I was in the midst of building a bankruptcy application for the legal industry when I lost both of my cofounders. I now had to bring my idea to life on my own—while pregnant with my first daughter. So, I teamed up with a developer, taught myself to code, and set out for investment, so I could go to market sooner and expand the product’s offerings faster.
But despite my tenacity, a concrete business plan, a well-rehearsed presentation, and most importantly, a passion for my product, I never received a dollar of VC funding. Each time–82 times to be exact–I was told “no.” Time and again, investors expressed that the product was too niche, and the market potential was just not large enough.
For some, constant rejection can be detrimental, but in my case, it kept me going. I came to the conclusion that not receiving investment was merely a setback, not the end.
Self-funding might not seem as glamorous as the investor alternative, but it is completely doable and opens up a whole new set of opportunities for a business. A strategic vision, sound marketing efforts, and a devoted team are all tactics that helped take my company to new heights without outside capital. In addition, when an exit opportunity was presented to me, I had a sense of pride knowing that I had complete control over major decisions, such as an acquisition.
Successfully bringing the platform to market and growing the product without outside funding was no small feat. Along the way, I learned not only to stay resilient but other lessons that are useful for any entrepreneur looking to launch their business. Here are my five tips on how to keep going after VCs turn you down.
Maintaining a scrappy mentality is necessary when trying to grow a business without funding. I found that keeping an eye on expenses closely and only paying for what you absolutely need does wonders for your accounting. When it comes to using tools for business, make sure to ask for hidden startup pricing or a discount. Everything is negotiable, so make sure you take the time to ask.
The best advice comes from fellow entrepreneurs and business leaders in your industry. Those who have been in your shoes before and were successful are a great resource. Attend industry events and start networking. You’d be surprised at how many legal tech conferences I went to when I was first starting out. I’d start conversations with anyone and everyone, asking for their advice and thoughts on my product. These mentors continue to act as sounding boards as I navigate the new territory of being an acquired company.
Find a side hustle
As a startup founder without funding, you most likely aren’t cutting yourself a check. To support your lifestyle and business, find another way to make money. I found that working as a virtual paralegal while simultaneously building my company helped tremendously when getting it off the ground. Use your talents to pick up freelance work through websites like Upwork. Choose projects that support your core product efforts. That way you will gain expertise and apply it to your business.
Keep the competition close
Competitors who knock off your ideas and take your customers can make it harder to trust others in the space, but remember that not all competition is bad. Network with others in the space, help them build their company, too, and find an ally among those in the same space. Some of the best acquirers or acquisition targets are your competitors. I always remember the phrase, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
Focus on your health
If you aren’t careful, working on your startup can start to consume every bit of your life. I spent hours behind my computer screen, seldom taking breaks. In order to avoid burnout and ensure you’re operating at full strength, make time to connect with yourself with an activity like yoga or running. While you work out to keep your physique in good health, you should also work out your mind. Take meditation classes or work with a business coach or therapist to feel a deeper connection to yourself during this time of building.
When I wasn’t getting any interest from investors for my startup, I started to think that I’d never successfully launch. Self-funding gave me the freedom to make decisions on my own terms and paved the way for a successful exit.
Janine Sickmeyer is the founder and managing director of NextChapter and director of practice workflow at Fastcase. While getting her company off the ground, Janine started and grew her family of six, and is passionate about helping courageous women realize they can have the family and career they’ve always wanted. She is also the host of She Starts Up podcast.