How I pitched my Startup to Nancy Pelosi and Bill DeBlasio
Going to DC to pitch Magnify Progress to the Congressional Progressive Caucus 🎊
Starting something new is hard and scary.
Starting Magnify Progress has been a completely new experience for me - getting into politics, building a mobile app, getting press, and acting as a sales person. I’ve gotten advice from mentors and read books on start ups, but everyone’s experiences are unique and the specific obstacles that come up are hard to cover within the pages of a book.
One piece of advice that I’ve always struggled with is “If you want something, ask for it.” I was relatively quiet and shy growing up, and never wanted to get in anyone’s way or bother anyone. I was used to offering up my time and energy to people I cared about, without expecting anything in return. There were many things I cared about enough that I didn’t need any sort of compensation or recognition for, just making it happen was enough. Once I transitioned into having my own ‘thing,’ it was difficult for my to self promote, because it felt like inconveniencing people. The idea of shamelessly asking people for time or favors felt wrong, but for my startup I have forced myself to do it as often as I could.
One night, I was scheduled to present at ProgCode’s Democratizing Democracy virtual conference, a community I’ve been involved in for about a year. During my talk, suggestions came in from someone else in the community, and I made a note to contact her later and follow up. The next day, I reached out to her, and got a ton of suggestions and advice about what we were doing, and an offer to take a call with her. The following morning on our call, she mentioned an invitation-only event in Baltimore ‘that weekend’ and asked if she could show people there the app we had built to try to attract new partners. I spent the call ecstatically pacing my apartment, blindsided by the sheer luck I had had to find this person. I decided to try my luck and ask if I could also attend the event. This felt like a huge risk, since she had already been so kind and helpful, but it was an event I didn’t want to miss, and I knew it would be perfect for expanding our reach.
She said yes! This fairy godmother savior was handing me my biggest break without ever having met me, based on watching a 25 minute demo of the app at 10pm. I booked a flight out for the next morning (I had Good Morning Baltimore stuck in my head the whole day and watched Hairspray on the flight there) and we met in person the night before the event. I can’t describe the gratitude I felt toward her as we sat in the hotel and strategized for the next day, and she caught me up on who would be there and what organizations I should focus on.
The next morning at 7am, I entered the event floor, and realized that I was at the event of the year for progressive causes. Members of Congress were everywhere, each with their own posse, and leaders of progressive organizations that I had on my whiteboard list of groups to reach out to. I eyed my new contact already pitching Magnify Progress. I walked up and she had shoved her phone, with my app open, into the hands of an organization that focuses on peace and diplomacy, and she introduced me as the creator. Throughout the day, every time I walked up to her, she was showing the app to a new person who was asking how they could get their own content into the app.
I spent fifteen hours listening to people who cared so deeply about what was happening in the world, and how they could help. Elizabeth Warren talked about how her childhood impacted her into wanting to help others, Nancy Pelosi spoke on the state of the country and the upcoming midterm elections, Carmin Yulin Cruz described her journey in politics and how San Juan, Puerto Rico has struggled since the hurricanes last year, and Bill de Blasio celebrated the aggressively progressive policies that he has implemented as mayor of New York City, and their successes.
Writing these blog posts usually takes me a long time because I feel awkward and self conscious when I write them. It’s the same reason I struggle with social media - why would anyone want to read what I have to say? am I saying something that is worthwhile enough to publish? But I set out to write this post about the importance of setting goals and asking people that you know for help, and in the middle of writing, I experienced success by following this advice! It was a poetic moment that I want to share.
Last year, when we were just starting to build out the Magnify Progress website, and I was reaching out to dozens of strangers at existing organizations to connect and learn more about the space, I heard about the Personal Democracy Forum held in New York City every year in June. Last year, I happened to be in New York while PDF was happening, but didn’t know how to get in as an official participant and didn’t have any connections to people hosting or speaking. I’ve had a background goal of speaking at more conferences and events, mostly to advertise for Magnify Progress and find new partners, but also for the personal experience. I’ve had some great opportunities to attend and speak at conferences in the last year, and each opportunity was one I created for myself by asking for it.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t had a lot of luck, or that other people haven’t helped me. There have been countless people who made introductions and took chances on me, but unless I was ready to ask for their help, it wouldn’t have mattered.