Voices.com is the world's largest voiceover marketplace: an online portal to help people locate 200,000 professionals who can help record audio for everything from commercials to textbooks. It's a unique marketplace, which makes the decade-long path that this startup took to success an interesting primer for any enterprising would-be startup founders out there.
I interviewed the Voice.com CEO, David Ciccarelli, in order to learn about the twists and turns of the company's journey, which includes pitstops at two tech accelerators: The Canadian Technology Accelerator program in San Francisco for four months in 2013, and the CTA Digital NYC in New York in 2015 for a five-month program.
What were the factors that made you want to join an accelerator?
“Many entrepreneurs have plenty of ideas but sometimes lack a framework for implementing them. Being part of an accelerator granted access to thought leaders across a variety of disciplines as well as a process for how projects are rolled out in their organization.”
Talk about the application process and what you learned during that time. How did you get in the door?
“Founders should have a business plan in place; if yours is outdated, take the time needed to bring it up to code. Once you've done so, applying for accelerators, mentoring programs and other professional development opportunities becomes significantly easier. From your company history, market analysis to your sales and marketing plans this information is all relevant to the application process.
With this preliminary information in hand, dive deeper by finding data to support why this specific accelerator is relevant to your business. For instance, when we applied to an accelerator in New York City that we knew placed an emphasis on business development, we stated why NYC was our #1 market. We quantified the opportunity by stating how many registered users we had in New York as well as how many active customers. Stating the opportunity and projecting how much revenue we believed we could generate during the program went a long way into gaining acceptance.”
What are the benefits of joining an accelerator?
“Like anything else in life, you get out of it what you put in. It was surprising to see other entrepreneurs who fought tooth and nail to gain entry into the accelerator not show up to mandatory workshops or skip mentoring sessions. Take this opportunity seriously. I know I did.
In fact, I prepared for each mentoring session with a pitch deck with screenshots from Salesforce to visually demonstrate the progress we were making towards the goals I set at the outset of the program.
During mentoring sessions, ask for advice and write it down. Then, at your next session tell your mentor how you implemented the advice, what worked and what didn't. This positive feedback loop will encourage your mentor to continue supporting you.
Then, when you make the big ask, such as a referral into their organization, they'll have the confidence that you'll deliver.”
What advice would you give founders looking to join an accelerator?
“On a higher level, you'll need to identify some corporate objectives such as to develop a funding strategy or to identify an acquisition target. It's on these strategic options where a corporate accelerator and the network provided can offer tremendous value.”
How did it help?
“We've participated in two accelerator programs. During the first in San Francisco, we won demo day and went on to create a network of 13 venture capital firms which we have subsequently maintained relationships with. More importantly, we fine tuned our go-to-market strategy which we've executed on over the last 4 years growing from 100,000 users to nearly 500,000.
Recently, we participated in another accelerator in New York City. During this program, we focused our efforts on business development and sales. We generated over $250,000 of new business. These new accounts are critical to our expansion in the advertising industry. We're pleased with the results from both of these experiences.”
Any advice for entrepreneurs within your specific niche/industry?
“There are dozens of accelerators available. Be strategic and apply for those that you believe can be most beneficial to you. Then, take your time to write a strong proposal, network to get referrals and hope for the best. You've done the work, now, it's up to the judging committee.”
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