Unlocking a $4.4 Trillion Opportunity

As a general partner of a startup academy focused on underrepresented tech founders,  I have often been asked how much of our returns we expect to sacrifice by investing in overlooked founders such as women and people of color. This question implies that tech companies led by diverse founders are certain to provide inferior returns when, in fact, investing in diversity is one of the biggest economic opportunities of our time. According to Morgan Stanley, overlooked founders could represent a $4.4 trillion opportunity each year in the U.S. alone, not to mention the social benefit that comes with wealth creation among more varied groups and the variety of innovations they will create. So what is next, and how can investors help ensure that the founders that they back will succeed?

Former Teach for America teacher, Amanda DoAmaral, is the perfect archetype of the next wave of startup founders. Fiveable was voted as a top-ten startup in Wisconsin.

Kapor Capital, a leading venture capital firm focusing on investing in diverse founders, recently released a report on the returns of their portfolio. The numbers are jaw-dropping. To date, Kapor Capital has achieved an internal rate of return (IRR) of 29.09% which is substantially above PitchBook’s 75th quartile (25.96% IRR) for other venture capital funds. Additionally, a recent spate of blockbuster successes such as Canva, Rent the Runway, StitchFix and Away have demonstrated more anecdotally that diverse founders are perfectly capable of building global, multi-billion dollar companies. 

Despite a steady chorus of success stories such as those mentioned above, investors have been slow to deploy capital toward high-growth enterprises led by women and founders from diverse backgrounds and geographies. This inertia stems from investors mitigating risk by pattern-matching against past investment success. Unfortunately, with the imbalance of access to capital, historical investment data has created a self-fulfilling cycle around an archetype that is a white, male founder who attended an elite university, studied engineering or business administration and is based in a mature tech hub such as Silicon Valley. 

In 2018, only 12 percent of venture capital went to startups with at least one female founder, one percent went to those led by black founders and one percent went to Latinx founders. This lack of diversity in allocation is dwarfed only by the lack of diversity in the allocators with 40 percent of partners in VC firms coming from just two universities (Harvard and Stanford) and women accounting for only eight percent of investment partners at the top 100 venture firms in 2018.

It’s not just anecdotal stories that point toward the potential of investing in a greater variety of founders and startups. Research has suggested that investing in groups that do not fit the classic Silicon Valley pattern results in superior economic outcomes. A study by Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge showed that for every dollar invested in female-run companies, $0.78 were returned versus just $0.30 otherwise. Another study by McKinsey, found that companies with diverse leadership are 35 percent more likely to outperform those without such diversity. This is likely because a great majority of founders innovate for what and who they know. As such, overlooked founders are often uncovering markets that have been neglected by others. 

Investing in a greater diversity of founders and startups also includes breaking geographic bounds. According to a Pitchbook/NVCA report, 79 percent of venture capital is allocated to just three states in the U.S. in 2018: California, New York and Massachusetts, with the first of these accounting for over 48 percent. At the same time, Jason Rowley from Crunchbase reported that investments in startups based in regions such as the Midwest and South outperform those based on the coasts, where traditional tech hubs are located. For example, the median multiple on investment for Midwest-based startups is 5.17x compared to the Northeast where the median is only 3.89x.

The movement to deploy capital to a greater variety of innovators might be still inchoate, but the tide is likely to change rapidly as venture capital and private equity investors realize the economic potential that is knocking on their doors. While opportunity abounds, unlocking the economic opportunities from a group of founders that have been underserved is not without unique challenges, which we must recognize to deploy capital and human resources efficiently. Here’s how: 

First, if we invest in tech entrepreneurs that do not fit the old Silicon Valley pattern, we might need to complement these founders’ unique experience and skills with a different set of knowledge and resources. At Beta Boom, we provide our startups with product and marketing coaches that work alongside them daily to improve their product and grow their customer base. We know that product design, marketing and growth hacking skill sets can be developed over time, but grit and outstanding domain expertise–the two qualities we prize in our founders–are irreplaceable.

