Basha Rubin and Mirra Levitt appeared on the Mom’s Exit podcast to discuss their startup experiences and more
Priori Co-Founders Basha Rubin, CEO, and Mirra Levitt, Chief Product Officer, joined former media executive and Henry Street Media Founder, Kim Rittberg, on her Mom’s Exit podcast to talk about Priori’s inception, their experiences in the VC fundraising space as two female co-founders and much more. You can read some highlights from the conversation below, and check out the Priori blog for more VC fundraising tips.
On the founding of Priori
“Mirra and I met as classmates at Yale Law School,” says Rubin. “I loved my classmates and was fascinated by a lot of the challenges, but I didn’t see a career path that really excited me. I had come from a family of entrepreneurs and always had the idea that I would start some kind of company. So I passed the bar and decided to take a stab at the first version of Priori, which bears little resemblance to the company today except for the initial problem statement that led to the idea that evolved into Priori Marketplace … I noticed that people didn't know how to identify good lawyers, find them, evaluate their quality or what a fair price was … We originally launched Priori in the small business and individual context, trying to create a marketplace of excellent attorneys that could help make the process simpler, faster and more transparent for individuals.”
Levitt explains how that idea turned into Priori Marketplace as it currently exists: “The perfect pivot came. It became clear to us that the finding function need was much bigger than the consumer side of the market and that it actually extended to a B2B marketplace. Some of the biggest buyers of legal services are corporations and there was a need for that finding function there. As we started to explore that, we started getting initial customers who were in-house counsel at startups and we realized that this marketplace we had built was the perfect thing for people who wanted to optimize. We had this incredible product market fit with in-house teams at everything from very small companies and startups all the way up to the Fortune 500.”
On the VC fundraising process and “fundraising while female”
“There’s no fun in fundraising,” says Rubin. “We've raised three rounds of VC financing, one in 2017, one in 2020 and then our latest $15 million round in the summer of 2022. It was never one of those overnight, ‘show up and all of a sudden you have five term sheets’ processes that people like to tell you about. Instead, we met hundreds of investors throughout the process and I think we were turned down more times than Mirra and I have ever been turned down for anything in our entire lives. We wound up with groups of investors who have deep experience in legal, have conviction behind our business and are extraordinarily supportive. Anyone who tells you fundraising isn't hard work, either got really lucky or they're lying. But as it turned out, we’ve been blessed with an incredible set of investors and partners.”
Rubin continues, talking about the unique experience of going on this fundraising journey while pregnant: “When we went out to raise our seed round in 2017, we started the process when we were both not visibly pregnant, and we ended the process right after the birth of our daughters. So not only were we two women fundraising, but we were two pregnant women fundraising. I would be lying if I said I didn't think it had any impact on the process. But it's also hard to measure what the impact is. There was a Harvard Business Review article around that time that discussed the questions that female founders were asked versus the kinds of questions that male founders were asked about sort of similar businesses. They found that they were really different. And when I read through the list of the questions that female founders were asked, which often were much more combative and asked for highly granular detail about things that most founders of a seed stage company couldn't know the answer to, that really resonated with our experience.
“I think the further along you get, the more the numbers matter and the less that ineffable, ‘can I see this person really being the founder of a billion dollar business?’ matters … It's the hardest to get off the ground. You don't have that much revenue coming in when you're raising those rounds. I think a lot of women struggle and that was certainly our experience in the early rounds.”
On telling your founding story to a VC audience
“One of the hard things we ran up against, which is part of having such low numbers of women and minorities fundraising, is that you want to be an individual and you want to tell your own story—people back individuals—but part of the way people analyze businesses and people is by pattern matching,” says Levitt. “When there are fewer people in that pattern, it's just harder. Trying to fit yourself into a box while also looking a certain way was something that was really challenging for us and for many women and minority founders. It’s about how you tell your story and the cadences you use. Some of it is around metrics, some of it is around slide decks, but some of it is also what Basha was talking about in terms of turning defensive questions into offensive questions and understanding that you should be playing offense and shooting for the sky, which of course we're trying to do.
“[My first tip is] have people look at your deck and have founders who have raised look at your deck. Our deck has improved so much because we started showing it to people early. The other tip would be that you need to moot your pitch for lots of different audiences, many times. It is very different to do it by yourself in a room than it is when you're trying to communicate potentially very complicated ideas and connections to somebody who hasn't ever thought about them before.”
On being a part of HearstLab, an accelerator for women-led startups
“HearstLab is just an incredible supportive environment for female-founded companies and we are so lucky to have been part of it since 2017,” says Levitt. “Eve Burton runs it and she is brilliant and has a brilliant staff. What is really special about it is that you get to spend time at Hearst Corporation. You get space for time within the tower and they work really hard to connect companies with businesses as initial clients and initial product testers. You get to be part of the Hearst infrastructure as you get your company from zero to one. Hearst is an incredible corporation; it's much more varied than just media and publications. For a lot of different companies in different sectors, it's your first client, it's consulting, it’s really all the things that are difficult to obtain if you're just starting out.”
For more insight into the VC fundraising process, what work-life balance looks like for Rubin and Levitt and more, tune into their episode of the Mom’s Exit podcast. Or learn more about Priori if you’re curious about the flexibility that Priori Marketplace offers for both in-house legal teams and the attorneys that connect with them on the platform.