Shannon Gilleland on being Pronto Bottle's founder
When you have a baby, nothing really goes to plan. And nothing can prepare you for how many extra chores you’ll have, like washing and sterilising baby bottles. It’s work you just don’t need when you could be catching up on sleep or doing something for yourself.
Pronto Bottle – the world’s first self-sterilising baby bottle – is set to change all that.
As one of our bookkeeping clients, we had the pleasure of asking co-founder Shannon Gilleland about her startup story so far, and where Pronto is headed.
1. Let’s start with your elevator pitch
Sure, I have a few. Here’s one of them: “Pronto Bottle is providing a safer bottle-feeding experience for babies globally and at the same time, freeing the time and hands of parents, worldwide.”
2. Rewind: What did you do before Pronto?
Lots of things! Originally, I studied animation at Qantm, which gave me a vast background in 3D and has been good for product development. That evolved into having my own indie games studio with a fellow founder. After a few years, I went and worked for Electronic Arts – a global games studio – where I continued working in project management on The Sims Freeplay.
Afterwards, I went back to study entrepreneurship and innovation at Swinburne. When I started doing that, I felt like I’d “found my people”. It was all about problem solving and insight-driven product development, and it seemed to use the skills I already had and build on them, which I relished.
As you can see, I have quite a varied background but it’s all culminated in the skills that I use daily for Pronto.
3. Fast forward: Talk us through Pronto’s story so far
It all began when I had my daughter, about three years ago. I struggled with breastfeeding and after losing my freedom to the time-consuming process of bottle feeding, and all its plastic waste, I thought there had to be a better way.
So, I started interviewing parents to gain insight into what difficulties they were experiencing, and took those insights into developing a product that truly solved those pain points.
I signed myself up to a co-working space, One Roof, surrounded by a lot of other innovative female- led businesses, which helped a lot with me being focused and driven. How could I not be when surrounded by so many other inspiring women?
I applied for accelerator programs, including the Founder Institute, MedTech Actuator and UprAsia, all of which I was accepted into. I only attended MedTech and UprAsia in the end though.
The accelerators were really instrumental in terms of gaining expert mentorship and advice on everything from commercialisation, go-to-market strategies, regulatory requirements and legal advice, as well as cultural awareness with international relationship building and access to a highly regarded network of advisors and industry professionals.
We also gained access to funding and raised three rounds of funding through the VC fund, Artesian, that was backing the MedTech accelerator.
We’re currently working on developing our functional prototype, and from there it’s on to lab testing, tooling, then into the manufacturing stage.
Before all that happens though, we’re focused on setting up an equity crowdfunding round to fund all that.
4. How have we helped?
As a startup, I needed to bring in key knowledge that I didn’t have myself, including accounting. Standard Ledger has helped us develop our cap table, financial projections and valuations, as well as maintaining our day-to-day tasks like bookkeeping.
This means I can focus on other things, like trying to raise capital for the next key stages of development, and the product development itself.
5. How has COVID-19 affected Pronto?
The coronavirus has affected us a lot. We were at the stage of raising our next round of capital, and typically you have a pipeline of investors to approach and fundraising strategies laid out. We went into it in March, which was when everything started to shut down so it meant investors backed off completely. They didn’t want to talk about investment into a physical product; they were focused more on SaaS (software as a service) and telehealth startups.
So we had to pull our spending, work and capital raise right back to just focusing on product development and lab testing, because it was the proof investors were after once they were interested to invest in hardware again.
The current events also made it difficult to get our product into labs for testing, as labs have either been shut down or purely focused on COVID testing. It’s also been difficult getting a hold of suppliers as they’re either shut down themselves, international which means slow shipping times for materials we needed for testing, or they were trying to refocus their energies to surviving themselves. So all up, it’s pushed our timeline out a lot… not something investors want to hear!
6. Do you have any tips for founders right now?
Well, it’s not technical advice, but be kind to yourselves. Be aware that things are going to be slower and just focus on the next stage you need to be at. If that means getting in front of an investor, think about what the investor will want to see when you can finally get in front of them and what financial and mental resources you need to accomplish to get yourself as close to that goal as possible.
7. What’s been your biggest challenge with Pronto so far?
Raising funds! I think every founder would probably say the same thing. Being the hardware product we are, it’s even harder as we can’t fund through typical platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
I’ve also found that the investor eco system in Victoria is very SaaS focused. They’re looking for a product that can be launched in three to six months, has proven traction online already, which is fast and easy to do if you’re a software product and can provide 50x return quickly.
As a startup, you also spend a lot of time researching what funds are aligned not only to your product, but to your values, the stage of the raise that you’re at (pre-seed, seed, series A, etc), and the amount you’re looking to raise. However there are a number of problems with this.
Firstly, what’s written on the funds’ websites – in terms of what they’re looking for – can be vastly different to what they’re actually looking to invest in. For example, you might find a fund that’s investing in hardware products, and will invest in the early/seed stage, however when you start the conversation with them, what they actually want is for you to have proof the product works and proven traction, and with a bigger raise amount that would typically be seen in Series A. So you’ve just wasted your time and the investor’s time.
Secondly, there is no consistency in the expectations of the milestones you must have completed depending on what stage you are raising at. None. Every website I have been to and just about every startup resource says something different. Which makes you raise your hands in the air and wonder how you’re ever meant to correctly gauge who you are actually meant to approach and what you need ready for them when you do.
This is why getting into the MedTech accelerator was so integral for us as we were able to raise investment through the VC fund that was backing them – Artesian. Without it, there is no way Pronto Bottle would have gotten as far as it has.
8. What about your proudest achievement with Pronto?
I’ve had a number of achievements I am proud of. The first mightn’t sound that big but it was the first official win I had. I was pitching Pronto at the Silicon Block event. It was only a 90-second pitch. I thought I did so poorly that I walked off afterwards, grabbed myself a glass of wine and just started chatting to people. At the end, someone pulled me up and said I’d actually won! I had to go back up and collect the prize, which was great.
The second one was getting into MedTech Actuator (demo night pictured below) and completing the accelerator program, which was a huge achievement for me.
Most recently, it was getting into the UprAsia accelerator. Being able to gather expert advise on how to approach business within one of our launch markets is a great achievement.
More on Pronto
Keep an eye out for Pronto Bottle’s equity crowdfunding campaign on Birchal, coming in late September, giving anyone the chance to own a small slice of this exciting startup.