Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Experience Participating in the Seattle Angel Conference XI

I am the founder of Be My Local, a tourist-to-local matching service. Whether they want to have a unique, local, “my story” travel experience or just need someone to help them get their bearings and discover how best to spend their vacation time, locals rely on Be My Local to get matched with a personally-vetted local who will help them make the most out of their time abroad.

Over the past two months, I participated in Seattle Angel Conference XI. Per its website, Seattle Angle Conference (“SAC”) is “a recurring Seattle Angel-driven event where the angel investors create a group LLC together, learn how to and engage in the due diligence of the applying startup companies, and ultimately pool funds to invest in one of the presenting finalists.”

Startup companies of various sizes that are still in their seed-funding growth stage are encouraged to participate in SAC to give the participating angel investors a chance to practice what they’ve been learning about due diligence, as well as hone their own skills in formal investor pitching and grow their own investor contact list.

In the first part of this blog, I will share with you what I got out of the experience and why you, as an entrepreneur still in the seed-funding growth stage, should join an upcoming SAC. For those interested in learning about what it’s like to participate in SAC, the second part will give a summary timeline of my own experiences and actions during in SAC XI.

How I benefited from participating in SAC

For the modest registration fee of $100 and the time and effort I put into preparing my application and pitch, I received a lot of value in return.

  • SAC forced me to take a critical, thorough, and holistic look at my business plan and growth strategies. Based on the feedback I received from the angel investors judging SAC XI, I learned that both our market analysis and our current approach were valid and viable. Our primary barriers that kept us from progressing to the semifinal pitch was our youth (we just established in January), our team (I’m currently the only one driving strategy and business growth), and our execution (we need to demonstrate previous experience executing on plans).
  • SAC gave me a first-hand understanding of the angel investing process from the prospective of a startup company making the ask. Thanks to the coaching I received throughout the process, the questions I received after my pitch, and the feedback I received after the quarterfinals, I had a much clearer comprehension of what investors look for when evaluating companies for potential investment.
  • SAC helped me grow my list of angel investor contacts. I started this process not knowing any angel investors, and now I have a short list of angel investors who know about my business in intimate detail, have provided me with guidance and mentorship, and are willing to stay in touch for updates and maybe even potential investment or introductions to other angels were I to demonstrate increased viability through execution and traction.
  • SAC gave me the platform and venue to practice and deliver my pitch in front of a critical audience with actual stakes involved. Just a few months ago, I would’ve never considered pitching to a room of investors; it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. Within the span of several weeks, I learned what angel investors look for in a pitch, ran my pitch deck by angel investor mentors, and then delivered it successfully to a room of people curious enough to hear about my business for investment consideration.

How I participated in SAC

If you’re considering joining a SAC event in the near future, then read below for a summary of what I did up until the quarterfinals. This may give you an idea on what you can expect when you participate.

