PITCH coordinator Dana Rosenberg interviews past PITCH People’s Choice Winner Bea Arthur, founder of In Your Corner, about her whirlwind startup journey.
By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)
At our San Francisco conference last February, Bea Arthur was one of 10 finalists who participated in our PITCH competition for early-stage startups. Bea’s company connects therapists and patients to provide online counseling and won our People’s Choice Award.
Just after the PITCH competition, Bea was accepted into Y Combinator and is now raising her first round of funding. We love hearing about the success of founders who pitched on the Women 2.0 stage, so at this year’s HowTo Conference, we brought Bea Arthur back to the stage to talk about her journey over the past six months.
Our PITCH coordinator Dana Rosenberg led a lively discussion with Bea that was jam-packed with real, honest and even hysterical advice about what it’s like to be an early-stage startup trying to make it in Silicon Valley.
Dana Rosenberg: Tell us a little bit about your story and what has happened since you pitched on stage at the Women 2.0 conference in February.
Bea Arthur: Well, I was on Shark Tank a couple years ago. Shaherose says I’m a Shark Tank star, I say Shark Tank survivor. They just rebroadcast it last night and someone on Twitter said I’m a Shark Tank skank. It’s all relative!
I founded Pretty Padded Room, now In Your Corner, when I was super depressed. Even though I’m a therapist and all my friends are therapists, I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to ask for help. I thought if there were even barriers to entry even for me — someone who knew that therapy was incredibly valuable — then there were so many other people who needed help, too.
Dana Rosenberg: Tell us about PITCH. What was that experience like?
Bea Arthur: I’d been bootstrapping it and have been a solo founder for a long time. It’s hard. I was about to sell my company in December 2013. I had actually set a deadline for myself that if I didn’t get funding by February 2014, I would sell. I couldn’t pay my rent and I couldn’t pay my team.
I didn’t sell my company. But I applied to the Women 2.0 PITCH competition. I actually applied a couple years ago and I didn’t get in. But someone said I should apply again. And I got in! And so much changed after that.
What I learned during the PITCH competition is that the story you tell consumers and the story you tell investors has to be different. And Dave, the Women 2.0 PITCH coach, really helped me realize that. No matter what you do, he’ll make your business better.
After PITCH, we got into Y Combinator, we just raised our first round and are close to raising our first million with the $600,000 committed.
Dana Rosenberg: What’s it like to be in Y Combinator?
Bea Arthur: Just like anything, you get exactly out of it what you put into it. It’s actually really hands off.
A lot of people on the outside treat you like you’re special because you’re in Y Combinator, but once you’re in Y Combinator, they make sure you don’t feel like you’re special.
No matter what you do, they want you to focus on growth. They don’t recommend that you focus on hiring or fundraising. They want you to move fast and iterate.
As they say, “If you’re not embarrassed about it, you did a shitty job.”
Dana Rosenberg: A lot of people wonder how to make those connections to get to know people who can help your business. Any advice?
Bea Arthur: You just can’t be shy. You have to go to everything. Everything changed for me when I joined a coworking space and started going to more events.
A lot of people think you just need to stay home and work hard. You can be the best coder in the world, but if no one knows about you, you’re going to die!
There is a such thing as over networking, so you shouldn’t go to everything. But any time I didn’t feel like going out and I went, I met someone and it was worthwhile. Oh and meeting is one thing, but a follow-up is so much more.
Dana Rosenberg: Any tips on fundraising?
Bea Arthur: I’m going to be real because I love y’all. Fundraising is the worst thing the world. I thought I would love it because I love talking to people. But fundraising is terrible.
You have to prove yourself over and over again. Investors play with your mind. They will ask you so many questions even if they knew the whole time they were going to say no.
Don’t waste your time going after people just because they have the means. Do your homework. It’ll take a lot of meetings to get just like two people to say yes. Money doesn’t make things happen. People make things happen. Be mindful of the people on your team and who’s in your corner.
At the end of the day, you know what is best for your company. You know the metrics that matter. You get to decide that and set the course for that and stick to that.
VCs get paid to be nice to you. VCs get paid to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the Valley. You can tell when someone is going to say no, even if the meeting seems like it’s going well.
In all meetings where I have gotten money, those meetings have been 20 minutes or less. If they have that vision, you want them to dream with you. That’s who you want in your corner.
I like to focus on who said yes, not on who said no. Shark Tank didn’t go well for me, but I don’t want to work with people who would treat me like that. The people that say yes are the only people who matter.
Focus on your users. At the end of the day, VCs don’t make you money. You make money the old-fashioned way — through users.
Audience question: You mentioned earlier that you can tell when someone is going to say no. Do you have any tips and tricks to learn to spot that?
Bea Arthur: You can tell when someone is going to say yes. It’s just like dating. You can just tell when someone is interested. If they email you first before you have a chance to follow-up, that’s a good sign.
It’s when they start asking really nitty gritty things. No one asked Uber for their customer acquisition. They said let these motherfuckers work. If somebody asks you for financial projections, it’s almost always a waste of time. Your first year could go anywhere. It’s all made-up numbers. It literally means nothing. If you have to break it down for them, they are the wrong people to partner with. You want people who are going to dream with you.
If it’s the right team, they have to believe in you. It’s not about the product, it’s about the team and their belief that you can execute on their vision.
Audience question: So everyone asks… What’s your exit strategy?
Bea Arthur: My exit strategy is to make a lot of money! People say you need to be at $50-60 in revenue million to get acquired, but I’ve seen companies get acquired with $10 million in revenue.
VCs always ask you: “What if somebody big gets into the game?” You KNOW what will happen if somebody gets in the game. They acquire you and you make a bunch of money and everyone wins! That’s my exit strategy. I want to work for Pretty Padded Room, not run it.
When someone asks you a question like that, you see yourself out. You take those cookies and you bounce!
Audience question: Is it difficult to portray to investors that your product would make money AND do something good for people?
Bea Arthur: I used to go in and tell investors that we had made money. You have customers, so that’s good, right? But nobody invests because you made a little bit of money.
So I changed my fundraising strategy and started coming in from the top down. I stopped talking about how much money I was making. Now I start with the vision. I started coming in and saying “Do you hate assholes? My product will help there be fewer assholes in the world.”
You have to sell your vision because you want people who will be in your corner and believe in your mission.
Follow Bea on Twitter for more updates about what she’s up to. We can’t wait to see where she goes next!