Techstars Mentor Madness and Hundreds of Pitch Meetings, with Zoee (formerly Solelife) CEO Nichole Lowe

Nichole Lowe, CEO and founder of Zoee (formerly SoleLife), has pitched to hundreds of potential investors, including Cofounders Capital. Most of the time, those meetings didn’t result in a check, and Nichole was left to look forward to the next one…and then the next one.  Today Nichole talks about the value she sees as an entrepreneur from the interactions that didn’t work out, what she’s learned from refining her pitch so many times, and why she’s still interacting with Tim – even though Cofounders was one of the investors who politely declined.

Transcript

Voiceover: Today’s guest is Nichole Lowe, CEO and founder of SoleLife, a platform to help coaches grow and manage their businesses. As a founder looking for funding, Nichole has pitched to hundreds of potential investors, including Cofounders Capital. Most of the time, those meetings didn’t result in a check, and Nichole was left to look forward to the next one…and then the next one.  

On the show today, Nichole talks about the value she sees as an entrepreneur from the interactions that didn’t work out, what she’s learned from refining her pitch so many times, and why she’s still interacting with Tim – even though Cofounders was one of the investors who politely declined. 

Here’s the host of First Check, Tim McLoughlin.

Tim McLoughlin:  Nichole, how you doing?

Nichole Lowe: I’m doing really well. Thanks Tim. Thanks for having me.

Tim McLoughlin: No, it’s great to have you, and I want to say congratulations as you are a recent graduate from the Techstars accelerator program. So congrats.

Nichole Lowe: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Tim McLoughlin: Thank you.

Yeah. Yep. So, so Nichole, why don’t you give just our listeners some background on you and and soul life.

Nichole Lowe: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you again for having me. This is a really exciting podcast. I think that’s very well needed in the community for a lot of different people. My background is diverse, like a lot of different people.

I started off as an entrepreneur, I started a film and television production company up in Minneapolis for 12 years. That led to a corporate job and career for another eight years, which led me to getting certified as a coach. And at that time in my life really wanted to take all the experience and life lessons and quote unquote wisdom, I suppose, that I had gained over the years and really give back and work with people on a very different, deeper level. And when I started my practice as a coach, I identify that there was a huge need in the marketplace, which incidentally it’s it’s huge market $18 billion market. And I found that coaches were still operating in the dark ages that the tools and the business practices were very difficult and challenging and really difficult for coaches to actually run and manage the business. So I thought, well, there has to be a better way. So I, I moved to the Triangle a couple of years ago, and Tim, I met you, I think the first couple of weeks when I moved here which was great . And I decided to solve this problem, I decided to solve this problem with Soul Life, which is the first HIPAA compliant tele-coaching platform providing full workflow automation for coaches to help them run and manage their business as well as a marketplace for people looking for coaches and you know, it’s been an incredible journey the last couple of years, as you know, you’ve been part of it, Tim just being a female founder and out there trying to raise money, you know, that’s a thing. And also trying to raise money in uncertain economic times and being a first time startup founder you know, really I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years is I’ve been out there trying to fundraise.

Tim McLoughlin: Well that that’s a great background, Nichole, and it’s great to see over the last couple of years, the business evolve and grow.

And you know, the recognition from Techstars  and that accelerator you went through, I think is a great next step that you just accomplished. And so just before I keep plugging Soul Life and you and how great you’ve been to work with, I am not an investor Cofounders Capital did not invest in Soul Life, which is something we can probably touch on.

But you’ve raised some capital now from some angel investors and then obviously got some money through the program. Correct?

Nichole Lowe:  Yes, correct. We’ve raised $340,000 to date. I raised about 220,000 outside of Techstars and another 120 with Techstars.

Tim McLoughlin: And spoken like a true entrepreneur, you are very, very proud of every single one of those dollars and know how impactful they were to your business.

I can just tell.

Nichole Lowe: Yes, absolutely. Every penny is impactful because there’s so much.

