Episode 3: CAVALL
4:35PM Sep 19, 2019
from Georgetown University, this is venture forward a series of conversations with entrepreneurs in and around Georgetown, in which we discussed the startups they've launched, the obstacles they've encountered, and the small wins that have made all the difference. Here is your host, Jacki Abbey.
Unlike most of us, Juliet Sylvan found her passion at a very early age, she started riding horses almost before she could read chapter books. Fast forward several years and Juliet is a Georgetown undergrad who juggles classes and study time. With time she carves out to spend with the horses she loves. throughout college, she's been lucky enough to ride for both work and pleasure, sometimes riding over a dozen different horses in a single week. After taking just one business startup class herself year, Juliet knew what she needed to do. She has set out to build an app based business that reflects her love of all things. The question, here is Juliet Sylvan, founder and CEO of curveball. Juliet, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you so much for having me.
You were born in Paris. Tell us about your intro into the worlds of horses in France,
for sure. So when I was four years old, my parents took me to the barn for what they thought would be the first and last time and I got on the pony. And they were watching me go around. And there it was, I fell in love. And ever since it's, it's been my passion for 16 years now. How old were you when you moved to the US? So I was 10. When I moved to the US, we moved, I think in 2006. And basically, when I came to the US, I went to a French high school, I didn't ride. And my parents took me to the barn for the first time. And I think that's when I really started to learn English because for me to enjoy my passion. I had to learn English. So it was an amazing opportunity. So I was able to find a familiar community in the US as well.
So until age 10, you spoke only French
up to age 10. I spoke only French and then
learned to speak English here in the horse community.
Yes. So I moved to Boston. And so I wrote out in Westford, mass at volo farm. And that was like my first experience I had I had English classes at the International School Boston where I went, but I really started to learn while riding, pointing out to different horses, and taking riding lessons. Yeah.
How do you compare the writing experience in France versus the writing experience in the US?
So I think, when I was in France, I actually played this sport called horse ball, which is I think it only exists in France. It's basically when it's like a sort of horse basketball where you have to like, run around with your pony and grab the ball and then throw it in a hoop. And when I came to the US, I actually learned how to read correctly and started competing actually in the internet, North East and in Wellington and Florida. And that's when I really I think, developed my writing skills and fell in love more, I guess yet.
Or you're a junior at Georgetown. It's unusual to be launching a business at that age, unless you're at Georgetown, where there's an awful lot of entrepreneurs. But that aside, when did you know that you want to launch a business?
Absolutely. So I actually was a freshman at George Washington University, studying international affairs there on and when I started looking for jobs, I realized I was really interested in combining the question industry with tech, especially in building businesses. So when I transferred to Georgetown, I just fell in love with Georgetown, I really wanted to be at the business school. I was so happy, I started to be really involved with the entrepreneurship community through startup lawyers, and actually went to the girlboss conference, which is a conference organized by Sophia amoruso. She created Nasty Gal, and then the girlboss Inc. When I went to that conference, I was so inspired by so many women CEOs that I just I just felt like that's where I wanted to be. And he wanted to be a CEO myself. Yeah.
And this was sophomore year.
This was software of November 2017. Yeah, I went, I took a bus to New York and attended the conference the whole day, and then came back to DC. It was incredible experience on. And from there, I actually created a small business called l leads. That was a small consulting company for to empower women in college to start their businesses.
So before you even started doing business, you were focused on empowering other women to do that,
too. Yeah, exactly. And from there, I actually had two clients that had their own businesses. And I kind of had a blog that talked about why was so important to be a woman in entrepreneurship in college, and how to balance that with schooling and design tools that could allow them to build their businesses. And then from there, I it was your first because that was my first business. And then from there, I actually pitched at the startup boys competition. And that was when I first kind of created CoverGirl, which was originally a horse show, like a competition based scheduling. So it allowed people to compete with an app that allowed them to figure out their schedules, who was on the who was on the show ground.
