The Art of Getting Your Start-Up Off the Ground with Gina Mancuso – Love That Fit

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The Art of Getting Your Start-Up Off the Ground with Gina Mancuso – Love That Fit

On the PME 360 Powering Business Growth Show we had the pleasure of having Gina Mancuso with Love That Fit reveal how she is getting her start-up business off the ground. Gina discusses some of the challenges and victories she has experienced so far in getting her awesome venture, LoveThatFit.com, off the ground. You will gain some valuable insight into the nuances of "pitching" and how to stay positive when people around you start doubting you and your idea.

Whether you are a local business trying to grow your idea or someone with a big idea that you want to take to the next level, this presentation will help get your start-up going in the right direction.

"One lesson I will share with anyone when taking on a
business partner is to Gina Mancusoprepare for the worst. Whether it be family members, someone you just met…go into it like a marriage and have your pre-nup all set up. It can be great at the time, but you never know what business is going to throw at you down the road."

– Gina Mancuso – CEO Love That Fit


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The Art of Getting Your Start-Up Off the Ground with Gina Mancuso – Love That Fit

Ron: Welcome to PME36O Powering Local Growth show, where each week we talk about the issues and offer advice on how to power growth for your business.

I’m your host Ron Rodi Jr. With me as always my main man, the man with the marketing plan, our CEO Ryan Paul Adams.

Ryan, good morning.

Ryan: Good morning.

Ron: How are you today?

Ryan: I’m doing well.

Ron: Also from PME360O this morning we have Kurt Mulligan. Kurt, how are you?

Kurt: Good morning. I’m doing well.

Ron: Alright. Thank you for helping facilitate our guest today.

Very excited to be talking to Gina Mancuso. Gina is the owner of the LOVE THAT FIT, a new online virtual fit technology that has revolutionized the way we go shopping for clothing.

A former equestrian, Mancuso turned her international riding experience into her first successful business – buying and selling horses while in Holland and Germany.

After that business was sold, Mancuso moved back to Miami and within there launched her second business, a boutique fitness studio that also sold for a profit.

The inspiration for LOVE THAT FIT came from the fact that Gina, like many of us doesn’t really like trying on clothes. So she decided to create a positive shopping experience that virtually mirror the best aspect of the real thing.

Linking brick and mortar to online shopping, all while collecting massive amounts of data through retailers.

Very excited to be in the show with us, Ms. Gina Mancuso.

Gina, good morning.

Gina: Good morning. Thank you very much for having me.”

Ron: Thank you for your time. Very excited to have you on to hear a little bit about your insights and experience.

Your obviously quite the veteran of business and we are excited to share some of your insights. Talk about a little bit about some lessons learned and I know Gina, that you prepared a presentation for us today. So if you don’t mind, why don’t we go ahead and get it started.

Gina: Okay. That would be great. Thank you.

My new venture LOVE THAT FIT which I founded in the fall of 2012 as a virtual fitting technology which allows you to try on clothes in store and online. So we are linking together brick and mortar and online shopping.

So if you are in the store, you don’t have to go to the changing room. You have all your purchases or things you have tried on sorted in your closet. You can do shopping online, try them on, or mix and match outfits. See if they go well together.
      
Likewise if you are in the store, you want to see if this shirt goes well with this pair of pants you bought online. And you can do that.

So the benefit is, it’s free to consumers. But retailers license it because they just really understand their consumers’ purchasing behavior, how social influences affect their purchasing behavior.

It also helps them organize their merchandise – what they need in that store. And even goes back and helps in the whole development of product line and really being smarter and saving money and increasing that profit margin.

This platform and application does a lot. Really, it’s so valuable to retailers with all the date that they collect.

We’re really excited. We’re going to be launching the beta later this month. And we’ve had a major retailer sign on for beta, starting June, which we’re very, very excited about.

It’s very simple to use, it’s a beta account, all the user has to do is put their age, weight, height and upload a full body image of themselves.

And we do the rest. We get the measurements. We set them up. We want to make it easy as possible – fun and seamless application. So we’re pretty excited.

Ron: It sounds fantastic. It sounds like a great resource for retailers. I can definitely see the value there.

Gina: And retailers are shopping for this right now. They know there is a need. They know that they want something where they feel safe and private. And we give them that.

They can share with friends. But they don’t have to. No one ever sees their image except themselves. So I think that’s very valuable.

Ron: What a great idea!

Kurt: Gina, I have a question for you about the photos that people upload. It is difficult for them to take a photo of themselves or do they have someone to do it. What’s the process there?