Tim McLoughlin: Oh yeah. So Nichole. You know, not every meeting that you’ve had resulted in, you getting a check. And I would imagine that most of the times you went into the meeting, you were hoping you’d come out of there with a check or be on the path to getting a check.

So some of these conversations you’ve had with potential angel investors or institutional investors, what has been the value of those meetings outside of actually landing capital at the end of the day?

Nichole Lowe: Oh, it’s been, it’s actually hard to put value on the benefit and the value that I have found from every single meeting that I’ve had, including meeting with you, Tim, and many meetings.

I think one of the most important things as a founder to consider is not to approach fundraising necessarily as a transactional type relationship. It is a opportunity to build relationships and you’re not quite sure where that relationship is going to go. That relationship might be an amazing strategic partnership.

It might be somebody who is considering leaving their current position and they come and work for you and bring a tremendous amount of value. And then maybe it’s an opportunity  to get an investment, but all relationships are important. And the important thing to consider as a founders that I never walked into a relationship thinking, okay, this is transactional and I’m just looking for the money. I’m looking for the long-term when, I’m looking for, you know, running the marathon, not the sprint. And I’m looking for win-win situations where Soul Life and myself can bring value to the investors as well. Because the best relationships are the relationships that are built on trust and built on a foundation of mutual respect.

Those are the ones that are going to be the best partnerships. And when things happen in a startup and things do happen, you really have to rely on the cadence of the team and the respect and the maturity of the team to get through those times. And that includes your stakeholders and your investors.

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah, I think one things that entrepreneurs often overlook is that if I can make an introduction as an investor to someone else in my network, that Soul Life can provide value to, or maybe it’s a better investment opportunity for them. That’s a big win. That’s something I’m getting out of a meeting with an entrepreneur.

And so if someone approaches me you know, for money or for advice or for whatever it is, But there’s an opportunity at the end of that, to make another connection for them. It’s not only going to benefit them. It benefits me and helping me increase my network or Cofounders Capital increasing our network as well.

And I know that a lot of the relationship we’ve had over the past couple of years has been that right, which I can make good relationships that are win-wins for both of us. So I think that’s why you probably have a unique perspective here as we chat. So you’re a coach, right?

You’re running a company that does you know, tele-health tele-coaching and then you probably just got mentored to death over the past few months by a lot of coaches. Right? And so I’m curious what you found particularly helpful from a lot of the mentors that you met with through the Techstars program.

Which were the ones that sit out and maybe what were the characteristics of some of those that stood out?

Nichole Lowe: Yeah, it’s a great question, Tim. And I think, you know, I’m just getting out of it a couple of days ago, so we’re, I’m still processing the whole experience because quite honestly, Techstars has something called mentor madness.

And for two weeks I had 102 meetings over a two week period. It was literally like drinking from a fire hose. And you would go into these mentor meetings every 20 minutes and somebody would come in , one time it would be an investor. The next person would be, you know, a tech person, another person would be marketing another personality, you know, a founder.

And so you’re getting all these different perspectives and personalities and advice and conversations. And oftentimes they are completely conflicting. So one person might say, Oh, you need to hire a senior developer. And the other person says, no, you don’t. You need to hire a project manager. One person might say, you’re ready to go out for and run, you know, to do a seed round.

And another person might say, no, no, no, no, no, just keep doing convertible notes. What I have found is I got a piece of advice right before Techstars. And this person is a mentor of mine and a friend of mine. And she said, Nichole, go with your gut, just go in intentional, go with your gut, you know, your business better than anyone.

And when you hear all this advice, distinguish one where it’s coming from. Two, does it resonate with your true North? Is it going to move you closer to the end zone and does your gut agree with it? And so every conversation I got into, I asked myself those questions at the end of the meeting and said, okay where am I with this?

So if the advice did not resonate with myself or my team, then we kind of said, okay, that was nice. And thank you. But when you start hearing things that not only resonate, but you hear it from one person and then you hear it from the second mentor and then the third mentor and the fourth mentor, you kind of go. Okay. That’s something we need to work on. That is definitely something that we’re hearing that’s consistent and something we need to really work on.

