In this half-hour episode, Corinna Bellizzi connects with fellow Bronco and MBA Candidate from Santa Clara University, Amit Jamuar to talk about the difficulties faced by great business leaders as they seek funding to grow their businesses. So very many great ideas stall simply because they lack the resources they need to scale. During this discussion they remained focused on the greater good, as ConexUp focuses their efforts on being the champion for founders, protecting their interests, educating them on the process of attaining VC funding and enabling their success – because every great idea deserves the funds it needs to succeed.
About Our Guest, Amit Jamuar: Amit Jamuar has a background in finance, cryptocurrency and venture capital. He founded ConexUp when he saw how few great ideas received the funding they needed to be successful in his work. ConexUp offers an alternative to the traditional VC world, providing a platform aimed at helping entrepreneurs navigate the sometimes murky waters of venture funding. Powered by machine learning, their service provides startups with the necessary tools and feedback needed to ensure successful fundraising while their team operates as a champion for the founder.
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Corinna Bellizzi: Hello fellow do-gooders and friends I’m your host Corinna Bellizzi, an activist and cause marketer who is passionate about social impact and sustainability. The guest I’ll introduce you to today is someone I’ve had the pleasure to get to know, during my studies at Santa Clara university, as I pursue my MBA. He’s even the party who introduced me to club house where you can find us to join weekly discussions on social impact and sustainability issues and an open and inclusive forum.
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So who is that fateful character I’ll introduce you to today none other than Amit Jamuar, CEO and co founder of ConexUp (pronounced connects up) a platform that ensures that entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world have equal access to the resources they need to succeed. His mission is to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and break down barriers to venture capital, he works with startup founders ensuring their success and helping to drive change and welcome to the show.
Amit Jamuar: Hey Corinna, thanks for having me.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now, as we open this discussion i’d like to invite you to tell the story of why and how you formed contacts up what led you to decide to pursue this path.
Amit Jamuar: I actually my background I come from, consulting and I also worked at an accelerator in San Francisco. And what we did was that we helped international and immigrant entrepreneurs kind of come to the Silicon Valley ecosystem and in that processes, it was my job to do outreach so I’ll speaking to founders from all over the world from all kinds of backgrounds. And they really love, what we have to offer, but they just couldn’t afford it, they didn’t have the resources to kind of pursue the best possible routes for them and for the businesses and I don’t know if something just didn’t sit right with me there, I felt like we in a world where there’s so many resources, and you know availability to. Just to grow right and if all those things are present for for founders then wired wireless so many barriers to access so that’s what we that’s what we decided to change and that’s why we started a company.
Corinna Bellizzi: I think I recall from some of our shared business classes that something like 5% if that of the pitches that go in front of VCs actually get funded is that consistent with what you found.
Amit Jamuar: Yeah yeah that’s what I’ve seen usually VCs kind of give just like fluff as feedback, you know they say oh yeah that sounds great send me a deck and then, if we get to that that’s that’s the brutal reality of situation.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah I think I’ve seen a couple of people working behind the scenes, have said things like Oh well, you know we might see 200 decks and really look closely at five of them. Which is a small home number, I mean you spend all this time, effort and energy, building a pitch that you hope will mean something and often just aren’t given the resources needed to grow, the brand so I love for our audience, to be able to personalize what you do a bit, is there a particular story of a company that you’ve been able to fund that you’d be able to share.
Amit Jamuar: yeah yeah sure so I was working with the company from from India and what he did he was using Ai to to kind of add value to a certain certain industry i’m not sure if he wants to be disclosing the exact details of his business, but he came from a pretty poor town with not a lot of not a lot of resources or anything like that he kind of put himself through school. And with this company, you know just bootstrapping right now just with his own money family and friends and I actually just met him a clubhouse. So it was super interesting like I heard a story, I heard everything and it sounded really you know really great, but he described to me is like you know we don’t have enough money right now to to kind of scale this and to take it to the next level. So I said that yeah let’s let’s connect offline let’s be further, and so we hopped on a zoom call and we were talking about what we can do to help him. And I realized that I know, an investor who’s investing in exactly you know people like him underrepresented founders who don’t have access to capital and. I was able to set up a meeting between the two and yeah you know they’re they’re going from there, so he may be able to close the next round and take this company to the next level so that was really awesome for me to.
Corinna Bellizzi: Is there a particular reason that that story stands out to you, is it just how it came to you or the type of work that they’re doing.
