um, I think that I can speak from personal experience and, um, having done it multiple times what worked and what didn't work.

Um, but I was able to close uh 1.6 in our seed round, um, last year. And we're currently in, um, in the stage of, of going out for our series a and find ourselves in a very different situation now. And having, um, V CS contact us, I would say we're getting uh one or two inbounds um every couple of weeks. And so that's very different in my earlier experience. Um And then just recently this year, uh we were um in the company's most innovative companies, uh 2022 for Beauty. And I was um very happy and honored to be included in the female founders 100 in ink magazines, uh 2021 list. So to begin uh challenges that women face when fundraising, I am assuming that if you join this talk, you're interested in fundraising um either to start or have had experience and how to move forward. And I think a lot of when we think about the challenges that women face, um just about, you know, what is different when a woman goes out um to raise money versus a man. And we've seen the numbers that I think it's improved a little bit. I've heard, you know, it numbers is as high as 8 to 10% of uh companies that are BC funded are founded by women. It used to be just 2%. But obviously that is um a huge disparity.

And I think part of the challenge is first most investors are men and whether it's spoken or not spoken men favor men. And I think it ha it is um having to do with the fact that um an investor founder partnership is a long term relationship. It's somebody you have to talk to on an ongoing basis, sometimes daily basis over a, over many years and having to make um a lot of tough decisions together and having enough of a rapport where there's honesty and trust and just human nature, we tend to feel comfortable talking with people that um are similar to us that we can relate to.

And when you're a woman, it's harder to relate to men um who hold, you know, most of the investor power and I don't believe it's deliberate misogyny, but it's just um something that comes naturally as with, you know, women, I mean, I also um feel more comfortable, I think um with women and developing long term relationships and that's something that I've had to overcome.

Also, investor culture is centered around male activities. Over the course of time when I've been introduced to investors and, you know, through friends who may be female or male, I think what you see is that there are, they're very social people because they're always um wanting to meet new people and to keep in contact with um start ups.

And so there's a lot of socializing and socializing occurs in the type of things that they feel comfortable and like doing so it can be poker nights. Um I know um of several investors who have ongoing poker nights that happen, like until like one or two in the morning and those aren't places that I personally feel comfortable going um to like sporting events um to golf and those just don't happen to be things that I personally participate in.

And so it's, it, it, it's difficult to um develop relationships um with those investors where those are the areas and, and times that they are socializing. Um And I was actually at another talk in the gaming industry and a female founder was um made this really great point, which is that, um you know, when she was younger and single, um there is just not a natural way to, let's say, reached out to your investor or even your boss, like on a Saturday if you're a single woman.

Um because it just isn't, there's no um you know, sort of like natural lead up to that. And that's a situation that I found myself a lot. Um when I was single and, um you know, trying to develop relationships with, you know, mostly married men. Um And on the weekends or at night, uh the other, I think, uh sort of centered around male activities component is that if you look at sort of the big start ups that have dominated um sort of culture. Um And those are like the Air BN BS and the Ubers and the uh we works of the world. I think we see the archetype of the founder as this type of very like do whatever it takes to succeed. Very strong male figure. And I don't see myself in those stories but those, but I feel like that is what we think about when we think of founders that have been successful and who made market changing um products. And so this paradigm of the egomaniacal but brilliant male founder I think is something that investors kind of look for because maybe they're maybe they're stubborn or, you know, rough around the edges, but they'll do whatever it takes to get it done. And that's sort of what they are used to seeing and it doesn't often happen, that's how women um portray themselves and are seen by investors. Um And you can see that even in the wording and terminology that uh ventricle use, it's, it's not inclusive to women.

So there are like terms like open the kimono um which is to say that um we're disclosing um sort of like the ins and outs of the company. So more of the books and more of um you know, often it means like the sort of vulnerable parts. Um And I don't feel comfortable saying that and I feel very uncomfortable when other people say it because um I think yes, it's, it's sexist but also probably a little racist as well. Um And so those are like kind of the overt terms and then, um, the sort of dry, like, um, the kind of benign terms. Um, this is one that I recently learned, it's when people refer to dry powder, which is basically how much cash you have on hand and, you know, wondering where that term came from. And it's, it's a gun, um, reference to like the, um, the gunpowder that you have to have on hand um in battle so that you don't run out of ammunition. Um So that's sort of like the benign and then somewhere in the middle, you know, are all and there's a lot of them. Um I chose this one because it was like, I feel like the least offensive.

But um the term pissing contest, which is, um you know, basically to determine um superiority or, or, or, or predominance. Um and it refers to urination and it's, I would say does not apply um to women at all. And I think there are a lot of these type of phrases, whether they're sort of like more overt or benign that um ultimately betrays a culture that's not very friendly to women. So given all of that, how can women successfully fundraise? I think it's um how to coach fundraising. Um I think it's very important to come to the table with understanding of the investor's work and what they're looking for and that can include what is their investment criteria. What are the areas that they, they invest. What is their check size? What are the stages um of uh fundraising that they participate in? Um what is the stage of their fund? Which means um sometimes if you catch uh an investor at the early stage of their fund, um their timing may not work with yours. And if they're at the very end and everything in all the funds have been allocated, then that conversation is um more for information gathering than it is for an active investment. So I think these are the things that you can ask straight off the bat and so that they, you know, they know, OK, she understands that we have certain guidelines.