Tim McLoughlin: So I’m a mentor for a local Techstars program, the MetLife Techstars accelerator. And so I’ve been doing that for the past couple of years, and we actually made an investment at a co-founder’s capital into a company called Slope Software that I met through that program.

But I always like to preface everything I say with I’m just one data point. Or here’s my perspective, which you may agree with or may not. And here may be the reasons why yes or no. The example I always use is when you give people feedback on their fundraising deck, well, if they ask 20 people, they may get 20 different opinions on how their fundraising deck should be laid out. And really it’s a lot of personal preference, but there might be some nuggets in there that you hear over and over again, like you, you just said, or you can, you know, sift through those and make a decision that’s really helpful to your business. But I think some advice probably to our potential investors, VCs entrepreneurs that we’re listening to is you’re going to get a lot of conflicting feedback and just look at everything as one data point.

But when you’re giving that advice, also understand that you’re one data point. And if an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily agree with you, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing or they’re not coachable.

Nichole Lowe: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s, that’s a great way to sum it up and to kind of serve that up. And it is, it’s just one data point and you know, we’re also very beautifully human too. So conversations at different places in our lives, in that moment and have different perspectives as well. So I love that. I loved how you serve that up to him.

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah. So through your fundraising, or the mentoring process I mean, a lot, you know, it’s kind of interchangeable, right?

Cause a lot of people say, ask for money and you’ll get great advice and ask for advice, maybe you’ll get some money. So is there anything particularly frustrating that you’ve seen from investors through the fundraising process or mentors through the mentoring process?

Nichole Lowe: You know that’s interesting. I don’t know that I’ve been necessarily frustrated to be honest with, with the process, but there are some things that I look back on and think, hmm. You know, I think in hindsight and hindsight’s always 2020 that when you’re out there raising money and building relationships, sometimes you need to just walk away from a deal.

You just need to walk away from it. And if you start to feel, I know there were times when my husband would say to me, Nichole it’s like, you are trying to jam a square peg down a round hole with this investor. I mean, you’re just trying to force this relationship. If you feel like that’s happening, it’s not the right match.

You know, there’s a certain level of flow and fluidity when you meet somebody that, you know you’re going to partner with. And so I think one of the frustrating things for me is just walking away from an opportunity. And just coming to terms that maybe it was not the right opportunity and walking away from that.

Tim McLoughlin: Right, and I think that might be partly easier for entrepreneurs to figure out when they’re talking to institutional investors, maybe the angel investors. Angel investors, sometimes don’t have as stringent of a criteria of what they can invest in. So it could probably be challenging for an entrepreneur to really you know, boil down, Hey, is there a chance this person’s gonna write a check, whereas you and I had the conversations we were, you know, between Soul Life and Cofounders Capital it wasn’t a great fit. And so it took us a little while to kind of get to that point, but we don’t really have as much flexibility with an institutional fund is maybe sometimes angel investors do so I can imagine that could be a bit frustrating for entrepreneurs.

Nichole Lowe: Okay, so Tim, yes, that was the most frustrating point for me when I was raising funds is because, you know, right. I, I seem to recall that it was just, it was a perfect personality fit as soon as we met. And you spent a lot of time with Soul Life really helping me. I remember the whiteboard and a lot of different things, looking at all sorts of different, you know, market, market valuations and assumptions, and kind of like mapping out the financial plan and stuff. And we had a great cadence. You know, great relationship. And that was wonderful, but it was frustrating because Soul Life being a, B to C business model did not fit Cofounders. And so that was incredibly frustrating. Yes. When you really want to work with someone, but not work specifically with that particular firm and that model.

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah.

Yep. So as you approach your next, I assume that there’s going to be a next round of fundraising for Soul Life down the line, as you approach that, what are some things that you might do a little differently now that you got the feedback from you know, Techstars, you’ve gone through a couple of funding rounds before. How are you gonna approach this next one a little differently?

