Advice from Sharon Simmons: How non-Techies can Make Connections and Appeal to Investors

sharon simmons

February 19, 2015, Jacqueline interviewed Sharon Simmons along with her mentor, James Hine. Sharon Simmons is a self-taught app creator and author. Her app is a crime-fighting app called iGotem App. Her book, “Get the App Outta Your Head,” was inspired by the obstacles she had to overcome in order to get her app on the market. Visit http://www.technologyexpresso.com for our podcast archive.

Transcribed and Edited by Anisah Muhammad

Jacqueline: We have one of our recurring guests, Sharon Simmons (@iGotemApp). For those of you who are new to Sharon, let me tell you a little bit about her. Sharon is a mother, grandmother, sister, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur. She has created the ultimate guide to how to build your own app. She created an app called iGot’em app, and she took her experience with creating an app and put it in a book to help you go through the steps. Her book prevents you from going through the ups and downs she had to. Even if you don’t code, this book will help you get your thoughts organized, help you with research, and prepare you to work with your developer. The iGot’em app is global, and yours can be, too.

We have a lovely series with Sharon, and this is our 2nd show out of our series. We’re going to talk about pitching. After the app is built, a lot of people have to go out and look for resources, sponsors, and users of their application in order to get it launched and used worldwide. Sharon has a lot of experience around that. She sat down and came up with a lot of different advice and words of inspiration. Tonight, she’s going to elaborate on those. As you listen, feel free to call in. If you have any questions for Sharon, she’s taking questions. First and foremost, let me open up Sharon’s mic and say good evening, Sharon.

Sharon: Good evening, Jacqueline. How are you?

Jacqueline: I am doing great. It’s always wonderful to talk to you. I’m a big fan, and I’m always thinking, “Where is Sharon? Where has she been? Where is she going?” You always come back from your travels, near and far, with more advice. Just listening to your story, people will be able to relate. Your tenacity, energy and passion fuels you to make sure your app gets out there. You help people, and you’re also helping people along the way by giving them advice, tips and secrets. We’re lucky to have you, Sharon.

Sharon: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to be on here. I know what it’s like to be in an industry you’re new to. I figured that if I can go through this, figure out how to get it done, and share it with others, it’s truly worth it.

Jacqueline: You brought a guest with you to further enrich the conversation. Why don’t you introduce the guest you brought?

Sharon: I brought James Hine. He is one of my mentors in the Silicon Valley area. He’s going to tell you a little bit more about himself than I can. We met around 2012, and he has been very instrumental in helping me brainstorm for the book and the app. He clears up my questions. He has always been around, and I can always call him when I need help. James, can you tell the listeners a little about what you do?

James: Hi. My name is James Hine. I’m the founder of a company that focuses on the whole mobile education stage. I’m a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry. I live in Los Angeles. I toured my way through music and migrated to video games. Now, I’m focused on working with founders, like Sharon, who are looking to make an impact through mobile apps and help change the world. It’s not always about that million dollar payday, which, in this case, could be around the corner. How do you change lives along the way? It’s great to be here.

Tips From Sharon 9Jacqueline: Thank you James for joining us, and we’re looking forward to a great dialogue. Sharon, you said, “Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room.” Can you elaborate?

Sharon: The reason why I said that is because when we go to different conferences or meet-ups, you really want to listen. You should be an active listener. Your whole purpose for going to different meet-ups and conferences is to learn the industry, especially if you’re new to it. Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur who came up with a great app concept, but you’ve never been in technology. The best thing you can do is listen. You won’t learn as much by trying to be the smartest person in the room.

James: I agree wholeheartedly. When you’re at a meeting or a fundraising event, you want to express to people that your idea is smart and deserves funding. The way to do that is to listen to the other people in the room.

Tips From Sharon 11Jacqueline: Absolutely. An important point I’m hearing is you can come up with an idea, but that doesn’t make you necessarily a marketing or branding kind of guru. There’s an art and science pitching and saying the right words in the right way to potential investors. Why not learn being a student, first, before trying to learn how to be an expert simply because you’re passionate. You have to know how to sell your idea so it will resonate with others. The next tip was ask for what you want.

Sharon: I came in 2nd place in a contest because I was not able to articulate how much money I needed. I was so concentrated on the app ideal and making sure they understood the purpose of the app that I forgot to say how much money I needed. You must add in what you need because that’s the whole purpose of pitching your app in front of investors.

