Liz Wessel and her co-founder JJ Fliegelman conceived of the idea for WayUp, a service that connects college students with internship and entry-level job opportunities, while students at the University of Pennsylvania.
Barring campus career services, a resource they found subpar, they had no place to look for cool internships. The problem arose again, this time from the employer side, after Wessel and Fliegelman graduated and started working at Google and McKinsey, respectively. When searching for interns and entry-level candidates, both received a flood of unqualified student applicants.
Working at Google’s office in India, Wessel couldn’t let go of the problem; eventually she decided she had to do something about it. In July of 2014, she left Google to start CampusJob, which would eventually be renamed WayUp. Fast forward to present: the service is on campuses around the country and is backed by an all-star cast of investors. Plus, its founders claim that one out of every three students on WayUp who applies for a job gets hired.
Below, Wessel discusses how she went about raising money for WayUp.
1. What is WayUp, in 140 characters?
WayUp (formerly called Campus Job) is the largest online marketplace exclusively for college students to get jobs and internships.
2. Who gave you your first check? What was the experience like?
BoxGroup, a fund founded by David Tisch and Adam Rothenberg. They led our Seed round before we even launched as a business. We felt so, so incredibly lucky to be working with them. One reason was that I had followed their investments/careers for many years, ever since I first heard David speak at a UPenn event, and I had so much respect for both of them. Another reason was that they asked better business and product questions during the fundraising process than any other investor I pitched to. It was obvious that they're brilliant at what they do, and that they know what they're talking about. One more reason — although there are actually a million more reasons — was that they were willing to move fast and not waste time.
3. What was your most recent round of funding, how much did you raise and who were your investors?
We most recently raised a Series A in April 2015 for $7.8 million. This brings our total fundraising to $9.1 million. The main investors in our Series A were General Catalyst, Box Group, Index Ventures, SV Angel, Slow Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Female Founders Fund, Red Sea Ventures and several amazing Angels, including Fritz Landman, Tikhon Bernstam, Scott Belsky, Ali Rowghani, Qasar Younis and more.
4. How did you approach fundraising? How did you decide how much money to raise? What was your plan?
Well, first of all, we didn't need the money, so that helped a lot with the positioning. We had another year of runway at the rate we were burning, so we weren't desperate.
Once we did decide that we would fundraise, I immediately called David and Adam and had them sit with me and go through all of the investors that they thought would be a good fit. They made introductions to a bunch of them — General Catalyst and Index Ventures both came through Adam — and they continued to advise me throughout the process.
I also decided early on in the process that I did not want to make a deck for the Series A. I knew the numbers perfectly (I live and breathe those numbers), and I didn't want a deck to distract investors from our story about our traction. I also didn't want to spend time making a deck when I could instead be working on my business. So, I decided not to ever make one. Unfortunately, I'm guessing this won't fly for our Series B!
5. Did you feel like it was easier or harder to raise money as a female CEO?
I don't think it mattered much. I definitely don't think it was harder. The only way it may have been easier was that a lot of funds are making a conscious effort to meet with more female CEOs, but I don't think that did anything more than get our foot at the door at a couple funds. Especially when I hear horror stories from other female entrepreneurs, I feel very lucky that my gender hasn't been a disadvantage when fundraising.
6. What was the hardest and the most unexpected part about fundraising?
We couldn't find a way to work with every investor that we wanted to because there simply wasn't enough room in the round. This was a good problem to have — but nonetheless, a very real problem. It's hard to meet an amazing investor and tell them you can't work with them!
7. What mistakes have you made in retrospect? What would you do differently?
We worried too much about how much money we should raise, because we didn't want to raise too much. Looking back, I would have spent less time worrying about it.
8. What is your advice to founders like yourself who are trying to raise financing?
Three big things:
1) Your first pitches should be to funds who you don't have your heart set on. You'll almost definitely get better at fundraising throughout the process, so it's important that you start by practicing on funds that aren't your top choice.
2) You should also meet with as many entrepreneurs as possible who have raised money in the past, so that they can give you advice. Obviously some advice is better than others, but founders tend to be brutally honest with one another, which is very helpful.
3) If someone says “loop me in once you have a lead” or “keep me updated,” you should probably take it as a “no.”
9. What are your top 3 do's and top 3 don'ts on raising funding?
1) Do make two versions of your investor deck: one for pitching, and one for emailing. No one ever talks about this, but everyone I know has two decks. One is long and meant for the in-person pitch, but shouldn't have too many words in it. Instead, it should include an extensive appendix. The emailed deck is shorter (around 15 to 20 slides) but should be more comprehensive, because you can't answer all the questions they may have, since you're not physically with them while they review it.
2) Do use the process of fundraising as an opportunity to get new product ideas and business feedback from investors. Obviously not all of it will always be great, but several of our better business ideas came from pitching investors and getting awesome feedback and questions. The most notable one was making public profiles for all students users to be indexed by Google (if they don't opt-out.) This idea came from David Tisch — and we still thank him for it!
3) Do work with investors who you believe are good people. I genuinely love each of our investors, and it makes that whole part of my job as CEO so much better as a result.
4) Don't just choose the term sheet with the highest valuation. Obviously valuation should play a part in your decision, but you also want to make sure you're choosing an excellent partner, and that you're not pricing yourself too high
5) Don't hide things from investors in the hopes that they won't find out. Beyond being immoral, if they end up investing, there's a solid chance they'll find out and it will ruin your reputation. They will also lose their trust in you as a founder.
6) Don't have other people on your team spend too much time on fundraising (meaning, everyone aside from the CEO). Otherwise, it's a time suck. Your engineering, sales team and marketing teams have better things to do, like grow your business!
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.