Gina: Well, there are 2 ways. If they have a computer or a laptop, they can stand in front of it and take a picture of themselves. With your iPhone, of course a friend or a family member must take the picture. But any computer that’s equipped with a camera or a laptop. They can just stand in front of it, set it up and take a picture. On upload part, there’s a line where you can put your image on and that helps us the scalability and getting your measurement.

Kurt:  Okay.

Ron:  Gina, you’ve had a lot of previous experiences. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that and lessons learned while you were creating your career?

Gina: So I made the decision at 18 not to go to college right away. I was competing internationally in equestrian show jumping at that time and decided to turn professional at 18.

It’s something I just love to do and I had made it through Olympic trials and World Cup qualifiers and won some great competitions and I have the opportunity, at one time in Holland to start purchase horses and resell in the States. And this is pre- Euro. So it was a great exchange rate. And it was a very lucrative business. It was fun. I loved working with horses and being able to see them with US riders and succeed.

But when the Euro came around, I saw that it was harder. The profit margin was closing in. So I decided to then go to school. And I got a wonderful opportunity to own a boutique gym in Miami, Florida while attending University of Miami. That was great! I loved that. I turned it around in 18 months.

It was just a great experience. It taught me a lot how to manage people, how to delegate, how to be a leader and also see opportunities in the market ahead of time and make them happen.

Definitely, some lessons that I have learned from the States was, if you have a partner or a co-founder. One lesson that I will share with anyone is to prepare for the worst.
You know whether it’s a family member or somebody you’ve just met or someone whom you’ve developed this idea with. You know go through it like a marriage and have your pre-nup all set up.

Because it could be great at that time, but you’ll never know what business is going to throw at you. And some people react differently or you have to start to have different styles. You start to disagree on things.

You know you want to do that pre-nup the awkward, “Okay, if this happens…do I have to buy you out? Do you keep equity? What happens?”

Ron: I think that’s a good insight especially for anyone that has an idea to start a business and it may exhilarate a lot faster than people think.

So having these conversations is something that’s very important that needs to get out in the open. I agree with that.

I just have a quick question. You obviously have a competitive nature in competing professionally. How does that help you in bringing your sports experience into the business world?

Gina: It taught me greatly. Riding taught me one of the best things in life, to really have a good work ethic and to be determined.

And the more time you put into something, you’ll get better results. And sports in general, if you play a thing or two, has really taught me that business is a lot like sports.

Practice, practice, practice. Do your research. You could always learn something new. The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it, for sure.

To this day, I used to get up often on horses sometimes at 4 AM before the horse show. That was wonderful because I just go out of bed and I’m going to do it because there was no other option. And it definitely taught me a lot of great things.

Ron: It sounds like scheduling your time efficiently is something that’s important – a lesson that you’ve carried over as well.

Gina: Yes, very much so.

Right now, I do a lot of 15 or 30 minute increments of scheduling my day. These 15 minutes I’m going to do Twitter, these 15 minutes I’m going to do work on research with retailers.

Entrepreneurs are known to have ADD – which is very true. So it’s great, it keeps me focused.
I mean, your head tends to wrap around so many different things. So it’s easy to get side tracked or forget something.

But finding 15 to 30 minute time increments for meetings and everything is great. Because it’s pretty much all you can take in. You know if you go into an hour you’ll be like, “What is that meeting? What are we are going to do?”

Ron: It’s like chasing shiny objects. It’s very important to stay focus.

It’s good insight. Even if you schedule yourself out to such small increments as that. If it’s what helps you go ahead and do it. If it’s what helps you to stay focus, keeps you on schedule and keeps you manage your time efficiently.

That’s one of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Trying to get out in their own way, really.

Gina: So true. And to keep that creative juice flowing. I read in an article that someone did this 15 minute increments. And I started it, and I’m just so much more productive. It’s great. I’m productive in my meetings because we get right into the bullet points.

Ron: Let’s talk about funding. And I know you have some insight around that. Looking at your presentation right here. Doubling the amount of money you think you’ll need. I’d like to hear your input on that.

Gina: Something’s always going to come up – always. And you’re going to think, “Okay, I’ll need $100,000 to do XYZ” – make it $200,000 because something might go wrong.

You might need more materials or have to travel more than you thought. Initially, you’re probably, so at LOVE THAT FIT, one of the processes if you’re seeking funding now, it’s a lengthy process but if you think you’re going to get funded 3 months, it’s probably going to be 6 months. You might have to take on more people or pay an extra intern.

What came up recently was I had to buy my whole team, iPhones and Droids, which was a major expense. So always leave that cushion because you don’t want to be driven with the fear of running out of money.

