Catching Entrepreneurial Insights at the Stage of Inspiration: Propelify 2018

“Rooted ideas that are idle don’t fly,” began the upbeat opening message at the “Stage of Inspiration,” one of the venues at Propelify, from the festival’s founder and CEO, Aaron Price.

Resplendent in a white sports jacket (featuring the annual event’s spiffy cursive P logo), which appeared even brighter in contrast to the gray sky, Price kicked off the daylong (and into the evening) festivities on May 17 with a few words of wisdom before turning the stage over to the morning’s first emcee, Gerard Adams.

Price urged members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to “take action and seize the opportunity to move your careers and businesses forward! Propelify’s theme is finding a way through where there isn’t. Determination helps you make a hurdle out of where others see a wall.”

In its third year, Propelify v3.0 (2018 edition) featured an impressive roster of 20 hours of panels, fireside chats and various talks involving 70-plus speakers.

Photo: Gerard Adam addresses the crowd at the Stage of Inspiration at Propelify 2018. Photo Credit: Rob Rinderman
Gerard Adam addresses the crowd at the Stage of Inspiration at Propelify 2018. | Rob Rinderman

A self-made “Millennial Mentor,” entrepreneur, angel investor and philanthropist, Adams provided a fascinating account of his rollercoaster-esque rags-to-riches, to rags and back to riches personal story.

His keynote theme was “the power of personal branding.” Structured academic life neither intrigued nor agreed with him, so he dropped out of college during his first semester, and instead pivoted with a laser focus on building his own business.

Just a few years later – while still in his early 20s – Adams demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for selling and making millions in the early, go-go days of digital marketing. Boosting the businesses of appreciative enterprise-level clients clearly proved extremely profitable.

His Elite Daily (New York) website, which reached up to 80 million readers worldwide, was eventually purchased by the Daily Mail at an impressive $50 million price tag. His cockiness soon backfired, however, as Adams aggressively traded away his newfound wealth, getting caught long in an unforgiving bear market. 

Today, he continues his role as an investor and influencer. His self-proclaimed mission in life and true passion is mentoring and inspiring young entrepreneurs to turn their dreams into successful realities, which he is doing through his Fownders organization, which is based in Newark.

To that end, Adams leverages his expertise in millennial branding across multiple industries. He is a go-to investor for New York and New Jersey real estate. However, giving back to the community is extremely important to Adams, so he’s also active in helping develop affordable housing in Newark.

Adams’ advice to current and would-be entrepreneurs is to follow his MAP strategy:

M = Monetizing your expertise

A = Amplifying your message

P = Propelling your personal brand ? by both becoming and creating a platform for others, and building key relationships in the process

Adams encourages people to be both authentic and respected within their given communities. Building an effective content marketing strategy is extremely important, and individuals should strive to identify the best platform(s) for getting their message out to others.

Also heard during the day from the Inspiration Stage:

  •  Voice-generated searches from home (as opposed to other locations, such as businesses) are becoming more and more popular and prevalent. Google Home and Amazon Echo are two of the recognizable brands in this space.
  • Many utilize Siri via their iPhones for voice-activated searches. Samsung Galaxy mobile devices also include this feature – the “S Voice.”
  • Cuong Do, president of the Global Strategy Group at Samsung, was a featured fireside chat guest during the morning.
  • Do enlightened the audience about a cool program utilizing voice-activated human interactions to assist autistic teens by addressing their questions about everyday life, including questions on dating.
  •  Many seniors also benefit from voice-activated search technology, especially those individuals that are less tech-savvy or comfortable operating today’s generation of state-of-the-art smartphones.
  •  According to Techonomy (New York) President Josh Kampel, who joined Do onstage, voice-driven searches generate in excess of a billion transactions each month across the globe.
  •  This figure is expected to continue expanding as sales of smartphones and in-home devices increase and people become more comfortable conducting audio-activated searches.
  • Of course, with today’s ever-increasing focus on data privacy, including the European Union’s recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the voice-search industry must strive to give consumers confidence that their conversations are not being eavesdropped on by devices, and that companies are not utilizing this analytical data in nefarious ways.

