PBC Spotlight Q&A with Rae Lietzau
If you don’t know Rae, you should. Her energy is infectious. Her ideas amazing and her ability to rap like a boss is unforgettable! Rae won the Denver 2018 PBC pitch competition using that rap skill. She’s a former Marine and the founder of DoWhop (that’s Do With Other People). DoWhop is a peer-to-peer marketplace where people buy and sell in-person experiences. She’s shared some great wisdom and thoughts about being an entrepreneur, failing, and believing in her ideas! Read on PBC’ers!
1) Ok, where did you get the idea to rap the pitch!? (PS: It was SO freakin’ awesome!)
Before flying to Denver I entered Founders Fight Club - the finale event for our Startup Week. In this competition approved founders are paired up for three pitch face-offs. It just so happens that the opener to the competition was Ashok Kamal, the founder of https://schoolofrapofficial.com/. I honestly wasn’t sure if other people would rap (no, they did not) so I spent the 3 hours preceding this show down pacing around and listening to Fresh Prince of Bel-air and making things up to match the lyrics. I wrote two raps that day and was happy to say I won the competition! So the night before our pitch in PBC I decided to rewrite the fan favorite a bit to fit in Veterans and highlight a few more of our favorite DoWhoppers.
Tell me about the moment you realized your idea could work and you could really DO THIS entrepreneur thing!
I was actually still in the Marine Corps when I bought the domain name DoWhop.com. One Thursday after another late night of work I’d had enough. I got in my car and drove north with a bag of gym clothes and enough angst to keep me going through the night. I booked a couch on couchsurfing and decided to join something called “Startup Weekend” set in Silicon Valley. Name tag options were “business developer, developer, or designer.” I felt incredibly unqualified for all, but I rolled with the business option. The way the weekend works, you pitch and if people like your idea they vote for you to compete that weekend. I pitched an idea for the platform that connects people to do things (early DoWhop). That first pitch failed. Miserably. But damn I loved the feeling of just going for it!
That weekend I worked for someone else’s team and had a blast. I felt like I was able to contribute, and perhaps most importantly learned that in this startup world we’re all kind of on even footing. You simply don’t know what can work until you meet your customers! From that realization on, being an entrepreneur was not a choice. It was just a question of when I would take the leap.
What's been the thing that keeps you going when the wall of NO or other things get you down?
I suppose on a foundational level, the thing that always keeps me going is that I truly believe DoWhop needs to exist. I think we’ve seen enough develop in the past few years to know that someone will build this. We believe it’s us! My team has been so important in keeping me going, and so have my customers. When I’m well past my threshold of NOs for the day I try to remember why we build this and who we’ve helped. I keep photos of team members and customers on the walls of our office. All are great motivation everyday.
I’ve also learned that part of getting outside of my comfort zone is becoming aggressive in pursuing failures. Trying, failing, and learning are part of everyday. Failures are not NOs. They’re hints at hacks that make you better!
On a personal level when I need to get a way I take short backpacking trips (like Jamaica in December for 4 days) and I do three of my favorite DoWhops. I play saxophone, race sailboats, and fly hot air balloons! All are a great way to unplug.
Tell me what about what you are proud of when it comes to running your own business?
We connect people. I always have. Being a connector is who I am. DoWhop is just my way of leveraging technology to help people Do (what they love to do) With Other People (aka DoWhop). That feeling when we help someone do something with someone that they would not have otherwise met - that’s why I wake up in the morning.
Many of the moments I’m most proud of with DoWhop are from our popup dinners. Every few weeks we connect a chef (anyone who wants to share their cuisine and culture) with 15 strangers for a home-cooked meal in a DoWhoppers home. These dinners, called Dine with DoWhop, let us differentiate between service and experiences. Rather than having a chef cook FOR us, we have a guest of honor DoWhopper cook and eat WITH us. I hosted the first of these dinners myself which means I’ve had more than 150 DoWhoppers in my home. I’m so proud that we’ve been able to have people step outside of their comfort zone to share the recipes, stories, and culture that make them who they are. One connection at a time we’re replacing yesterday’s service economy with tomorrow’s experience economy.
What's happened since PBC Denver and how that weekend helped you?
By far the hardest part of being a founder, especially a solo founder, is being alone. Over the last three years I’ve had countless late nights alone in an empty office. PBC gave me a place to belong, and a community of hustlers to remind each other we’re not isolated. It’s been years since I worked alongside military or veterans. Having my military life and civilian life overlap meant so much to me!
Since PBC I’ve met alumni in San Diego, Denver and DC. Having a hustling, supportive, relentless community is by far the most important resource I’ve needed. The mentors were great, the organizers were authentic and clearly wanted us to succeed. Above all, everyone was welcoming and familiar. I’d love to see this grow into the type of network that builds new ecosystems and ventures.
As for the business we’ve been talking loosely to Arlan Hamilton’s deal flow team! We got to see her in Silicon Valley a few weeks ago and were told to reach backout in May. We’ve rebuilt the entire web app from the ground up and are getting ready to relaunch as a partner for a large 600 person event next Wednesday. We’ve coordinated several hundred more activities and grown our user base. We were recognized on ABC 10… rapping actually! I was so amazed by how well received the pitch was in Denver that I went on to use it in SoCal’s biggest competition. We built a few partnerships with local businesses where we help run larger activities and events throughout the city to grow awareness. We’ve beta tested a new training series where we help entrepreneurs share their passions and find ways to make better small group experiences around what they love to do. And finally we’re heading to an Angel Conference today (fingers crossed!) to begin raising our seed round of funding.
I really can’t thank you all enough for this boot camp. It’s exactly what I needed to feel like I’d found my place in the startup world. This is so needed. I look forward helping more veterans connect with their people in the future!
Check out DoWhop on Insta: https://www.instagram.com/dowhopdo/