Amit Jamuar: Yeah it’s because I’m so my family also is from India, and we are you know we weren’t always. We didn’t always have so many. You know luxury isn’t it like that we’d like we do here in the US and my my grandfather’s they came from on both sides, they came from small villages, they worked hard to get here right for me to even go to school of Santa Clara university if it wasn’t for their hard work early on, I wouldn’t have made it. And just the way he was describing a story it just kind of resonated with me that you know he’s in that process right now he’s working hard for for his family right, so that it just really hit home, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help them.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now, coming from the world of working in this kind of VC dominated world, you could have chosen to go kind of more the traditional route and you know kind of this almost banking perspective, but it seems like you’re taking a step away from that because you really care and you want to see companies that might not otherwise get capital succeed. So, can you talk about your decision to do that, and you know, ultimately, how you intend, or how you believe that this will have an impact, towards change, particularly in the Silicon Valley.
Amit Jamuar: yeah um, so I think within vc there’s obviously like a lot of people get into it just to make money and that’s fine they’re doing their own thing but, for me, I just thought that. With there’s just so much power in the hands of investors right that, why not we distribute a little bit about power to founders who need it to founders, who are actually trying to drive change and make lives, a little bit better right so so I thought that.
Amit Jamuar: I want to do something meaningful with my with my life, and I want to have impact more than just closing a regular around lunch big tech company actually giving resources to two founders who do anything just to get to Silicon Valley and I don’t know like I just think that actually having that kind of meaningful impact has inspired me to to just work hard on this and do whatever I can to to ensure that. You know we’re leveling the playing field here at catch up and that we just break down as many barriers as we can.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah well, I think you just revealed to me that I mispronounced your company name. I said CON-ex UP like it’s convention or tradeshow or something like. that no, you said connects like “to connect.” All right now, did I butcher your last name as well? .
Amit Jamuar: Am-IT Jam-wahr, I think you got that right.
Corinna Bellizzi: Okay, it was close you know somewhat. You know there are many accelerator programs and VCs out there, as you spoke about this a little bit I’m not 100% clear on how it is that your company is different from what other resources might be available and how you are, you know, giving resources, when you say to the founder I just like to know how it works how it’s different, and you know how it might be similar.
Amit Jamuar: yeah so so a lot of traditional accelerator programs they they either charge pretty high tuition fees or they want a significant amount of equity from the from the dollar, so we do neither nudity both it’s pretty it’s pretty simple digital industry free for anybody to join to get resources and access to capital and if they want more of like a deeper dive and one on one consulting, then we have a super low monthly subscription fee we just felt that that would be easiest for for our target market. In terms of resources, we have a mentorship network and our mentors come from a variety of different backgrounds from growth marketing to. Technical consulting to legal backgrounds and so we’re trying to address as many different topics as we can, at a very low cost. So that’s kind of our mission and we feel like we can do that pretty effectively without charging 10s of thousands of dollars or taking 10 to 15% away from their company.
Corinna Bellizzi: So if I’m hearing you right, it sounds like you connect these founders to the resources they need and you’re not taking equity from them, so is your firm essentially investing in them, or is that outside of the services that you offer.
Amit Jamuar: So we don’t directly invest we kind of recommend them to the right investors that would be a good match for them are on both ends, so we want to make sure they’re good fit for each other.
Corinna Bellizzi: That makes sense to me so if you happened to find a. company that was in the natural food space that had developed some new way to make a protein, but they needed investment from outside, you could connect them up with an investor that was passionate about that space as a for instance.
Amit Jamuar: Exactly yeah.
Corinna Bellizzi: Do you do most of your work in the technology space?
Amit Jamuar: Early on, it was mostly in tech, but now we’ve you know we’ve had companies in real estate in health care. You know, all kinds of different industries, but just because we want to keep it as open as we can. Yes, we’ve been able to meet a lot of interesting people with a lot of it shoots and causes.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, I could imagine, as you get an influx of other potential suitors that might need some support some other founders. That the matching may get increasingly difficult to do with time, so are you able to automate any of this presently Are there plans to do that.
Amit Jamuar: yeah yeah so that’s um that was one of the main things that we we felt like we add value in because right now, a lot of the processes in venture capital are kind of manual you know just having to look through thousands of pitch decks and business plans but we’re applying machine learning to that so we’re using artificial intelligence to identify a more sophisticated and streamlined way of you know matching these two parties and also providing the best kind of feedback to the companies, so a lot of it is automated.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now, as you develop the company connects up are you in particular, looking towards social causes that you’d like to see succeed, are you essentially putting your company out there to particular industries that are affecting social change or affect sustainability in any way.
