Susan Tynan tells Moneyish about the time entrepreneurs must spend to sell their big-picture idea
This is the latest piece in a series about the nitty gritty of entrepreneurship, for which Moneyish asks tried-and-tested founders of successful startups how they got funded. Read more here.
Before you can sell your million-dollar idea to investors, you’ve got to sell it to yourself.
“It has to be an idea that you are super passionate about, because the process will test you,” Framebridge founder Susan Tynan told Moneyish.
The Washington D.C. entrepreneur started her online custom framing business two years ago after being scarred from spending $1,600 to frame four national parks posters. “That was more than my couch!” she said. “And it was a really intimidating experience. I felt like I was being upsold the entire time.”
Enter Framebridge, which mounts and frames pictures, fabrics or whatever you desire for $39 to $189, which is up to 70% less than traditional custom frame jobs.
Tynan, 41, took a framing course and attending a trade show to learn everything she could about working in pictures, even as she was still a general manager for LivingSocial. She also picked everyone’s brains about their framing experiences.
“People are always so scared to share their ideas, but it’s the only way to test it,” said Tynan. “Everyone thinks that people will steal your idea, but ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s whether or not you can actually get it done.”
And she got her dream done by leaving LivingSocial to network full-time in 2015. “You have to take hundreds of coffee dates with people who are probably not going to fund your business,” she warned. But those nos can lead to yesses, like a venture capitalist who wasn’t interested in Framebridge, but directed Tynan to another investor who was.
She started with people she’d work with before – “who knew my work ethic and hustle” – who made some essential introductions. “They could give a warm introduction,” she said. “Unfortunately, most investors are swamped with inbounds, so you need to figure out a warm introduction,” which separates you from the pack of no-names.
“It is tremendously time consuming, and it can be defeating when 99% of conversations will not result in a check,” she said. “The people who funded me originally were people who knew me. So you have to make connections with people, one at a time, by putting in the time.”
You can’t be modest about your sales pitch, either. “It’s almost silly in the beginning to be saying ‘We’re going to be a multimillion dollar company!’ when you haven’t sold one thing yet,” she said. “But people want to come along with the big vision.” Go big, or go home.
Within five months, she had raised $1 million, mostly from two venture capital firms and ex-LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy, her old boss. (Stay on good terms with former employers!) This rented out the production facilities in Maryland and Kentucky, covered the cost of framing materials, and also went toward building the website. Today Framebridge boasts 150 employees framing “hundreds of thousands of pieces,” Tynan said, and sales tripled last year over the year before. “We’re on track to do the same again,” she said, declining to give revenue totals.
She is also expanding with related services, like designing layouts to display your framed works on your wall.
“But the thing that makes me the proudest is when we see someone on social media tell someone else, ‘Pretty photo – you should Framebridge that one,’” she said. “Not only are people really understanding what we’re trying to do – but now we’re a verb!”
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