Nichole Lowe: I’m going to raise money when I have money and I’m nevergoingtobe situation again, raising when I don’t have any money and I’m pulling out the credit cards.

Tim McLoughlin:  Right.

Nichole Lowe: There is something to that. So that that’s one thing I definitely plan to do a little differently.

You know, I’m being intentional too, about the partnerships. I can’t, you know, angel investor investors are diff are different, right? You, an angel investors typically will invest in the story and the founder and have a connection with the message, you know, the story of, of the business of the founder and the team with VC there’s, there’s more of a strategic.

There’s more of a strategy around that in terms of, you know, when you start to consider your exit plans, when you start to consider. You know, like for us, we have, we have over 2,500 coaches in our pipeline right now we’ve got access to 200,000 more through channel partners. So we’re doing great.

But then there’s the other side where there’s a consumer market. So we’re looking at who are the VCs that we can have a strategic partnership where we can have bring value of our coach network to them and to their network, as well as you know, is, do they have somebody in their portfolio that. That can be a good fit for us in terms of, of, of, you know, consumers and clients.

So I think what I mean by that, Tim is just really thinking of it more strategically on the partnership and the exit plan and what the long-term intent is. And being much more intentional with the rays and the relationships and the connections.

Sounds like transparency was kind of a theme that was going through there, right?

The exit strategy, transparency with your investor as to what everyone thinks, you know, a good potential outcome might be. Yes.

Yes, exactly.

Tim McLoughlin: So you’re an entrepreneur. Now you’re an entrepreneur. You’ve, you’ve been an entrepreneur, but you’re in another startup now. And you’ve been around a lot of great entrepreneurs just in this community.

And in in the program that you just went through, what were some of the characteristics you thought of, of the entrepreneurs that were with you that even though the ones may be, that you held a little higher what did you think the consistent characteristics were.

Nichole Lowe: You know, I think the, I was amongst an amazing nine other teams, you know, with the tech stars, Iowa program.

These, these founders were just incredible. And I think the ones that stood out to me the most were the ones that didn’t place too much importance on the plan that they stay connected to the passion and the true North, because plans change things happen. And to really stay focused on. What that true North is, and having that passion and that commitment and that grit and that fight to make that happen.

You know, some of the characteristics that I, that really resonated with me and a couple of the founders too, was just the resourcefulness. When things happen because things happen every day in Techstars. One thing about Techstars that they do, it’s like bootcamp in the military. They really kind of break it down in the first few weeks and just the sheer exhaustion and drinking from a fire hose with all these different people coming at ya.

And what that’s meant to do I think is to really uncover anything that’s not okay in the business. Like let’s just really just let all that stuff come to light and then let’s help. Then we’re going to give you a team to fix it. The founders that really got through this process, the best were the ones that were okay with that, you know, standing up and saying, all right, I’m failing.

I don’t know. I need help come in and help and being okay with that. You know, I think that being a founder, being a CEO, it is, it is less, you really have to get control of your pride. You got to get control of your ego and let all that go. And just show up and be of service. He needed to be of service to the company that you’re building, because you’re working for your company.

You have to be of service. You have a responsibility to your company. You have a responsibility to your team members and you have a responsibility to your stakeholders. And that’s, you know, that’s something that Right.

Tim McLoughlin: You know, it’s interesting is that when we look at making an investment, it’s we often talk about opening the kimono, right.

And what’s wrong with the business and where can we jump in and help? And the entrepreneurs that we work best with are the ones that are very receptive to that feedback, where we see other ones that You know, are more reserved. They’re always they’re out looking for other investors that maybe aren’t doing as much diligence or poking as much holes in their business.

And I think early on in my experience, I’ve been, I was thinking, okay, maybe we just need to move fast, or maybe we need to that entrepreneur a little bit harder because you’re not being so open with us. And what you realize there is no, those are the folks that are a little bit more defensive about.

