It really isn’t a stretch to use the well worn Grateful Dead quote, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Two years ago Eric Leventhal and I stood up in front of a group of entrepreneurs, investors, and other invited guests as part of a pitch contest at the Chicago chapter of StartUp Grind. It was the first public pitch for InternetFM and to say it was a disaster, would be an understatement. We absolutely bombed.
Try, Just A Little Bit Harder
The fact that we didn’t get approval to give the pitch until twenty-four hours prior, is no real excuse. Simply put, we did not properly prepare for this presentation, and did not rehearse nearly enough. I was really the guilty party, taking way too much time for the introduction, and not nearly enough for the presentation and Q&A. However, we took our lumps and hunkered down to fine tune our message. We also completely overhauled our presentation materials. Since that day, we have given our pitch at least fifty times, to friends and family, formal startup groups, pitch practices, and even in Clubhouse rooms. I can’t stress enough how important it was to take advantage of any chance to get in front of someone and talk about InternetFM.
In the Beginning
The journey to getting funded began well before that first pitch. When we decided to seek outside investors, the first thing I did was find some good books to read about venture capital. The best one I discovered was was The Art of Startup Fundraising by Alejandro Cremades. His book has a lot of great ideas, lessons, and resources. I’ve gone back to reread parts of the book many times since. It’s conveniently located on my Kindle for quick access. I also subscribed to Alejandro’s “Dealmakers” podcast, and joined his “Inner Circle,” with access to a knowledge base, venture resources, and monthly live video sessions.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Two pieces of advice from the Inner Circle were to take advantage of LinkedIn and make lots of connections, which I did, and to build a strong team of advisors. When Eric convinced me to create the app, I recruited my friend Glenn Love, who acted as our project manager. He engaged his son to build the first iteration of the InternetFM mobile app. I also contacted Glenn Pinkus, who had been in a web design class with me, and was skilled in Illustrator and Photoshop, for help with graphics. Next, I asked Roger Friedensen, someone I’ve known for more than four decades, who just happens to own his own public relations agency, to offer his advice. Roger is a passionate music fan like me, and a skilled musician (which I most definitely am not).
Join the Band/Uncle John’s Band
We didn’t stop there. Eric brought in one of his contemporaries, Arnett Shen, an accountant working on his MBA. A friend of a friend, Lance Shart, who has a great deal of music and digital marketing experience joined our burgeoning group. We also added Phillip Ross, a semi-retired ad man and graphic designer. Later on Jim Mills, joined us, whose background at major companies like T-Mobile and Radio Shack gave us the corporate perspective. Love’s son left us, shortly after building our prototype, and we found his replacement on UpWork.com. He has been working with us for nearly two years.
The Backup Singers
Our core group of experts provided guidance on building and marketing our new brand. Still, we wanted to diversify our advisory team with a broad range of personalities and skills. To that end, we asked broadcasters, radio personalities, computer programmers, a retired CFO, our corporate lawyer, and a multi-platinum recording artist. Yes, you heard that right. Al Bouchard, co-founder of the rock group Blue Oyster Cult, became our go to person for musicians. One of the station owners made the introduction, and Al graciously agreed to be on our team.
The Spirit of Radio
On a parallel track with the software development, I sought out more stations to join our platform. Our goal is fairly straightforward. We are looking for independently owned streaming stations, especially those run by broadcast professionals. They tend to have large music libraries, and the broadcast software to present a real radio experience are key to our growth. Most importantly, we seek stations that have personality, something lacking in traditional radio today. When we first launched InternetFM in 2012, we began with a single station, Acid Flashback radio. That was my foray into streaming radio. I was able to make connections with nine radio stations, all of whom I had a personal connection to, and which we simply posted on our website. That list quickly grew and by the time we launched the app, we included twenty-four stations, which could be assigned to any of the eighteen presets on the app. In three years since, that number has almost doubled to forty-four stations, and now we have rock, country, jazz, blues, oldies, indie, jam band, and ambient music stations.
Walk on the Wild Side
After the disastrous pitch presentation, I vowed it would never happen again. We redoubled our efforts. I attended as many seminars and webinars as I could find. I watched other people give pitches. Any chance to give the pitch, get feedback, and revamp the presentation was a welcome opportunity. I joined other VC groups like Kiwi Tech, and CoFounders Lab. I attended Startup Bootkamp, now know as Kamp. On LinkedIn, I reached out to any venture capital or angel group I could find, while continuing to participate in events at StartUp Grind. At their virtual global event, I spent hours in a networking room, where I ended up meeting a programmer, who would join the development team, working on iOS.
She Blinded Me With Science
We were unsuccessful applying to accelerator programs like Y-Combinator and TechStars. Instead, we paid to join CoFounderLabs’ accelerator program. It has a whole series of “modules” as curriculum to teach would-be entrepreneurs. It begins with the startup journey, continues with the creation of the MVP (minimally viable product), product validation, through gaining traction and funding strategies. CoFounders holds a monthly pitch practice, and we made three-minute presentations in December of 2020 and May 2021.
I met our soon-to-be corporate attorney on an networking event at CoFounders. She invited me to hear her speak about “Common Mistakes that Startups Make” on a MeetUp group called IncBuilders. It was started by Parind Shah, a VP at a major financial institution, with the goal of “connecting startups with the resources to turn dreams into reality.” We met Jim Mills through IncBuilders. Jim joined our marketing group, and helped us to work on the pitch deck to perfect it. Phillip Ross was the real hero, designing a brand new pitch deck, and making countless revisions. Each time we held pitch practice at CoFounders, we would take notes and use the feedback to make more adjustments to the deck or the delivery of the presentation. One of the most important things we learned from giving the pitch, is that it resonated best in individuals who shared our passion for music.
Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
In the spring of 2021, IncBuilders staged an event to match entrepreneurs with investors. We were assigned to a breakout room in which several individuals asked questions about our business model and development plans. One participant really seemed to grasp the overall goal of creating a place for the passionate music fans. But then we didn’t hear anything. Two months later, with Parind’s help, we finally took a meeting with Gary Castagna, an investor in consumer oriented businesses. This was two days prior to a pitch practice session, so we took the opportunity to give Gary a sample of our upcoming pitch. On the basis of that presentation, Castagna made angel investment offer and we accepted.
We’ve Only Just Begun
“InternetFM is positioned to offer a unique music streaming service. It will bring back the FM radio music programming experience to listeners who enjoy hearing tracks that are rarely played by the current streaming services. Steve and Eric have the passion and drive to build a music service for discriminating audiophiles,” says Castagna. His investment will enable InternetFM to develop a whole host of new features in the ongoing development of our platform. Stay tuned for news on release 3.0. It will be a radical change to the way we listen to radio.