Who was competing when you were supposed to compete. That was your original idea. That was my original idea and the Cabal of today does what so
cabal connects buyers and sellers of horses on the mobile app at competition? So essentially, it's a Tinder for horse sales vendor for
Yes. Yes. And so essentially, let's say that you would go to a competition, and you want to see all the horses for sale at that specific competition, you're able to see it virtually on the app. How do people do that now. So now it's usually by word of mouth, through their trainers, that's usually like you go to a horse show, your trainer knows somebody, and you go and try their horses. And I think the way that some people really want the business to be like is to be able to compare collection of horses, rather than just seeing one horse. And kind of it's a time time commitment. Usually people take up to six months to a year to find their perfect match. And this is a way to to
complete their transaction. Yeah, find the horse they want to buy and then buy it takes six months to a year. Exactly. Yeah. And at horse shows, there's no central posting, showing which horses are for sale, you just have to ask around.
No. So usually you just ask around. It's a very relationship based industry on and I think, like, that's why it's been such a, I think there's kind of almost like a integrity problem with that, because there's not enough information being float around in the market.
So your app will add transparency to the process, too.
So our goal would be to first of all build relationship with our sellers, we only offer quality horses, it's I think it's going to be more boutique, where we really select who we're placing on the app to sell their horses on, we're going to build really quality relationship with them and use my own network that I had in the past, right. So you'll
choose the horses, not everybody who wants to be a part of of the app, can you'll have certain
criteria in the beginning? Yeah, and I think we have a feature in the app that allows you to be like on Instagram, for example, you get certified you get a little checkmark next to your name, so will allow that to that feature. So like all the people that are certified through us then have a checkmark and they will be certified on the app and they're like trustworthy sellers. So that would be our goal of right now to kind of increase that information flow. And I think we have like an idea of how I guess we're going to have like a price like statistics that it kind of like show people okay, this horse has competed at this competition. He's won x y&z This is why he's at that price. This is like,
one single page, they can get this information
on a thing on each horses profile, they can get that information.
Exactly. Okay, great. How you make money.
So wherever subscription based model right now, when you purchase a horse, there are four steps that you go through. The first one is you seek the horse, you go to your trainer, you go to competitions, you go online, you then try the horse. So that's usually a 30 minute, try you try the horse on, then you vet the horse. So you basically have all these tests with your vet to make sure he's not going to break down within a week. And you vet it with a veterinarian veterinarian. Yes, exactly.
Exactly. We vet other products and services. Yeah, exactly. An actual that.
And finally, you make the transaction. And so right now, we're only focused on the first two steps, which is seeking and trying, which is a subscription based model for the sellers. And then like eventually, we're going to try to see if we can tap into the transactions as well.
Yeah, and then how we market to the buyers.
So right now, it's going to be a lot of word of mouth. So basically, our goal would be to go to a bunch of different competitions, and get people talking about it, get more sellers on the app, and essentially create like booths to get people to download the app. So another idea of physical booths physical booth is a lot of people do at her shows, they compete. And they enjoy kind of going to these like created boosts or them to like, either go shopping or like a different industry or marketplace. Exactly, exactly, yeah, here. So it's a really like for me to be able to meet the clients and like build that community. And another idea would be to kind of create, like a competition style in the app where if you're a seller and you advertise our app, and you bring more people to our app, then your horses will be advertised more onto the on the decks when you present the horses. So they'll have more, I guess, market exposure if they're able to bring us more users on the app.
Great. Okay. So you've been working on this for at least a year? And has there been a place a time along the way where you realize that this could actually happen? Would you remember a time when you went from idea to reality?
Yeah, I think that was at the Leonsis Pitch Competition actually starting at the shark tank. Yeah. We were so excited to be selected. It was such an honor to be able to compete. Yes, absolutely. I mean, they're amazing teams there, and it was so much credible to be part of it.
And then bar tank is the risk of the highest profile pitch competition on Georgetown campus. Yeah, we were one of eight,
one of a exactly amazing teams and, and pitching in front of Ted and meeting him after was such an honor. And so when we won money from that competition, it was a point where we realized this is no longer just an idea that I'm kind of kind of coding with my programmer, it is something that's going to become physic like a physical app that's going to be on the Apple store, and that people are going to use and download,
you just began to see that more clearly. Right after Shark Tank,
exactly. It just became a real concept with a real product rather than a concept actually, and and really wanting to get more of an early adopter community and get them to download this app. So it's really exciting.
