Business Startup Spotlight: Pano


Pano’s app makes it easy for our users, currently college students, to meet new people, connect with the opportunities happening around them, and organize get-togethers with their existing contacts in an extremely efficient way.

Name: Pano Inc.Pano

Location: Bristol, VA


Product / Service Offering: Social networking app

Founder Interviewed: John Cowan

This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?

I established Pano in the summer of 2015. I got the idea after I was required to move to new cities for work after leaving college. Integrating into new communities is such a clunky process. I wanted to create something that really helped expedite that.

Our app makes it easy for our users, currently college students, to meet new people, connect with the opportunities happening around them, and organize get togethers with their existing contacts in an extremely efficient way.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

Safety: We restrict membership and utilize identity verification along with other safety precautions. It makes the sign up process a minute or two longer than our competitors, but it makes a big difference in terms of trust when you are connecting people in the real world.

Uniquely, we have partnerships with the universities to market our product. This brand affiliation adds another layer of trust for students.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was finding the right market in which to launch. Initially we tried to create something targeting other young professionals. It was really difficult to reach them efficiently and to create a critical mass of users. Instead of trying to force that, we listened to potential investors’ concerns, took a step back, and after some thought realized that the college market was a much better fit. It is a similar, more geo-concentrated, and the user-base is suffering from the same problem. We are able to reach them extremely efficiently via our partnerships with universities.

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Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

Paul Graham’s blogs have been a lifesaver for me. He is the force behind Y-combinator and gives really great advice on a myriad of topics pertaining to startups.

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What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

A strategy that worked for us was heavily researching the people we would be pitching to. While kind of creepy, it allowed us to frame our product and the problem it solves in terms that resonated with them. An angel who happens to be the club’s tennis champ is likely to empathize with the frustration of a player whose small network hampers his ability to find someone to hit with after class.

If I had to start over I would have been less optimistic on the length of time required to raise money, especially for an early stage round where we lacked demonstrable traction to mitigate risk.

Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?

The challenge has not been finding answers. It has been finding the RIGHT answers. There is so much misinformation circulating online that finding a resource you can trust is hard.

What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?

My challenge is connecting with good talent locally. Most of our team is working remotely, with members from San Francisco to Berlin. It is kind of a sad irony considering the service we are offering.

Pano What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

Learn to be shameless. It is kind of a reflex to avoid situations that might elicit an awkward outcome, such as hounding someone who is unresponsive until they give you a definite no, or being aggressive in asking for assistance. It is easy to create a narrative that a person is not interested in buying or investing because they go silent. We have one of our most valued investors after five months of emailing with no responses. It turns out that he was just swamped with work helping to raise a Series C for his own company. If we had not been aggressive, we would have dropped off his radar.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?

We are always looking for talent, advisors, and investors.

Are you familiar with other startups you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them, sharing your comments below!

Sandra Sloan

Sandra has previous supply chain and business operations experience which she is leveraging as an author with FundingSage focused on spotlighting entrepreneurs and their startup efforts.