Jacqueline: James, are there any thoughts you would like to add?

James: Here’s a couple of ways to learn what to ask for. Find a competitor and see what they’re asking for. Go to any place that keeps data on companies and look at how they started. One is techcrunch.com. Find a similar company and mirror their needs to build the app and run the business. Marry their salaries to what the local market is. That’s one way I would find out what I want and need.

Sharon: When you’re doing research, you want to look out there and see who else is doing it. A lot of them pretty much paved the way for you. There’s so many apps out there. There’s a great possibility you may see one that’s not exactly like yours, but like James said, it can mirror yours. You can bounce off of their information.

Jacqueline: That’s what you emphasized in your book, and it’s actually your subtitle: Google your way to building your own app. A lot of what you’re sharing is websites and resources, and I think, Sharon, that’s something you live by. If you don’t know, Google. Find out. Research. Read. Do your homework.

Tips From Sharon 10

Sharon: I have people call me and ask me questions. The first thing I ask is, “Did you Google it?” Google is a great tool.

Jacqueline: Absolutely. Sharon’s book is on Amazon.com. It’s, “Get the App Outta Your Head.” It’s a great resource. We emphasize that you don’t have to be a techie or have a degree in computer science. Being innovative in this space is wide open, because we have more access to information than we had in the past. We have more people providing information or providing services that will help you develop your vision. One of the ways we get better at pitching is practice, practice, practice.

Sharon: I want to say I’m shy, but not really. Once I am very passionate about something, I can really articulate it and get it out there. I do get a little nervous, and I tend to forget things. Practicing is very important. You can practice with your friends, your family members, and even in the mirror. Record yourself. Write out your pitch. Listen to yourself pitching it so you are able to pick out areas of improvement. Practice is the name of the game in anything you want to perfect.

Jacqueline: I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say it’s my product. I know that I’m passionate. Why can’t I just freestyle? Why isn’t passion enough?

Tips From Sharon 3James: Passion is not the best. Passion is just that: passion. I see a problem I want to solve. I see a solution. Great! Now, you have to have a business plan. You have to research what you’re talking about. You’re passionate and you’re developing a business. Investors invest in businesses. Your passion is fine. People love passion, but they want passion to be backed up by facts, figures and steps. Look, Zuckerberg didn’t walk out of college just knowing it all. He knew this one little thing, and it caught on. He got a team around him and learned how to collaborate and build an amazing company.

When Sharon called, I was on the phone with a 78-year old woman. She runs a non-profit that offers free technology to students. If you watched the Superbowl a little while ago, she was the subject of the Microsoft commercial. This is a 78-year old Black woman who is a retired 50-year old teacher. She took some little pensions and invested in creating a vehicle, a mobile learning lab, that has workstations to bring technology opportunities to low-opportunity kids. Here’s where the practice part comes: she grew up in an era where if you don’t have certain things, you invest and do it yourself. Now, there’s fundraising. Right now, we have an amazing crowdfunding campaign. Last year me and Sharon were both at the Essence Festival. Essence had held their very first technology event. They had a tech village. Estella, with other organizations, took 100+ kids on the road from Florida to Louisiana. We recreated certain stops of the 1964 freedom rides. We toured colleges, historical landmarks and ended up at the Essence Festival participating in the hack-a-thon, which our kids won.

The bottom line is, there was learning along the way. It’s essential to know how to figure out what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the impact of what you’re doing. None of these words I said were technical. You don’t necessarily have to be technical to be the founder of a technical company. You can bring on technical people as partners or as needed. I’m going to circle back around and say, this lady learns, everyday, how to ask instead of just saying, “This is what I do.” People want to know that you’re teachable. That’s what they look for. When people offer money, they also give you their time. If they don’t think you’re going to respond to their time, they will not give you their money. They want to know that you’re teachable.

Jacqueline: Great advice, and great words. I appreciate you joining us. We would love to have the woman who did the Microsoft commercial on the show. Let’s raise some money on one of our shows. We would love to help.Tips From Sharon 4

James: Every dollar counts, and every partner counts.

Jacqueline: Absolutely. We’re here to promote STEM and to get the word out. We will be retweeting the information. We know that it takes money. It’s not enough to say, “What you’re doing is really cool.” We have to support her with our dollars as well.

