How to Get into 500 Startups: Three Tips from Sqoop

Talking to Galvanize member Bill Hankes, it’s clear that he’s been working extremely hard on his startup for the past two years. “We spent six months solving the wrong problem, and another four to five months to retool and get the right product-market fit. And that’s after finally finding my technical co-founder, a process that took another four months,” Hankes said. “It’s taken a long time, but if growth is any indicator, we’ve finally hit our stride.” Hankes says Sqoop has been growing its base of registered reporters 30% month over month for the past six months.

Sqoop is a company that helps journalists discover what’s happening before it becomes news. For example, a reporter can use their app to quickly search through publicly available documents for story leads. Traditionally, reporters would have to spend hours every day toiling away in public records sites like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Patent Office, and many others. Eventually, Hankes wants “Sqoop to be a center point for ‘news discovery.’”

The company is well on its way, and recently was announced as part of 500 Startups’ 15th batch of companies in Mountain View, Calif. Here are 3 tips from Hankes about how to grow your company and get into 500 Startups:

It’s better to be late to the party. Not early.

As Hankes says, “advance as far as you can for as long as you can” before trying to land funding or a slot in an accelerator like 500. The company was founded two years ago, and it’s taken them at least a year to get the right team in place, find the right product-market fit, and figure out how to talk about it. “I made the classic mistake of pitching way too early. The problem was I didn’t know what the story was yet because I hadn’t heard it from our customers.”

But after months of hard work and toiling, opportunities are opening up for their team, and they’re going to receive a boost of capital and connections by participating in 500 Startups.

Be a trauma surgeon. Not a Band-Aid

For the first six months of Sqoop’s existence, it developed a solution to what Hankes calls a “latent pain.” “It became clear that we weren’t going to go anywhere fast with that approach,” he said.

When he started looking for the real pain, or “trauma pain” as Hankes described it, that’s when he landed on the right problem to solve.

Even if you think you know your customers like the back of your hand, make sure you do customer research to ensure you’re providing the value you *think* you’re providing. And there’s only one way to do that, spend time with them. Whoever knows the customer best wins.

Pitch Every Chance You Can

Bill Hankes met Robert Neivert, a 500 Startups Venture Partner, at a fundraising workshop at Galvanize Seattle. Hankes had already been pitching for a while, but jumped at a new opportunity to present his company to another group and get feedback. He says he had no intention of trying to get into 500 Startups, but it just happened.

“If anybody will listen, go talk to them about your company,” said Hankes.

The week before the Galvanize – 500 Startups Workshop, Hankes pitched Sqoop at another Galvanize event, the Pitchers and Pitches event, and “got shot down.” “My story sucked, but I got terrific feedback from angel investors on the Galvanize panel, TA McCann and Geoff Entress. I took their feedback, re-crafted the pitch for like the thousandth time, and when I pitched it the next week to the 500 guys it sucked a lot less.”

A week after doing that practice pitch in the 500 Startups Workshop at Galvanize, Sqoop received an offer from 500 Startups.

Pitching has not only helped Hankes work on his startups’ story, but it has also helped him build a larger network of potential investors and customers.

“The Seattle Galvanize team has put together really high quality programs on campus. I think I’ve done all of them because I want to learn, meet new people, and get feedback on my pitch,” says Hankes.

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