It’s the worst way of running a business because you won’t make practical decisions. And always make a list of family and friends that you can go beg to just in case.

I did it with that gym one time. I didn’t plan it out correctly. I had to go to someone to ask a little bit more financing because I got served with a lawsuit because someone tripped or something at the gym.
And I had to pay these lawyer expenses. It really was nothing but I wasn’t prepared for it at that time. Then lawyers, I tell you, they eat a huge chunk of your budget whether it’s patents or just doing contracts or trying to settle a silly case. The bill jumps before you even know it.

Ron: I think it’s pretty important to align yourself with those professionals prior to going down the path. Or you want to make sure you have the proper people behind you – some lawyers, some CPAs.

You want to make sure you have that as part of the business plan. That’s good insight. Of course, budget’s not just dollars, it’s also time and resources.

Gina: Exactly. All different resources.

Kurt: I think you made a really good point about trying to plan for things that you don’t expect like needing a lawyer where I think a lot of business, they think about having a developer, having a staff but they don’t think about the things behind the scene.
        
I think you make a really good point there. And I think also, when you have a co-founder or partners, you also need to think about a wiggle room if you need to bring in somebody or what percentage of the business are you comfortable giving up to get the support that you need.

Gina: Correct.

Ron: Gina, how do you keep giving when the going gets tough? What are some of the tips that you’ve learned along the way?

Gina: There’s a bunch. Because there will always be people who will say you can’t do it, just shut the doors, stop what you’re doing, go get a 9 – 5 job, you’re a single mom, what are you thinking?

You really need to trust yourself. My first thing is mentors – positive mentors. People that have been there and have done what you’re doing. Maybe not in the same field.

Like I have mentors whom I can cry in their shoulder and let it out and be okay. Now, get yourself back together and go to work.

Let it out, have a glass of wine, do whatever you need to do and get back on it. Listen when people have negative criticism. Negative criticism is not a bad thing. They must be seeing something in a way that you’ve never thought of.

So always keep that in mind because remember when you’re making a product or service, there’s going to be a bunch of people using it. So take it in. maybe get a piece of it. Then throw it away. Forget it. Don’t let it bog you down. Because that’s going to get you going down a negative path.

Ron: It’s important to hear other people’s insights and perspectives. And to take that constructive criticism.

It’s always good to get that extra set of eyes. If you’re looking at it all day long and someone comes along, there might be something glaringly obvious or something very small that can help things move forward.

Gina: Exactly. My other thing is sometimes you’ll get a lot of feedback. And you’re going to run home and change your pitch and change what you’re doing because of that feedback.

You’re going to go in another pitch competition and get more feedback. Then you’ll change it again.

Remember your business. Remember what you started. You might have to pivot it. Pivots are good. But don’t keep changing it because someone’s always going to have an opinion.

We all have our own opinion. We’re human beings. So take it with a grain of salt. For something that’s interesting, write it down. Move forward. Don’t let it slow you down. Don’t let it confuse you.

I always have something written on my desk, “This is what we’re doing. This is our vision. This is Love That Fit. Don’t forget that as it’s easy to get swayed.”

Ron: It’s always important to stick to your core values. Stick to what you believe in. There are always people who will knock you off course. That’s just going to happen. That’s the nature of people, unfortunately.

Gina: Okay. I’m just going to put that thing behind me. And I’m going to keep moving forward. I wouldn’t be at this point if I had not.

Kurt: So you just mentioned about doing pitches. I think it’s good for our listeners to hear about that process.

And some of the different venues that you have pitched your business and your attempt to get funding.

Gina: So first, I pretty much learned about pitching in South by Southwest two years ago where I started to do some pitch competitions there.

And it kind of opened my eyes as I saw a lot of people pitch. And there are so many types of pitches. You might have the basic elevator pitch, they have contests for 8-second pitches. In other matches, you’re pitching in front of investors like Golden Key, Captain Capital or other capital groups.

My first advice is to practice your pitch. Practice in front of people. And practice it over and over again.

The more you have it down, when they start to throw you off questions, you’re solid to answer them.

I pitched down in New York, DC and San Francisco, and all different types of venues. And it’s been a very interesting process.

The biggest thing when it comes to funding and pitch events is that, pitch events are great. They’re going to get you PR. But you’re not going to get a check that night.

It’s going to introduce you to great people and you’re going to build a network. Then, you have to take that away with you.

Because that’s what you have to think of – the overall picture.

One in a million pitches is going to get that check that night. Otherwise, you’re building. You’re getting introduced to these capital groups. They’re starting to hear your name, which is great if you are applying for incubators and accelerators.