James: Our kids are amazing, and they deserve opportunities. I had an opportunity to do a hackathon. Sharon was there as well. I’m in Northern California, and she’s in Texas. We ran into each other in Oakland. She brought some of her relatives and kids. They were amazing. Their ideas and their ability to express themselves and build stuff were amazing. We want to keep that going.

Jacqueline: We are completely on the same page. We appreciate what you shared with us, James. Sharon and James are giving us tips on how to brand and present your idea in front of investors. They are teaching us what investors are looking for. I’m hearing a recurring theme: they want to hear the business side of it. You can be passionate, creative and have a great idea, but the investors want to know the dollars and how you’re going to grow it beyond an idea. At what point, Sharon, did you know you needed a mentor, or did that just come naturally?

Tips From Sharon 5

Sharon: At one point, it really got frustrating because it wasn’t my feel. I’ve been in aircraft maintenance and logistics for almost 30 years, and I have no knowledge of technology or business management. I had to start from scratch and self-teach. You read a lot, and you go up against people who have been doing this since their college degrees. It became a little frustrating, so I decided to go to the FDA. They sent me to SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). These are retired individuals in the industry I’m working in. They reached out to me and told me how this industry is ran and the ins and outs. The people I’ve met over the last 4 years and the business cards I collected, I would go to them to ask for advice. That’s how I met James. You asked me how did I come to the conclusion that I needed help. I got to the point where I didn’t have the information. Google is there, yes, but having someone to talk and dialogue with is what I really needed.

James: I think Sharon hit on a really great point. Also, websites like meetup.com are amazing. It’s groups of groups of groups. You can find groups 1-100 mile radius of your location. The nature of the meetups is you go there virtually and scan the coast. There are profiles of people who have similar interests as you, and they have compatible backgrounds with your history. Maybe they’re not compatible but have a skill that you need. You learn a lot just by reading about topics they’re discussing in up-coming meetings. You might not go to the meetings, but you can read the description of what will be discussed. When you look at the profiles of the people who are going to attend, you get a greater understanding of what their skills are.

Jacqueline: Great advice. There’s a meetup we are very active in here in the Atlanta area, which is the Technologists of Color. Sharon tried to fly in to Atlanta. At one of their last Tips From Sharon 7meetups, they had about 12 different mobile-app creators doing their pitches. You can find a group on meetup.com in almost every state and city across the country. You can search the website and look up a particular subject. Great advice. Sharon, what are some other venues you have been to in order to get exposure and expand your learning experience?

Sharon: Usually I go to hackathons. Hackathons are my favorite because I’m able to interact with the youth and with other mentors. I use this as my hands-ons to actually learn. While they’re asking questions, I’m listening and I’m taking mental notes. This is one of my favorite areas because it’s not a business atmosphere, but a classroom atmosphere.

Jacqueline: That is 2 for the price of 1. You’re teaching young people and learning at the same time. You’re there as a role model. You’re not the most technical person there, but just being there and telling your story of how you self-taught yourself to create an app is an inspiration. That’s great of you to participate in that way, analyzing young people and being a role model, but to also take the opportunity to absorb what’s being taught there. That’s a smart strategy.

James: Thank you for having me on the show. I have to go, but real quick, you need to know that you can not only execute the idea, but the running of the business behind the idea. The real goal of pitching is convincing people that you know how to execute long and short term goals.

Jacqueline: Excellent. Thank you for joining us, and thank you, Sharon, for inviting your mentor and sharing him with us. We would love to have you back on the show. Again, thank you for the time you were able to spend with us. We look forward to speaking again, and in the meantime, we still have Sharon with us.

Sharon: Thank you, James!

James: Great, Sharon. Talk to you later! Bye!

Tips From Sharon 6

Jacqueline: We still have Sharon Simmons. She does a regular series with us, and on each series, she brings a person that has been a part of her team. Last month, you can listen to the archives, she brought her developer. They talked about their relationship and how they worked together in order to build iGotem App. Again, iGotem App is available on iTunes and on Android. Sharon, can you share with the audience what your app is about? Do your pitch.