Amit Jamuar: I’ve always had a soft spot for for those who are working towards on you know, tackling climate change that that’s always been a big one for me, ever since high school. So anyway, if I ever see a company who’s doing that I I know investors who are super super passionate about that, so I just you know recommend them to them and yeah so that’s kind of like that’s my niche I guess. I always look out for things like that, but at any kind of cause in general is really important to me as long as it is changing people’s lives and bringing something good into the world so so yeah so i’m just i’m just happy to facilitate whatever I can.
Corinna Bellizzi: And that’s really cool so as it stands, then, would you say that you’ve kind of woven into the fabric of the company like is there, I don’t even know if you have specific values that you’re championing as you continue to grow, or a specific cause that you’re working to get behind.
Amit Jamuar: Oh, my I guess our our overall cause is really to to to bring back power to the hands of founders and that’s where it should be, not in the hands of investors, not in the hands of anybody else, but if we give the resources to to founders, and they have everything that they need to change the world so that’s what we’re that’s our overarching cause. And that’s what we’re hoping to achieve.
Corinna Bellizzi: Yeah well, I think that changes the dynamic and the playing field of what has been traditional least in the last several years, I mean I worked for a company Nordic Naturals that we worked to grow really quickly and we’re able to do so, growing from you know less than a million in revenues a year to over 100 million over the course of about a decade and doing that purely organically, because the CEO really didn’t like the idea of working with a VC. He didn’t want to relinquish control and he didn’t want to see the company change in a particular way that would alter the trajectory or course of the company. He wanted to build a company that could last 150 years that was what he always said, you know it’s something that he could pass on to his kids and that his children’s children might even you know work to champion and a couple of generations down the road right.
Amit Jamuar: mm hmm.
Corinna Bellizzi: So I’m curious to see if you would be able to share what the road would look like to you let’s say five years down the road you’ve been at this for a while you may have improved systems, you may have had some measurable impact in the Silicon Valley, but where would you see this in five years, what would success look like to you.
Amit Jamuar: I’ve always been a bit of an idealist so my answer might be a bit far fetched but in five years to me we’re hoping to raise our own fund, so all the VCs that we have in our network right now we’re hoping to kind of transition them into more of a limited partner role and we’ve kind of pulled in money together to form our own fund and make all the investments myself so I’m hoping that this would be the kind of one stop shop at any kind of founder would go to for growth services technical consulting investments anything like that and honestly, a lot of VCs have talked to me about possible acquisitions and exits but I’m not thinking that way I want this to stay our company, and we want to run it our way and that’s that’s I think kind of aligns with what you were saying to just because you don’t want outside influence changing like the integrity of what we’re building so we’re hoping that his does change the venture capital, space and bring a lot more positive light to it because that’s how it should be where we’re trying to help entrepreneurs and hopefully we can do so.
Corinna Bellizzi: I think you’re on the path for that the reality is that you know funding a company has always seemed somewhat impersonal and I think that what you’re doing is essentially trying to add a level of personal to the process and even a little bit of accountability where presently it seems like there’s such a disconnect between founders who seek to gain the resources they need, and then of course the funders the vcs, who are often really just looking at it, as what can I get out at the end and, what is this going to be worth in three years. So the question that arises for me, as I think about this is how is it going to be different to the founder that is able to be matched to your service. When it comes to that sort of negotiation, because I would imagine that the VCs, on the other side are still looking for the return on their investment over the course of a few years and they’re still looking for a percent and the company or a stake in the company So could you walk me through what’s different there, or if there is a difference.
Amit Jamuar: yeah so so we, so we do, that the the vcs that we work with and the mentors that we work with just to make sure they’re aligned with what we’re building as well. And in venture capital there’s also a term called vulture capitalists right and we don’t work with them.
Corinna Bellizzi: They’re just… sorry what was that term I didn’t know that term…
Amit Jamuar: vulture capitalist.
Corinna Bellizzi: Oh vulture okay i’m sorry.
Amit Jamuar: To hear that right? Yeah and we don’t want to work with. You know, with those guys who just want to like just purely multiply their returns. So, so the investors that we are working with do care about the founders and they’re often founders themselves so that really helps. At least, it’s helped so far in which that they can really negotiate really friendly term sheets and not take away too much equity or even if they do take away equity they don’t take way too many voting rights, so the fact the power is still in the hands of the you know the founders, and the founding team and that’s why we that’s when we come in, we make sure that they’re getting a good deal. And as we move forward if we have our own fun we’re not going to be in their face, or just after the right guidance and mentorship.
Corinna Bellizzi: I think you just revealed the gem of what you do and that is that you are essentially the gatekeeper or the support or the advice center to say, this is a good deal or, this is not a good deal and you know HEY, you could perhaps negotiate this piece, and maybe you get preferred stock as you’re protected asset, as opposed to just getting general share something to that effect right.