When you’re pitching in front of investor groups, the biggest thing I have learned. I made a couple of mistakes, you need to find someone that understands what you’re doing and  has a resource that is going to be valuable to the company. Don’t just go to some person.

So I’m in fashion, I’m then going to look for someone with an e-commerce background and retail background.  You know someone that has a connection that’s going to help LOVE THAT FIT.

If they have no idea about your business, it’s going to be frustrating. They’re going to be frustrated with you. Because once they write you that check, they’re going to be like, “Where’s my ROI? And how close are we?”

And you’re going to start feeling that pressure. You’re giving up equity of your company.

The biggest mistake is, this goes along with accelerators and incubators is you need to make sure that you are linear. Something that’s going to help you. It’s going to be mutually beneficial.

They’re going to make their money. They’re going to look great. And your company is going to be successful. And you know, you go on to get sold for a 100 million.

The pitch competition is definitely where you are going to build your network. Contacts getting to know you – super firms, entrepreneurial world.

But getting in front of those investors group. There’s Angie’s list and there’s a bunch of things that you can do research on them.

Make sure that they have similarity. And try to find the person in that company to whom you can pitch in front of.  A person who has that as their specialty.

You can’t go in front of whomever and they don’t have an understanding of what you’re doing. You’re wasting your time and wasting theirs.

Ron: Sure, that’s fantastic!  It sounds like, having an idea of whom you’d like to talk to at these pitch events maybe pre-planning a little bit.

“Hey, I want to get in front of this person. This person aligns with my culture and my mentality.”

It sounds like a door opener, these pitch events.  It’s certainly not a final type of event. It’s really a beginning of course.

Gina: Exactly. You’re getting that foot through the door. They’re starting to get to know you. Pitch events are where you really want to grab their attention and give them that bit of a WOW factor so they want to continue the conversation.

South by Southwest is going on this weekend. So anyone that’s going, they have a link in their site, you can actually go to all the investors and the people who are there.

You can find them there. Send them a message. Try to get their attention. Try to get a meeting ahead of time. Try to see if they’re on a panel. Make sure you go to that panel. Listen to it and grab the masters.

Definitely plan ahead. And see who you can meet and align with.

Ron: Gina, just to go with this pitch process. I know people have a lot of questions around it. and all the formats are different as you’ve mentioned, can you provide a few takeaways as to the things not to do while pitching your products or services?

Do you have any examples that you can share with people out there? I know you’ve touched on them briefly. Anything that sticks out that you really want to avoid or maybe you can turn a negative into a positive.

Sometimes I’m sure you get to be asked a question before. And you say, “Gosh! I’m not prepared for that at all.”

Gina: Oh I’ve got that.

Ron: I’m sure everyone has. I’m sure.

You’ve got to run scenarios prior to and certainly as you’ve mentioned, practice, practice, practice as often as you can.

Gina: Definitely, there is where they’ve got to try to throw you off your game for a little bit.

Think of any type of questions they’re going to ask. Maybe they’re going to question around your revenue model a lot and your competitors as well. You’ve got to know your competitors. Be ready to talk about them.

The best thing you can do is confront your competitors. You can say, ”Some of you are doing this, but we are doing this. And this is why they’re not doing well.”

You’ve got to be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Know that revenue model. I remember I got questioned on a New York Pitch event one time, “How much was the price per item to be on Love That Fit?”

I was unsettled and said, “I have to get back to you on that one.”

I wasn’t prepared for that question at all. That shouldn’t happen again.

Ron: But that’s a good answer though. Instead of making something up, right?

If you don’t know the answer to that, just say, “Great question. Let me get back to you.”

Gina: Let me get back to you on that.

You have to be honest. It’s a little never wracking.

Now I’ve done a lot better. The last one I did last week was Tech Cocktail. I got some questions about our patents and our IP. We’ve been talking about patents for 2 days straight with senators and congressmen.

So I was definitely on top of that one. But, just make sure you go through everything before you walk in a pitch competition.

And speak slowly even though you have a time limit. A lot of times, there’s a 1 minute to 2 minutes – it’s okay.

If you speak slowly and you don’t finish. It’s better that they understand and the one thing that definitely comes through is show your passion.

Be excited about your product. Don’t speak in a monotone. Be like, “Love That Fit – this is what we’re doing. I love it!”

They’ll see that because remember, at the end of the day, they are investing in you. They’re investing in that founder because they’re taking a chance. They’re taking a huge chance! Not any of them has a lot of traction.