Sharon: I’m going to do it slow because I want people to understand the impact of why it was important for me to create an app. I had a nephew who was from St. Kitts and Nevis. I have some family in the islands in the Caribbean. I got a phone call one day that he had been shot in the back and killed. They were playing basketball on the court when a guy with a mask and gun started shooting everybody. My nephew ran down the street, and he was shot in the back. By the time they called me, he had died. Most of the children there were too afraid to tell the police what they saw, especially because they knew who the masked man was. It’s a small island, and everybody basically knows everybody. They knew who he was even with the mask on, but they wouldn’t tell the police because of a fear of retaliation. Sometimes the police officer knows the gang member. The kids were too afraid to tell the police because it might mean putting their lives in danger. I was so angry about that.

At the time, I wasn’t able to travel, and as a result, I wasn’t even able to go to the funeral. I thought, “There’s gotta be a way for people to report crime. Technology is growing so fast that I know there’s gotta be an app out there for this.” This happened in 2011. I went online and looked for a crime app. I couldn’t find anything. I went into the iTunes store and Android store. I found maybe 2 apps that were crime apps, but after I downloaded them, I found they had so many steps. I’m thinking to myself, “Ok, so if I’m in an emergency situation, I’m not going to want to answer 5 or 6 questions before I can report this.” I thought, “You know what, I’m going to create an app myself.” Because of naivety, not knowing this is a big industry, I wasn’t look at that. I was looking at the fact that I would not want what happened to my nephew to happen to anyone else. How can I contribute to someone else’s life? I just said, “Let me Google and see how to do this thing.” I Googled my way from the thought of this concept of how I wanted this app to work. I went from that point all the way to it getting into the Apple Store.

Tips From Sharon 8

From the thought to the Apple Store, the things in-between that was a lot. I needed to storyboard it. I needed to get a developer. I needed to be able to articulate this concept to a developer in a way that makes sense. Once I did that, I needed money. I didn’t have the money. Apps cost a lot less, now, but this app concept was going to cost around $18,000. I found a developer that would build both platforms for $5,000 a piece. Then, I went back to Google. “How do I raise money?” I found out they had bootstrapping. They had angel investors. At the time, crowdfunding had not yet come on the scene. About 8 months later, crowdfunding came on the scene, but I pretty much used bootstrapping. I bootstrapped my app. It took me about 30 days to raise 10 grand. I got it into the iTunes store, and here we are today, 3-4 years later. As you listen to the series here on Blog Talk Radio, I will explain to you that it goes beyond the concept of the app. You have to market it. Your app is a business, and there’s a lot more to it than just the app.

Jacqueline: I have to agree with you. People have to understand that building an app is starting a business. When you’re standing up in front of investors, you’re convincing them that you’re a business person. It’s not necessarily that you’re the most creative or technical, but that you can assemble the right team and manage it to be successful. Sharon, I think that’s what people can glean from you. As you come on each month for the series, you’re bringing different people from your team. Every time you stop, talk, ask for advice, observe or go to an event, you are enthusiastic for knowledge. People have to be ready to buckle down and do the work.

Sharon: I use the hackathons and conferences as my classroom. The only way I’m going to get it is hands-on, because I work a full-time job. I don’t have time to go and take a course. Because I’m working full-time and I also have a product already on the market, I don’t have time to sit in a classroom. I’m either going to learn by teaching myself, doing an online course, or going out to interact.

Jacqueline: We have time for maybe one more tip. I want to tell listeners: stay tuned on Facebook, our fan page, at Tech Expresso Cafe. We’re on Twitter as well as Sharon. Join in on those tweets. Please follow Sharon and get the book. Go to Amazon.com and download the electronic version. You can get the inspiration, motivation, and instruction you need to get whatever idea is in your head out. Start moving. Be bold and make it happen. Hesitation and fear is your worst enemy. You have to get it out of your head if you want people to understand and embrace it. Create a basic prototype. Understand what the concept of storyboarding is. If anything we’re saying is foreign to you then Google. Find out what that word means. Google is your classroom, and that’s free information. We have 12 tips in all, and we’re going to continue them in our future series. Here’s one you said, “Inspire confidence with facts, not fiction. Investors seek out low-risks. They want projects that are guaranteed.” Do you want to elaborate?

