We caught up with Ed Johnson, founder of Pushfar, which aims to revolutionise professional networking, mentorship and career progression. Pushfar recently closed its funding round on SeedLegals, and plans to launch its platform in early in 2019.
What does PushFar do?
PushFar is a mentoring and career progression platform; helping students, graduates and professionals to get ahead and climb the professional ladder. We help match mentors and mentees and once an individual is mentoring or being mentored, our platform intelligently suggests activities, events, opportunities and people to network with – all of which can further assist career progression.
What made you start PushFar?
At first it was a personal need and a problem that I had identified - I was struggling to find a mentor to guide me through my career. Then, after several conversations with other professionals and students, it became apparent that there was a bigger market opportunity. The question to ask is, where can one go to find a mentor? And there are limited options. In large companies, there are often mentoring programmes. However, these are often limited in their approach, under utilised and traditionally resource-heavy on HR departments. If you are not part of a larger organisation, then there’s nowhere, aside from networking. Additionally, where do you go for guidance in career progression? Again, there are limitations. On the flip-side, if you have a wealth of knowledge and insight into a company, a role or an industry, where can you go to find people interested in learning from you? Once again, the spaces are few and far between. That’s when I realised that a platform needed to be built.
What funding have you received so far?
We’ve received SEIS investments from several angel investors. This has allowed us to fully focus on technical platform development, planning, business development and marketing. There was a time when we thought we would try to get to launch without the investment, but we realised that it would take far too long, only spending our evenings and weekends on it – there’s so much development work going into our platform and having the investment was really the only effective way in which we could get to where we needed to. We can now put the time into PushFar that the product really deserves.
How did you find your investors, and were they angels or VCs?
At this stage, our investors are angels. Though, we are in talks already with several VCs and already planning out our next investment-round. We’re by no-means in the position yet to accept VC funding, but having initial conversations is always a good thing. From experience, closing investment rounds often takes twice as long as expected. We found our first investors through personal connections, contacts and networking. There was a lot of networking in the six months leading up to closing our first investment round. All-in-all, I reckon I met with close to 100 prospective investors. It’s always an exciting time but there is a lot of pressure to get it right.
Do you think they invested in the concept, the product, the founders, or the team?
I would like to think that our investors backed us for all those reasons, combined. We have an MVP and the concept is strong. I’m also fortunate to be working with an amazing team. Our co-founder and CTO, Gabriel, is an incredibly talented developer. This is a great advantage when it comes to building a technology-focused business. Previously, I’ve worked with freelance developers and agencies, with mixed results. Having in-house technical experience is just a breath of fresh air!
Any advice for the perfect pitch deck?
I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect pitch deck – it’s a constant evolution. I know we’ve adapted, tweaked and amended our deck dozens of times, this month alone. Each investor is unique and will engage differently. I would absolutely recommend tailoring it, where possible, to each investor and investment firm. Some might be more engaged with the data, while others are more interested in the customer marketing plan. Always think about what could help you to stand-out for them. As for more general advice – be bold but be realistic. There are so many pitch decks floating around talking about global domination, billion-dollar valuations and mass-market appeal. While it’s fantastic to aim-high, don’t be unrealistic about aims for the first year or two. Secondly, don’t overcomplicate things. Break it down into bite sized chunks, grab attention and convey the bare essentials. Adding fancy graphs and essays is often not necessary.
What was the hardest thing about raising funding?
It used to be the paperwork. SeedLegals seems to have fixed that though. So, now it’s probably that feeling of complete uncertainty, while going through it. There were days when I woke up wondering if we would ever close our investment round and reach the investment levels we needed to. It’s a cliché, but that rejection can be really tough. The important thing is to keep going and not lose sight of the targets and goals. At the same time, listen to the answers investors are giving you. Ask them why they aren’t investing and use that to learn to improve your pitch, your proposition, your product and your end-goals.
If there were three pieces of fundraising advice you could give other founders, what would they be?
· Don’t settle for the wrong investors – It’s not worth the pain, time and money it will cost you further down the line. It’s really easy, particularly in the early stages, when you’re raising funds to say ‘yes’ to any investor who wants to back you. Work out what each investor will bring to the table and ask them to be straight with you about why they want to invest. Sometimes, an investor’s objectives simply won’t match yours.
· Make sure you’re all reading from the same page - It’s so important that all founders, team members, investors and prospective investors ‘get it’. Having the same vision for a venture may seem obvious, but it’s extremely easy for any company to have a number of different routes to market, product opportunities and marketing strategies. Make sure they are aligned as much of the time as possible, but particularly when you’re going out and fundraising.
· Don’t worry about rejection – Yes, it’s another cliché but it’s so true and exceedingly easy to let get to you. I know I’ve felt downhearted at times during our most recent fundraising round. You are highly unlikely to avoid rejection 100% of the time. Don’t take it personally and don’t let it impact your confidence.
What are the main benefits of using platforms like SeedLegals vs. traditional startup lawyers?
Money, unnecessary complexity and paperwork. SeedLegals have made this investment round far easier than lawyers I’ve previously worked with. They are cost-effective for a start-up and the platform takes the headache out of things. The support I’ve received has been brilliant too.
What's next on the horizon for PushFar?
Launching! We’re three months into our six-month development phase and then we go to market early next year. The conversations we are already having with a wide range of businesses, universities and charities is hugely exciting. Now I can’t wait to see (and indeed use) PushFar.