Second, a startup has a long journey before it provides a return for the founders, employees and investors through an acquisition or initial public offering. It’s very likely that everywhere along the journey underrepresented founders will face biases, including from later-stage investors and strategic partners and acquirers. Investors cannot rest on their laurels and instead, need to work hard to make connections for and champion their portfolio companies. 

Third, beyond implicit (or explicit) biases, there are networking hurdles that underrepresented founders often face. The next generation of superstar tech founders might no run in the same social and professional circles as many investors and are thus less likely to find their way to the investors’ doorstep through warm introductions. Likewise, if we seek to broaden our geographic focus beyond traditional tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York and Boston, investors can’t require startup founders to fly for in-person meetings at the drop of a hat or move their entire team.

Venture capital firms such as Village Capital and Indie.VC are trying different investment and operational models to better unlock the opportunity that diverse founders present, and they are not alone. The number of firms, family offices and angel networks innovating and focusing on startups led by diverse founders is growing rapidly. The question is increasingly not whether diverse founders will produce market-rate returns but rather who will catalyze and capitalize on this growing movement and who will be late to the game.


Ablorde Ashigbi built a startup on his belief in the power of networking

When Ablorde Ashigbi left Pritzker Group Venture Capital to build his own company, 4Degrees, in 2017, everyone around him was surprised. “You’re leaving VC? The best job on earth? Why the hell would you do that?”

Before 4Degrees, Ablorde had never thought about being an entrepreneur. “Building a company is really hard, and the rate of failure tends to be high. You should only do it if it’s something you’re really passionate about, or if you just can’t not do it,” he says. 

For him, and for 4Degrees, helping people build strong professional relationships is the driving force. He has witnessed the importance and power of networking firsthand—in his work experiences in the consulting and venture capital realms—and within his West African immigrant family, who came to America with very few professional connections. 

“There’s no more important asset in today’s modern economy than your network, and so many industries are incredibly relationship driven,” Ablorde explains. 4Degrees is a startup with a vision to equalize opportunity by enabling people to build stronger professional relationships with the help of artificial intelligence.

By plugging into communication and social channels, 4Degrees helps professionals understand who they and their teams know—and how well they know them. The app scours relevant information about the people in your network and provides pointers on how to reconnect with them, helping a team manage their leverage and optimizing connections for business purposes. In plainer terms, 4Degrees’ website explains, “Our platform identifies the right connections for you to focus on, works with you to strengthen those relationships over time, and helps you activate your network when you need it.”

Having been featured on Chicago Inno and Crain’s Chicago Business, 4Degrees is now providing services to professional teams in four verticals: VC & PE (private equity), real estate, recruiting, and M&A/IB (mergers and acquisitions/investment banking). Their clients have been growing in double digits monthly, a rate that the team and Ablorde himself are excited about. 

An Idea Based in ExperienceAblorde headshot

From a young age, Ablorde was aware of how a lack of professional connections can limit what one is able to accomplish. “Many members of my broader family had very little in the way of professional connectivity. They are all capable, smart and talented people, but a lot of them haven’t had the level of professional success that you would expect, given their levels of talent,” Ablorde explained. 

His own career path stands in stark contrast to those of his extended family. Relationships are everything in his professional life. Ablorde’s first job out of college was at global management consulting firm Bain & Company, and the only reason he even knew what consulting was was because one of his close friends—an intern at Bain—introduced him to a program designed to give minority college students early exposure to consulting careers. 

As a consultant, and later, a venture capitalist, Ablorde’s daily work was infused with relationship-building, or searching for connections who had some specific area of expertise. During this time, he found it difficult to manage and track all of his connections. 

How come that there aren’t many good products and technologies that help professionals manage and get value out of the connections? That question was the start of 4Degrees. 

