For Mike Wilner, fundraising was a reality check.
The CEO of Compass, a web design company that fuses the DIY aspects of Squarespace and the project management of web dev firms, noticed a lot of people would pat him on the back for being a young entrepreneur (the Baltimore native just turned 25), but when he started asking for money, the conversation changed.
Fundraising, Wilner said, “forced us to really articulate what the future was gonna look like.”
So he became an expert at it, pitching somewhere between 50 to 100 individual investors in the last six months, which, judging from Wilner’s face when we ask him about it, took a toll. He’s the company’s primary salesman — when Technical.ly was a fellow tenant with Compass at First Round Capital last summer, we’d often see him walking around, pitching customers on his headset.
Dozens of fundraising pitches later, the company has closed its first round of funding: $300,000 from friends, family and angel investors like Pittsburgh-based Matt Newton. It’s a convertible note. They’ll use the money for marketing and supporting the current team of four, all composed of current and former Venture for America fellows. (Venture for America is a nonprofit that places recent college grads at startups in non-mainstream tech scenes across the country. Philadelphia is one of its major markets.)
Compass came to Philadelphia as part of the Venture for America accelerator last summer. Before that, Wilner and his cofounders (Taylor Sundali and CTO Matt Fulton) were working for startups in Detroit and Cincinnati. Compass was one of the startups in the accelerator that remained in Philadelphia — Sundali and Fulton live in Center City, while Wilner’s in Graduate Hospital. They couldn’t all live together, Wilner said, because the one time they all did, they ended up talking about work all night.
“It was 100 percent my fault,” he said, admitting he’s not very good at balance. (Though he does take a break from work to play in a weekly tech-guy basketball game in Callowhill.)
The Compass team currently works out of Benjamin’s Desk new space in Washington Square.
Other companies that provide similar services include Crew.co, Gigster and Sketchdeck, though Wilner said that they’re not direct competitors because they provide slightly different services to different markets. Compass’s competitors, Wilner said, are web dev firms and freelance marketplaces like Upwork.
Check out Wilner’s Medium post on how he and Sundali built a tech startup without coding know-how.