Fundraising Saga of a Desperate Entrepreneur - Part 1
BY Shazi Visram
In part one of a four-part story, Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of HappyFamily, tells her harrowing tale of how a supposedly trusted venture capital incubator tried to dupe her.
"Money money money money MONEY. " You all know the lyrics to that O'Jays song. Well, friends, I know the song and the dance. Getting HappyFamily off the ground wasn't easy, especially when it came to raising start-up and growth capital. What follows is my fundraising saga (in four parts).
Part 1: Angels and Demons
In 2003 I had this light bulb moment for a visionary business that could change the way children were fed in our country. Recipes were developed; prototypes were crafted; and my excitement built daily knowing this was IT for me. I had insight into an untapped market that also could help change the world for good on many levels in a field about which I was so passionate.
I had a strategic plan to launch and build a brand and knew I needed partners. Partners with capital and partners to lend operational expertise. In 2004, I used my remaining time at business school to develop the original business plan in the Columbia greenhouse, an incredible incubator for students serious about launching their ventures. I flew to other countries that had innovative offerings for babies, to meet these business owners, and to learn from them. I scoured trade shows and envisioned a warm, modern, and meaningful brand that I could see so clearly. I met with the key people in the natural products industry and got some really great advisors on board. I had a partner that ended up not working out shortly after he realized getting funding to continue to live a cushy life was not going to be easy. He was right about that but ultimately missed out on something pretty amazing.
Of course, I was dying to get started and selling. So, I had to get my feet wet with fundraising: my parents are from humble beginnings and both grew up with dirt under their feet, so my family network was not exactly flush. I needed $500,000 to get going, so I started presenting to the circuit, business plan competitions, angels, etc... Then, I met a seemingly perfect VC incubator run by Harvard Business School grads with a big bank account and a seemingly soft spot for babies, and I thought I had found my silver bullet.
But I was wrong in the most naive of ways. I thought we had a handshake deal on the terms we discussed, that these guys respected my intelligence, actually liked me and knew I was on to something that they merely wanted to support and be a part of. And most importantly, I thought that we agreed to terms that would eventually be reflected in the actual documents. My bad.
The docs that finally came were utter garbage that unveiled true legal vultures. The terms allowed them to take me out of the equation at any time. But still, I was living off my American Express, buying meager groceries and scraping it together to stay in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, and I had a one track mind for organic baby food. I was alone and somewhat desperate. I considered doing the deal anyway just to move forward. I hated the inertia. I felt like a modern-day, entrepreneurial Hamlet.
SHAZI VISRAM is the founder and CEO of HAPPYFAMILY, the leading premium brand of baby and toddler meals in the U.S. HAPPYFAMILY is sold in over 13,000 stores with 9 different lines of optimally delicious organic foods. @shaziv