Ablorde and his co-founder (and co-worker at Pritzker), David Vandegrift, decided to codify what they’ve learned in their work about building and maintaining relationships into a product that would help others—in a way that’s easier and more convenient. For example, 4Degrees can detect trip schedules and surface people in your network who are based in that travel destination, offering an opportunity to reconnect. This function came from both founders’ own experiences. 

Relationships Make It Possible

After working on a prototype  most nights and weekends while continuing their work at Pritzker, Ablorde and David decided to devote their time and energy to 4Degrees full-time in 2017. They went to Techstars Chicago, one of the best-known startup accelerators. 

The experience was extremely valuable not only because of the $120,000 investment they received, which enabled them to expand their team and brought in new design and engineering talents, but also because of the relationships they were able to build through the program. “We were blown away by the level of mentorship and support from some of the best operators, builders, and investors in the world,” Ablorde wrote on Medium that year.  What’s more, their first customer was introduced to them via a mentor they met during Techstars. For Ablorde, that was the first big milestone for the company. 

In fact, there are a lot more milestones for 4Degrees that sprang from the network Ablorde and David had cultivated. Their first hire was referred to them by a friend, and their first few investors, like Pritzker Group and R41 Capital, were people they’d either worked closely with or considered strong professional acquaintances from their prior jobs.

Inside the office, Ablorde and David also work to build great professional relationships within the team. The company has a lot of traditions, from practical check-ins like weekly 1:1s and feedback meetings, to more unique gatherings like weekly tech talks and monthly team dinners. There’s also a flexible work-from-home policy that enables team members to accommodate various life events as they see fit. “In my view, the best teams not only work towards a mission, but work for each other,” Ablorde said. 

Building on that, Ablorde says that if he had to give future entrepreneurs one piece of advice, it would be to invest in relationships. “Figure out ways to both deepen the existing relationships you have, and to meet new people. There are lots of ways to do this—publishing online, attending events and meetups, hanging out with others who share your passions, reconnecting with old friends, using software… Pick some combination of ways that are authentic to you and go!”

The Future of the Journey

For Ablorde, 4Degrees still has a long way to go, but he’s determined and eager to continue the journey. “There were different points in time where it became clearer and clearer that we were building a product that people valued and wanted,” Ablorde said. In the short term, the company will focus on the four verticals it currently serves, but will definitely be addressing a broader set in the long run. 

4Degrees also strives to stay close to their customers. The team conducts a number of customer interviews every week and keeps track of several engagement metrics to make sure that their customers are truly taking advantage of and enjoying their product. 

In conclusion, Ablorde reflects, “Nothing is simple, from getting the right people on board to ensuring that you can build the company sustainably and rapidly. But seeing customers be really excited about what 4Degrees is doing, and seeing team members grow and advance their own skill sets, and seeing how this plugs into their own ambitions, it’s all of those things that make the journey.”


Ashlee Ammons of Mixtroz on conquering the fear of starting over

In 2014, Ashlee Ammons was living a comfortable life in New York City, producing celebrity driven events and working in brand marketing. She’s close with her mom, Kerry Shrader, and one day Ashlee called to vent about an awkward experience she’d had at a conference mixer. The two women realized that, despite having strong networks in their respective fields and feeling confident in their social skills, they’d both found it difficult to strike up conversation in a professional setting—especially in the digital age. After four hours on the phone, the duo hatched an idea. They saw themselves as natural connectors, able to bring people together from all walks of life, and wondered, “How do we do this with software?” 

Their answer? Mixtroz. A mashup of “Mixer” and “intros,” Mixtroz is an app designed to help event attendees connect, breaking the ice and building engagement while collecting real-time data for event organizers. In 2018, Kerry and Ashlee became the 37th and 38th black women to have raised $1 million in funding, and their clients include TEDX, Alabama Power, and universities that use the app to help incoming freshmen meet new people. So how did this mother/daughter team get from a phone conversation to co-founding their own company? Read on.