Their company, some of the flaws that they might have, and I’d much prefer working with an entrepreneur, that’s saying, Hey, shoot it down, tear it down, let me know where my weaknesses are. And so we can build it back up together. Which I, which I think is really important.

Nichole Lowe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s hard, you know, it’s hard to get that feedback, but I mean, just looking at the past three months that we went through a Techstars were how we’ve grown in three months, we would have never grown as much as we have had we been locked up and closed off in the beginning.

Tim McLoughlin: I got some, some feedback from an entrepreneur I spoke with yesterday about a company that’s not a fit for co-founders, but I was just trying to help. And she said to me that it was so refreshing having this conversation with with someone who wasn’t potentially an investor, because it just was that like relief of.

What should I say, tell me what you think I should say here right now. Not I think that this is what I need to say at this moment. And so that was, I’m sure you’ve had that experience before

Nichole Lowe: that experience with you, Tim, because I have told you a lot about our company. Yes. It is incredibly refreshing to speak to somebody like yourself and, and, and, you know, in the mentors at Techstars too, when, you know, That they’re, they’re not in a position to invest in your company and you can just go, okay, here’s our, here are all our problems.

What do you think versus if you’re really trying to raise that money from someone you kind of, you want to still, you know, I mean, like you’ve got it together and But there’s a, there’s a fine violence. And, and you mentioned it before Tim authenticity is, is just absolutely completely critical in this process.

Tim McLoughlin: Right? So tele-coaching right now, there’s a lot of people, they can’t meet up with their coaches in person. Like they used to they’re you know, locked in doors for a long time, pretty much. And so how is I can, I can guess, but wanting you tell us how has COVID effected your business and then how do you think it’s gonna affect you going forward?

Nichole Lowe: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a great question. I mean, you know, as I mentioned before, it’s a. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s an already pretty large industry, $18 billion there’s industry. There’s over 25 million people looking for a coach today across 30 different disciplines, including a new emerging discipline of coaches working with substance abuse and mental health.

And the pandemic has only accelerated the awareness and the need for these services. So how it has affected business is that coaches are desperate to find the right tools. To be able to run and manage their business and what they’re finding as we’re transitioning out of, you know, doing one-to-one face time, real conversations is they’re going out there trying to find zoom and, you know, Salesforce and calendar Lee.

And they’re trying to integrate all these different disparate technologies and it’s affecting their business because it’s costly and it’s confusing. And most coaches don’t have a background in tech, building tech stacks. And so, so that’s difficult, but for tele-coaching for people, you know There’s just a lot.

We don’t know yet. Tim, what, what the ramifications of this pandemic is going to look like. We’re already seeing an immersion session, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, having gone through COVID you know, I’ve spoken to several clients and several people who have been. Hospitalized because of COVID and just the experiences that they went through in the hospital and a lot of these first responders and people on the front lines and what they’re facing and how that’s affecting things on the coaching side is that coaching is right at the tipping point of therapy in, in that coaching can in fact, be part of your everyday life coaching can come in and be an incredible.

Intervention to help help you go through a situational traumatic experience and then help you help you cope and get back with life skills to get back, back, back into it. So I believe that what you’ll see over the next six to 12 months is not only a spike in the need for coaching, but I think you’ll see a spike in.

People like nurses and therapists getting their coaching certifications to incorporate the coaching modality into their practices, to help, to help meet this demand.

Tim McLoughlin: That’s interesting. W we, we often say that, you know, instead of looking at new industries that are being created after this pandemic, it’s what, what are the industries where there’s a trend that’s just being rapidly accelerated.

So whether that’s zoom meetings, everybody saw the graph as to the number of, you know, zoom users right over that. The month of March and April. But we have a company it’s in the online grocery space. And so how many more people that was a trend already is more people were buying their groceries online, whereas it now, and you can see that rapid, that rapid acceleration, like you were talking about.

