#SWAAYthenarrative
Photo Courtesy of Janine Sickmeyer

82 VC Rejections Later, This Mompreneur’s Startup Was Acquired By Fastcase

4min read
Business

If you're someone, like myself, who loves to follow inspirational pages on Instagram then you have definitely seen countless quotes about a very uncomfortable topic– failure.


It's almost as if you're reading the same thing over and over again, but written differently every time. The ole "failure makes you stronger" and "rejection is just the Universe redirecting you." While these quotes are inspiring in the moment, when we actually experience failure in our real lives, we quickly find ourselves ready to throw in the towel and give it all up. However, for one entrepreneur, no amount of rejection or failure were enough to dissuade her from accomplishing her goal of establishing a successful legal startup.

In an interview with SWAAY, mompreneur Janine Sickmeyer talked about her experience in turning her disappointment into determination to build her business from the ground up. She began her career in the legal industry as a bankruptcy paralegal for a law firm in Columbus, Ohio. Over a period of time, Sickmeyer began craving the flexibility that came with being her own boss and later started her own virtual paralegal firm where she prepared bankruptcy documents online for attorneys all over the country. With over a decade of experience working in the legal industry, Sickmeyer realized there was room for a more efficient and intuitive way to meet the needs of her clients and legal professionals that the current, yet antiquated, methods were incapable of doing.

In 2015, Sickmeyer founded NextChapter, a cloud-based web application that allows bankruptcy attorneys to prepare, manage and electronically file bankruptcy cases. With an innovative and unquestionably game changing idea in her midst, Sickmeyer was hopeful that she and her co-founders would successfully build a platform that would receive a positive response from VCs and ultimately lead to funding. However, her reality appeared to be far from that of her expectations.

With little technical experience, Sickmeyer entrusted the CTO position to her then co-founder who took the reins in coding the application. Understanding the difficulties building this platform entailed prompted Sickmeyer to offer as much help as she possibly could despite not being a technical founder. However, her string of seemingly endless bad luck began when her co-founder unexpectedly left the position after realizing how challenging their goal had become. When her second co-founder left, Sickmeyer was taken aback feeling lost and alone. "I took a few days to really process what was happening. That's when I decided I would start learning to code – I would become a technical founder. Because after going through it twice, I knew I couldn't allow myself to depend on someone else to make it happen, said Sickmeyer.

Taking full ownership of bringing her idea to life, she teamed up with developers to work part time and for equity as she taught herself how to code— all while pregnant with her first daughter. With her newfound technical knowledge, she was then able to set realistic development goals such as timelines and tangible product features for the app. Despite things looking up for the CEO, Sickmeyer encountered countless hurdles in her efforts to get funding. After pitching VCs 82 times, she was met with rejection each and every time "Many investors decided to pass on NextChapter because it was too niche. At the time, NextChapter was only built out for bankruptcy law, and investors saw the market potential as too small," stated Sickmeyer. Unfortunately, being too niche was not the only issue investors had with the entrepreneur.

To no surprise, legal and tech industries are male-dominated fields which bring with them their own unique set of challenges to female entrepreneurs who aspire to become leaders alongside their male counterparts. For Sickmeyer, her gender played an unquestionable role in her failed efforts to receive funding. While she admits that these fields have become far more diverse and inclusive of female founders, her initial experience was less welcoming than it is today. "Many times, I felt like no one took me or my company seriously because of my gender. Instead of really listening to me, they would look at the size of my wedding ring or ask me inappropriate questions," said the founder. Despite struggling to navigate the relentless cycling of pitching to different VCs, Sickmeyer eventually self-funded her business without ever accepting any outside funding.

While Sickmeyer's achievements are inspiring, to say the least, her most impressive feat has been overcoming obstacles while raising a family. Just weeks before the launch of NextChapter, she gave birth to her first daughter. Sickmeyer also bore three more children, two of which were twins. As any parent can attest to, taking care of a family is a mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting job, but despite the uncertainty of NextChapter's future, Sickmeyer never allowed her fear of being unable to provide stop her from pursuing her goals, in fact, she was able to reinvigorate those feelings of joy that her work and motherhood gave her. "I found ways to streamline my life and outsource things that don't bring me joy. I don't want to spend my time doing yard work or going grocery shopping. Instead, I'd rather be playing make-believe with my 4 children or working on growing NextChapter," said the mompreneur. Following her passions while making time for what mattered most to her fueled her drive to persevere in spite of her tumultuous entrepreneurial journey.

After losing co-founders, failing to receive funding and being worn down by sexism in a field she aspired to innovate, the tech CEO remained passionate and driven to bring her application to the legal industry. Today, Sickmeyer revels in knowing her hard work and dedication paid off as her beloved company, NextChapter, has been acquired by leading legal publisher, Fastcase. Looking back, Sickmeyer has no regrets about jumping right into the world of entrepreneurship and offers aspiring mompreneurs a little piece of advice.

"Just start up! Sometimes the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is just taking the leap and deciding to go for it. You are more than capable; believe in yourself and have confidence. I have a blog and podcast where I share actionable tips, including how to find a product-market fit, managing a team and more."

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.