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Julia Pimsleur is the CEO and Founder of Little Pim, the leading source for introducing young children to a second language. Her business has won 25 awards and is sold in 22 countries. Julia is on a fantastic mission to help one million women entrepreneurs make one million in revenues by 2020. Listen in to learn how she got started, how you can get off your entrepreneur hamster wheel, and more.
How to Raise Capital For Your Startup – Interview with Julia Pimsleur
Hi. Welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Julia Pimsleur who is the founder of Little Pim, the author of Million Dollar Women. She has raised over $5 million between VCs and Angels. She has a goal that I absolutely adore, which is to help one million women break $1 million by 2020, and she’s just the woman to do it. Julia, welcome to the show.
I’m so excited to be here and to talk about raising money. That’s one of my favorite topics. I’m one of these weird people who likes to raise capital and money.
Let’s dig into that. Before we do, I want to always go back and find out your passion. How did you become passionate? Let’s talk about what Little Pim does and how that relates to your father because it’s such an interesting journey for people to find. How does someone become so successful and raise money? What is the motivation behind it? How did you get this passion? Did it come from your father? Tell us where you got all that great stuff.
Yeah, I never thought I would be a business person, actually. I was a creative person. I went to school for film making and I was a documentary filmmaker for many years. I grew up bilingual in French and English and that’s something that just opened so many doors for me throughout my life. I felt like it was just the best gift that my parents ever gave me.
When my own son was born about eleven years ago, I went out looking for a great language teaching program to help him learn a second language at the age kids learn best, which is zero to six. I couldn’t believe there was nothing on the market for very little kids. All the studies show, that’s the best time for them to learn. Drawing on my film making background, and also being the daughter of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, who invented a language teaching method for adults, I decided to create the first ever language teaching method for very young children, Little Pim.
You know what I love about that already is it’s a personal problem you’re solving that has multiple implications. You know for yourself that it changed your life, being bilingual.
It’s so true that being bilingual is an incredible benefit. I reap rewards from that in so many areas from scholarships to being able to live and work abroad. For me, helping parents be their kids’ first language tutor is also really about democratizing foreign language learning.
If you look out over the landscape, the one percent have always figured out a way to have their kids learn Spanish or Mandarin or French or Italian. In the public school system, kids start as late as 5th grade or middle school, learning a language. Most of us really never learn. That’s what I hear from a lot of parents. They never really master the second language. It’s because they’re starting too late.
One of the things in your book, Million Dollar Women, that I really resonated with was you talk about the need for grit and how to get off the entrepreneur hamster wheel and the eight words that changed your whole life. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Sure. I was just working so hard and just running, running, running in my business in the first few years, which I think is typical when you’re getting your business off the ground. I didn’t stop to look up and think about what the business could be if I had twice as much funding, if I had different partners, if I really embraced the idea of going big.
Once I finally did that, I call that getting off the entrepreneur’s hamster wheel. It’s like, stop running so fast and take a minute to think about where you’re trying to go. I realized I really needed to raise capital in order to go to the next level. That’s what started the journey of raising venture capital, which ultimately led me to writing Million Dollar Women.
We’re going to tweet that. “Get off the entrepreneur hamster wheel.” That’s so great, I love that imagery.
One of the daddies of start-up culture, which is Michael Gerber and The E-Myth, who says, “You need to work on the business, not in the business.” Michael Gerber says, “You need to work on the business, not in the business.” For so many of us, that means taking a step back and figuring out what does this company look like at scale? How am I going to get there
Tell us of that great story of how prepared you were. That’s what I love, because I’m constantly working with my clients on, “If you want to be confident and come across as someone that people want to invest in, you have to be prepared when the opportunity comes.” Would you take us back to that story of when you were at a party and you were chatting with a friend of your father’s, I believe?
I spent about nine months getting ready to raise capital, venture capital, watching videos on YouTube, episodes of Shark Tank, talking to any CEO who had raised venture capital who would share their experiences with me. All that time was time away from my business, time away from my two little boys and my family. I just felt, “Gosh, this should be easier. Why is it so hard to figure out how to raise capital?” When I finally raised my $2.1 million, and it was really the hardest thing I ever did I have to say, maybe next to childbirth. I’ve got to make this easier for other women. This is just not okay.
I created a little fundraising boot camp that I’ve been running for the last three years in New York where I would help ten women at a time learn how to raise capital, Angel and venture capital. Their stories really inspired me to write Million Dollar Women and help thousands and eventually a million women, learn how to raise capital and take their businesses big.
I love it. Fundraising boot camp, because you really do have to be prepared as if you’re going to battle. One of the terms in the military, which I think is always so interesting is, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall back on your training. You can’t just think, “Oh, I’ll just wing it when I pitch.” You have to be trained, correct?
That’s so true, and you also have to be really ready to just find a way no matter what. I remember I was out pitching and I would spend half my day, every day, going to the offices of VCs and showing my PowerPoint and telling my story over and over again. One day, I came back from a particularly demoralizing meeting where we got a big no right away. I walked into my office and I saw my head of sales and my head of marketing hunkered down, planning our holiday marketing campaign.
