167. Working Up From the Bottom, Get Investors By Building an Investable Business

VC Minute
How Glade Optics organically attracted seasoned operators as investors through a meticulously planned reputation-building strategy

VC Minute – quick advice to help startup founders fundraise better

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Curt Nichols:

When thinking about finding angels or understanding the larger landscape of angel investors, it can be really challenging.

You can’t just Google angel investors in the ski category. Nothing comes up. What happened for us was really a push rather than a pull. We were approached by a group of angel investors because of the business that we had been building.

It was clear over time that we were going to be someone in this category that was going to be a meaningful operator because of the fact that we were winning awards. We won Outside Magazine’s best ski goggles of the year. We won Blister Gear Reviews Google of the Year as well. And we started getting on the radar of the larger ski industry in general.

The way we went about this was really strategic. We didn’t just go for the biggest awards or the biggest publications first. We really worked our way up from the bottom. We would approach local ski town publications; we would approach local gear reviewers and put them in our gear; and we would get blog articles and reviews written about us. And then, from there, go to sort of the next tier, whether that’s larger aggregate affiliate programs or things like that. Just so that we could go to those larger publishers, and we could say, Hey, here’s this body of work of people that have written about us that know about us that you also know, and you can vouch for; therefore, all we’re asking is just for you to give us a chance.

It wasn’t like all of a sudden there was this overnight success story; we won this award out of the blue, and all of a sudden we were on investors’ radar and our revenue was coming in. It was really a well-thought-out process: let’s start from the bottom and work our way to the top to gain the reputational advantage of the new challenger brand within the category.

Our revenue is still very, very small, but we were making enough waves that we were sort of a known commodity within the category, and we were approached by a group of five operators and investors that had experience growing businesses in the outdoor category.

They saw us and said, Hey, we see what you’re doing. We’ve done stuff like this in the past. We have some good connections within your industry. We have had some good experiences. We know how to press the right buttons in the right order.

And it was interesting because, at the time, I was totally uninterested in any type of equity investment for exactly the reasons we’ve been talking about before. I was like, I am not going to dilute myself. We don’t need the capital. We’re profitable. Why would we take on this investment?

But they made a very compelling pitch. They could point to two other brands in the ski-specific category and say, We helped grow these brands from where you’re at right now to where they’re at right now. We know exactly how to do this. We can help you. Here’s the blueprint. Here are the vendors you should talk to: Here are the specific gear reviewers you should talk to:

That was an immediate strategic value add, and so I was willing to pay for that with equity.

There are a ton of up-and-coming founders in the outdoor industry, and they always ask me, Hey, how’d you get your investors? And it’s sort of a hard answer. I just built a business that was investable.

Rich Maloy:

How’d you get your investors? I just built a business that was investible. Man, I love that. Thanks, Curt, for sharing everything that you went through, from bounced credit cards to bootstrapping revenue to taking on revenue-based investments and even taking on strategic angel investors. Head over to shopglade.com and you can support Curt and his business.

As ever, time is our most precious asset. I appreciate your patience with me, and I appreciate you spending some time with us this week. Have a great weekend

About Glade Optics
Glade Optics designs premium ski goggles, helmets, and sunglasses from their headquarters in Breckenridge, Colorado. Winner of Ski Magazine’s Goggle of the Year, Freeskier’s Editor’s Choice Award, and Blister’s “Best of” Award, Glade’s equipment is designed with the best materials and construction available—at an unbeatable price point. See what all the hype is about at shopglade.com.

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