Photo: A trio of successful female entrepreneurs gave fundraising advice at Propelify 2018. Photo Credit: Rob Rinderman
A trio of successful female entrepreneurs gave fundraising advice at Propelify 2018. | Rob Rinderman

A trio of successful female entrepreneurs provided an excellent array of value-added fundraising advice.

This panel included: Beth Ferreira, a managing director at FirstMark Capital (New York); Laurel Touby, a managing partner at Supernode Ventures (New York), as well as founder and former CEO of Mediabistro (New York); and Linda M. Holliday, founder and CEO of Citia (New York). Their talk was appropriately entitled “5 Things You Need to Know About Capital Raising,” and they made the following points:

  • Organizations and founding entrepreneurs must look in the mirror and ask if they are truly a VC-backable company. You may want VC money, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do or a course of action for you to pursue, they cautioned. One panelist termed entrepreneurial overconfidence as an addiction to “Hopium.”
  • The time frame must be a critical consideration, as many VCs distinguish between good growth and what they’re really seeking – exceptional, explosive valuation increases of 20 to 30 times over a short-term horizon.
  • Many entrepreneurs would be better served by targeting more patient money. How do you find these types of investors? Look for bored, rich ex-entrepreneurs and family office organizations, for example.
  • Angel investing is anything but formulaic, so looking for investments via a check-box method often backfires. Businesses and senior managers are all different, but one panelist used the term “snowflake” to describe many of them.
  • The due diligence process is similar to undergoing a colonoscopy. Entrepreneurs should be prepared for it, and for the fact that it often involves give and take over time with prospective investors.
  • There is also nothing wrong with bootstrapping your business, especially in the early days. Why give up too much equity too early? Over time, you can sell off more ownership in exchange for capital as your valuation rises.
  • Keep in mind that VC firms and other investors are invariably bombarded with thousands of business plans. Do your homework before sending plans out. It’s invariably best to have one of your contacts recommend a meeting.
  • This known as a “warm” intro, and it’s obviously better to find a personal thread(s) in common with your target. It’s unsurprising that VCs will more readily agree to a meeting to learn about your enterprise when a respected colleague indicates that it will be worth it for them.
  • When you ultimately get a green light for an in-person or perhaps a Skype or conference-call meeting, it is a must that you research the folks you are getting together with.
  • Watch videos of their public appearances and/or review other source material (websites, LinkedIn bios, past investments and exits) to learn about their style(s). This intelligence will help you better pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Contrary to what you might think, it’s preferable to pitch to your “dream” investors first, so they have more time to evaluate an investment in your company.
  • The panel recommended that entrepreneurs devote at least three days/evenings per week to participating in some form of networking, including attending industry conferences.
  • It helps if you are naturally charismatic when pitching to investors, as this can build up your confidence, as well as their confidence in you. In terms of bringing teammates with you to pitches, make sure these are actual members of the organization, as opposed to advisers who don’t play an active role in the company.
  • After the pitch, actively solicit constructive feedback and advice from those you met with. Do not take criticism personally or to heart. Instead, learn from past mistakes and modify/pivot to improve the effectiveness of your upcoming pitches.
  •  Don’t be afraid to meet initially with lower-level associates at a given VC company. Their opinions often carry a lot of weight in the final decision-making as to whether you’re a check or a pass.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, keep pitching. And don’t be afraid of rejection or failure. According to legend, a certain founder of a certain enterprise called “Amazon” pitched his company 69 times before achieving success. The company also started out by specializing exclusively in selling books. 


About Rob Rinderman – Rob is the founder and president of SMC Consulting (New York), a strategic marketing, communications and business-development advisory firm focused on mentoring early-stage enterprises. He also works for a boutique investment bank, a corporate valuations consultancy and, as a sideline, writes for and several leading industry trade publications.

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