Go “all in”

After they came up with the idea for Mixtroz and decided to forge ahead, Kerry put in long hours in Nashville while Ashlee moonlighted from New York, holding down her full-time job. Ashlee liked predictability and order, and she enjoyed her big-city lifestyle—entrepreneurship was a total departure from who she was at the time. But in October 2015, Kerry was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a month, she went through surgery and radiation and still never once lost focus on Mixtroz. Kerry’s determination in the face of hardship inspired Ashlee to dive fully into their journey together. Ashlee packed her bags and moved into her family’s home in Nashville, surrendering her professional identity to start from scratch with her mother. It was a humbling refresh when she had already risen to the top of her career. “Entrepreneurship made me do it again,” she says. 

Take care of yourself

During that first summer in Nashville, Ashlee suffered from FOMO, watching from the sidelines as her friends explored extraordinary things. As a 28-year-old living at home, she saw life passing her by and started experiencing signs of depression. “Entrepreneurship is hard. If people don’t take care of themselves mentally and physically, it’s a recipe for disaster,” she says. Ashlee sought treatment to address her depression, and eventually got back on track. Still, founding Mixtroz—like almost every startup—meant pushing through a slow start accompanied by rejection. “There’s a huge misconception that entrepreneurship is a sprint when it’s actually a marathon,” says Ashlee. Blocking out the noise of naysayers, Ashlee and Kerry persisted: refining and iterating on their product, listening to feedback from early adopters, and continuing to push their product forward. 

Do your homework

The two founders pursued every opportunity to meet with investors and began entering pitch competitions. “If I hear anybody saying anything contrary to me, my mom, my business, my team, I am ferocious. I don’t have a soft spoken bone in my body,” Ashlee said. This served her well, especially when competition was tight. At the Rise of the Rest competition in May 2018, Ashlee pitched Mixtroz to Steve Case, former CEO of AOL. “We may not have had the best product,” Ashlee recalls, “But I was the most prepared and I came ready to win.” Case commended Ashlee after she finished her pitch, the last slide of which included an African proverb that Case wrote about in his book, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In an effort to tailor the presentation to her audience, Ashlee did some homework beforehand that ultimately helped her win the competition. She walked away with $100,000, and she and her mom decided to relocate from Nashville to Birmingham, Alabama, where the competition had taken place.

Find the right geographic fit

Ashlee and Kerry had already spent time in Birmingham, where they participated in Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator. When asked what Mixtroz brings to the city today, Ashlee says, “We are literally reshaping what people think of entrepreneurship. We are making it more colorblind, more inclusive, more age agnostic, more gender agnostic—that is a great thing.” Birmingham itself is a city that implements coding programs into core curriculums and provides proper resources so that young adults don’t feel the need to move away from Alabama to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. The city has redefined entrepreneurship so that it’snot just “a sport for the elite,” as Ashlee says. She adds, “I want their journey to be a bit easier than mine was.” 

“I am as much of an entrepreneur as a guy who puts a lawnmower in the back of his truck and realizes that he can offer something that the competition can’t,” Ashlee continues. She credits Birmingham’s environment with helping Mixtroz to thrive, even positing that she and Kerry wouldn’t have been able to pursue their business anywhere else. “Birmingham listened and didn’t assume. We’ve had such an ugly history here. It’s not lost on me that my grandma is 90 and she lived in Alabama during [the fight for] civil rights, yet my mom and I raised a million dollars here.” 

Change the narrative

Although Ashlee and Kerry had a limited knowledge of entrepreneurship before embarking on their Mixtroz journey, the thing that mattered most was that they cared about solving the problem they had unearthed: how to connect individuals at networking events and gather data in the digital age. Their early promise and dedication was seen by family and friends, who raised $200,000 to fund Mixtroz at its outset. This was at a time where African American females, on average, were raising $36,000—an upsetting number when compared to white males who, at the same stage, were raising an average total of $1.3 million. From the earliest part of her startup journey, Ashlee learned an indelible takeaway: “Don’t let the fear of not knowing something stop you from starting.”