I just thought, “I have to raise this money. They can’t do it, I have to do it.” That day, it became a ‘when’ and not an ‘if.’ I think that might have made all the difference, that I really fully committed and said, “I don’t care if I have to meet another 50 people, I’m going to find this money and they deserve it, and we deserve it. I’m just going it make it happen.”
I love that, so much. We’re going to tweet that out. “You’re fully committed when in your mindset, it’s ‘when’ I get funded, not ‘if’ I get funded.”
That’s right, even though it may take months. Fundraising is brutal, it really is. As women, we face additional challenges because we often don’t have the kind of networks that some of our male counterparts do where we can just pick up the phone and have an easy entree to someone in a VC firm. We have additional obstacles as women, not having the same kind of networks that men do. Also, frankly, facing discrimination here and there. I wanted to help women, make it much easier for them to go raise money, much easier than it was for me.
Are there any tips from your …
Sorry, because I’m really not an essentially in the sense that I don’t think that women or men should be treated any differently by VCs. I do think that because women are newer to the fundraising game, that we have a lot of catching up to do. The book is to help women catch up more quickly. I think the biggest thing in the way for women raising money is just not knowing the fundraising dance.
I have been a professional fundraiser in the non-profit world for several years before I went out raising money for Little Pim. Even for me, it was totally intimidating, a whole new set of vocabulary to learn. I want to help women master that much more quickly so that we can get that 4% number up to the double digits quickly.
I love the fact that you call it a fundraising dance. Just calling it a dance somehow takes the edge off of it, just a little bit. If we think of it as a dance and the conversation and the negotiation and all that due diligence and all that good stuff is a dance and much like preparing for a dance, you’re probably want to rehearse the steps before you go out on the dance floor, if you’re going to keep that analogy going a little bit.
Absolutely, and the truth is that one of the ways that raising money is like a dance is that you have to do the dance that is already happening on the dance floor. You can’t go to a salsa and start doing tango. I think the best thing for women to realize is that venture capital has been functioning a certain way for many, many years.
While we think that landscape could change as more women become VCs and become investors, for now, we have to dance the dance that’s already being danced. That’s something that’s not as hard as you think, but it does need to be explained and practiced. Women can be just as successful as men in pitching.
One of the things in your book, Million Dollar Women, that I really loved, was how prepared you were when the opportunity presented itself for you to whip out financials to show somebody who had indicated some interest. Then, you heard those magic eight words. Would you tell us about that?
Yes. The magic eight words were, “I can help you find a million dollars.”
Music to your ears, continuing the dance analogy.
Absolutely. Any entrepreneur would love to hear. That was actually back in my Angel capital fundraising days. I sat down with a friend of the family who had actually given me my first job in high school. He was pretty much the only person I knew in the banking world, speaking again to women and their networks. Even though I went to an Ivy League college and I have a lot of friends who are consultants and lawyers, I didn’t actually know anyone in banking or in the investment world.
I sat down with this friend of the family who had known I was growing Little Pim and had watched me working two jobs and getting out our first videos and setting everything up. I said to him, “I think I’m ready to go full time.” We made close to $80,000 in our first year without anyone even working in the company. There’s such a high demand for language learning.
“Do you have any resources for me?” I thought he’d be telling me about a government grant or something I could apply for. Instead he said, “I can help you find a million dollars.” Thus my Angel investing dance began. He and I went out and pitched … I pitched, but he made a lot of the introductions, to raise the first million for my series A to fund Little Pim.
Julia, that’s such a great story. The big takeaways for the listeners are 1) you talked about the traction you already have and 2) how big the market was, all in one sentence. That’s really so succinct and compelling. Those are the key things people are looking for in addition to, of course, investing in you. If someone has known you since high school, they know you’re a go-getter and tenacity is your key strength.
That really helped. I also think that hearing that we had already sold so many without even putting any marketing dollars in was critical. I always think of cash as the gas that you’re putting in the tank of your car. You can’t go very far very fast if you have not very much gas in the tank. For him to hear that we’d already made this traction without really anything in the tank gave him the idea that if we filled it up, we could go pretty far pretty fast, which we did. We grew so much once we were able to raise capital, and then after the venture capital, we doubled our sales again. That was exciting.
Hitting those milestones. That’s another great tweet, “Cash is the gas in the tank.” I love it. What advice do you have for the listeners about pitching in specific, since you run a funding boot camp? Are there certain key elements that you work with the women that are in your funding boot camp on their pitch that you could share with us?
Some of the key things about pitching are knowing how to credential yourself. This is an area where women sometimes don’t come off as powerfully as men. I’ve had women who get up and pitch. They say, “I have this great idea and I’m going to start this new bio-tech company.” Twenty minutes later they mention at the end that they have a PhD. It’s like, if you have a PhD in the science field and you’re running a science company, you should probably mention that right up front.
For women to really own their domain expertise and be able to talk about why they are the right person to start this company and to take it to scale is really important. Sometimes women are nervous that if they haven’t already grown a multi-million dollar company, that they’ll have trouble getting the credibility they need. The truth is that investors are listening for much more than just what’s the last company you took public. If you’ve done that, great, but very few people have.
