After years of running events for huge companies, Allie Magyar decided she was spending too much of her time hovering over a fax machine.
“When I started my career in early 2000, attendees faxed us their registrations, and we put them in an Excel spreadsheet,” Allie says. “I wanted to find ways of automating our processes so that we could take use of our most valuable resource, our people.”
Allie’s company, Hubb, keeps track of everything you need when you’re running an event. The platform collects and manages event data. It also enables marketing and facilitates attendee experiences by building calendars and schedules.
Allie started Hubb by bootstrapping, like she had for her previous two companies. Eventually, she decided the time was right to scale up. She was able to go into her first round of fundraising with some proof of product. She could point to giants like Microsoft and Intel as satisfied customers.
“When we went to market in 2015, I self funded the company,” Allie says. “Very small team, very small marketing budget. But we ended the year with 21 paying customers and about $650,000 in revenue. We knew there was a market, and that it could be very successful.”
Eventually, Allie knew the market was ripe for scaling up. But she points out that it’s a situational thing. With Hubb, she watched the market to make sure the time was right. She decided to pull the trigger when she realized that additional capital would allow her business to grow at a much faster rate, and that Hubb would still be the first SaaS platform in the market.
“I said, ‘okay, I can continue to bootstrap, or … what is the market saying right now?’” Allie explains in our conversation on the podcast. “In terms of competition, you have a limited timeframe to own the market.”
Zero to funded in a conference or two
The only problem was that Allie didn’t know anything about finding investors. She had always bootstrapped. Now, she had to figure out how to navigate the fundraising world.
“Sometimes you are so heads down building your business that you don’t have time to build out a community,” says Allie. “That’s where I found myself. I didn’t know what a cap table was. I didn’t really know what venture capital was. But I knew that I had an idea I could take to market if I had some funding.”
Allie decided the Seattle Angel Conference would help her form the relationships she needed to get the ball rolling. She emailed the conference the day before applications were due to let them know to expect an application from Hubb.
Organizers didn’t believe she would be able to get everything together by the deadline. They encouraged her to apply for a later round.
“I said, ‘No, you don’t know me,’” Allie says. “You don’t know my background. I’ll be fine.”
Her self confidence proved correct — she pitched her way to first place.
“That is one of the best ways of learning what the pitch cycle can look like,” says Allie. “You’ve got one minute to describe your company. If you make it to the next round, lots of people ask you questions: talk about your model, how you scale.”
Allie took her pitch through four or five rounds of meetings during the conference. Each pitch helped refine her story. Through this process, she was introduced to the Oregon Angel Fund, now Oregon Venture Funds, and Elevate Capital.
Allie was careful about who she selected to lead her Series A, knowing she would need someone to help her understand the intricacies of fundraising for her first round. Oregon Venture and Elevate offered exactly the kind of mentorship she was looking for.
“My team and I spent a lot of time with them understanding the options early stage startups have,” says Allie. “We ended up working with them hand-in-hand to do our Series A.”
The investor community in the Pacific Northwest is tightly knit, and Allie says that had some very specific benefits.
“If you go through diligence with one group, they’ll share it with another group.”
When investors share diligence information, a founder has that much more time to focus on their business instead of the pitching process. Allie points out that another way to maintain that focus is by working with groups of investors, instead of individuals, as much as possible.
“As an entrepreneur, pitching is just one more thing you have to do,” she says. “You still have to be running your company, hitting all your metrics and growing. I think about it as time invested.”
Angels in the funding field
Allie suggests that if it’s an option, focus on funds instead of individual angels.
“If you get 10 angels, they may write checks for $25,000 apiece,” she says. “But then you’re dealing with 10 different people with 10 different sets of questions, views and perspectives.”
But at a fund? All of the investors contribute, and entrepreneurs only deal with a single point of contact.
Allie is an advocate for founders who learn as they go, especially women and people of color. But for all founders, no matter how long they’ve been at it, she has one word to sum up her advice: grit.
“I was turned down just as many times as anyone else,” Allie says. “I was told that my business didn’t make sense and my model wouldn’t work. I could have easily said, ‘oh, you’re right.’ But I didn’t because I was using real data.”
“Ultimately, it’s that grit, that belief in yourself and your product and the ability to just continue, regardless of how many times someone tells you you’re crazy. That’s where you start to see success.”
Nathan Beckord is the CEO of Foundersuite.com, a software platform that has helped entrepreneurs raise over $1.2 billion in seed and venture capital since 2016. This article is based on an episode of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast, a behind-the-scenes look at how startup founders have raised capital.