  • Early January — John Sechrest, founder of the Seattle Angel Conference, mentor to startups, and leader of the Lean Startup Seattle Meetup group, recommended that I attended the “Pitch Review for SAC XI” event as a way to network and get helpful feedback about my business idea. I took his advice for those benefits, not really giving much attention to the SAC part. I didn’t think that I or Be My Local were ready to pitch to actual angel investors.
  • Mid January — I prepped my three-minute pitch largely based off of this Medium blog post: Perfecting the 3 Minute Startup Pitch.
  • January 24 — I attended the Pitch Review for SAC XI and gave a three-minute pitch about Be My Local. John invited two angel investors to attend and critique the pitches. After each person pitched, the two investors gave feedback on what the founder could to do improve. After all the pitches were delivered, the two angel investors then encouraged the room of entrepreneurs to consider participating in SAC XI for even more guidance and feedback, plus additional mentorship opportunities, networking opportunities with angels, and the chance to put their business idea through more rigorous vetting. They emphasized that winning SAC and the prize money (in the form of a $200,000 angel investment) weren’t as important as all of the networking and professional growth opportunities that would come from participating. When I got home, I researched a bit more about SAC, decided it was worth my time, paid the $100 registration fee, and signed up for SAC XI.
  • January 25 to February 27 — I prepared my SAC formal application, which was my pitch deck and profile on In order to submit a quality application, I sought additional mentorship and guidance from Javier Soto and Richard von Hagel, two other angel investors involved in SAC and John Sechrest’s Meetup events. Javier and Richard helped me refine my pitch deck a great deal. Both also explained that the SAC angel investor judges would go through each of the 50 Gust profiles and pick the top 25 that they wanted to see give a three-minute pitch in the quarterfinals. As such, they gave helpful advice on how to craft my deck and stand out as a business worthy of the angels’ votes. I was told to give myself ample amount of time to create my Gust profile — At minimum 2–3 hours. While preparing my application, I was also focused on growing Be My Local and getting customer traction.
  • February 28 — I submitted my pitch deck and Gust profile to SAC XI for first-round evaluation. I received an email from one of the SAC volunteers that my application was received and that I would hear back in a week about the results. Fortunately, I had gained some customer traction during the two weeks I was crafting my application, so I made sure to included that progress in my application. I wanted to signal to the angel investor judges that my business idea was in fact viable.
  • February 29 to March 6 — The angel investor judges were tasked with reviewing all 50 of the applications through their respective Gust profiles and picking 25 companies to invite to the quarterfinals for a three-minute pitch.
  • March 7 — I received an email informing that Be My Local was selected to participate in the quarterfinals, and that two angel investor judges would be contacting me to schedule an in-person meeting to review my company and provide guidance and feedback for me to use in preparing for the quarterfinal three-minute pitch.
  • March 15 — I met with Allen one of the angel investor judges. We talked for nearly two hours. The first half of the conversation was getting acquainted and learning about each other’s backgrounds and motivations. Having no experience talking to formal investors before, I didn’t know what to expect. Were they only interested in talking about the business and ROI? Were they hard-nosed and biting like the investors on Shark Tank? This first hour of getting to know each other was very helpful. Once we were better acquainted, I felt much more relaxed and comfortable with diving into the details and nuances of my businesses, speaking candidly about my blind spots, and receiving their constructive feedback. After the meeting finished, he invited me to stay in touch after SAC.
  • March 18 — I met with Sam, another angel investor judge. We talked for about an hour. Similar to my conversation with Allen, we spent the first half of the meeting getting to know each other, and then the second half reviewing my pitch deck, answering her questions and addressing her concerns, and learning about what she looks for in a company. She also invited me to stay in touch after SAC.
  • March 19 to March 20 — Now that my three-minute pitch deck has been reviewed and revised based on the feedback I received, I practiced delivering my pitch. I must have practiced this pitch at least 50 times by myself, actually standing up from my chair and going through the motions as if I was on stage. My previous experience in Toastmasters made me feel comfortable with this kind of aggressive practice.
  • March 21 — I attended the SAC quarterfinals event. There were 12 presenters giving their pitch — I was the fourth presenter; each presenter would have no more than three minutes to give their pitch, and then another intense three minutes for Q&A with the angel investor judges who were seated all throughout the room. Once all of the pitches were given, all of the judges and entrepreneurs were invited to stay in the room and network with each other. The purpose of this 60–90 minute networking session was to encourage the entrepreneurs to solicit feedback directly from the judges, follow up on judges’ questions that were perhaps inadequately answered during the Q&A, exchange business cards, and dive into greater details about business plans and how investor funding would be used. I was given specific instructions by one of the judges already familiar with Be My Local to stay for the entirety of the networking session and not leave until I’ve introduced myself to every single judge. I heeded that advice and networked hard, almost to the point where I had a dry mouth and raspy voice. I’m glad I did, because I 1) received a plethora of helpful feedback, critical questions, and healthy skepticism about our business plan and current traction, and 2) noticed that the same kinds of questions around scale and competition kept coming up. This feedback showed that I failed miserably at addressing those two points in my presentation, and it also gave me a great opportunity to follow up with a few judges afterwards with a few more slides that clarify my position on scale and competition.
  • March 22 — I created several additional slides that explained in greater details how we planned to scale, who our competition were, and how we planned to mitigate competitive threats, which included the emerging Airbnb Experiences service offering.
  • March 23 — I sent those additional slides along with a thank you note to a few of the judges whose contact information I was able to collect during the networking session. After that, I got right back to work servicing some of our customers meeting with our locals in Vietnam.
  • March 28 — I received an email informing me that I didn’t make it to semifinals. What little disappointment I had in the outcome was immediately washed away by a wave of gratitude for having even made it to the quarterfinals and receive that critical feedback, and of respect for all of the other competitors who did make it to the semifinals. There were a lot of talent and great ideas in the room, and there were many businesses that were much farther along in their development process to properly warrant a $200,000 angel investment. Be My Local was still too young and immature; we still had a lot left to prove before we could earn a spot in the semifinals.
  • April 4 — I reconnected with Javier and Richard, the two angel investors who helped me prepare my application back in February, to review the feedback that the angel investor judges gave about Be My Local. Javier and Richard explained that the judges understood the market opportunity and how we planned on capturing a piece of that opportunity, which meant that I communicated those two important points clearly and to their satisfaction in my presentation, Q&A, and networking session. The judges main concerns that kept us from earning their votes were that our company was still too young, we didn’t have enough traction to warrant the kind of investment that was on the line, our team was still limited in size and skill, and we didn’t clearly explain how we planned on mitigating the threat of Airbnb Experiences. To my delight, none of these concerns were a surprise. Rather, they charted a clear course for what Be My Local would need to do over the next 6–12 months to grow our business and set ourselves up for a successful seed fundraising round, especially if we decided to pursue another SAC event.