Feeling Scared and Not Ready? That's the Time to Go For It, Says This Tech Entrepreneur. Issac Hicks, founder and CEO of Slipbot, explains how he walked away from 'Elevator Pitch' with a big win.
Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch is the show where contestants get into an elevator and have just 60 seconds to pitch their business to a video camera. Our board of investors is watching, and if they like what they hear they open the doors and the entrepreneur steps into the boardroom to try to seal the deal. If they don't like what they hear, the entrepreneur gets sent back down.
In this ongoing article series, we're celebrating the entrepreneurs who walked into the boardroom and came out with a win and sharing their tips for pitching success.
Who are you and what's your business?
My name is Issac Hicks, and I am the founder and CEO of Slipbot. We are solving a very simple problem in heavily regulated industries: There is this enormous paperwork burden and very highly paid people are spending hours a day doing tedious data entry tasks. At Slipbot, we have developed an intuitive little AI tool that turns this huge burden into a simple drag-and-drop. I walked out with a $250,000 investment for 5% of the company from Marc Randolph.
How did you prepare for the show?
Well, I definitely wrote out and went through my 60-sec pitch over and over and over again. I figured the best thing I could do was commit it to memory so that I didn't have to think once the cameras were rolling. Nothing can prepare you for the boardroom though. Once you are there in front of the investors, you just have to trust your gut and have confidence in your words. Mantras such as "You earned this, you made it here," and "They are who you are, just a little further ahead" definitely allowed me to feel more like I was talking to peers and communicate more confidently, rather than feeling like I was on trial for every word and motion I made. The second you get in your head during a high-pressure situation like that, you've already lost.
What did you think was going to happen? What was different from your expectations?
I felt pretty good about my chances of getting into the room. I was confident in my offer from an investment perspective, but the experience of actually going on the show is pretty unforgettable. I figured I would get there, shoot my shot, get grilled by the investors a bit and hopefully walk out with an offer. The reality of the situation was pretty close to exactly that. What I didn't expect though was all the time spent with other participants. It was a great experience to hear about their products, share war stories and otherwise see how other entrepreneurs think and approach different situations. One of the greatest things about this journey is that there is always more to learn, and the paths that people define are unique to them.
Why do you think they opened the doors?
So, my strategy was very simple. My product is very boring at first glance, so nobody is going to be excited about that. What is exciting about it is the scale of the problem we are solving, and how strongly aware the market is of the problem. The greatest thing you can ask for when you are selling hot dogs is a starving crowd. Everyone can relate to hating paperwork, and everyone knows what it's like to be forced to do something you don't want to do. Being able to communicate "Here is a problem that everyone knows exists, the problem is not going away any time soon, and I have a solution to the problem that people want to buy" was my ticket into the boardroom. If people already want what you are selling, the risk associated with the investment is substantially lower, and the thing investors care about is how risky a given opportunity is. The lower you can get that risk, the more likely someone is to invest in you.
How did the negotiations go? Would you do anything differently?
Funny enough, one of the biggest hurdles I had was demonstrating that people are more than willing to buy a product that isn't flashy. In general, I think I did quite well. When it comes to conversations with investors, you have to realize that they are investing in YOU, meaning that they are testing you. Yes, you need to know your numbers, your market, etc., but that's just the price of admission. The way that you answer the questions is everything. There is a balance between "showing the teeth" and being too aggressive that you have to hit. Are you the person that can pull it off? Are you the one that is going to lead everyone to make millions? Do you have it in you? Are you going to do what it takes? Proving that in your mannerisms and actions is what negotiation with investors is about (Example: How does someone who is going to "make it no matter what" behave when pressed? Do they beg someone to understand them? Or are they simply mildly annoyed when they don't?) In reviewing my performance, maybe I was a bit nervous and could have spoken with more clarity and poise at times, but otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing.
What do you plan to do with your investment?
Go to Vegas and put it all on red, of course! But in all seriousness, we are going to build out our technical team a bit more and step on the gas as far as product maturity is concerned. We have a huge vision for where we can take this technology, and the investment is going to add more fuel to that fire. I'm looking forward to our next release. It's truly going to be a paradigm shift in how this problem is approached in the industry.
What did it mean to you personally to get in the doors and walk out with a win?
Well, you know it's funny. As a technical founder I've been so caught up in the nuts and bolts of the business it didn't exactly hit me until a few days after. I was just walking down the street and was like "Whoa, last Friday I did something big." Of course, as an entrepreneur, getting validation that what you are doing is correct from people who are much further in the game than you is huge for self-confidence. The reality of the situation is that no matter how put-together everyone seems, we are all just making it up as we go. A few classes here, a couple of books there, and maybe a fancy (but meaningless) degree help, but running your own business is akin to swimming in the ocean and building a boat out of driftwood. When someone with a cruise ship comes along and says, "Hey, I can tell you're good at building boats, here is some more wood," it's truly a gratifying experience. One of the things that makes it all worth it is when you've been working 90-100 hour weeks for as long as you can remember and feel like you're at your limit. That is the reality of entrepreneurship for those who aren't aware. Entrepreneurship is for people who want to work more, not less.
What is your advice for anyone thinking of applying to be on a future episode?
Do it, 100%. The worst case is that you get some good feedback and learn from it. The best case is that you get the money, validation and clout associated with having a titan of industry sign off on what you are doing. It's one thing to say "Here is my business", and quite another to say "here is my business, and here is someone with monumental success who believes in what I'm doing." The key to winning in this game is learning and growing as fast as possible. If the thought of going on a show like this scares you, and if you don't feel ready, that means you should probably go ahead and do it.