LAUNCH Accelerator with Aisha Chottani

An interview with Aisha Chottani, the Founder & CEO of Moment, regarding her experience participating in the LAUNCH accelerator led by Jason Calacanis
February 24, 2024
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Background

Aisha Chottani is the Founder & CEO of Moment, a natural botanical beverage that reduces stress and tastes delicious. Aisha participated in Cohort 21 of LAUNCH in 2021. I talked with Aisha regarding what it’s like working with Jason Calacanis throughout and after the program, how LAUNCH helped her close her funding round, and whether she recommends it to other founders.

Highlights

  • Jason Calacanis plays an active role in each startup accepted into the LAUNCH accelerator. He gives direct feedback regarding the startup’s pitch, product, fundraising plan, business model, and more.

  • Jason and his team may invest in your startup through various methods outside of LAUNCH, such as The Syndicate, his angel investing club, and by writing you a check as an angel investor.

  • LAUNCH is very focused on fundraising. Startups in the batch present in front of 8-10 investors from weeks 3-14 and at Demo Day. By the end of the program, founders have pitched to and received feedback from ~100 investors.

  • LAUNCH positions itself downstream from most startup accelerators. They don’t accept pre-idea or pre-product startups. Instead, they are looking for startups that meet the following requirements: Enterprise/marketplace startups with $2k+ in MRR and 20%+ growth m/o/m; Consumer product startups with 3k+ DAUs and 5%+ w/o/w growth; Deep-tech startups with an MVP or prototype and a strong technical team.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Thanks, Aisha, for joining me today. First, do you want to speak briefly about who you are and what you’re working on?

Aisha: My name is Aisha, the Founder of Moment, which started as a movement to support mental wellness. I’m a big advocate – I used to be in a very stressful, intense job before starting Moment. (I found) adaptogens and meditation gave me a lot of relief. So, I decided to bring them together in an easy-to-consume form -- a drink with adaptogens, good-for-you ingredients, no added sugar, and no preservatives. I started this three years back during the first part of COVID when things were intense and chaotic, and the world needed something like this the most. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m really excited about the impact that we’re having today.

Kieran: Where can people buy your drink?

Aisha: You can buy (all of our products) through our website. We (also) do a lot of fun collabs with (brands like) Lululemon and Victoria’s Secret. (And) we are available in stores in New York – all the natural specialty stores, bodegas, cafes, and yoga studios.

Kieran: You participated in the LAUNCH accelerator in cohort 21. When did that take place?

Aisha: Our cohort started in 2021 in March, and it goes on for 3-4 months.

Kieran: Why did you want to participate in a startup accelerator?

Aisha: Moment is my first startup, which is really exciting. Startups have a way of operating, and I think it’s important to understand the startup culture and mentality. It’s not that you can’t do it without an accelerator, but that was my thinking behind doing it. It’s also an easy way to get in front of investors and get exposure to many of them quickly. It’s an intense 3-4 months of experience. You get thrown in; you learn a lot – through investors and fellow accelerator participants – and you come out of it with a solid plan and, hopefully, investment for most people.

Kieran: What programs were you considering at the time? Just LAUNCH, or what are some of the other ones you were looking at?

Aisha: LAUNCH and YC.

Kieran: What stood out about LAUNCH? Why were you excited about that one in particular?

Aisha: I was excited about LAUNCH because Jason leads it. I had met Jason, and he tried Moment, and he loved it. So, we built a relationship. I know there are many accelerators out there, but having a relationship with someone leading an accelerator puts a different spin on things. The second reason why I was excited about LAUNCH was that it was a smaller group. Having spoken with a couple of other folks who participated in the past, they had excellent stories of how they built strong relationships with their cohort. There are hundreds of accelerators out there, but for me, it needs to create tangible value, and that was something significant – having other folks who will be with me on the journey, almost like a graduate program. It was great that way. Only eight teams are in the accelerator, and you all get to know each other well.

Kieran: Can you talk a little bit about the admission process?

Aisha: I didn’t know Jason beforehand at a personal level. I knew because he had tried Moment, and he liked it. We went through an interview process similar to how many other folks would when you apply online. It went really well. It was also very straightforward. I liked that there was no frills or drama attached to it. I spoke with Jason for 15 minutes; he loved it. That, for me, indicated how the program was going to be going forward.

Kieran: Do you remember some of the questions that he asked you during that 15-minute call? What was he focused on, or what was he curious about?

Aisha: Yeah, there were questions you would probably hear everywhere. What’s your pitch and growth strategy, and where can you be in the next 2-5 years? That’s a question that Jason is very fond of asking. He likes to phrase it: “When are you going to reach $100 million (in revenue), and what is the path to it?” The last question is, “Why should I invest in you as a founder?” So those are the main questions, and there’s some discussion around that. The great thing about Jason and the entire LAUNCH program is they don’t get into too much complexity – they like to keep things super simple. His focus is on being very clear in terms of what you’re presenting, your product, and your company – keeping it simple but ensuring it’s effective.

Kieran: Can you talk about the actual program and what happens during the weeks you’re participating? It seems very focused on fundraising and growth, but I would love your perspective.