Facebook for disasters: meet Meena Palaniappan’s Atma Connect app

Somewhere between the desire to help disaster-prone communities navigate preparedness to revolutionizing the way marginalized people use social media, Meena Palaniappan gave rise to an app most easily described as “facebook for disasters.”

Meena headshotAtma Connect is a tech non-profit that runs the AtmaGo app, a local social network with 4.5 million users in Indonesia. Launched in 2015, the app was pioneered to spread disaster alerts, share safe routes and locations of government shelters, and even alert locals to signs of waterborne disease in children. 

Then, when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2018, thousands turned to AtmaGo to alert and support friends and family. In the wake of 1,700 deaths and the displacement of over 70,000 people, locals used the app to host humanitarian workers and direct those affected to resources such as food, water, and healthcare. 

Today, Meena envisions AtmaGo becoming the largest pro-social network in the world. Her passion to build resilience and social connectedness for billions of people living in low-income communities—while on the forefront of climate change—is clear. Communities with developed and successful social networks have been proven to have fewer deaths and the unique ability to bounce back quicker from disasters. 

The Backstory 

For the past two decades, Meena has been implementing community-based technology-related projects in Africa and Asia. Before AtmaGo, Meena was the principal investigator for a USAID project to improve water service for low-income communities in Indonesia.

While working on climate-related issues in India, Meena met a woman with a brilliant water conservation solution but no easy means of sharing this information with those in her community who could benefit. At the time, most (if not all) mobile networking platforms were geared towards collecting information from poor people to serve larger institutions.

Meena jumped at the opportunity to amplify the power of people through peer communication, highlight their ingenuity, and release trapped knowledge with the goal of building a grassroots movement for change. 

“Why hasn’t a social tech project reached the scale of Facebook?” Meena asked herself. “I firmly believe we need to move beyond traditional development strategies which see poor people as objects and work to build the agency of people to direct and lead their own change.” 

Building from the ground up 

The first app launched by Atma Connect in 2014 was a neighborhood water price sharing platform. Making evident the importance of focusing on the needs and opportunities of people living in low-income communities, users immediately requested that Atma Connect expand their services. 

At a scale and reach of just 10% of the population of Jakarta, AtmaGo could add 6,980 years of healthy life, save $106 million in avoided damages, and save $4.7 million in healthcare costs. (Check out this evaluation report for a detailed account of all the ways in which AtmaGo can improve disaster preparedness and response in Indonesia.)

In order to build their team and engage users, Meena used a variety of key tactics like human-centered design interviews and in-person marketing. Ambassadors, power users and friends of Atma promoted the platform. Atma reached out to local journalists and other organizations to share information and promote Atma sponsored events like garbage clean-ups and tree-planting. 

Unlike other social-centered networks (e.g., Instagram and Twitter), AtmaGo is a trusted source because it is organized locally to allow users immediate insight into neighborhood happenings. The app is available on low-cost phones as well as a mobile website, designed specifically for intermittent internet environments and low bandwidth. 

According to Meena, “Atma combines digital tools with citizen journalism and on-the-ground reporting as well as partnerships to ensure that local users see real-life community improvements.” She wanted to have the ability to “take a lean startup approach and truly follow the needs of people on the ground and not be beholden to larger institutions and interests.” 

Atma is just the beginning of protecting vulnerable communities through a fundamentally different approach. AtmaGo allows users to read, write, and comment on posts in four categories: Reporting problems, discussing solutions, finding jobs, and sharing events.

So what?

The success of Atma thus far has inspired Meena and only made her more humble—a trait she hopes to use to amplify all that is good about humanity. The challenges along the way have inevitably shaped her perspective, and she admits that “The hardest part is probably raising the funding to keep this going and developing earned income that is mission-aligned.” Put another way, Meena will not allow Atma to contribute to surveillance capitalism or erode the social fabric by monetizing people’s attention. 