So for my company, which is A B to B, we don't approach B to C um investors and we're into uh in our series A. So we're not um approaching late stage, we're not um approaching seed stage. And so we're very targeted the investors that we're outreach to or taking meetings with. Um I think it's also important to have a strong understanding of the business fundamentals. Um And knowing your numbers uh really like the back of your hand. And those can include at least for my business, which is a S A model. Um the gross revenue net revenue growth rate. Um The customer acquisition cost the year over year, over year, turn the annual recurring revenue, the lifetime value of a customer, the burn rate they burn multiple and these are things that they would expect you to speak to. And I would say sort of steer clear of emotion driven statements um as sort of a, just a position to having the facts because when you say this is so good or, you know, this is an a product, I don't think that really helps in terms of quantifying um or giving them actional bold statements.

Um Also, I would shift the conversation away from what their investment would mean for you and, and, and, and transition it more to what it would mean for them. And what I mean by that is when I first started out, I would say, OK, if I get this, if I, if I were to get your investment, then I would be able to do this and this and this. And I don't think that's a surprise for investors, right? Like we need money to accomplish our things and, but that doesn't really help them to see you as a better investment. I think where it's more of a strategic positioning is if you say, well, if you invest in my company, then you are filling um a white space in your portfolio or it's a complementary investment to the ones that you've already made. Um Or it really allows you to play in this, let's say beauty retail space where um you know, there are growth rates and that you're not currently participating and to really understand like where you fit into uh their portfolio of investments, how to build your founder story.

And this is something that I've had to uh work over a number of years. Um I think it is very important to come with your narrative um thought out and practiced. So articulating how your work and life experience has brought you to this start up. And I think it helps people to understand a very succinct succinct. OK? 123, this is um why you started this and kind of filling in that gap for them, why you are uniquely positioned to seize this opportunity um and being able to speak to that very early on. So they know how to um see you and also to position yourself uh in their constant search for information because as I said, investors are always having conversations about markets about technologies about um you know, different start ups. And if you, if you can position yourself as someone who has um an expertise and also providing um other data from, let's say market research companies or surveys that you've done firsthand that support your statements. I think they see you as someone that they can turn to for advice or information and really establishing your credibility in that area because V CS are always trying to kind of look into the crystal ball to see what would happen in the future. And I think uh this is a way that you can continue a relationship with them in a very positive way, how to use your background to your advantage.

I would um come to the table with your industry or category expertise because that's something that you have that they don't. I would speak to the founder, founder product fit, which is why are you again, uniquely qualified? Um People talk a lot about product market fit. It's like why is this product already been tested and, and into that market? But um I think speaking to why you're the right fit for this product, Asian companies, whether that's Korean or Japanese and I am Asian. And so it's easy for me to point out that um there is a specialization happening in, you know, the continent where I'm from and um not being shy about that. So I did wanna put in a quick note about how to be a non technical founder because obviously we are talking about tech investors and they do prefer if the founder has a technical background in their programming because that means you have an intricate knowledge of your product.

And I myself am not a technical founder. I think that where I was able to um sort of categorize myself is that I have business background and therefore I have the clients of working with the brands um and working with the retailers and being able to prove that value. Um I think you, it's important that if you're not a technical founder, you are driving the business requirements of your product, which means that you are the expert in why this product will work um in that industry. And with to your clients, I think you should know the basics of your tech stack. So if you're, you know, the potential investors are asking you what technologies you're using, you're able to speak to it uh credibly and um fluently. Um I think it's very important to live your product, which means if someone asks you how um you know, a feature of your product works, you need to be able to know it like the back of your hand. And so I think that goes hand in hand with being able to drive the business requirements and then also to um you know, closely align sales and product, which means that you are really seeing how your um technology is working um with your sales arm.

I realize that I have three minutes and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to take questions or keep going. OK, I only have two slice left. OK. So mistakes that I've made. Um I, I think the mistakes I made early on we thinking all the investors were the same, which is like, OK, I wanna raise money and here's a guy who's an investor or a woman and um not really differentiating those things that we talked about, which is like, do they invest in my stage?

Do they have the check size? I'm looking for, are they interested in this industry? Uh I think putting too much um emphasis on each individual investor and trying to get every single one rather than understanding that it's a process and you should be talking to 75 to 100 investors if you um for every round fundraising that you're doing. Um And also I think not first in my mind, who is the best investor for my company and moving in the partner that I want and sort of prioritizing, am I the person for that? How can I present myself as the best investment for them? And I think it's just as important if not more important to feel that that investor is the someone that you wanna be in business with. Um And then this is sort of a cultural thing, but I think whenever they would ask me a question, I would focus on really, really answering it accurately rather than answering the question that I want to answer because you're only getting really like 20 to 30 minutes per meeting.

Um And so the things that I've learned once, how to cut the chase with the numbers with the understanding, um how to be asset investors is something that they see as some uh a source of information and um how to prepare for due diligence. So getting the customer testimonials, getting my uh financial statements, getting uh stock um agreements and all of that prepared in advance, how to learn my talking points, which is um all of the things that we talked about and then maybe most importantly how to stick to the talking points of not getting derailed um and giving them my life story, but really, um emphasizing the points that I would like to make.

That is it? I will let me close this out, but thank you for all of these uh statements. Thank you. And um I will hang around if there's any other Q and A.