Elizabeth Caven is the founder of UpCraft Club, a company she’s hoping to build into the leading online distributor of digital sewing patterns (in the same way that Audible is the leading distributor of audio books). In order to achieve this goal, she’s spending four months in a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley called 500 Startups.
Elizabeth lives in Iowa. She’s the mom of four children ages 5, 6, 7 and 9. She and her employee, Jess, temporarily moved to San Francisco for this opportunity and have been immersed in an incredibly intense business training experience. They will to emerge with $125,000 in venture capital and the expertise to make UpCraft Club a success.
Taking venture capital is something rarely spoken about in the craft community. Although Etsy was venture funded for a decade until they went public last year and Craftsy and Kollabora are also venture funded, I think most craft businesses don’t ever consider seeking venture capital. And the world of venture capital in the Silicon Valley? It’s equally unfamiliar with the sewing and crafting community. To a degree Elizabeth is right in the middle of a clash of cultures.
Periodically during her four-month stay she’s sending back journal entries describing her experiences and I’m publishing them here so that we can get a glimpse into the world of startups and venture capital from a sewing business perspective. (Catch her first entry and her second entry if you missed those.)
In this fourth and final installment Elizabeth tells us how her time in a startup accelerator came to a close and where UpCraft Club is right now.
Thursday, May 5 – Preview Day
Demo Day is the culmination of the four-month 500 Startups accelerator program. Investors and tech press are invited to hear a two-minute presentation by each company, most of whom are seeking investment so they can grow.
The ‘dress rehearsal’ to Demo Day happens in the 500 Startups office the week before the ‘main event.’ Investors, press, and other startups are invited to see the pitches and investors can get an early look at the companies presenting. The energy among the founders was so high it was almost frantic. Founders were high fiving each other, hugging, even jumping up and down backstage to get their adrenaline burned off a bit. The audience was encouraging and cheered loudly before each founder got up to the stage.
The audience is beginning to filter in as we get ready for Preview Day pitches.
We had been asked to choose a clip of music to walk on stage to and there were so many clever picks. But I was stuck…what song would fit for sewing? We brainstormed the clip from Sound of Music ‘sew…a needle pulling thread.’ Nope. Not right. Too slow. The goal is to pump the audience up before you speak and the Sound of Music wasn’t going to cut it. In the end, the Beastie Boys won out with ‘She’s Crafty’ carefully excerpted to cut out the ‘she gets around’ lyrics. Haha!
I was in line in the hallway and the 11th startup to present. I watched each founder go in front of me. Number 8…then 9… then 10. The room was incredibly hot with over 200 audience members packed into a tiny space. Finally it was my turn and ‘She’s Crafty’ came blaring over the speakers while I got the mic clipped on. I walked to the stage with friendly applause and began speaking.
My slide deck had 15 slides in it. They tell a story about the growth of UpCraft Club and the sewing industry. Basically, my job in two minutes was to make people care about what we were building. In the sewing and crafting community we all care about the future of our hobbies and businesses, but in Silicon Valley people typically don’t think about the sewing industry and I wanted to show them why they should care about it.
As I spoke I watched the faces of the crowd. Some blankly stared at me (“really…she’s talking about sewing?”) while others smiled and nodded along with each of my key points. About 10 slides in, my mind went blank.
I could see Jess out of the corner of my eye and as I looked at my slide I just kept speaking, hoping I could string a coherent thought together. No one else noticed the mistake, other than Jess, because she had heard me practice those two minutes so many times she had practically memorized it and could say it along with me.
Phew. Preview Day was over and went well.
Saturday, May 7th – Universal Studios
We’ve been in San Francisco for several months and working.every single weekend. We literally haven’t taken a break so as we’ve been winding down our time in California we decided to at least take advantage of a couple of nearby destinations. We made a very last-minute flight to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago (as in, we decided on Friday afternoon to go and were on a plane a few hours later). This weekend we had a meeting in L.A. and decided to embrace the inner child in each of us and go to Universal Studios. (Shhhhh….don’t tell anyone but Jess is a huge Harry Potter fan and was totally geeking out about this trip!)
It was great to have some down time. And we even got to meet Gru. Personally, this trip was a little painful. Every year on Mother’s Day weekend my family heads to a local amusement park. Not this year. Mom is in California and at an amusement park without kids. It was a strange feeling.
Friday, May 13th – Demo Day
Elizabeth and Jess at the UpCraft Club Demo Day booth.
I’ve spoken about UpCraft Club from a stage dozens of times over the past year. I’ve won more than $75,000 in pitch competitions and I always get a bit nervous but am confident in what I’ll be saying each time I take the stage. But this audience was much bigger than any other I have presented to (500 people were in the audience with more than 4,000 watching the live-streamed event). The two-minute pitch for Demo Day is by the far the most hyped presentation I’ve given. Despite this, the energy among the startups was more relaxed than it was on Preview Day. Everyone was encouraging of each other too, which made it fun.
At the end of the event, all of the entrepreneurs took one last bow from the stage. This is what the audience looked like from the stage where we stood.
The pitch went well and we connected with some fantastic investors, press, and entrepreneurs. It’s the official ‘end’ to this amazing experience! 500 Startups invested $125,000 into UpCraft Club and we are excited to continue building the company with them, but the next phase of the journey means leaving California and building back home in Iowa.
Global Entrepreneurship Panel led by President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg.
In the weeks since Demo Day we attended Quilt Market in Salt Lake City (and loved meeting so many of you). Then I traveled quite a bit, including a trip to serve as a delegate to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford. Then I flew straight to Lima, Peru to serve as a U.S. State Department delegate to a forum on ‘Women and the Economy’ and compete in an international pitch competition sponsored by Russia and Chinese Taipei. UpCraft Club won for ‘highest growth opportunity’ and it was incredible to meet women from around the world who are dreaming big entrepreneurial dreams!
Elizabeth pitching in an international competition at APEC in Lima, Peru.
We’re back in Iowa now and bringing on new team members (welcome Denise Wild!). Big strategic decisions are being made in addition to dozens of small decisions every day. When we first started the 500 Startups accelerator, Dave McClure (partner and co-founder of 500 Startups) talked with us about what makes a startup successful and how to not be one of the statistics (most startups fail). He said that startups get lucky so many times in a row that it works out for them. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than ‘luck’ – it’s about being ready to pounce on opportunities as they come. That’s what we are trying to continue to do. We want to be part of the conversation of what’s ‘next’ in sewing.
What will sewing patterns look like in the future? For 150 years they’ve been paper based. Now they are PDF which still means using paper. But we believe you’ll soon be able to project pattern pieces onto your fabric instead of cutting them out of paper. It’s one of the things we’re talking and working through right now. We’re also putting systems in place that let anyone create a sewing pattern, even if you just have an idea and no technical experience to bring the pattern to life. We want to be part of what’s next in the world of sewing and believe that the future is very bright for our industry. We welcome your thoughts on how we can make sewing easier for you and can’t wait to see what the future holds!