And I would imagine tele-coaching is. Just going to be another one of those accelerated trends or it already is. Yeah,

Nichole Lowe: I think so. I mean, we weren’t even talking about tele-coaching before COVID and we were talking

Tim McLoughlin: about it

Nichole Lowe: for a couple of years, but nobody else was there, like what tele-coaching with that.

So I think, you know, we’re definitely going to see, you know, You know, we really believe that when you take a look at the history of telemedicine and how telemedicine transformed, how physicians connect with their patients tele-coaching is going to transform the way coaches connect with their clients.

And I, you know, it’s exciting to be part kind of out in front of the tsunami. And, and at the same time feeling incredibly anxious to get the service out there too, because a lot of people really need

Tim McLoughlin: it. So before you started this, you were a certified coach. You felt the pain, right. Of not having a single platform way to manage your business, but still, I would imagine there are times where it’s a lot harder than you thought it was going to be to grow and launch and start a business.

What are some of the hardest things that you’ve kind of come across that maybe you haven’t expected

Nichole Lowe: on building a building a startup? Yeah. It just takes a lot longer than one would imagine. I am. I just took the IMF, Birkman tasks, and I’m very much red and I bring that up because basically I have a quote, my team members made a coffee mug for me and it says, my favorite quote is, Oh, I thought tomorrow meant now.

So for me to be in this situation and just see how long it takes for tech and the delays and, you know, the complications and, and things like that. That’s been the hardest thing for me. I, I want to get this you know, have things happen quicker, but with that comes great. You know, great perseverance and, you know, great.

This is something that’s really kind of interesting for me when I take a look at how important the team is to build the right team, because you can build great teams on paper and you’re kind of all up here in your head thinking, Oh, this is great. We’re going to build this great company together. But if you truly don’t have cadence and you’re not really, you don’t have the same, you’re not all bound together with that same true North.

When things happen and tough times happen, teams can break apart. And I’m happy to say that my team is solid.

Tim McLoughlin: There you go. There you go. The team is solid. That’s good. All right, I’m going to ask you a hypothetical here. Okay. So let’s, so life is inevitably going to be a a great success. And even though it wasn’t in our thesis, all of our LPs are going to come back and get mad at me for not writing a check.

We all know that’s inevitable, it’s going to happen. So after you have a great exit, you make a great return for all of your investors. Now you’re doing some angel investing. So you’re personally going to make an angel investment. You meet with 10 companies and you have to write a hundred thousand dollars check into one of the 10, but you only get to ask one question to each company.

What is the question you asked?

Nichole Lowe: That is such a great question. I think the one question that I would ask is why are you solving this problem and is your team well-balanced dedicated and focused on that problem?

Tim McLoughlin: That’s good. And what would what would a acceptable answer be to you? It’s your money?

You can do whatever you want. So.

Nichole Lowe: I would have to resonate with the passion of the story and kind of cut through the, you know, what, if I, if the, if the response it’s more about how the founder responds and less about what they say, how they think through the problem and how they go through that problem and their thought process is what would peak my interest.

So if they’re approaching it from a passionate, deeply connected and gut felt. I am absolutely not going to stop until I solve this problem. That would inspire me to write out a check. But also knowing that they’re building a team with that same passion who are just equally as dedicated, because as I said before, what keeps founders going is, you know, things happen.

But the thing that really keeps you going is that connection to that solving that problem, that connection to, to, to the mission. So I don’t know. Does that answer your question?

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah. That then answers the question when I come to you when I have a startup at some point down the future, and I’ll know how to answer that question now.

So I was kind of cheating there. So anyway, Nichole, this is great. Congrats again on the traction, the fundraising, the tech stars, graduation everything you have going with soul life. And I know we’ll be collaborating for years to come on on this and thank you for being on the podcast today. I appreciate it.

Nichole Lowe: Thank you, Tim. It was great to be here. It’s good to see you too.

Tim McLoughlin: See you virtually and hopefully we’ll do it in person soon. Exactly. All right. Great.

Full Episode Transcript

First Check is hosted by Cofounders Capital partner Tim McLoughlin, and is a production of Earfluence.

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