As first-time female founders, we were worried about being taken seriously.
Every entrepreneur has to start somewhere—but most of them don’t give their first pitch on national television.
Back in 2017, my co-founder and I pitched our company Slumberkins on Shark Tank. As first-time female founders, we were so worried about being taken seriously, especially since we’re not your typical Silicon Valley CEOs. I’m a mom and school counselor turned entrepreneur, so needless to say, the experience was nerve-wracking.
As intimidating as the experience was, it was also enlightening.
I learned so much about what it takes to confidently sell a business, both from Shark Tank and in countless pitches since. Even though we didn’t land that initial deal, some of these fundraising strategies entirely changed the game for us.
These are the things we wish we knew from the start:
1. Project confidence—even if you don’t feel it.
When you’re a first-time founder with minimal money to back your dream, it’s pretty tough to feign confidence.
I’m sure all entrepreneurs struggle with this, but women have it especially tough. That’s likely due to the fact that 58% of investors think women founders receive the right amount of venture capital, while in reality, only as much as 18% of women-led teams actually get any funding at all.
Those stats may be discouraging, but they don’t have to dictate your success. For us, the deals started coming when we decided we were worth it.
When we walked onto that Shark Tank stage, we felt like we had to prove ourselves. Instead, we should’ve gone in with the attitude of, “This is your opportunity to invest in something great. If you’re not interested, that’s fine.” You probably won’t be able to cultivate that mentality overnight—but you can still fake it ‘til you make it.
Investors can feel that confidence, and it’s what drives them to buy into your vision.
2. Be mindful of the fundraising cycle.
There are good times to implement fundraising strategies, and there are not-so-good times.
This is something we learned the hard way. My co-founder and I started sewing Slumberkins at my kitchen table in the fall, and by the summer, we were ready to pitch.
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that June, July, and August are some of the slowest months in terms of investments. We weren’t getting any traction, and it was discouraging. In fact, we didn’t get a single bite until fall.
On the bright side, all those extra months allowed us the opportunity to perfect our strategies. And one of the most essential things we learned during that time was to pitch big.
3. Don’t pitch what you know you can do. Pitch what could be.
In my experience, women tend to be more pragmatic about their business models. My co-founder and I wanted to be realistic. We wanted to show the Sharks exactly what we knew we could do, because if we inflated those numbers, we might fall short.
It turns out being reserved won’t get you anywhere.
After the show, our advisors took one look at our pitch deck and said, “You need to inflate that by at least 70%. Sell them on the potential of your company, not the bottom line.”
That changed everything for us.
The most successful entrepreneurs act as if they’ve started the next billion-dollar company. This is the standard that male founders have set. They’re expected to talk a big game, and even though most never make it that far, investors want to know you’ve got that kind of ambition.
4. Learn to ignore the naysayers—especially the ones who love you.
Potential investors and acquaintances won’t be the only ones who doubt you. Unfortunately, the negativity often comes from the people who love you and are trying to look out for you.
My own mom has expressed concerns about the business. She’s told me, “This is a big source of stress and it might be hard on the kids. Maybe you should go back to your school counseling job.”
There will be naysayers everywhere, but it’s not your job to change their minds.
Instead, it’s your job to use your intuition and your motivation to push past the doubts. In order to do that, you have to define success in your own terms.
5. Don’t be afraid to set your own terms.
At the beginning of our fundraising journey, we kept hearing the phrase, “You need a lead to lead your round.” In other words, we were told to wait for that one miraculous head investor who was going to seal the deal.
We started generating interest during our first pre-seed round. It was just friends and local angel investors, but the small independent investments kept adding up: $10K, $25K, $50K. Soon enough, we were dollars away from our target, but we still didn’t have our big lead.
Finally, we asked ourselves, “What are we waiting for? The interest is here. The resources are here.”
We set a closing date and relayed our terms—without a lead investor. And the rest of the money came flying in anyway.
6. Remember that your pitch deck is never done.
I spent so much time and effort on our first pitch deck, and when we finished, I thought that was it.
I was wrong. Now, I must have at least 200 different versions on my computer.
You’ll be learning and evolving throughout the whole process, and your pitch should evolve with you. Keep your inspirations at the core of your business, but don’t get too attached to any one tactic—and don’t be afraid to rehash things when they’re not working.
Even if you’re not pitching your product on national television, getting the word out there is intimidating—especially for female founders. But people are investing in you as much as they’re investing in your product, so radiate confidence, stick to your guns, and keep moving forward.