Ron: If you have a little bit more time, try to tell your story. Really get people to understand. Let them understand who you are.

I know most entrepreneurs have a compelling story. And as you’ve mentioned the passion that certainly comes through during that story telling. It’s really a good piece of advice as well.

Gina: Talk through.

The story – that’s the compelling or selling part. You’re selling your start-up pretty much.

Kurt: Gina, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about having a passion, sharing your idea on social networks using Facebook and Twitter, as you start building your business. How does that help you?

Gina: Facebook and Twitter are very interesting. It helped me link to and follow investors, certain retailers. And more importantly, grow a virtual relationship.

It’s great for events because you can get people excited. And they make sure that they know you are going and meet them.

Facebook is good to engage in conversation and tell your story through posting articles, blogging or whatever that’d be.

One thing that I’ve learned before starting Twitter or Facebook is think about your brand and who you are, what you are trying to do.

It’s easy to get side-tracked with Twitter and Facebook and go off a little incandesce. Just remember what your company is and what it stands for. And make sure you always come back to that. Because it’s pretty much you’re repetitively giving messages of what you’re doing.

And, “Hey! I’m out here. It’s great if you are going to do something – South to Southwest, etc.

Getting attention, hash tags are huge. Make sure you use hash tags.

I get a lot of direct messages, “Oh it’s so awesome. We’re going to talk to you a little bit more about it. We’re going to come out in the newspaper and on the radio.”

It really helps you. It gets you connected to people all over the world on it. You can find people who are doing the similar things. You can follow investors from California, Austin or wherever.

So, Facebook and Twitter are great. Also Pinterest and all that. But definitely Facebook and Twitter, I tell everyone to start with.

And build up that network and relationship. You really have to build that relationship. If someone talks to you, be sure to respond.

Ron: That sounds like really, turning that experience in pitching into some good PR for you. It’s really a great way to get some word out and let people know who you are.

At the end of the day, you might not get that funding. But, you might blaze some pathways to some great contacts.

It’s really good content – really good stuff!

Gina, let’s talk a little bit about what inspires you. And we can get a little bit to what LOVE THAT FIT is today. And I think we can wrap it up. So what inspires you?

Gina: What inspires me is I want to create this application and platform that’s really useful to women and men. At the end of the day, it makes them feels good about themselves. Makes them feel good about shopping.

Everyone wants to look good. I feel like online shopping has gone too distant, not personal. Going to the store is just a mess. So, just knowing that I can help people inspires me.

And the other inspiration. My two other inspirations is one, my father. He came from nothing and took 3 to 4 jobs to go through Princeton. Worked his way up. And never took “No” for an answer. He always believed in himself.

He taught me invaluable lessons of when the going gets tough, go through it. People don’t give you things. He never gave me things. I had to work for everything I do.

And it made me such a stronger person. It made me so driven.

And the last person is my daughter. She inspires me. I love her so much. I have a 4-year old daughter. Seeing her smile and knowing that I can create something for her down the road, it brings me so much happiness. It makes me want to what I do well.

Ron: That’s great. You have a lot of positive things going on. Fantastic! I really appreciate your coming on today.

Gina, quick question, where is LOVE THAT FIT right now?
Gina: So we are in a fashion accelerator in San Francisco which is wonderful. It has helped us so much.

In between Virginia and San Francisco, I’m going up there probably every other week. So as long as I do it 3 weeks at a time.

We have the working platform and we’re finishing the application (the mobile application).

We refused a technology investment in October which is wonderful. So instead of getting money, we actually got a tech team solving a tech problem. That was wonderful because if we got money we have to find people who have to do it. This has cut it all down. This has been the most amazing experience. 

We are going to do a soft beta later this month. We’ll be bringing in a major retailer on June. We’re checking around for an angel on the funding right now to sustain that technology and support that beta.  We’d like to sign in our first retailers with licensing agreements in the fall of 2013. And you know, bring in the revenue.

We’re hoping to have 1,000 users by mid-April. And jump to that 10,000 by June and July. And just keep going up from there. We eventually want to have that million users from around the world shopping on LOVE THAT FIT.

Ron: That’s awesome! Gina, how can people get a hold of you?

Gina: The best way is probably through email. Email me gina@lovethatfit.com.

So it’s super easy. You’re welcome to call me at 434-989-4043. But email is usually the best way to reach me: gina@lovethatfit.com.

Ron: Awesome! Gina, again, I appreciate your time and insights. Very valuable today! Thank you for coming on.

Gina: Thank you.

Kurt: Thank you Gina. Bye.

Gina: Bye.


 

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