(Editor’s note: Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank is the author of Four Steps to the Epiphany. This column originally appeared on his blog.)

I joined the board of Cafepress.com when it was a startup. It was amazing to see the two founders, Fred Durham and Maheesh Jain, build a $100 million company from coffee cups and T-shirts.

But Cafepress’s most memorable moment was when the founders used a “Lessons Learned” VC pitch to raise their second round of funding and got an 8-digit term sheet that same afternoon.

Here’s how they did it:

Fred and Maheesh had started 9 previous companies in 6 years.  Their motto was: “Fail fast and cheap. And learn from it.” Cafepress literally started in their garage and was another set of experiments only this time it caught fire.  They couldn’t keep up with the orders.

The company got to a point where additional capital was needed to expand just to keep up with the business (a warehouse/shipping center collocated with UPS, etc.) Rather than a traditional VC pitch I suggested that they do something unconventional and tell the story of their journey in Customer Discovery and Validation. The heart of the Cafepress presentation is the “Lessons Learned from our Customers section.

Their presentation looked like this:

  • Market/Opportunity
  • Lessons Learned Slide 1
  • Lessons Learned Slide 2
  • Lessons Learned Slide 3
  • Why We’re Here

cafepress-sequioa-pitch-1

Telling the Cafepress Customer Discovery and Customer Validation story allowed Fred and Maheesh to take the VC’s on their journey year by year.

cafepress-sequioa-pitch-2

After these slides, these VC’s recognized that this company had dramatically reduced risk and built a startup that was agile, resilient and customer-centric.

cafepress-sequioa-pitch-3

The presentation didn’t have a single word about Lean Startups or Customer Development. There was no proselytizing about any particular methodology, yet the results are compelling.

The VC firm delivered a term sheet for an 8-digit second round that afternoon.

Your results may vary.

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