This Friday marks one of the biggest milestones to date for our company. We will sign the loan documents and receive the final chunk of money that we set out to raise. Our funding came from a private equity offering, as well as loans through both the Enterprise Zone Corporation of Braddock and Allegheny County Economic Development.
We’ve spoken about our fundraising efforts a bit before, but I wanted to dive more deeply into what it really takes to get a loan. While in school doing theoretical business plans and pitches, it was easy to chalk up a gap in funding to “oh don’t worry, there are loans for businesses like us”. But guess what: you’re a new and totally unproven idea. Loan officers don’t want to talk to you. They sure didn’t want to talk to us. Sometimes we were told no before we even asked. That’s when we had to take a step back and really analyze our entire approach. Here are a few things we learned throughout the process.
- Get a warm introduction - Use your network. Seriously, VC firms in places like Silicon Valley will straight up laugh at you if you walk in without an introduction. When we originally met with the EZCB, they had already heard about our project from a number of people, including Mayor Fetterman. This early on in the process, all we requested was a chance to set up a meeting and talk.
- Be prepared - Once we got our original meeting, it was up to us to sell them on why we were a worthy investment. I wholeheartedly believe luck is where preparation meets opportunity, so we prepared like hell. We cleaned the brewery for a full day before we had representatives from both EZCB and ACED visit. We put together a tailored pitch and financial packet, along with supporting legal documents for them. We outlined exactly what we would be doing with the money. Most importantly, we got them believing in our brand and in us. We could answer almost every question they threw at us. And when we couldn’t, we followed up as quickly as possible after figuring it out.
- Be patient - Getting a loan takes a long time. We originally met the EZCB folks back in February. ACED got involved around August. There will be unexpected delays. You will need to resubmit paperwork or prepare another document. There are a lot of moving parts. Holidays, sick days, injuries to lawyers… speedbumps are inevitable.
- …But be persistent - At the end of the day, it’s up to you to show how badly you want it. When the speedbumps start to appear, you have to prove that you will fight for your business. Secretaries eventually came to recognize my voice from how many times I called their offices. No one is going to do the work for you – pick up the phone, and ask how you can help. Do not be afraid to nudge things along. Whenever anyone asked for something, I got it done instantly. My goal throughout this whole adventure was to show those loaning us the money that they were making the right choice.
- Stay positive - This might sound silly, but you have to approach the process with the right mindset. They loan officers are not there to intentionally make it hard on you. Complaining to them or being rude does not earn you any favors. I had one bad day where I completely lost it. Afterwards, I felt terrible. I called the guy right back and apologized. Luckily, he understood my frustration, and we put it behind us. He was on our side and wanted things to move forward just as much as I did.
A lot of times, things that are hard to bear are sweet to remember. Oh, how sweet this Friday shall be. Reflecting on this past year, we’ve realized just how many people put their time, effort, and money into making this loan happen. For that, we are eternally grateful.
Shout out to Dennis Davin, Paul Costa, Chuck Starrett, Bill Pfoff, John Fetterman, Lance Chimka, Dan Tobin, Pete Kurzweg (our terrific lawyer), and the fine folks at HRS Services for believing in us and allowing us to pursue our dream.
Now it’s time to start paying this thing off!