Reflections on a Pitch Gone Bad

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Or how I struck out, with out even getting to the batters box.

We were invited to meet with a local non-profit organization tasked with helping new local tech startups. The organization has a multi-tiered structure with a large regional presences, and focused programs for specific targeted startup types.

AgData.Info had already gone through the parent’s organizations interview process clearing its thresholds of idea vs Startup Business. Today’s meeting was supposed to be about how they could help us going forward. We went into it thinking this was a meeting on friendly ground about how we could gain their help with our startup.

To be clear, Agdata.Info already has generated revenue and has beta hardware products in 4 US States, with an advisory committee of over 25,000 commercially farmed acres. The company is filed in Nevada as an LLC and is building new designs for new customers in two States currently. We are shipping hardware solutions for testing monthly on average.

Today’s meeting was with two of the different sub programs our venture qualified. The first is a program for companies that are not ready for Angel funding. They help local startup companies become ready to pitch and raise funds. It’s a mentoring & maturing program.

The second program we were a natural fit for is designed for agriculture startup organizations. The program appears to be specifically for companies like AgData.Info on paper. What happened next is an example of how things can turn out to be different then what you expect.

After we sat down and started to describe our business, about 10 minutes into the meeting the Director of the second program let us know that he IS/WAS in business as a competitor in our domain. That he had lost a lot of money personally trying to do our specific business model. That he now installs third party hardware from a company that is struggling in Australia.

From that bombshell, the next 50 minutes unfolded. For background, I have invested professionally for a living, including being a founder and running two hedge funds with different mandates concurrently.

I have invested in a private companies helping one of them through a reverse merger and have held restricted 144 shares & convertible notes. I have sunk over 7 digits into this process, making and losing a good chunk in the high risk world of startup companies.

I am used to opinionated people with domain knowledge. I am used to sitting through other peoples pitches and deciding if we invest in them or not. I am used to many things.

What I am not used to was the articulate focused negativity that transpired during this meeting. Sadly it was clear within minutes that not only were we not going to get help, but that the person tasked with helping us regionally, was going to go out his way to act as an unfriendly gatekeeper toward any help or interaction with his program going forward.

This became clearer when the Director of the mentoring program asked he to tell us know about his Topical Pitch event in November. He quickly replied that WE would not be ready to pitch our company at the local startup pitch event he hosts in November.

We were being told to go away. He stated we were not ready for investors. We were not ready to pitch. We would not be ready in 5 months from now. Clearly and unequivocally go away and disappear.

This from the Director of a Non Profit program paid one assumes to provide help to Startups in his sector of knowledge. During the course of the meeting, he was dismissive of a company with “smart” founders who know nothing about running a business. Until Mike, my COO spoke up that he is a partner in a local business that is 30 years old and that he had ran it for the last decade plus. His response was to ask Mike when he was quitting his Day job, because he can’t do both. Mikes last day is next week, as he trains his replacement for background.

It was like this for the whole meeting, as the Director attacked our business, our strategy, our team member’s backgrounds, and our approach. It was the most dismissive hour of my life. Ironically, I found the experience extremely motivating to succeed now more then yesterday.

I will also say, it was extremely constructive in making me evaluate the business and what I say, and when I say it going forward. He entered our “How can WE help you meeting” with a strategy to make us go away, I will be better prepared next time for the unexpected.

Needless to say, today was not my Day. It was, however, extremely motivating day for me.

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