Interested in reading our interviews with the other Fast & Curious honorees? Head over to the nominee hub to meet the rest of the Curious Six.
“We needed to find an accelerator that could really foster us as first-time founders. We needed guidance to help develop our product and find the market that would benefit from it, and so on.
We obviously knew about Techstars, but the important thing was that we knew the Techstars network is extremely ‘give first’ in spirit.”
It’s common knowledge among founders: If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, the most important trait to have is resilience. For Nate Wyne and Erin Angerer – co-founders of the buzzy AI fintech startup, Floodlight – truer words have never been spoken.
Currently part of Techstars’ Barclays accelerator, Erin and Nate navigated a long string of failures on the road to startup success. Today, the team at Floodlight isn’t just changing the way people invest…they’re making it profitable to better the world.
As Techstars’ nominee for the Fast & Curious list, Nate and Erin sat down with us to discuss the importance of failure, their hard-fought road to accelerator success, and key wisdom for other entrepreneurs applying for big-league accelerators like Techstars.
First off, Erin and Nate, congrats on the nomination!
Erin: Thanks so much!
Nate: Very happy to be here.
For those who don’t know, can you give us a quick primer on Floodlight? What do you do?
Erin: Right now, we’re in the middle of the Barclays accelerator powered by Techstars, and we’re in the first cohort of the year. So we’ll be completing Demo Day at the beginning of Q2 2021. What we’re building is the Bloomberg of values-based investing. We have a platform that’s custom-tailored to meet the needs of financial advisors and asset managers — specifically, those who are looking for a better way to align their clients’ values with their wealth.
Nate: But what does that mean, right? Well, what we do is provide finance professionals with data sets that are rooted in non-financial metrics, and these metrics correspond to corporate behavior.
The ideal customers for us are registered investment advisors and asset managers — specifically, those who are part of this “values wave” called ESG (environmental, social and governance).
“The biggest lesson Nate and I learned (the hard way) is that when you’re applying to accelerators, resilience and perseverance are everything. We were rejected a million times before we finally got accepted.”
What’s ESG? Asking for a friend…
Nate: ESG is a huge trend pushing the investment world forward right now. Many of the advisors we work with are saying to their clients, “Hey, I’m listening to what’s important to you, and I’ll make sure your money isn’t invested in companies who engage in certain practices.”
We help enable these asset managers to move money easily, and also build better relationships with their clients (retail, commercial banks, and so on).
“Before you start applying to accelerators, really take the time to figure out who your “high expectation customer” is. Don’t pitch a solution. Don’t sell your product for a very long time.”
Why did you choose to go the accelerator route, and why did you choose Techstars specifically?
Erin: Nate and I are looking at each other right now, we both have the same answer.
Nate: (Laughs) Yes we do.
Erin: So we launched the company in June 2019. And because we worked at Silicon Valley Bank at the time, we had some rockstar mentors and advisors who had started their own companies, and had raised tons of money from the “who’s who” of Sand Hill Road. So we left SVB with stars in our eyes, like, “Great, we’ll just go raise a couple million bucks, and then we’ll build our platform and change the world.”
Nate: To us, it felt that easy.
Erin: We had a rude awakening pretty much right away.
Erin: We met with all these VCs, right? And pretty quickly we learned that A) We were very inexperienced, and B) We were not a match at all for the stage or industry that any of these firms wanted to invest in.
We had a problem that we were passionate about solving, but after so many pitch meetings with the same outcome, we realized we needed to find an accelerator program that could foster us as first-time founders. We needed guidance to help develop our product and find the market that would benefit from it — which is obviously what accelerators are all about.
We knew about Techstars, but the important thing was that we knew the Techstars network is extremely “give first” in spirit. That was everything to us. So we started connecting with all these amazing people who were so generous to counsel us, advise us, and start referring us to the various Techstars programs.
“You have to put in the effort to find people who are like-minded and want to have fun doing this with you. This is a great time to be an entrepreneur — believe in yourself, and take the necessary time to find a good co-founder.”
Did you learn anything throughout the application process? What advice would you give to other founders who are thinking of applying to an accelerator?
Erin: I’ll say this — the biggest lesson Nate and I learned the hard way is that when you’re applying to accelerators, resilience and perseverance are everything. We were rejected a million times before we finally got accepted.
Nate: Which was an experience in and of itself, just because we got so close so many times.
Erin: After we launched our MVP, we were actively interviewing with Techstars Boulder. We got into the Top 15, did the whole interview, pitched, and thought it went phenomenal. But ultimately, we didn’t get in.
That hurt. But then we said, “Okay, we won’t let failure define us,” and we started working twice as hard.
We pushed out more features. We added more data sets to the platform. Soon, we were interviewing again with Techstars LA. And sure enough, it was the same exact story. Top fifteen, super excited, and then we didn’t get in.
Nate: Those were awesome days, weren’t they?
Erin: (Laughs) You know how they talk about the “dark hole of entrepreneurship?” By this point we were just digging deeper, and deeper, into that hole.
But we kept going. We refused to give up. We managed to get another interview, this time with Tech Stars Iowa. And I am not kidding you, same exact story. Top 11, we didn’t get in. So at this point, Nate and I are looking at each other like, “What is going on?! Why do we keep getting so close, but never getting accepted?”
“We launched the company with stars in our eyes. Like, “Great, we’ll just go raise a couple million bucks, and then we’ll build our platform and change the world.” We had a rude awakening pretty much right away.”
What we couldn’t see at the time was that each failure was getting us closer to where we needed to be to succeed. Through the people we met at Techstars Iowa – even though we were rejected for a third time – we got introduced to the MD who manages the fintech program over there. And over the next five months, Nate became close with this person, who encouraged us to try one more time.
Nate: And sure enough, on that last try we got accepted.
Erin: I would absolutely say it was like Cinderella. For one reason or another, the glass slipper just didn’t fit in any of those other programs. In Techstars and Barclays, we landed in a program that’s so perfectly aligned with our go-to-market, and our users, and our industry. It’s truly been the best experience possible.
“It was like Cinderella. The glass slipper did not fit in any of those other programs for a reason. We landed in one that is so perfectly aligned with our go-to-market, and our users, and our industry. It’s truly been the best experience possible.”
When you first started Floodlight, what mistakes did you make? If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
Erin: I’m having such a visceral reaction to this question right now.
Nate: (Laughs) You and me both!
Erin: Okay, where to start…so right now, Techstars is guiding us through the customer discovery process, and the product-market fit process. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this in the last three days, but if I could go back in time, I truly wish we’d done that work before entering the program.
For any future founders out there, my recommendation is before you start applying to accelerators, really take the time to figure out who your “high expectation customer” is. Don’t pitch a solution, and don’t sell your product for a very long time. Just sit down with your customers and take the time to understand them intimately. Know their problems inside and out. Once you have that information, you have to build your whole product around those problems. You cannot let your first move be to just build a product and hope it sticks.
Nate: Exactly. Do not fall in love with your product, fall in love with your target market.
What I’d add on top of that is that you have to put in the effort to find people who are like-minded and want to have fun doing this with you. This is a great time to be an entrepreneur — believe in yourself, and take the necessary time to find a good co-founder. For us, we couldn’t have done this without each other.
Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Erin: Yes! At the beginning of Q2 – essentially right around the time of demo day – we’re releasing our brand new consumer dashboard. Access is invitation-only at first, and we’ll be giving out a limited number of invitations, so reach out to our team (floodlightinvest.com) if you’d like to get on that list.
Thanks so much, Nate and Erin. Congratulations on all your success!
Erin: Thank you!
Nate: Yeah, this was a great time.
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