Tips From Sharon 1

Sharon: I talked about this app and how it works. When I finished, let’s say I’m talking to one of my advisers, they’re looking to know, “How are you going to make money?” I’m like a deer in the headlight, “Huh?” They want to know how I’m going to monetize my app. You can’t be relying on them to tell you how your company is going to make money. You have to do the research. Like James mentioned and like I mentioned in my book, Tech Crunch has a lot of information about businesses that are similar to yours. I had the longest time trying to figure out my business model. Once I got it, I was able to talk about what the benefits were as far as my business and financial model. It goes right back to research.

Jacqueline: Absolutely. It goes back to research. People have to marinate on that question and be able to answer it, “How will you monetize it?” Ask yourself that question. If you don’t know, they’re not going to tell you. It’s not for them.

Sharon: Exactly. I would get really, really irritated because I’m sitting there like, “I’m not even in this industry. I don’t know!” It has been 4 years trying to figure out how to make money. They would give me little tips, but they never told me how to do it.

Jacqueline: Exactly. That’s really interesting because a lot of people are passionate about their ideas, their vision. It’s coming from their heart. Their product may do good for the world, but at the same time, there has to be a price. For example, you’re in a state where this app could help save lives, but should people pay for it? You have to get past that part of the conversation and say, “Who wants to sponsor it, back it, or have their name associated with it?” They have to know what value it brings to them. A lot of people, because of their passion and emotion around what they created, they don’t see the fact that investors are business people. They’re only going to give you their money if they think they’re going to get something back. They’re not trying to run charity. If you’re looking for charity, that’s another venue, but you’re competing with a whole lot of other people when it comes to charity. If you’re looking for something that is residual where you have income of some sort, that’s a whole lot of research you have to do.

Sharon: Absolutely. You have to be creative.

Tips From Sharon 2Jacqueline: There is one other tip that resonates, too. You said, “If you already have cash flow, if you have a track record or if you have real-world relavent experience, you have a better chance of getting an investor.” What’s in your experience?

Sharon: I had to build myself up to those areas. I didn’t have the money, so I had to figure out how to get the money. The experience in technology and being able to code wasn’t my field. I had to build myself up to fit the questions we’re talking about. I guess I’m appealing to the entrepreneur who does not always have the money, the experience, or the background. I did not have world experience in the industry. If I wanted to build a team, I had to build those areas up. That was challenging for me because I didn’t know anybody in technology, so I had to go out and find people. I had to go and make myself known. I had to seek these people out. Thank God for Social Media, because I used Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I use these platforms to talk to other people, to let them know what I’m doing, to ask questions and to get feedback. This is how I learn. I went out and got everything I needed. I sought these people out to bring them on board to my team. Before the end of the series, I will bring on my marketing director. He actually codes, and he’s in the process of helping me complete my team, as far as my company is concerned. The best thing to do is go out there and seek after what you need. Use Social Media to get that done.

Jacqueline: Absolutely. I like that last bit of advice, because even though you don’t have those 3, that just means you have to work on them. I can’t say it enough: you have to do the work. It takes time, but this isn’t for people who have weak knees. You have to be willing to stand by your idea. I can’t thank you enough, Sharon. I thank our listeners for joining us. I want to say hi to Dawn Majors who offers continuous support. I also want to say hi to Josephine Reed. Coming up very soon is the kickoff of the BDPA High School Computer Competition here in Atlanta. BDPA is also kicking off their national training for young people so that they can go to the National Computer Competition to win scholarships and laptops in Washington D.C. this summer. Stay tuned. We look forward to tweeting with you, Sharon, in our #techxochat. We look forward to the next show. You always bring it, and we always enjoy it. Remember to listen, learn, leverage, launch.

Go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/techexpressocafe/2015/02/20/startup-how-to-series-2-for-non-techie-and-newbie-creating-an-app to listen to the full interview with Sharon Simmons.

This interview was transcribed and edited by Anisah Muhammad. Anisah Muhammad is a 17-year old professional writer based in the Montgomery, AL area. She regularly writes for the Final Call Newspaper (finalcall.com) and she has published some pieces of poetry. To read more of her pieces, visit the website original7.wordpress.com.

Connect with Technology Expresso Cafe Radio:
http://www.technologyexpresso.com/
https://storify.com/techXOcafe
Twitter – @techXOmedia
Facebook – Technology Expresso – STEM Talk Radio & Information Cafe

Advertisements

One thought on “Advice from Sharon Simmons: How non-Techies can Make Connections and Appeal to Investors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s