Over the past few months, NewlyWish has been preparing around the clock for PITCH: Women 2.0's Startup Competition. In September, we were chosen out of almost 300 applicants from 24 countries and on Nov. 14 we presented to a room full investors, entrepreneurs and media as well as a panel of judges made up of some of the most well-known and well-respected Venture Capitalists (VCs) from around the country. After three months of preparing, twelve presentation drafts, hundreds of cups of coffee (and even one broken arm!) we are THRILLED to tell you that we won the GRAND PRIZE of BEST ALL AROUND TEAM! NewlyWish co-founder Amanda Allen chatted with me and told me all about how the past few months of competition began, how excited she was to share the NewlyWish mission with the investor-elite and how she came out on the other end of this experience with a bright future.
Emily: Tell me about how you found out about the Women 2.0 Pitch Competition.
Amanda: I actually found out about the PITCH Competition on Women 2.0's Twitter account. It's a bit of a long story, but last June I was in Las Vegas for the bi-annual Engage! Conference – a huge networking event for the luxury wedding business – and after the trip, decided to take advantage of being on the west coast to visit my old college roommate Kim Lembo, as well as speak to a few product specialists and business development folks. Kim owns her own film production company and while I was visiting we spent a few days composing a short, informative video for users on the NewlyWish experience. Shortly after arriving back in New York, I saw a tweet encouraging women entrepreneurs to submit an application to PITCH. I reviewed the qualifications and it just so happened that one of the mandatory parts of the application process was a consumer facing marketing reel – what Kim and I had JUST put together. Here's a look at the 90-second reel:
Emily: So that was June, and then you found out you made the cut in September? What was it like waiting?
Amanda: Well, to be honest, I was just really happy to have the application in, knowing that 30 Angel Investors and VCs were going to take a peek at our business model. I tried not to set any expectations beyond that so I wouldn’t be disappointed, but in September, we got an email letting us know that NewlyWish was one of 10 finalists! I was thrilled! The team of co-founders including myself, Robard Williams and Mark Bartlett immediately started getting our pitch ready -- we knew it had to be sexy and informative and deliver a powerful punch – all in five minutes. We quickly recruited Carmel Hagen to help us with our slide design and pitch copy. She’s the very best out there if you ask me!
"Couples lean towards big-box registries so their guests can conveniently shop from any location, but their standardized product selections always come with some compromise," Amanda Allen, NewlyWish co-founder says. "Why shouldn't registries be as personal and unique as every other aspect of the Big Day?"
Emily: So... a concrete five minutes to explain a business that has been your everyday since 2010!? How did you manage to fit everything you wanted and needed into a five-minute presentation?
Amanda: It wasn't easy. I started by writing down everything and anything that I thought was important, relevant and interesting. I practiced my pitch at that point, and it was over ten minutes long. From there, we cut and refined and cut and refined until our message was totally concise and to the point. We were lucky to have competed (and won!) two pitch competitions before, so we were familiar with a flow that works and points that needed to be made -- the formula for success! Our ultimate goal was to focus on what we've done, where we're going and how we're going to get there.
Emily: Still, five minutes must go by quickly! Did you go into creating the pitch with key points that you knew you wanted to focus on?
Amanda: If I could break it into five main points, it would be the story of how we began, the problem/pain point that exists in the current market and thus, the market opportunity for NewlyWish. After that, we wanted to touch on the functionality of the site from a consumer and a merchant standpoint, our progress to date and the steps we needed to take to reach our goals over the next three years.
Emily: Could you tell me a little bit more about each one of those points?
Amanda: Sure. In an effort to bring some emotion and a personal touch to our pitch, we wanted to talk about how our business was created. Long story short, my fiancé (husband now) and I were registering for our wedding and were forced to abandon our favorite brands and small businesses for major retailers in order to create a convenient registry. This led into the market opportunity for NewlyWish. The registry business is a $19 billion market that is dominated by about ten department stores – it’s PRIME for disruption. Enter NewlyWish! We then touched on the functionality of our website for users and merchants. Our seamless platform makes registering fun for couples and shopping easy for their guests, and for merchants, we give them a opportunity to integrate a selection of their products onto our platform and support order processing, provide customer service, keep the registry updated and provide alerts to the couple and retailer when a product is purchased. Additionally, aside from the staple registry items, we provide unique categories like eco-friendly and experience gifts and bridal party gifts and wedding favors. Lastly, we wanted to let investors know of our success. Since we founded NewlyWish, we've integrated over 6,000 products from over 50 businesses and more than 1,200 couples have registered on our site.
"The unique business concept and growth opportunities were the key drivers in our decision to develop our own multi-merchant marketplace platform using Ruby on Rails and a Web Services architecture," says Mark Bartlett, NewlyWish CTO (far right)
Emily: Sounds like a lot of work to put that pitch together in a relatively short period of time. While you and your team were preparing, what kind of experience did you have with the Women 2.0 team?