Amit Jamuar: Right right.
Corinna Bellizzi: I think so often, especially when a founder is exploring their funding needs for the first time around. They may not even really speak the language right. They may not know how to protect themselves, or what can be negotiated and they may even consider that. If they were to push on one particular thing that the opportunity to be funded could simply dissipate and given the experience that you’ve had working in this space and having seen multiple fundings go through successfully you could give them that advice right.
Amit Jamuar: Exactly yeah and yeah no no that’s absolutely right and there’s even like groups cofounders helping founders right because it’s all about educating them then letting them know what they can do better, and what to avoid.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well okay so let’s talk about Clubhouse for a moment, because, I got introduced to the platform through you. It’s your fault! And I had sworn off apple iOS devices… So this was a big ask for me, but I went out and got an iPad because I can use the tablet for other things to do and I’m just beginning to really play in the space, I would call myself a lawyer, but by the time that this podcast launches I will have had at least a few sessions that I’ve hosted as well. So let’s talk about how you’re connecting with potential founders on the Clubhouse APP and what that looks like to you how people can reach you.
Amit Jamuar: yeah so it kind of just started with joining a bunch of these rooms like like founders helping founders and then pitcher startup to VCs and investors and I was on the other side, so I was pitching my startup and what we’re doing to these guys and then slowly slowly I started meeting more people taking some meetings offline and now I’m kind of, on the other side of the table listening in and the startup founders are pitching to us, so I you know if I if I see a good fit and if I see where I could help them out, I say “hey you know I really like what you’re doing let’s let’s talk more offline,” and you know we set up a meeting as soon as we can and we go from there, but, and now I even host my own rooms, with the CONNECT club club and we we try to help educate startups and let them know that you know they’re not in this alone there are ways that they can effectively week circles, without you know struggling so much and paying enormous fees so that’s what we’re that’s what using club us to to do.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, well, I can see it’s a burgeoning platform and i’ve personally been following a lot of the discussions around. supportive the API community after the travesty in Atlanta, just a few weeks ago and really just trying to get a handle on what conversations, people are having like what matters to them. So, as I launched my own little page their care more be better without the final. I am looking at really just having more in depth conversations with people about the things that matter to them, so I can seek great guests, to share what they’re doing into the world and really work to amplify the effects of good work that’s already being done so, when I think about connects up after this conversation I think I would summarize it as being a service that supports entrepreneurs and their whole path towards getting the funds I need to grow. And I don’t know if that’s what you would call that summary but I’d love for you to to give some closing thoughts on, you know how would you describe this to somebody who’d never heard about it that maybe didn’t have a clear understanding of the VC world either.
Amit Jamuar: Yeah well you know I think your descriptions of us throughout this whole talk of in part to kind you know I never think of us like that, but we’re just you know we’re just the people you can that entrepreneurs can rely on to help them. You know we’re on their side we’re here to help in any way that we can and provide value to them so that they don’t… essentially, that they don’t suffer or get you know bad deals like that, but to kind of simplify it I guess we would say that we are VCs on the founder side so that’s a hopefully the simplest way I can put it.
Corinna Bellizzi: hmm well I like that description. And I also, I think I had heard the term vulture capitalists before but for some reason it was just so far from my brain and talking to you, I think, perhaps because that is the furthest from how I personally see you so you know I’ve heard you in these rooms talking to people who are looking for capital. We’ve had conversations through our MBA courses and you are one of the most thoughtful people I’ve encountered there, and so I just appreciate the opportunity to bring you on and tell this little story. My hope is that somebody in our audience is trying to find funding for their great idea that is going to put more social good into the world or that supports sustainability in some way. And that they’ll reach out to you through many of the many channels, maybe even on clubhouse to have a conversation with your team and get the support they need to further their business, their great idea, to this next step, so that they can have more success so if we’re able to do that one thing with this show we’ve really done something right.
Amit Jamuar: Absolutely absolutely yeah it’s always a pleasure working with you. And if we’re able to impact the life would be one person okay awesome.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, I will see you on clubhouse I have a few words in closing, but if there’s anything else you would like to say before we wrap up, I am, you have the floor.
Amit Jamuar: um yeah I know this was it was awesome to talk about this and to honestly hear from your perspective also like what we’re doing, because that really inspires me to continue working harder and putting in late hours and building the best possible platform that we can for people and see, so thank you for that. And I just hope that we’re able to continue helping people and really, you know, really make an impact.
Corinna Bellizzi: You know one foot in front of the other. It takes a legion, a community.
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