How do you raise money for a Washington restaurant-related business?
Here’s the recipe:
If you’re an uber-connected man-about-town named Winston Bao Lord, who can drive traffic to a new bar just by showing up with his entourage, you tap the 5,300 contacts in your Microsoft Outlook application.
Call Chris Tavlarides of Capital Outdoor, one of the biggest outdoor advertising companies in the region. Ring up Geoff Dawson, owner of several of Washington’s hottest hangouts, including Buffalo Billiards and Rocket Bar.
If you’re wealthy and well known like Reg (Regina) Stettinius, you dial up on your iPhone the 1,000 or so moguls, foodies and Washington media types who helped you raise $1 million for autism. Pitch tech mogul David Steinberg, who made a killing on several software companies. Bring in Jimmy Reyes, whose family owns one of the area’s biggest beer distributorships and is a member of one of the wealthiest clans in the country.
Lord and Stettinius are two of the most well-connected young people in town, equally comfortable pursuing deals with the new-money tech crowd as they are with old-moneyed Georgetown gentility.
Both drew on those connections to raise money and brainpower for Venga, their new online restaurant site. The investments from friends and family range from $10,000 to $100,000, pulling in about $300,000 in seed cash to help the founders get their business in gear.
Stettinius and Lord added a third partner, Sam von Pollaro, who made numerous contacts with the rich and powerful while working in the investment office for a wealthy Washington family. Von Pollaro and Lord also worked together at Portfolio Logic, the Jeff Zients-run investment firm at the Watergate complex.
Not every pitch has gone over successfully.
Venga’s presentation to a group of angel investors assembled by the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship has so far failed to yield a commitment.
“This is the type of technology that will require more proof from the product launch,” said Elana Fine, director of venture investments at Dingman, who coached Venga’s founders on their investor pitch. “Venga will need to show proof that restaurants will invest in and use this technology before the angels agree to come on board. The bar is always higher when it comes to getting money from people who aren’t your friends and family.”
The threesome’s cache has brought on board a cross section of restaurant chefs (Geoff Tracy), restaurant entrepreneurs (Dawson, Rob Wilder, Spike Mendelsohn) , tech experts (Steinberg), advertising mavens (Tavlarides) and money (real estate investor Arthur Santry). More money (New York attorney Andrew Levinson). And more money (restaurant investor Mark Handwerger).
“We drew on the people we knew would have appetites for the potential in this deal,” Stettinius said. “That includes people already in this business, successful entrepreneurs, neighbors, friends and families.”
Stettinius’s husband is the grandson of Edward R. Stettinius, one-time chairman of U.S. Steel and a secretary of state under Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Stettinius helped found the United Nations.
She serves on the board of the Washington International Horse Show, where she took the lead in forming a partnership that raised $1 million for Autism Speaks.
“It’s an upscale, rarified crowd,” she said, referring to the horse show. Her iPhone contacts includes White House insiders like Lisa Brown. She carpools with media heavyweights like George Stephanopoulos. The Stettiniuses sail with Santry, another investor and long-time friend and business colleague of Joe Stettinius.
The connections go on and on. The Venga founders even tapped food blogger Amanda McClements to join their advisory team.
VonPollaro’s wife, Sarah, who owns a flower subscription serviced called HBloom, found deep pockets in New York City.
“I went to college with Sam’s wife,” said Andrew Levinson, a New York real estate attorney who does work for, and invests in, early-stage businesses. “Sam asked me to look over his business plan and help him out. I gave him some pointers on it, and I said, ‘Can I get some money together?’ ”
Levinson put in less than $100,000, he said.
Lord’s father was ambassador to China under President Reagan. His mother is best-selling author Bette Bao Lord. Lord also belongs to Yale’s secretive Scroll and Key society. A native Washingtonian, he served as executive director for the Fred Malek/Jeff Zients investment team that helped bring baseball to Washington.
Malek is a local private-equity investor. Zients is chief performance officer for the Obama administration. Zients is also a local investor in Posto, the Italian restaurant on 14th Street NW.
Lord’s network was the deciding factor for some investors.
“Winston has a significant Rolodex in Washington, D.C.,” Tavlarides said. “We thought he could get Venga from zero to 60 very fast and in various multiple locations. That is critical to Venga’s success.”