Combination Work & Ski

I attended Peak Pitch today up at Sugarbush, VT.  It’s a brilliant event.  Do your best elevator pitch while sitting on the chair lift.  I did 14 runs/pitches in 3 hours, with no water to drink.  13 of them went really well and I got some great feedback.  Everyone liked the idea and I got some great suggestions.  It was good to strategize with professionals in the space and they really helped me refine my thinking on the business.  In short CoolReplies was a hit as I was told that several of the investors were discussing it as a creative and new idea that they had not seen before. 

So of course you are wondering about the 14th pitch.  It was some guy from the VT business development authority and he didn’t get the idea.  Everyone else got it just fine, but he proceeded to tell me that I was doing it all wrong.  Problem, Pain, Solution.  Or something like that, he kept blurting at me.  At the top of the lift he told me that he would stick around for 20 minutes “if I have to” and explain to me how to do a pitch appropriately.  I was actually magnanimous to him.  He had a good point about one thing, the idea of expressing the pain point, but I chose to go about that another way.  I took the Calacanis advice and made it personal bringing in the person to my ‘story’.  But he didn’t want to hear any of that, he was all Joe Friday, just the facts.  It reminded me of Mrs Moynahan from sophomore English class.  Things must be done in one way only and that is the ONLY right way!  There are some people that get set in their ways and they just can’t see any other persepective.  I was talking to him about other ways to do a pitch, but he kept telling me that I was wrong.  I used to argue this stuff (Re: Moynahan), but now I just get no satisfaction from pointless discussions.  The second you think that there is only one way to do something, by definition, you have abandoned the idea of innovation, that is not a life I want.

After a few minutes we parted and I skied away.  It got me to thinking about people working for the state tasked with helping VT businesses and I genuinely felt bad for the startups.  But I soon forgot all about him.  I am learning to disregard people of inconsequence. 

I met some great people and got contact info and I will hopefully follow up with several of them.

The day works like this:

  • All of the pitchers line up in the liftline
  • As the catchers (I thought that was a creative way to describe the VC’s and other business people) come up to the line, we pair up and grab a chair
  • Each catcher is given three $1M ‘checks’ that they can give to the pitcher as an investment if they like the pitch.  1 to 3 or give all 3 to 1, it’s up to them.
  • At the end of the 3 hour session, the pitchers turn in their investor checks and we see who are the leaders by counting the checks
  • The top 5 placers get to do a ‘pitch-off’ and we all score the winner by applause (there was a tie today, so there were 6 pitchers)

Now, not all of the catchers are VC’s so some of them have different persepctives on ROI and exits and investment.  As they are all Vermont supporters, I think that the potential for a big return is somewhat offset by strivingfor focused benefit to the VT social and economic fabric.  That sounds like a copout, but I heard at least twice “It’s too bad you aren’t in VT” – despite my protests about the Killington house.

The winners were as follows in order (note that I did not get a single ‘check’)

  1. A woman who was selling special kid sippy cups that somehow did not promote tooth decay because kids don’t have to suck in the liquid
  2. A chest mount strap device and iPhone case/camera that turns your iPhone into a GoPro camera
  3. An iPad app that can turn your ipad screen into a rolling screen saver to display what is going on in all of your apps, one at a time per minute.  You can thumbs up/down items to refine what it displays.  He makes money by placing relevent ads next to the content
  4. Super insulated water tanks to hold water that is either heated or cooled by solar power to help environmental efforts
  5. A college kid built an app that takes photos of an object and converts them into HTML that you can paste into a Craiglist ad.  I assume it was a $.99 app and he wanted a “500k – 1M” investment
  6. A computer training center in Burlington wants to start broadcasting their courses on line (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc)

It was a serious effort to not laugh at some of these.  The camera was a good idea, but Megan and I noted, who wants to risk a $500 phone on the slopes?  The water tanks are a good idea as everyone knows I love anything that promotes environmental concerns, and I have seen that Vermonters love that stuff.

The rest of it though…seriously?  Sippy cups?  That market isn’t saturated enough?  The Craigslist thing has been done at least 10 times already, plus rule number 1, never ask a VC for a range of money, it means you haven’t thought through your business model.  The iPad thing, who even uses a screensaver any more, would you really sit and watch that?  On line computer training, yeah never seen that one.  Online education is a huge growth area, but jeez, innovate!

At first I was a little dismayed and hurt that I couldn’t even get one check, I have a revenue model and even a viable exit strategy.  But driving home I realized that this was the wrong venue for my business.  I learned a lot about what I need to do, who my market is and where I should go.  I have tons of notes on my whiteboard and a new plan of attack.  And I got a free day of skiing on a 58 degree blue sky morning…I think I won after all.

About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls, husband to an amazing woman, and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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