Aisha: It is very different from other programs in the sense that it’s very focused on fundraising and growth. Which again is very valuable about this program. For the first 2-3 weeks, you get thrown into twice-a-week sessions talking about overall business, sharing your pitches, sharing your business model, etc. You present it to your (accelerator) mates and Jason, and everyone reacts. Jason is straightforward regarding his feedback, which can sometimes be very brutal. But, I found it very helpful that he would say it as he would feel it. He had a lot of feedback for several folks in the program. I loved it, watching him not just provide feedback to me but to other folks because he helped me understand how an investor thinks. He invests in so many businesses, so the types of questions and places he would push people in helped me understand the framing of an investor of that size and caliber. So, the first 2-3 weeks are that. Within those three weeks, there is (also) a 4-5 hour session where he will go into your business model with each person and tear it apart. He’ll go Excel, row by row, and understand why it’s crafted in a certain way. Again, that’s really helpful because it prepares you for what other investors will ask. Then, very quickly after you start getting into rooms with new investors. Starting weeks 3-4, you have twice-a-week sessions of one hour each with 6-8 investors – some are angels, some are VCs -- from Sequoia to angels who put in $20K-30K checks. That makes the room interesting because people are approaching it from different angles. They put all these investors together in the room, then all the teams there. The teams have 3 minutes to present. Each team goes one by one. Investors get 1-2 minutes to ask questions. Then, there is a voting session where investors will rank their top 3 startups. After that, there’s a 20-minute session where investors can go into a separate room with the startup they chose in their top 3. They can ask more questions or go deeper into it. That session happens 8-10 times. So you end up meeting ~100 different investors. You’re not just meeting them; you’re pitching to them, getting their feedback, getting their questions, and finding out what they think of you, your product, or your company related to others. (You find out) who likes you, who doesn’t like you, why they like you, why they don’t like you. Why it’s valuable – after the session – if you hit it off with an investor – you can email them immediately and continue chatting. The conversation can lead to fundraising. It’s a good first step into building that relationship with investors who might sit on the cap table. 

Kieran: So, I saw that you were able to raise money. Can you talk more about how that happened in practice? How did your round come together?

Aisha: Our case was slightly different. We did raise a fair bit of funding through our connections with LAUNCH. But before we started the program, we did end up hitting it off with another strategic investor who was interested in working with us and ended up being our lead in our Seed round. We found them outside of LAUNCH, but we also had LAUNCH participate with other (angels we met) through the (program). LAUNCH wanted to raise a syndicate for us. So, a lot of the angels that liked us in these rounds participated in the syndicate, and LAUNCH raised a syndicate both in the Pre-Seed and Seed rounds. Jason and LAUNCH, themselves outside of the syndicate, also invested. How it works is that – at the end of the program, they are also gauging what is the startup that is getting the most momentum and how they are stacking up. So, not only does it help you get funding from other investors, but they will also invest if they are interested. So, LAUNCH and all the investors have probably invested maybe a million or slightly more than that in us so far. It’s not enough to lead the round, but it’s a good follow-on investment for a Seed-type round.

Kieran: You mentioned Jason is really direct with his feedback, which most startups would really appreciate at an early stage. I’m curious: what was the most valuable piece of advice that you received from Jason?

Aisha: Yeah, for me in particular, I came from the consulting world before starting Moment, and as a consultant, I presented a lot. It was not like I hadn’t presented, but my mentality was slightly different. So, for me, Jason was really helpful in shifting my mindset in thinking of how I would present an investment case to an investor. So that was helpful. Everyone has unique needs. The great thing about Jason is he is so experienced, and in the first 20 minutes of a conversation, he can understand your needs and hone in and help you there. Some people don’t like how direct he is, but people who can deal with it love it. For a couple of people, it was about the product. He was very direct about the product needed changes or the overall story or how they were going to market or their business model – saying this is crap, I don’t like how you’re going to the $100 million mark, and this needs to change for you to be able to raise funding effectively.

Kieran: Now that you’re finished with the program, how do you still engage with the community? I read on the website they do monthly check-ins with their companies. Are you still doing those monthly check-ins? Are you engaging with LAUNCH in different ways?

Aisha: Yeah, as you know, LAUNCH was one of our earlier investors. They also invested through the syndicate and separately through the LAUNCH fund. So, LAUNCH is a board member for Moment, (and) they participate in our board meetings. Outside of that, we share a monthly update with all investors who invested through LAUNCH so they know what we’re up to. It’s also been super helpful because a lot of the investors at LAUNCH when I send them updates of what’s happening, they’ll respond, offer help, and make connections. One of the investors, whenever he’s visiting NYC, will text me, we’ll meet up, and he’ll take me out for a nice lunch, which is very nice of him. He’s invested in many startups, he’ll share casual advice, and I’ll share where things are going. So, I have had many informal relationships with different LAUNCH investors over the last few years. Lastly, LAUNCH has a Slack platform where all the LAUNCH founders come together. They can ask each other for advice, and city-based events, and Jason organizes more official events for all the founders.

Kieran: What advice would you give to someone applying to LAUNCH?

Aisha: I would say be very direct, be very simple, really hone into the impact you’re trying to have. LAUNCH likes to get to the bottom of things. It’s not about the frills, it’s not about the fluff, it’s about the core of what you’re doing.

Kieran: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you think is important to know for someone considering LAUNCH?

Aisha: I had the perspective going into the program that this would be a good accelerator. But, coming out of it, it was the best accelerator (for me). I think it’s better than some of the more famous accelerators because it gives you the 1:1 attention that you need and puts you in the room with investors who have to listen to you, not just on Demo Day, but in small sessions, which helps you build those relationships. I’m a huge fan of Jason and how direct he is. So, I definitely recommend it.

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