And do you think your shift in thinking was that a result of preparing for the competition? Or actually getting the idea out there? Or was that based on the response you got from people in the audience or people that heard what you had to say?
So in preparing for the entrepreneur, the Shark Tank prize, we actually work with entrepreneurs and residents, I work with Mike and Laura. And so they were so amazing with helping me build my pitch deck, grow my business also, just even if it's just like, projecting on a big help was kind of thinking about, hey, like, if we win this money, what are we going to do with it? And me, I started building budgeting models, kind of running different strategies, seeing what was best for us in the long term. And that really, like like seeing the actual numbers and seeing like the potential growth that we can have really made me think about how how this is what's going to become a real product. You could see it is very excited. I could see it. Yeah.
Exactly. This is the actual number in our market. And if this portion of people responded, positively, would have a real business. Yeah,
exactly. And I think after the bark tank, I was able to network with a lot of people that are willing to help me grow, especially in right now we're focused only on sport horses, which are jumping horses or dressage horses, which is like the dressage massage is like dancing for horses actually. and and, and and we're actually thinking about expanding in the racetrack industry, which would be horses that are worth a lot more money and it's like a bigger game and it would be really exciting to be part of that as well.
Is there something you're incorporating in your short term thinking or your long term thing long term thinking the racetrack word? Yes. I think it would be got the niche now
the niche. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I want to start in the area that I knew best. So from for I've been competing for like 10 years now in the jumping industry. So that's what I wanted to focus on first. And then building on dressage, which will be similar model and then eventually in the race track industry. Okay. Yeah, mate.
Well speaking, of course, shows, you recently went down to Wellington, three month long horror show, right? And tell us about what happened there.
Yeah, so the Wellington equestrians festival is one of the largest horror shows in the US. There's over 6000 horses that attended every year. And we actually went down there on hoping to conduct more customer discovery, which was really exciting because we got a lot of validation on the features we want to put on the app and in grow our early adopter community. And so
who is in your early adopter community? Who do you see who fits that mold for you?
So we're looking for people with large scale barns who have a large number of horses for sale on obviously, we're also looking for boutique sell barns are have smaller ones, but mainly large ones, and start with large one. Yes. And all of the people that we have so far sell up to 150 horses per year, and they are very active in the competition world. So they go to Wellington, usually January through March and then compete all over the Northeast after that, um, and their horses range, I think above, like six figures. So it was very exciting to get them in the community.
So you were able to talk to most of them.
Yeah, so we actually got five really big influencers to work with us and place there was on the app when we launch on their MVP. And they're very excited about it. They are they're actually one of them sponsors Wellington equestrian festival, so it's very exciting yet to get to know her.
Yeah, I just Yeah, she's pretty big name in the horse. Yeah, exactly. You know, I don't know the word industry well at all, but I do know, I have heard of Wellington. And I've heard of it because of the Bloomberg I think the Bloomberg SCO there, the gates daughters, rot ride.
Steve and Laurene jobs his daughter also rides there.
Yeah. Yes. It's it's a really great community. I mean, we when I go ahead, so every week they do this thing called the Grand Prix, which is like, they put the jumps really big and and then really big names come out and ride. It's, everyone's there cheering it's, it's amazing, because it's all these people from all over that come together to like, for those love of horses. And I think that one reason I show Yeah,
yeah. Great. Alright, so you, you've got five or six of these big sale barn owners who are very interested in the app. And it sounds like they've given you signals that they will put their horses on the app when you launch. Terrific. What do you think about launching?
So right now, we push your launch date a little bit later? Just because we want to refine the app and continue developing it.