They want to know when have you been in a situation in your professional life where you had to just give it everything and get through really tough challenges. Because that’s what being an entrepreneur is, and the investors know it. They want to hear that you have that total commitment. You’ve got the grit. Even if it’s something in your personal life.
I met with a young woman the other day who’s starting a company to help people take care of loved ones who have illnesses, terminal illnesses. She grew up with a mom with MS. I can’t imagine what she went through taking care of her mother as a child. This woman has grit.
That’s such a great story. I love it, and it really gives the element of, “This is what makes you memorable.” I bet that’s really one of the key things that I find consistently, is if you put yourself in the shoes of an investor, you have a little empathy for them. They hear multiple pitches a day. What is it about you and your story that’s going to make you memorable? You clearly check off all those boxes. I’m sure that’s why you got your funding. Is there anything else that you can add to that?
I think telling stories that the investors can remember is really critical. Whether it’s about a customer who loved your service, or it’s about some kind of amazing traction that you got. Because remember, the investors are going to have to share this information with their team and probably their probably inner circle, whether it’s the LPs that they’re reporting to, the limited partnerships, or even their wives and families. Why are you interested in this company?
I always tell people to think about what would the investor say at the cocktail party that he’s going to the night after he’s heard your pitch, about your pitch? If he can’t think of one story, or if she can’t think of one example that you gave that’s memorable, then you should think about adding that in because you might get forgotten among the 100 other pitches and stories that he or she heard that day.
Oh my gosh, that’s so great. I love that concept of imagining the investor at a cocktail party and saying, “I heard a ton of pitches this week but the one that really stuck with me is let me tell you this story about XYZ.”
This girl has been taking care of her mom who had MS since she was nine years old. Now, she’s creating a website and a platform to help other people taking care of people with terminal illnesses. That’s powerful.
It is. In fact, one of the other investors that I interviewed said, “You should grab my heartstrings and pull hard.” That’s a great example of that, Julia. Thank you.
One way to practice that actually is if you can find a friend who’s an investor but not an investor in your area. I wouldn’t pitch to a lot of people in bio-tech because Little Pim has nothing to do with bio-tech. After I pitch to them, even if it were just on the phone. “Give me ten minutes, please. Tell me back what you heard.” Have them pitch your company back to you and see what actually got through. That’s a great way to know if you’re telling your story in a memorable way. It could be brutal. It could be brutal.
It’s the truth and better to come from someone like that than the real thing. Practice your pitch by practicing it to somebody not investing in your niche and let them tell you back what they heard or where they got confused. Because the confused mind always says no. The minute you confuse somebody, you’ve lost them. It’s really great feedback. A great, great tip. Julia, in addition to your own wonderful book, Million Dollar Women, are there any other books that you would recommend?
I love Brad Feld’s Venture Deals. I read it so long ago. I love Brad Feld’s Venture Deals. That’s like the Bible for me. Mark Peter Davis came out with an awesome book called Fundraising Rules. He’s a VC who, after hearing so many pitches and realizing that people just didn’t even know the fundamentals of pitching to VCs, gave us a gift and put in his book actual phrases that would help when you’re meeting with a VC. How to respond to specific questions. I find that’s really helpful.
I often thought about learning the venture capital dance as trying to become conversational in another language. Maybe because I run a language teaching company, that was a metaphor that worked for me. For me, it was helpful to think, “I don’t have to be fluent in this language. I’m already running a business. I have expertise in other areas, but I have to be conversational.”
That is so important for people going out to pitch. It’s part of the dance, frankly. You have to learn their steps and part of that is knowing how to answer questions about liquidation preferences and discounts and rates of return and everything that they’re dealing with every single day.
It’s such a great analogy, especially from you because you’re an expert in languages, that you don’t have to be completely fluent, but you have to be conversational in the language that the VCs and Angels talk in. That’s great.
I think it lowers the stakes a little bit. I know that a lot of people, fundraising is just really terrifying and they would actually rather have a root canal.
It also lowers the stakes because you just have to be conversational, not perfect. Anytime we can take off that stress of trying to be perfect, then people are much more willing to give it a shot.
That’s right. The other thing to remember is that the investors don’t expect you to be experts in their world. They expect you to be expert in your world.
In your world, exactly.
I always tell people, “Own your domain expertise and you don’t have to pretend that you’re good at everything.” If you do, then they’re going to doubt your integrity because no one’s good at everything. Just own the things that you are good at and then be very transparent about how you’re getting help with the rest, whether it’s coaches, mentors, or surrounding yourself with an amazing team.
What a great place to end. We’re going to obviously list your book and where to click and buy it on the show notes, but how can people follow you? What’s your Twitter? All that good stuff.
@JuliaPimsleur and my website, JuliaPimsleur.com has a lot of great free resources to get started fundraising. I just really want to help make it easier for others and I want to see a million women get to a million in revenues by 2020. Let’s all do that together.
I love it. We’re certainly going to promote that out and do our part to help you make that wonderful goal. Julia, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you so much.
I love what you’re doing. Thanks for having me.
Crack The Funding Code!
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