Amanda: They were amazing. From the beginning, it really felt like they were on our team helping us to prepare. It's quite obvious how much they all truly care about the organization and all who are involved. It's that genuine care that made the event so authentic and powerful. They were great about building buzz and momentum leading up to the event with several posts on their blog, combined with Facebook posts and tweets. Angie Chang, the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder, also scored a highlight on Forbes.com for the finalists. Really, very cool stuff for which I can’t express my gratitude enough.
Emily: And then it's the day of -- I can't imagine the anxiety! Tell me about it.
Amanda: It had definitely been a crazy few weeks and my anxiety level was at an all time high. I had had an accident the week before and broke my arm, so between the doctor visits, preparing for the competition and don't forget -- running a business -- things were crazy! Once I arrived at the Hammerstein Ballroom, I could tell it was going to be a great day -- the energy in the room was crazy good!
Emily: I bet! I know that you were in the first group of presenters? What was it like not being able to see anyone present before you went?
Amanda: To be honest, I was so in the zone mentally preparing for the pitch that even if I had gone in the second round I would have been rehearsing over and over in my head during the first group of presenters. I was fortunate enough to see the Keynote speakers including Cisco Co-Founder and Urban Decay Founder Sandy Lerner, and Oxygen Channel Co-Founder Geraldine Laybourne. I felt really lucky to have been able to present and then enjoy the second round of pitches during which I was absolutely blown away -- the caliber of entrepreneurs was unsurpassed and I felt so honored at that moment to be included in that group of people.
Emily: So that's how you felt after you presented, but tell me about your state of mind at the moment when YOU were presenting.
Amanda: I just couldn't get over the amazing opportunity that NewlyWish had earned to get up on that stage and pitch our idea to such an esteemed panel of renowned VCs with such crazy credentials and unbelievable insight. Those judges are really the top in their field and to speak to them directly is a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was so delighted to be part of the entrepreneurship community at that moment.
Emily: And then the time comes to announce the winners. There were three main possible awards you could have won - the People's Choice Award, measured in tweet impressions, the L'Oreal Women in Digital Grant and the Grand Prize: Winning Startup. Tell me about the few minutes before they announced your name as the Grand Prize Winner.
Amanda: First of all, I have to say how thrilled I am for the other winners. Activity Hero, a California-based social marketplace for kid’s activities won the People's Choice Award and Citizen Made, a product customization tool-kit based in Chicago, won the $25,000 L'Oreal Women in Digital Grant. They are both wonderful companies coupled with super sharp and sweet ladies. After they had announced those two winners, I paused for a moment and thought about how fortunate I was to be amongst such an incredible group of women. I wanted to relish in THAT feeling above anything else and left any expectations behind of gaining or winning anything beyond that. However, when they announced us as the winner I was floored, totally thrilled and completely honored! It really proved to me that despite my broken arm and other challenges nothing can stop us from progress! We can always push through whatever barricades stand in our way to find a way to not only get something done but get it done well!
Emily: That's amazing! I'm so excited for you! Tell me in your own words about the prizes you take home as the Winning Startup Team.
Amanda: Aside from the opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs all over the country and share experiences and challenges, we were awarded three main prizes. We get a year of free hosting from Rackspace.com and are an automatic finalist for TechStars 2013 Crop Class. TechStars is the #1 startup accelerator in the world so to be automatically placed amongst the finalists is pretty cool. The most exciting part of our win is that we get a private meeting with Venture Capitalist Marc Andreesen, who sits on the Board of Directors for Facebook, HP and EBay, and is the co-founder of Netscape.
Emily: More pitches?! When do you start preparing for those!?
Amanda: Not soon enough!
Emily: I bet! So tell me about where you see NewlyWish a year from now.
Amanda: A year from now we expect to see major growth in our consumer base and offerings in other urban areas where our primary audiences reside, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. And even though we just went through a redesign of our site, we constantly want to improve the user interface and user experience to make searching, registering and shopping on NewlyWish simpler and more intuitive. Lastly, we want to integrate a Web-services API (a method of communication between two web-based platforms) for easy merchant on-boarding to ramp up the number of shops on our site to accommodate our urban expansion.
Emily: How will winning the Women 2.0 PITCH help you achieve those goals?
Amanda: Without a doubt, winning this competition has granted us access to the insight and knowledge of and attention from VCs and the investment community. As a result of participating in and winning the competition, our professional network grew substantially overnight and we are looking forward to nurturing that and seeing how we can in turn add value and contribute to this community.
As you can see, the NewlyWish team spent months preparing for the Competition and really deserved the win they walked away from. Amanda wanted to thank all of the investors, entrepreneurs and amazing women she met during the competition for their advice, opinions and simply the opportunity to be able to be placed in the same group as them. She also wanted to shout out to everyone who offered words of encouragement to her and the team before, during and after the competition. As always, thank you to the NewlyWish fans who help make it such a success!
NewlyWish Social Media & Marketing Coordinator