5 Tips for Landing Venture Capital Funding and Securing a Mentor

Founder Profile: Jacie deHoop of The GIST, offers strategies on finding a mentor and fundraising as an early-stage venture

As a mentor to several female-founded businesses, Cubert CEO, Marius Ronnov recently spoke with Jacie deHoop of The GIST, about how mentorship plays a role in the startup’s growth and what it’s like fundraising as an all-women team in a male-focused industry.

Sports are a great way for people to connect with one another. Beyond entertainment, sports can transcend social and cultural barriers and give us a sense of community with others. However, for many women and more casual fans, they may find it difficult to join sports conversations and networks. Sports are, unfortunately, still a boys club. Even for someone like Jacie deHoop, who grew up playing many sports, she didn’t consider herself an avid fan.

Nearly four years ago, Jacie and her university friends, Roslyn McLarty and Ellen Hyslop, questioned that feeling. It wasn’t helpful that a lot of sports content was created by and for male fans, making it less engaging for someone like Jacie, who wanted progressive storylines about the latest in both men’s and women’s sports. And the statistics proved that finding. There are less than 14 percent of sports journalists who are women. Less than 4 percent of coverage is on female athletes. It’s no wonder why there’s a demographic of female fans who feel excluded from the world of sports. 

Recognizing there was an underserved market, Jacie, Roslyn, and Ellen decided to change that. In 2018, they launched The GIST, a sports media brand. Their mission is to make sports more accessible and inclusive to all types of fans. They do this by creating bite-sized information about what’s going on in the sports world from a female voice and perspective, while covering men’s and women’s athletics. The startup has an all-female content team and produces three channels – a newsletter that’s distributed four times a week; a podcast that releases episodes twice a week; and their daily social channels.

Since launching, Jacie and her co-founders have proven there is a demand for women-focused sports content. Two successful fundraising rounds reflect that growing trend. In their pre-seed round, the founders closed with $500,000 and in their second and most recent, they oversubscribed at $1 million. With this new capital, the team intends to grow their brand’s audience, content offering, and internal team. Jacie, the head of revenue who leads all things monetization, is also focused on expanding brand partnerships. To date, the GIST has worked with the NBA, FanDuel, Wilson, Red Bull, and Adidas. 

The Value of Mentorship

The GIST founders are a part of different startup ecosystems. Through incubators and accelerators like DMZ, Techstars, and Comcast NBCUniversal, the team has built connections with various advisors and investors.

“Having diverse mentors from different areas has been incredibly instrumental.”

Jacie explains how she and her co-founders have mentors who specialize in distinct areas. For instance, the team has advisors to turn to with questions about funding. For insight into content production and scaling media companies, they go to another set of counselors. They also have mentors to talk with about hiring.

How you can find a mentor

Finding a mentor that you connect with is a process, Jacie explains. “It’s like dating. There’s so many people you’ll meet and so many that you won’t connect with.” She says the experience of going through accelerators and incubator programs was helpful in getting set up with experienced people from various industries.

It’s valuable to practice building relationships with all kinds of people. But keep in mind, even if you are assigned to a mentor, and it seems like a great fit, it may not be. And that’s okay. Remember mentorship is a two-way relationship. If they’re not going to give you the time and advice you need, you can try with someone else. “It does take a lot of searching and I think being strategic about who’s actually going to be helpful for you [at your current state] is a good thing to think about. It’s best to be a little discerning…”

Fundraising as an all-women team

In the earlier days, the founders often heard there was no demand for something like The GIST, including from the people they looked up to. However, Jacie and her co-founders learned to direct their focus on those who were supportive.

“We decided it’s not worth our time and effort to try and convince someone why there’s a need for something like this when there are so many people that do believe in what we’re building.”

During their pre-seed round, Jacie says she and her teammates had research to support there was going to be a lot of market demand. Still, there was no proof of concept. “At that point, people were betting on the team,” she says. In this stage, it’s important to highlight your thought process and how committed you are — people are what investors are really investing in. 

Two years later, the conversations were different during their seed round. Now, Jacie and her team had growth numbers to speak to. They had proven demand and shown how they could monetize. “All those big picture concepts that we were selling at that pre-seed stage were solidified and proven,” she says.

If you’re preparing for a fundraising sprint, here are 5 tips from Jacie:

  1. Make a List – Start with compiling a list of potential investors you plan to reach out to. Include a mix of existing investors and a wish list of who you would like to bring on. Look at your team and note some of the skills and experience gaps that you have and want to fill with potential backers.
  2. Outline Your Story – Tell the story of your business by creating a pitch deck. Don’t forget to include your financials. Make sure the slides tell a story and that you are providing the right level of detail. Some investors want to know about growth. Others may want details about revenue. “A pitch deck is like a teaser that you send out to make somebody decide if they want to have a meeting or not,” explains Jacie. “Make sure it’s visually strong.”
  3. Set a Deadline – Jacie recommends setting up a timeline, because fundraising is strenuous and takes up a lot of time away from the day-to-day of the business. “It can be really hard if there’s no close date and it’s dragging on,” she says. “Be proactive by saying, this is the timeline we have. We need all decisions and all checks by this date.”
  4. Practice– Create a list of anticipated questions and practice how you would respond to them. 
  5. Be Honest – “In these conversations, we’ll get tons of questions on ‘what’s X going to look like in five years?’ The answer is we don’t know,” says Jacie. “And that’s okay.” When she and her team started fundraising, they didn’t want to come across as if they didn’t know anything. “But I think smart investors will recognize that we don’t have all the answers and want to hear how we’re thinking through it.”