How This Founder Unlocked the Secrets to a Perfect Pitch K. Rocco Shields, founder of the AI-powered training platform Genius Academy, discusses her winning strategy for securing funding on "Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch."
Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch is the show where contestants get into an elevator and have just 60 seconds to pitch their business to our board of investors. In this ongoing article series, we're celebrating the entrepreneurs who walked out with a win and sharing their tips for pitching success. (Answers have been edited for length.)
K. Rocco Shields is the founder of the AI-powered learning platform Genius Academy. She walked into the elevator with a knockout pitch and went home with a $75K investment at a $10 million valuation from Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix. Watch her pitch below, then read on to learn how her pitching strategy paid off.
How did you prepare for the show?
We used our technology to create our very own pitch simulator. Our development team started by watching every episode of the show and breaking down the components of not only the successful pitches but also the ones that failed. We took all that data and fed it into our system and created a step-by-step, 7-point breakdown of how to create the perfect 60-second pitch. Next, we built our own version of the elevator complete with a big clock counting down to scare me and keep me on my toes. But we didn't stop there. We had also profiled Kim and Marc during our analysis of the show so we had a list of the types of questions they asked on the show, their personality traits, their tips to the audience, as well as likes and dislikes they expressed about pitches. We fed all that data into our system and cross-compared it with our product to figure out what questions they might ask. Then I used my internal team members to grill me. (I think that had a little too much fun doing that!) Finally, I was ready to swallow my fear and embark on the actual taping of the show.
Related: How to Create a Winning Elevator Pitch for Your App
What did you expect was going to happen?
There's a difference between thinking, knowing and expecting. My team and I game-planned for all kinds of situations. I dreamed that both Kim and Marc would be interested, and in the end, my dream did come true. It was one of the hardest decisions to make, but Marc's expertise made the most sense. It absolutely broke my heart not to take Kim's offer. I'm hoping and praying we can get her involved in our next round. In terms of filming, I have a long career in Hollywood and so I understood how the show might be filmed. I'm never a fan of being on camera, but you gotta face your fears and do what you have to do. The production crew was so professional and courteous and supportive — they understood the pressure contestants are under and I really, really appreciated that.
How did the negotiations go? Would you do anything differently?
Fascinating. It blew me away when Kim got Marc to up his investment in us. But in retrospect, I would have asked not just for money, but also for their time. To have mentorship from either one of these esteemed investors would be of immense help to Genius Academy and our very, very tall mission. So I wish I asked Marc for an additional 75K worth of his time to match the financial offer Kim made, which was $150K. That would have been sweet. Other than that, I wish I could have been able to accept both of their offers. I know it's not what the show allows, but that would have been amazing.
What do you plan to do with your investment?
This investment adds to our esteemed group of other investors in our current round to turbocharge our marketing. Currently, we've been growing only through word-of-mouth marketing, and this will allow us to scale up by bringing on a marketing and sales team. Our goal is to get our curriculum into every mental health program across the US. Once instructors and decision-makers try out our technology, they're hooked. We're on fire but we need this money to keep up with the current demand and add to it.
Related: This 19-Year-Old College Student's Invention Relieves Migraines -- and His Pitch Landed a $10,000 Investment
What did it mean to you personally to get in the doors and walk out with a win?
There's a grave responsibility on my shoulders. Although I was the only person to appear on the show to represent Genius Academy, I'm not alone. I've got an amazing team. They're not just employees, they're more like staff partners. And there are investors who believe in the mission of Genius Academy. I was worried that my fear of being in front of the camera might let down the whole team, but fortunately, we prevailed. I say "we" because this was very much a team effort. I was recently listening to a podcast featuring one of my idols, Abby Wambach. She said her daughter was watching her old games and asked why she pointed to the team member who had passed her the ball after she scored. She said everyone looks at the person who scored the goal, but not at the person who made it possible. So she points them out to the crowd. So even though I was the one on the show, I couldn't have succeeded without my team who lined up my pitch. When the team wins I win, and that's what makes this so personally rewarding.
What is your advice for anyone thinking of applying to be on a future episode?
Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more. And most importantly, use your team. We're all very busy working in a start-up, putting out multiple fires. But, take the time to involve everyone. You have them on your team for a reason.