Maverick Maker Rachel Brooks Talks Business of Design and Technology

Citizen Made co-founder on transitioning to tech, mentorship and perfecting your pitch

As a NewME alumna, how do you feel your participation in an accelerator has helped you grow your own business?

I looked at it as an opportunity to get me to the next step in a quicker way than I would’ve be able to [do] on my own.  They have a network that we were able to access. They got us our first piece of press in TechCrunch and it really helped us to be able to do some of the things that help you early on to continue on as a company that feels like it can be viable.

Many entrepreneurs credit mentors with helping them navigate the terrain as a business owner. Who are some of your mentors, or advisors?

One that really helped us a lot early on, back when we were still in San Francisco, was one of the VPs at Singularity University.  His name is Vivek Wadhwa.  He really opened my eyes to what is possible with technology today, and tomorrow, and then what that means for our business and what it could mean for our future in manufacturing. He really kind of opened my eyes and helped us [Citizen Made] get the long-term vision together.

In New York, I actually met her when I did FOCUS 100, Lauren [Maillian] Bias. Lauren has continued to be super supportive of the work that we do, and helping us get things together.  We weren’t even based in New York when I did that event. I was still living and working in Chicago with my partner, and even with just helping with this transition and getting involved just seeing and meeting everybody that I need to know here in New York.  She’s been incredible.

Rachel Weiss over at L’Oreal has been fantastic! She actually is the one who provided us with a grant to be able to finish our software and to be able to keep going. She opened up this incredible network of people to Citizen Made and that’s really what was the catalyst to bring us to New York to continue our work and develop our company—and build our team here in New York instead of Chicago.  It’s been the help of people like her.

You’ve participated in several pitch competitions, from FOCUS 100 to the HBS conference at Harvard Business, and even at Women 2.0, where Citizen Made won a sizable grant from L’Oreal. What are three tips to making a killer pitch?

Have a cohesive story: Making sure you’re hitting all the major information in a flow that makes sense.  There’s a story element to these things, so making sure that when you’re talking it flows so people can follow because you’ll be speaking very quickly.

Get a pitch coach: In the last year, I’ve had three different pitch coaches.  It’s a real thing and it’s worth it. Just get a coach! The thing is, they’ll help you get the stories together ‘cause they’ve been around for awhile, but also they’ll help get you past some of the stuff you won’t realize you’re doing, even down to how people perceive you on stage.

Remove the explanations from the pitch: Use statements, not explanations. When you remove a lot of the explanations and back stories, you validate your statements.

What’s next for Citizen Made?

Right now, we’re just in the process of rolling out invitations and getting people onboard, some of those early users who have been waiting for access. We’re also working to close some bigger deals that are pretty special. Just doing that whole thing and really looking to work with as many makers all over the globe that want to be able to sell what they make and allow their customers to buy what they actually want; working with more and more makers and manufacturers all over the world.

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