Need to get a haircut but can’t make it to the barbers? Don’t worry, Darren Tenkorang will bring it to you. He’s the founder of mobile barbershop Trim-It, a company he started following his studies in business at Sussex University and a stint working in marketing for betting company Paddy Power.
So how does it work? If you want a haircut, you book via the Trim-It app and Darren’s team will send a barbershop in a van to your location.
In interviews with the Startup Van, Darren talked about starting his business, the challenges he faced when it came to dealing with investors and finding funding, and how a bit of initiative opened the eyes of a potential investor. Here’s what he had to say…
On trying to find funding
We definitely got a lot of people stringing us along. It’s funny now because we’ve raised now and I can even decipher who is a time waster off the jump. But we had situations where people would have a meeting with simply to serve their own ego. To prove they were an investor.
We had it big time. People would talk to us, have a meeting, take us out for lunch. And, I suppose, taking you out for lunch is not too bad – because I didn’t have any money in the bank!
On growing Trim-It
One of my investors, we go for regular walks, and one day he pulled me up and said: “Darren, one of my biggest fears is you.”
And this is when I was a naive little entrepreneur. And he was like: “You’re mad. You’re actually mad.” I’d tell him: “Yeah, next month, we’ll have 50 down the road. It was just unrealistic sometimes.”
And some of the business advice he’s given me, which was sound, was just “take it step by step”.
He said he’s seen companies blow up because they’ve grown too big. The founders have too much of an ego. And I suppose this process has really humbled me and helped me just realise I should take it step by step, grow at my pace. So that’s what I’ll be doing.
Navigating a new world of business finance
So we didn’t actually speak to any VCs (venture capitalists) but it took time. It took a very long time. And bearing in mind, I’m just not part of that world – until now. I had no connections to angel investors, to VCs, to institutions or people who could give us a bit of money.
So it was navigating that world and even learning how to talk the language, to an extent. Because I’d be going to a meeting and I’d be speaking to an adviser, and I’d be like: “Yo, Andy, I beg you drop me some peas.” And it just doesn’t work like that.
So it was me kind of just re-educating myself just so I could break some of the barriers. I’ll give you a few examples. When I was going and reaching out to investors, I was doing a lot of cold calling. Like emails and what not. And that just wasn’t effective for me.
Dealing with rejections
I suppose for a founder, you have this baby and you think it’s amazing, you think it’s going to change the world, and then you’re just getting rejections. In fact, you’re lucky if you get rejections.
You’re actually getting air most of the time. And that’s what was very, very difficult.
Founders have a bit of ego. And your ego’s constantly getting bruised.
And it’s humbling, it’s actually a good thing because it brings you back down to reality and you have to realise that this thing is difficult and you’ve decided to go down the hard path.
Read more about finding funding
- Government grants for small businesses
- Crowdfunding tips: Alternative finance to support your business
- SeedLegals on a new way to get early stage funding
- Juro: How to tackle the funding and investment challenge
- “Start selling before attempting to raise money” – Business funding tips from global SME influencers
Challenge of dealing with investors and finding funding
In terms of getting someone to invest, what was crazy is that I was very bad at articulating how we were different. I could give you stories for days on that.
There was this one instance where I was talking to an angel and I’d given him the deck. And luckily, one of our investors at the time, he had just introduced, he was willing enough to sit down and talk to me but he had already rejected me in his head.
In fact, he let me know from the jump that “look, I’ve got the same deck three weeks ago from someone else”. He named them as well.
“There’s too many competitors in the market and I don’t think your business has legs,” he added.
Luckily for me, I might be bad at articulating our vision via paper or pitch deck, but I’m very good at articulating in person, even more so when the product is right next to you.
Initiative leads to an investment breakthrough
So I was cheeky and I said to one of our customers, because by that time we were fully booked, I was like: “Yo, please, I’ll give you 50% off, but I want you to have a haircut right outside this guy’s office.”
So when I was talking to the investor about the business, I was like: “Look, why don’t we have the meeting in my product?” And he was like: “What?”
By this point, he actually thought Trim-It was a marketplace platform to connect the user to a barbershop, not a mobile barbershop like in the back of a van. So when we went outside, he was like: “Oh my days.”
I didn’t arrive at the meeting in the van. While we were in the meeting, I told the customer and the barber to come midway through my meeting. So the investor just saw me as me and I was just talking to him about the business.
Because of the preconception that he had of what the business was, the conversation was very stiff and he was just trying to give me advice.
To cut a long story short, when he actually saw the van, luckily there was a bit of a crowd, people were taking pictures, one person booked there and then. So when we went back into his office to speak, the tone was very different. And he invested in the end.
I’ve actually sat next to one of my investors as he’s reading the deck. I was shocked. I was so shocked – he went through the deck in about 30 seconds. The deck was about 10 pages. So he went through that in record time and I think a lot of investors, because they’ve seen so many, there’s core bits that they draw out quickly and then they discard the rest.
So I think maybe, and sorry if this isn’t true, in this instance, he probably didn’t go through the deck properly.
But luckily enough for me, and himself as well, he was able to give us the true time that we needed to actually go through and talk about the business.
Doing things differently?
Honestly I think, for me, because I’ve thought about this before, there’s nothing really that I would change. And that’s not me saying the whole process was perfect, it’s just more so that at least there was a process.
If there was anything I was going to change, it’s maybe at the very beginning where I was creating my pitch decks, I didn’t have that “harpoon” that would capture the attention of investors.
And I suppose, as you go through the process, you constantly iterate, so at the end of it, the conversations we were having were first of all much cleaner in regard to just getting down to the nitty gritty very quickly – and the actual pitch deck was pretty good.
So maybe I’d go about having the “harpoon moment” within the pitch deck very, very early in the pitch.
Three takeaways for dealing with investors
Darren had a number of challenges when it came to initially dealing with investors. It took time but as he refined his process and learned from his past experiences, he was able to be more laser focused about a solution that equalled interest from investors and funding for his business.
If your business is struggling to find investment, here are three things you can try, inspired by Darren’s experiences:
- Revise your pitch deck. And get feedback from a business coach or mentor (or someone who’s been there before). They might spot where you’re going wrong and put you on the path to success.
- Cold calling can make it harder to find success. Try and build a relationship with your potential investor before diving in with a pitch – it might be by asking someone to put a good word in for you, or meeting your chosen investor at a business event and having a conversation with them before trying to sell your business idea.
- Sell your business proposition. Really take the time to be clear about your business and what it’s offering the market. Darren almost missed an opportunity for investment because the investor didn’t really get what Trim-It was all about. Get your “harpoon moment” in early.
Facing business challenges and want some inspiration to overcome them? In this free guide, a group of business owners share their experiences and offer advice that can help you keep moving your business forward.