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How Does a 24-Year-Old Raise $1.25 Million for a Startup?

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“At one point, we walked away from over $750K,” said BrandYourself Co-Founder and CEO Patrick Ambron.

“On any terms we wanted, essentially.”

But Ambron still walked away. “It was a huge part of our round, and I didn't have a back-up plan solidified, but we walked away,” Ambron told Benzinga. “I just didn't think the investors were the best fit. They were a great firm, but I didn't think they knew our industry, and I never wanted to take money if I didn't think I was also improving the team. It was the hardest decision I made for our company, and I lost a lot of sleep, but it ended [up] being one of the best decisions I ever made.”

That decision led Ambron to a much better round of funding. “It goes without saying that a couple of 20-year-olds from Syracuse, with absolutely no experience building a product or tech business, can't just set up meetings with top VCs and investors,” said Ambron. “That said, it was still really important to put together the best possible team of investors – I didn't want to just take money where I could get it.”

Thus, Ambron decided to make a list of the best investors in his industry. “[I] called, e-mailed and showed up at events until I finally was able to pitch them all, months before the company was ready,” said Ambron. “I was turned down by everyone, but it was the only way I could get on their radar. After that I sent them weekly progress updates for the next seven months. At first, most of my e-mails went unanswered.

“But eventually, almost every investor responded to my progress reports with feedback. By the time we were ready to raise a round of funding for BrandYourself, I had already established mentor relationships. And the investors had a strong sense of how the company operated.”

BrandYourself went on to raise $1.25 million during its first round. “Every single investor who came in had turned me down at some point,” said Ambron. “As a first-time entrepreneur with no track record, the best thing you can do is get on investors' radar early.”

How It All Began

Ambron told us that he has always been interested in how new media “affects the lives of real people.”

“Back in college, BrandYourself co-founder Pete Kistler couldn't get an internship because when people Googled him, they found a drug dealer with the same name,” Ambron explained. “We realized Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is an incredibly important part of your reputation, but unless you know how SEO works – most people don't – or have thousands of dollars to pay a reputation company, there is nothing you can do. That's what gave us the idea for BrandYourself. We wanted to give people a free, easy way to manage their online reputations.”

Before BrandYourself, Ambron launched another startup. “When I was in college I had a service-based SEO company called Day Branding,” he said. “It was basically just me doing SEO work for small businesses. Day Branding helped me hone my SEO skills. It also helped me realize I wanted to build more of a product than just a one-man business.”

Ambron said that he loved the idea of running his own business and being financially independent, “but I also realized I wanted something bigger than just myself and my services.”

“When I found out reputation companies were charging people like Pete thousands of dollars just to control his own search results, I was so angry at first, but then realized it was an opportunity,” he said.

Getting Results

BrandYourself sounds like a promising website, but if you think it's too good to be true, you're not alone. Wondering how this could possibly work, I posed the following question:

Let's say my name is Bob Stalker and, what do you know, there just happens to be a crazy guy out there by the same name. He's famous, so his Google searches keep coming up. How do I prevent this from happening when we share the same name?

“Pete's problem was very similar. In that situation, the only thing you can do is try to bury the unwanted results with positive results and better optimize your content,” Ambron explained. “Pete was being confused with a known drug dealer. So, we made sure that all of his links had positively optimized content.”

But it doesn't work for everyone, Ambron warns. “Realistically, if your name happens to be Brad Pitt, no one can guarantee you are going to [be] the first result to come up,” he said. “But with a little help, you can try to make it on the first page so people looking for you can find what they are looking for.”

With regard to how much personal information a user must provide, Ambron said that it depends on each person's individual goals. “We only need your name and the links you'd like to optimize,” said Ambron. “If you'd like to bump one link to the first page, you only have to submit one link. You simply submit what is already available on Google – we just help you optimize it.”

Follow me @LouisBedigian

 

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Posted-In: BrandYourself Patrick Ambron Pete KistlerEntrepreneurship Success Stories Startups Tech General Best of Benzinga