T'07

Heather Onstott

Partner and CFO, Ulysses Holdings, LLC; former venture partner, LaunchCapital

Experience gives you the ability to say, ‘I’ve seen this movie before, and here’s the next stage of the plot.’

In her seven years as a venture partner at LaunchCapital in Cambridge, Mass., Heather Onstott T’07 has heard about 1,000 pitches from startups. In 2013, Heather Onstott T’07 helped a four-person startup named Freight Farms put together the financial model for its product, a hydroponic leafy vegetable farm inside a climate-controlled shipping container. Impressed, a year later she became the company’s CFO. While still with LaunchCapital, Onstott is helping Freight Farms, which is now approaching 25 employees and $10 million in revenue, raise its series B round. “Part of my value is that I’m old as dirt,” Onstott jokes. “Experience gives you the ability to say, ‘I’ve seen this movie before, and here’s the next stage of the plot.’"

Think it through. You’re about to embark on a roller coaster ride that can be lonely and at times painful, so it’s important to think it all the way through. Not just questions like, “What are you selling?” and “Why do people need it?” But also, “What am I going to have to give up to run this company?” and “How is my work going to impact the people in my personal life?” If you’ve thought it through and you’re still on fire for your idea, that passion is going to come across to an investor.

Write it down. I learned this from Mathias Hitchcock T’01, and everyone who works with me hears me say it all the time. The act of writing down your pitch forces you to be disciplined and logical—you can’t lie to yourself. Write down your thoughts, walk away, and look at them later with fresh eyes. You’ll be better equipped to critique yourself and sharpen your pitch even further.

Do the math. In the end, the goal of any business is to be profitable. Investors are interested in “How big is this going to be?”, “What’s my ROI going to be?”, and “When are you going to be cash flow positive?” Translate your strategy into numbers and make sure that the math is still telling you it’s a good idea. Numbers are not going to lie to you.

Go get feedback. Seed investors roll their eyes when an entrepreneur says, “I’d be happy to tell you about my idea if you’ll sign an NDA.” Ideas are a dime a dozen—nobody’s going to steal it. Get it in front of as many people as possible, practice pitching your idea, and ask for feedback. LaunchCapital has invested in numerous entrepreneurs who were unappealing in their first pitch. Then they called months later to say, “We thought about your feedback, here’s what we changed, and we would love to talk again.” That says somebody is coachable, and that’s huge.

Do your investor homework. It’s hard enough to get in front of investors, so make sure to pick ones that actively invest in your industry. Search on AngelList, or ask your contacts, “I know this isn’t your thing, but do you know who to talk to?” If you’re brand new to it, entrepreneurship events can be valuable to get a lay of the land and learn which investors are active and which take forever. Every firm has its reputation.

Be able to answer the “gotcha” questions. Investors love to ask, “Why should I invest in you?” Tuckies by their very nature are humble team players. That’s good, but a pitch is not the time for humility. The second “gotcha” question that every VC likes to ask is, “Why now? Why is it important to invest in this today?” Time is on the investor’s side right up until they invest. You need to compel them to commit.

Seize the opportunity when investors pass. If you get a no, ask for feedback right then and there, or send a note back and say, “I know you’re busy, but what are three things that would have changed your mind?” Everybody loves to be asked for their opinion, and I do think there are people who genuinely want entrepreneurs to succeed. It’s also so much easier to get back in the door when you’ve established a relationship.

Continue Reading

Related Stories

International Development

As the vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrei Belyi T'01 leads TechnoServe’s mission of providing business solutions to poverty in 11 countries.

Read More

How to Keep Your Company Data Secure

What Alison Connolly T’11 finds fascinating, most corporate leaders find terrifying. The director of strategic partnerships at DarkOwl is an expert on the darknet.

Read More

Juliet Horton

With Everly, Juliet Horton T’14 is changing how couples plan their wedding

Read More

Marketing a Disruptive Brand

Twitch is a live streaming platform with a growing global brand and two Tuck alumni, Kate Jhaveri T’03 and Michael Aragon T’01, are leading marketing and innovation.

Read More

Susan Hunt Stevens

In 2006 Susan Hunt Stevens T'98 started a blog as a "a guide to going green without going berserk." Years later the idea evolved into WeSpire, a platform that uses technology and social media to promote sustainable living.

Read More

Kinya Seto

CEO of Lixil Corporation Kinya Seto T'96 is leveraging his entrepreneurial smarts to tackle the global sanitation crisis.

Read More

Katrina Veerman

With PK Coffee in Stowe, Vermont, Katrina Veerman T’01 turned a passion into a livelihood.

Read More

How to Promote Diversity and Nurture Talent

After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.

Read More

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith T'07 chose Tuck first because he was looking for a beautiful environment where he could spend time thinking about how to maximize his impact on big challenges in the world.

Read More

Tracy Sun

Poshmark co-founder Tracy Sun T’05 turned her love of fashion and psychology into a leading mobile commerce app. Shopping will never be the same.

Read More

Gibson “Gib” Biddle

NerdWallet's Gib Biddle T'91 came to Tuck as a marketer, but then realized he was more of a builder.

Read More

Rohit Dugar

Former investment banker Rohit Dugar T'07 is transforming his beer-brewing hobby into Hong Kong's first craft brewery—and using his Tuck experience to navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Read More

On Networking

Not many people in ball bearing sales finish their careers in venture capital. For Mike Carusi T’93, now one of the most successful health care investors in Silicon Valley, that unlikely journey started with two eye-opening years at Tuck. 

Read More

On Leadership

Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies and shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.

Read More

On Establishing Your Personal Brand

Helen Kurtz T’97, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Foster Farms, Inc. talks establishing your personal brand. 

Read More

Jack O’Toole

For Jack O’Toole T’14, “building” and “contributing” are words to live by. As a Marine, he did both.

Read More

Roger McNamee

Investor. Philanthropist. Entrepreneur. Roger McNamee T’82 is all of these and more in a career that has taken him to the top of the tech world.

Read More

Tips for Transforming Your Career

After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.

Read More

On the Rewards of Nonprofit Board Service

Amy Houston T’97 was inspired to attend Tuck after seeing firsthand how a board with for-profit management experience can help a nonprofit, and she kept this lesson in mind when she joined the Robin Hood Foundation.

Read More

Barry Hume

After graduating from Tuck, Barry Hume T'95 joined PepsiCo’s Boston-area operations as finance director—a position that quickly provided the opportunity for advancement, but with a difficult choice to make.

Read More

On Influencing Company Culture

In his six seasons as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the National Football League, Robert Gulliver T’97 has helped manage the NFL through some major cultural shifts.

Read More

Dennis Lasko

What's for dinner? Pantry, a new food retailer founded by Dennis Lasko T’08, has the answer.

Read More

Jeff Coleman

T’87 Jeff Coleman’s quest for better nutrition led him to a new, whole-food fuel for athletes and a surprising second act.

Read More

How Small Businesses Can Use Online Marketing Tools

After gaining experience at several software startups, Gail Goodman T’87 launched her own in 1999. As CEO of Constant Contact, Goodman has helped more than a half-million small-business customers navigate a rapidly evolving industry.

Read More

Louie Cheng

PureLiving China founder and CEO Louie Cheng T'03 is helping to improve indoor air quality in a country known for its polution problems. 

Read More

Jacques-Philippe Piverger

According to Jacques-Philippe Piverger T'07, the one-word solution to energy poverty in developing countries, is Luci, a low-cost solar light.

Read More