Speaker Michael Inwald: Find Funding Fast
By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
“Set your ego aside—you need money,” said quick-service grilled cheese chain Cheeseboy founder, Michael Inwald. A 2009 YEI Fellow and serial entrepreneur, Inwald’s experiences with multiple ventures in resource-constrained environments highlighted the importance of finding sources of funding early on in the venture process.
Competing in Crowded Markets
Before arriving at Yale’s School of Management, Inwald started a number of new ventures including Youngfilmmaker.org, Inwald Media Inc./BusinessWorldReview.com, a multi-media production company, and Nightliferatings.com, a nightlife/entertainment search engine and user-based rating system for bars, clubs, and lounges. In each venture, the lack of funds became a major obstacle for scaling the company, and he quickly realized that entering a crowded market without funding made it extremely difficult to differentiate the venture from the competition.
Enrolling at Yale SOM, Inwald’s entrepreneurial spirit was still alive. He’d always loved cooking and enjoying cheese-related dishes – his specialty being the grilled cheese sandwich – and he realized there weren’t any quick-service grilled cheese chains out there. From this came the concept for Cheeseboy, a quick-service grilled cheese franchise, which was selected for the 2009 YEI Summer Fellowship. His priority that summer was to find and secure enough capital to give his fledgling company a fighting chance in the tough restaurant business.
As part of his search for capital for the company, he self-funded booths at county fairs around Connecticut and videotaped consumer reactions to his grilled cheese. Armed with copious video evidence of enthusiasm for the sandwiches and market research he conducted that showed demand for grilled cheese and willingness to pay, he was able to find an investor that partnered with him to bring the first Cheeseboy pilot test location to Milford’s Connecticut Post Mall.
Today, Cheeseboy has eight locations throughout the Northeast, including in Boston’s South Station and Prudential Center. His success in the competitive quick-service restaurant business has enabled him to be thoughtful about Cheeseboy’s growth going forward—the company aims not to be the largest necessarily, but rather one of the most respectable national chains, a choice that Cheeseboy’s prosperity and financial backing has allowed the company to make.
Be realistic about the resources your venture needs to take on a crowded space, and focus on securing them early on in the process. Having them under your belt will allow you to make measured, strategic decisions about your company’s future, rather than scrambling to stay afloat.