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Want to Wow Potential Investors? You Have 19 Seconds.

Here's one CEO's roadmap for taking an idea out of your head and getting it into the market.

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What do you do when you sell a company for $100 million? Make another one, of course.

Ullstein Bild | Getty Images

That's what Barry Hinckley, who co-founded and sold the HR software company Bullhorn for $100 million, just did. Last month marked the official launch of his new app, Yotme, a kind of Linkedin for nightlife that allows pre-approved members of similar demographics to combine and conquer various get-togethers throughout their respective cities.

In one business-oriented application, it has been adopted by publicists who are tasked with getting members of the media to attend event-promotions showcasing the latest sneakers, handbags, booze, etc. Yotme lets them efficiently connect with the kind of influencers and reviewers they hope will be eager to spread the word. (A recent event in Boston sponsored by Makers Mark and Effen Vodka, sold out within hours of posting). 

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“There are days as the single-father of two kids, the steady paycheck and corner office security of my former company would be welcome,” 50-year-old Hinckley told Entrepreneur. “Bullhorn sold for over $100 million and I’m pretty convinced I can build a billion dollar company this time…or die trying.” 

Entrepreneur picked Hinckley’s brain to break down his business-building process.

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See the need and fill it 

Observation mixed with notation was Hinckley’s signature cocktail when frequenting his favorite Boston bars. (The Rhode Island native divides his time between Beantown and a property in Newport). That time spent, in between tax-write-off tequilas (wicked!), led to some keen insights. “People often go to bars to meet people, but often end up paying a lot for drinks and only talking to the people they came with,” says Hinckley. “I thought, what if you gathered groups, in a trusted community where they could interact, share the experience, and make new friends…people would be attracted to a model like that. It turns out I was right.” 

Perfecting the pitch

When it comes to calling on prospective investors, Hinckley is quick to suggest two simple salvos: Don’t sound desperate and keep it quick.  

“I can tell you from my cold calling days -- that you actually have 19 seconds to get your point across,” says Hinckley. “Never go for the big ask out of the gate, then over time build a bridge upon which you can deliver the real ask -- many people just try to force the process but it doesn’t work that way.”  

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Have some history 

Hinckley used his own funds for the initial soft launch and required technology. A former partner at Bullhorn brought in the angel investor. “It’s a lot easier if you’ve already succeeded once in the start up game -- people are more confident in your chances of success if you’ve made them money once.” 

Be focused, but not too focused 

Hinckley built a platform broad enough that the market will find ways to use it in ways that his staff hasn’t imagined. He maintains that the overall zeitgeist is always smarter than any one person and he’s already getting an “adventure travel” demo that his people never saw coming. “Many first timers start a company and launch a product to solve a micro problem,” says Hinckley. “If they don’t succeed, there’s no territory to retreat and regroup, which usually kills the endeavor.”  

Be ready to trash a lot of hard work

Hinckley notes building -- and then subsequently abandoning -- an early, overseas version of Yotme as one of the many growing pains involved with a start up. “You always wish you could have known then what we know now," laments Hinckley.  “It can be agonizing if you overthink it, but you just have to realize failing is part of the process of succeeding.” 

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Live your idea 

"As you get older social circles tend to get smaller, or focused around work or kids, I have figured out a way to expand my social circle,” says Hinckley. “I love meeting people and with this app, there’s an understood expectation that everyone is there for just that reason. When you’re at an event and look around, no one is on their phones, everyone’s engaged in conversation -- shocking but true!”  

Sometimes the product creates the message 

As start-ups work to finesse their message -- sometimes the product makes produces the mantra itself. “Yotme events made me realize that most people in the world are good and we have more in common than we have differences, across all cultures,” notes Hinckley. “You’ll find that there are amazing people out there willing to find something to agree on and start from there…we need more of that.” 

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