As a woman of color, Meena possesses a unique drive that makes her a more empathetic leader. She is adamant about ensuring that everyone within her organization has their voice heard. Focused and passionate, Meena works to uplift everyone around her and outline their collective contribution to AtmaGo. Meena’s devotion is also evident in the stories of Atma’s users, who embody the profound change that is possible when amplifying the brilliance and ingenuity of every single person—especially of those who have historically not been heard. This video illustrates AtmaGo’s particular ability to do just that.

What’s next?

In a Medium article written by Meena herself, she admits that there are major problems with social media but also mentions the huge benefits communities can reap from an approach that centers helping people—radically and widely.

In 2020, Atma hopes to build a revenue engine by monetizing the economic loss prevention and mortality impact of AtmaGo through partnering with insurance companies. Atma also plans on expanding the tech non-profit’s value by increasing online and offline engagement, integrating more disaster services and including more voices directly from users. Possibly the most exciting next move is scaling Atma’s impact from Indonesia to Puerto Rico and Colombia. 

In conclusion, Meena leaves us with a few tips for women entrepreneurs hoping to create the next big thing: 

Don’t give up.

Remember why you are doing this.

Take care of yourself—body, mind, and spirit.

Always be celebrating, all the little successes. 

 


Amanda DoAmaral closes a $615K seed round—and opens up about her roller coaster year as a founder

Amanda DoAmaral is the founder and CEO of Fiveable, an edtech livestream platform with a growing user base of teachers and students from every state in the US. She has described Fiveable as Twitch for education: “If kids can get help with video games, they should be able to get help with homework, too.” amanda doamaral headshot

Fiveable focuses on preparing students for AP exams, and—as of November 2019—the platform has hosted livestreams for close to 30,000 unique users. For the 2018-19 school year, Fiveable students reported a 92% pass rate across the seven subjects offered, while the national average was 55%. (Full disclosure: Beta Boom was one of Fiveable’s earliest backers. Amanda earned $20K in capital and a spot in our Salt Lake program in June 2018.)

News hits for Fiveable suggest a near-meteoric rise: after Beta Boom’s early vote of confidence, Amanda posted a viral YouTube video advocating for students in an exchange with a College Board exec, then she and her tiny team earned a spot at gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based accelerator which promises $100K in investment, and in June 2019 she impressed celebrity entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis enough to garner $10K of his personal capital on top of taking second place at the 5 Lakes Pitch competition.

What’s more, the company announced it closed on a $615K seed round just after the new year. But rather than let that money tell her story, Amanda took to the company’s website to speak frankly about how Fiveable almost didn’t make it through 2019. We’ve pulled together some of her notes on the struggles faced and lessons learned on her startup journey so far.

Follow your passion—which sometimes means taking a detour

Amanda joined Teach for America right out of college, moving from Boston to Oakland to teach AP World History and Geography to public high school students. At first she wasn’t sure she was qualified to teach AP courses, but it turned out she loved it. After five years, however, she had to confront the fact that teaching wasn’t financially sustainable for her. “I was paying more for my student loans than my rent,” and Bay Area rental prices weren’t cheap. What she didn’t realize was that staring down her own financial precarity would be the spark for a much-needed startup.

Learn to see yourself as an entrepreneur

Amanda left her teaching job, traveled a bit, then moved back to the East Coast. Her next job involved making fundraising calls to potential campaign donors, and many of the people who gave money were startup founders. At that point, she had only an abstract idea of what startups and entrepreneurship looked like. But she started researching how to build a business, and realized, “I could have an idea, try it, and pitch it to people.” This was 2017, she was living with other young campaigners and looking for a way to use what she’d learned as a teacher. “It was the students who lit the way,” she explains. Kids from the school where she’d taught were asking for support, so Amanda started livestreaming AP history lessons for them. “It didn’t start out as ‘I’m gonna build a startup’—it started out as ‘I’m gonna help people [in the way] I know I can help them.’”

