Startup Diaries: What I Learned at 500 Startups

Yesterday my friend and fellow first time entrepreneur told me "since returning from 500 Startups you are much more arrogant, but you needed it."

It was just last year that I introduced myself to the startup community with my humble idea to connect tea growers with tea lovers at Startup Weekend, far from arrogant. Within 5 months I hustled my way into the world famous accelerator 500 Startups.

Towards the end of the program during our first pitch practice George Kellerman, 500 Startups Venture Partner, critiqued my pitch by saying "Your problem is that you're not confident!" I almost broke down in tears. It took another 3 weeks of pitch practice and numerous investor meetings for me to realize that George was right.

The key to my business's success was having confidence that I am building an extremely profitable business.

How was I not confident? I beat the odds to be selected into such a prestigious program and have acquired over 500 customers from 25 countries! The problem wasn't my confidence in execution, but my confidence in myself. George and the rest of the room heard the business plan, execution, and unit economics in my pitch but what they missed was the sense of urgency that I was building a profitable business.

Perhaps it is one of the handicaps of being a social entrepreneur. When you are building business for the community you can often get consumed with the collaborative nature of your work and forget that investors want to learn why you are the one to make it happen. In the competitive Silicon Valley entrepreneur scene everyone has confidence that their business is the best in the world, but my focus has never been on me but on the community around the business (as I mentioned in my first Startup Diary).

Before I stood up nervously in front of the Startup Weekend crowd the night I became an entrepreneur I was fresh from the world of international development.

As a Peace Corps volunteer I never imagined that I would be pitching to investors, especially the likes of 500 Startups. The four months I spent among a cohort of some of the world's best entrepreneurs mentored by the best of Silicon Valley was definitely a crash course. My peers were determined and supportive, and convincing investors to give them large sums of money (Compstak raised $5.5M!!!). I never felt inferior among my group, but I did feel that I was way over my head convincing investors that they should put money in my humble mission-driven idea.

McClure, the face of 500 Startups, is probably one of the most confident people in Silicon Valley. He's so much in touch with his confidence that he regularly uses the hashtag #humblebrag on Twitter and has said in public that he is arrogant but he can back it up. As Dave became a mentor of mine I was surprised by his behavior but learned quickly that it is his confidence that got him to where he is. Although his methods are unusual and he is a self-titled troublemaker he has built one of the strongest communities in the tech world (#500strong). Being a part of this community has introduced me to a whole new world, but I am thankful for it because it has made me a strong entrepreneur.

Confidence is not about thinking you are the best, it's about passionately following your heart while understanding your place in the world.

I am still proud of my humility but I am also proud about the business that I have built. Dave Mcclure and George Kellerman, two mentors that have made me feel the most uncomfortable, have taught me the most valuable lesson so far. It wasn't a lesson about online marketing or business metrics but about understanding the problem you are solving as an entrepreneur and expressing your confidence and urgency. Tealet is the next great tea business of the world and any investor is foolish to not get involved now. If you are interested in learning more about my company you can visit

You can watch Elyse's pitch here:

Elyse Petersen is the Founder of Tealet, a startup which connects tea growers and tea drinkers, delivering tea direct from the grower to the customer's door. To find out more about Elyse, see her profile. 

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