Very typical among app based businesses. Yes,
exactly. So we're hoping to basically launch late May, early June on and one of the reasons is because that's when the summer competition season begins. So basically, all the shows in northeast start late May when people come back from Wellington and take a short break and then come back currently competing. So
you want to have the app ready when that season start. Yes, absolutely. Yes. That's
our goal on and working if we were able to be in the summer lunch program, there's so many competitions happening in Middleburg, Virginia, and they would be a really exciting place for us to start promoting the app,
the summer launch program here at Georgetown. Yes, exactly. Okay, so you've applied to be a part of that.
Yes. So it would be really exciting if Kabbalah gets selected. We're hoping for the responses soon. And and that would basically allow us to work at the we work at Georgetown,
the we work offices,
yes. So we have offices, and then we would be able to go out and Middleburg or in the visionary Virginia area to present our app and get more sellers on it. So
it would also mean you're focusing on your business full time all summer. For a good chunk of the summer.
Yeah. Which would be really exciting. I think it's, it's sometimes difficult to be a student entrepreneur to balance both. Yeah, I'm so it would be amazing to have this opportunity to continue working on my app full time and really kind of combine my passion with business. I think it's an incredible opportunity.
Like you're already combining your passion with busy summer like to set classes aside and be alongside other entrepreneurs all the time. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Great. That is great. So it is you look back over this past year. Entrepreneurship for everyone means ebbs and flows means things going right and things going wrong. Are there any things that you know now that you wish you'd known when you started?
Yeah, I think a lot, I think, well, what I've run into is that sometimes I over promise a lot. And I'm that's because I'm very optimistic. And I see my business growing a lot on, and I'm just very excited about it. And I think something that I wish I had known before was kind of be, especially with my early adopter community be more honest, like not honest, because we are honest about where we're wanting to be but more realistic about the goals that we're trying to achieve. And and being able to deliver in those times. Just because I think they quite industry is very relationship based. And I want to build really honest and quality relationships. We're going
to build long term relationships that Yeah, yeah. So you wish you'd known not to over promise? Yes, I think so. I think so.
And don't get nervous during pitch competitions. Yeah.
I think that's something especially for high profile pitch competition. Yeah,
I think when we competed in the rocket pitch, we actually won that one. So that was really exciting. And I think it made me realize and
that so that was after Shark Tank. That was after Shark Tank. Right. Okay, exactly. And there were 32 competitors, the rocket pitch 32.
Yeah. So the competition you got number one, number one, right, yeah, graduation. Thank you so much.
And I think that really made me realize that I Georgetown, there's such an amazing community of people that want to support you and want to see you succeed. And and it's, it's fun. I think it's fun to do it now. And yeah, I think for other entrepreneurs out there, that's really advice, I would say is just enjoy. And you have a great idea. So
yeah, yeah. Alright, so you mentioned the entrepreneurial community at Georgetown. What are some practical ways that you have have been supported by the it is it is pretty remarkable community?
Yeah, well, I think first of all, Jeffrey is one of the founders of the introduce town interpreter ship. And he has really inspired me to kind of, because in the business school, there's this really big environment of consulting and banking. And I think he really inspired me to believe in my idea and work on it full time. And I think that was so valuable for me,
and your student in the business school chemistry in the business school. So there's, there's a subtle pressure of, yeah, you go to interviews with banking firms and consulting firms. And
yeah, which are really exciting options. But it's also really cool when you have an idea to be able to work on it and not and kind of canceling that noise. I think, I can't really do both. Exactly. You can't really do both. And then I think like the entrepreneurs and residents have been like, Mike and Laura have been such amazing help with my business and, and kind of being like the ones again, like it like, okay, like, you want to do this, like, what are the obstacles are you gonna have to overcome to be able to get there? And, and it was kind of like every week, okay, like, what have you done? To fix this? Like, what? Like, where are you right now? And how can we help you? And that was such an amazing platform. I'm very lucky to have them. Yeah, my community.
Yeah, I can imagine. And you still got that?
Yeah, exactly. And I think also, there are so many other like, Georgetown entrepreneurs, students, and it's so amazing to be surrounded by them. I think it's such a valuable community.
