WedPics founder and CEO Justin Miller laughingly refers to himself as that “tattooed guy” when he talks about what some investors have called him. Now he should be called the “Silicon Valley-approved tattooed guy” after WedPic’s latest financing.
No, he says, no Silicon Valley tattoo to go along with “Sir Walter the Bat” that he added as Raleigh’s chosen representative ambassador to South By Southwest earlier this year. But he acknowledges having some new ones.
Seriously, his Sir Walter connections do pay off. He did get plenty of help from friends in the Triangle in lining up big-name investors. And let’s not forget – WedPics raised $4.25 million with more to come even though its”pre-revenue.” Some revenue this year, yes, but less than $400,000. Miller has convinced some pretty powerful people that WedPics will deliver big bucks in the future.
And networking helped. But how did he leverage that networking?
And what did one early backer do to help?
What are the lessons for other Triangle startups?
First, some backstory from Triangle angel investor Mark Easley Jr. on why he backed Miller – tattoos and all.
Know Your Numbers
“I came in for the A Round after they had already pivoted from their original Deja Mi strategy to focus on weddings,” Easley explains, recalling how Miller choose to reboot his Raleigh-based photo sharing app and services startup.
“I had a series of discussions with Justin, and he impressed me as one of the most knowledgeable and focused startup CEOs in the community.
“He knows his numbers, knows online marketing and metrics, knows how to test and pivot as needed, and has built a great team.
“I think Wedpics is one of the most interesting startup stories we have, especially after this latest B Round, the growth they are showing, and the caliber of investors they are attracting. I think Adam Draper saw many of the same qualities that I did.”
There’s the name-dropping for investments.
Adam Draper, son of well-known VC Tim Draper. The B round for WedPics includes Draper.
Miller recalls how Easley helped him connect with Draper – certainly s good an argument as there is for startup entrepreneurs to learn: Network as often and as hard as you can. Those personal contacts can pay huge, huge dividends.
”Met him at the Bitcoin conference downtown over the summer,” Miller says. “Mark asked me to come to it to meet Adam. [Adam] dug what we were doing and asked to invest.
“I’m always thankful for every intro I receive regardless of the outcome as in this crazy world of startups paths are insanely intertwined,” Miller adds.
There’s another key lesson: Show some gratitude toward people who help you find success.
Too often entrepreneurs on the rocket to success forget the people who helped them find the fuel for the journey.
Easley wasn’t the only local helper, either.
“Whitney Rowe with Triangle Angel Partners intro-ed me to Paul Martino from BullPen in the late summer of 2013 – clearly that was a key intro,” Miller says. (BullPen led the new round after turning down Miller twice before. More that in a few sentences from here.)
“There are a lot of well connected locals around here and just because they may not be a direct fit into your company they may possess a network that would be, so keeping an open mind is imperative.”
Easley points with pride to the caliber of executives Miller laded, including Draper.
“Adam runs the BoostVC accelerator out in San Mateo, and is the son of silicon valley VC Tim Draper,” Easley says.
“When I invited Adam out here to keynote for the Cryptolina bitcoin conference earlier this year he agreed to look at several of our startup opportunities.
“Afterwards Justin Miller closed the deal with Adam.
“Great job by Justin, and proof that solid North Carolina companies can attract investment from Silicon Valley or anywhere else.”
Quick Fund Raise – Driven by Metrics
With contacts and with a fast-growing record of achievement and an argument for growth potential, Miller raised the new round quickly.
“This round actually flew by, less than 90 days start to finish compared to nine-plus months for each of the last two rounds,” he explains.
“Our metrics sold the story.
“We broke into numbers that impressed everyone -when you can say you have millions of users it makes a difference.”
Getting the Word Out
But even the fastest-growing startup isn’t going anywhere if nobody knows about it.
Again, Miller acknowledges, contacts helped. He’s asked how did he get the SV investors interested?
“Local intros that led to those folks making other intros,” he says.
“The startup ecosystem is heavily tied together and I’ve found that each new investor brings at least two or three more potentials.”
So what can other startups learn from his experiences?
“That this area no longer needs to be pigeonholed as a place that can’t raise substantial capital, especially from outside investors, around pre-rev/social/consumer companies,” he replies.
“While we are certainly not the norm (in terms of startup companies) here my goal is to pave the way for other companies looking to thrive here.
“Also, entrepreneurs need to understand that just because you get a “no” from a potential investor that doesn’t mean the door is necessarily closed.
“BullPen turned me down twice in the past as an investors and then they became our lead. Also knowing that investors ‘can’ bring other investors is key.”