Turn your struggles into an asset

The fact that Amanda hadn’t ever considered founding a tech business is one indication of her “outsider” status in the startup world. But reflecting further on how that’s helped her (and her business) succeed, she notes, “I’ve always felt like I’ve had to work ten times harder to get to do whatever I have to do. Whether it was as a kid or in college, I knew I had to go faster and that’s how I’ve approached founding this company. I think that’s part of the advantage—knowing that people are going to overlook me and so I have to shoot higher than they’re gonna expect so that I can come out on top. I’m pretty sure that all female founders and founders of color operate in that way, and that’s probably what propels these businesses forward.”

Sometimes you need to go a little “nuts” 

From her first unofficial livestream to the day she completed Beta Boom’s startup program in 2018, not even three months had passed. Amanda returned from Salt Lake City with a clearer view of herself as a founder, then promptly moved back in with her mom and got to work on what she’s called the craziest thing she’s done on her startup journey: The Fiveable House. “I knew I needed a team, [but] I didn’t know any marketers or developers. I didn’t know anybody outside of my universe of teachers. The only way I could think to move this idea forward was to rent a house in Philly and convince people to come live and work with me—for basically nothing. It was nuts!” But it worked. The Fiveable house drew in Amanda’s first two employees and has since moved to Madison, then Milwaukee—where Amanda still lives and works with teammates Tan Ho and Aaron Levin.

Let your users be your guide 

As Fiveable expands its course offerings and experiments with new formats, Amanda stays attuned to what students and teachers are asking for, “because they seem to know what I should do next more than anybody.” What’s more, she’s also thinking about generational trends outside her immediate platform, observing, “This generation of teenagers is very connected. We’re seeing this with [activism]—teenagers are running massive movements because they’re connected to each other. But we’re not seeing that with education. When you think about a teenager right now, they’re on their phone, they’re hopping around on YouTube, they’re watching videos on Twitch, they’re on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok—but where is the learning happening? I think what we’re trying to do is just connect to where kids are right now.”

Don’t be afraid to operate outside of a tech hub

Since starting Fiveable in Maine, Amanda and her team have worked in Philadelphia, Madison, and Milwaukee. Beta Boom seeks out startups that may be overlooked due to geography, and Amanda explains how being based somewhere “small” can be an asset:  “These startup ecosystems are so much smaller than Silicon Valley’s. Even just pitching in a competition [like Milwaukee’s 5 Lakes Pitch] and getting to the final round,” is a unique experience. “I’m not competing against 20 other edtech [startups]. One of the judges [at 5 Lakes] called us the most exciting startup in Milwaukee right now, and there’s no way we’d get that title in the Bay Area, in New York, even in Chicago. It’s worth it for us to be in a smaller place so that we can stand out and all of these different people can help us.”

Find a way to connect with other founders

As she found her footing as a leader and Fiveable continued to grow, Amanda and her team moved to Madison to take part in gener8tor, a “concierge accelerator” that provides three months of business development programming on top of significant capital. However, she’s said that one of her key takeaways from the experience was meeting other founders. “It’s hard when your team doesn’t understand all the pieces you’re dealing with, and neither does anybody else. My family has no idea!” Because she lives and works with her team, Amanda admits it can be hard to expand her social network: “I have to be able to know other people who ‘get it’ in order to feel less lonely. [And through gener8tor] I’ve made friends who are starting their own companies and going through the exact same things but in their own way.”

Be prepared to weather the unknown

On top of the energy that infused her early successes, Amanda remembers a lot of uncertainty—and that hasn’t disappeared even today. This rollercoaster of emotions is one of the first things she likes to mention to would-be founders: “I honestly never knew how high the highs could be and how low the lows could be. Going from on the floor crying, calling my mom, to a total swing the next week—getting opportunities where people would see my vision with me. Just knowing that when you’re starting out, and that it will keep happening, is a big part.”


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