Excelerate has changed the game for another Chicago startup! GiveForward, founded by Desiree Vargas Wrigley and Ethan Austin (and part of Excelerate’s 2010 program), leverages a social networking platform to help people raise money for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Despite facing opposition from investors back in 2008 when the company was started, GiveForward has successfully raised $500,000 in its first round of funding.
Prior to joining Excelerate, GiveForward’s founders were unable to convince investors that their business should be a for-profit enterprise. They heard time and time again “you should be a non-profit.” The tenacious founders marched on, undiscouraged. They bootstrapped the business and in 2010, GiveForward was selected as one of the 10 startups in Excelerate’s first summer intensive program.
During their summer with Excelerate, Wrigley and Austin made an invaluable connection. Tim Krauskopf, serial entrepreneur, founder of Spyglass Inc. and former Motorola exec, took a particular interest in GiveForward. He offered advice, support, and set the stage for a successful fund raise, leveraging his connections to assemble a group of interested investors. Krauskopf’s confidence in the company is evident, stating that “There are a lot of fantastic new tech ventures coming out of Chicago right now and GiveForward is one of the best.” And as the lead investor in this fundraising round, he put his money where his mouth is. I asked Desiree Vargas Wrigley for a few words of wisdom. Here’s what she had to say.
Four pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Good things take time: Understand that everything is going to take longer than you expect. Go into your venture hungry for success but realistic about how long it will take. Find metrics other than revenue to gauge your early success. Low days are inevitable so other key indicators are key. They’ll get you through the tough times.
2. Form relationships: Don’t just network, build friendships. People want to help people they like, so be a nice person. Don’t just reach out to people who can do something for you. Take the initiative to help someone else first.
3. Flexibility is key: Be willing to adjust your vision. Just because you think your idea is brilliant, it doesn’t mean that your customers are going to. Take a step back every so often and ask yourself if you are providing the best solution to your customers’ needs
4. Be genuine to build a rapport: At GiveForward, we know it’s going to be a long time before we have a real marketing budget to get our brand in front of a million people. But we also understand that happy, successful GiveForward users brings us more traffic, more donations, and more new users. That’s why one of our core values is “Cultivate through Compassion.“ We make it our mission to turn every point of contact into an opportunity, and superfan conversion is as good as it gets.
Three valuable takeaways from your Excelerate experience?
1. How to communicate your vision and get investors to buy in: The most important thing we learned at Excelerate was how to talk about our business in a way that instilled confidence and excited our audience. Once you master that, you can grab the attention of anyone in any room.
2. How to spot a bad term sheet: We had no idea what anything on a term sheet meant before we joined Excelerate. By the end of the summer, I was giving advice to other young entrepreneurs on what to look out for and what to reasonably expect.
3. The power of networking: Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from our Excelerate summer was the network. We had no Chicago network when we started GiveForward. By the end of Excelerate, we have 20+ people we could call for advice. Just having access to these brilliant people was priceless.
To date, 10,000 users have joined the GiveForward site. Nearly half have registered in the past six months, more proof of the power of Excelerate. All it takes is one champion like Tim Krauskopf to believe in your business and take it to the next level. But first you need the connections, and there’s no better place than Excelerate Labs.