How two college friends convinced Serena Williams to support their business

It wasn’t long before Alex Rose and Sam Browne attracted investment from tennis star Serena Williams and Olympic champion Usain Bolt for their Let’s Do This sports booking platform.

This despite the fact that none of them had a background in technology, unlike many founders of start-ups in the space.

Usually the story goes that a tech company was “founded by two computer scientists, who write the code themselves and live on noodles for months, and Sam and I are not computer scientists,” Rose told CNBC. in a video interview.

Rose, 31, and Browne, 29, created Let’s Do This in July 2017. They say it’s the world’s largest market for mass sports, with 15,000 events, such as marathons and triathlons , listed on the platform.

That’s quite a feat for a company that has only been around for just over four years, especially since the coronavirus pandemic has crippled group sporting events.

The company really started to take off after the two co-founders, along with six members of their team, moved to Palo Alto, Calif., In 2018 to participate in the prestigious Y Combinator Startup Accelerator Program. . Y Combinator has been the launching pad for big tech companies like Airbnb and Reddit.

While in California, they contacted Pete Flint, who is the general partner of venture capital firm NFX. He is perhaps best known for being the co-founder of the online real estate marketplace Trulia, which was bought by competitor Zillow in 2015.

NFX then led a $ 5 million seed funding round in Let’s Do This in August 2018. Williams and Bolt also invested in the seed funding round.

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who is married to tennis legend Williams, contacted the founders during the Y Combinator program. At the time, Rose said he and Browne couldn’t believe they had been contacted by “one of the program’s most famous and connected alumni.”

Rose and Browne then sought an introduction from Williams, who had started her own venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014.

As for Bolt’s membership, Browne went to the opening of the Olympic gold medalist’s bar in London and persuaded him to have dinner so the entrepreneur could present Let’s Do This.

“So, yeah, a real example of sort of pushing your way to the right investor meeting,” Rose said.

Since Rose and Browne created Let’s Do This, the company has raised just over $ 31 million.

“Naivety and overconfidence”

Rose and Browne had known each other since childhood. They became good friends while studying at one of the UK’s top colleges, the University of Cambridge, where Rose studied chemical engineering and management, while Browne earned a degree in theology, philosophy and psychology.

Both were actively involved in college sport. In fact, Browne co-founded the adventure travel company IGO Adventures, where he worked when they created Let’s Do This. Rose was working as a partner at the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman at the time.

The idea for Let’s Do This grew out of a conversation the couple had at the pub about the difficulty of finding and registering for races. So they set up their unique platform to tackle this problem.

Rose admitted that they probably started the business with a “combination of naivety and overconfidence.”

Looking back, he said that “if we knew what we now know about the obstacles you have to overcome to start a business, I wonder if we would have quit our jobs to do so.”

However, he also said that the launch of the business came at a time when he knew he “really hated” the job he was in, so the obstacles to starting a business did not appear. so “terrifying, as the alternative continued with a job I had somewhat fallen in love with.”

Prior to participating in the Y Combinator program, Rose and Browne raised £ 150,000 ($ 205,248) from a network of angel investors, who were mostly amateur athletes, with whom they had come into contact through the intermediary of friends, in order to cover the initial start-up. up to cost. Angel investors are usually wealthy people who support start-ups.

Entrepreneurs soon realized, however, that this money would not be enough to cover the costs of hiring the software engineers they needed to build the platform. So they raised an additional £ 1million, mostly from the same group of investors.

However, Rose said they must have talked to a lot of people before they found any interested investors.

“But if you can find an issue that people are passionate about, then there are always people who are willing to support exciting ideas,” he added.

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