Yeah, I often think about that if, as I as I interview the entrepreneurs, to be an entrepreneur with a real world idea, and be actually launching a business at other campuses would be a very different experience. If you were alone doing it, you would, you would just have to answer a lot of questions all the time that you just don't have here, because everybody goes to school here I think must know an entrepreneur, student entrepreneur.
Know exactly, yeah, even and there's just like, for example, like one of my really good friends is Kyle Ratner. He's in this president startup boys like George entrepreneurship. And like, just on Friday, he was like, let's hang out so we can brainstorm ideas on how we can make your business like more successful. And that's like such a valuable,
right. Is that right? Yeah. I'd love to meet you Friday afternoon and talk about your business. Yeah,
exactly. I think that's such a unique experience to Georgetown and to have other entrepreneurs here.
Yeah. Yeah. That's a great example.
What's it memorable piece of advice you've received along the way?
I think, I think if you believe in you have a visualization of where you want to be. It's going to happen. And I think throughout like when I applied to Georgetown, and I wanted to be there so bad, actually got whitelisted. Twice.
at George, George Washington, George Washington freshman year until that story about how you visualize being here. Yes. So
basically, when I read to George Washington, I really liked GW was a great school. It just my whole time, I was just thinking, What if I had apply to Georgetown, senior year of high school, which I didn't, um, and and I started doing the application process, it was the only school that I applied to this. The only one I wanted was to move up the hill to
GW you're going to come? Yeah,
exactly. And so I applied to Georgetown. And I actually got whitelisted the first time and I sent a letter explaining how badly I want to be there actually, all of spring semester of freshman year I studied at Georgia.
Leave GW campus. Yes. Come to Georgia and study here. Yes, I
had a couple friends that were here. So isn't that weird, but, um, but I did that every day, I went there. And I was just like, if I, if I'm going to be here, and I pretend that I'm a student here, eventually, I promise going to happen. And, and when I got with us in the second time, and I sent another letter explaining how badly I wanted to be here. I was accepted a week before school started. And that was so exciting for me.
GW already started.
God hadn't started yet.
Hey, guys. They're about to as well. I'm expecting you. And then Georgia, open the door. And you came right. Exactly. Yeah.
For me. It was such a, like, when I came in, it was like, this is where I meant to be. just knew that it was just yeah, it was almost like I just knew it inside of me. Yeah.
And then once you once you got here, does that sense confirmed?
Yes, for sure. I think there's so many opportunities at Georgetown that I've gotten through the meeting students that have such incredible ideas. Through through I actually gave a tech talk about the power of visualization at the MSP and last last November, a tech talk a TED talk. Yeah. Ted Talk. Yeah. Yeah. And, and it was, it was so exciting. And just the deans here, just they're just amazing. So it was just an incredible opportunity. Yeah. So you never looked back? Yeah, I never looked back. And I think a lesson that has taught me as, for my, for my businesses, if I really want to see myself be successful, is just continue pushing through, follow what other successful entrepreneurs have done. And eventually I think I'll get there too.
And it sounds like visualize
Exactly. And put your yourself there. Yes, where you want to be terrific. I my last question for you is, if you could ask Headley, gnosis Georgetown alum and the underwriter of shark tank, if you could ask him one business question. What question would you ask? That's tough.
I think if he if it got to see him again, I would ask him throughout all of his ventures, what was the hardest obstacle that he had to overcome? And how to overcome it? What What did he think about? Was it financial? Was it like a lack of resources? I would love to know how he went out and got investors to believe in him and told his story in a very successful way.
And what obstacles he's overcome along the way. Yes, I suspect there are many, many, I'm sure many as an entrepreneur. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But you'd like to hear some specifics from him on. Yeah, exactly. Well, I hope he gets to hear your question. So do Juliet. Thanks for coming in today. It was a real pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you so much for having me is amazing. Being here in tell you my story. You got a great story,
that's for sure. See you soon.
Venture forward is a production of the Georgetown entrepreneurship initiative at the McDonough School of Business. Our production team includes Jacki Abbey, Christy pills, and Ben Zimmerman. Thanks for listening. Until next time,