08 May Pitch Creator Featured on Minority Innovation Weekend Podcast
Minority Innovation Weekend (MIW) is a weekend summit dedicated to aiding minority innovators in launching tech-focused startups. MIW’s goal is to facilitate minority innovators with learning how to take an idea or concept and launch a tech-focused business.
The creation of the Minority Innovation Weekend (MIW) arose from observations that there is a need to support minority innovators in launching startups in science and technical areas. The objectives of the MIW is to provide minority innovators with knowledge to launch science and technology startups in Baltimore and to attract capital providers to aid in supporting their success.
A recent episode of Disruptive, MIW’s weekly podcast, featured an interview with Jason Tagler and Calvin Young where they discuss Pitch Creator’s purpose and goals — plus a bonus discussion with advice for startups navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Welcome to the Disruptive Podcast by Minority Innovation Weekend. Minority Innovation Weekend is a weekend summit dedicating to aiding minority innovators on tech-focused startups exploring emerging technologies and showcasing tech startups that have a minority founder or a cofounder. During each episode, we will discuss innovation, news about tech startups as well as the startup ecosystem and people of color throughout the startup ecosystem. Welcome to the Minority Innovation Weekend Disruptive Podcast hosted by Michelle, Sir Walter, and Jerome. Right now we’re joined by two distinguished gentlemen from Pitch Creator. We’ve got Jason Tagler, Volunteer Director, and Founder as well as coach/instructor, Calvin Young. How are you guys doing?
Very good. Thank you.
So excited to have you all on this podcast today and talk a little bit about the work that you’ve been doing with Pitch Creator. What was your purpose behind it and the goal behind creating this platform?
Calvin’s made a big impact on a lot of things that we’ve done at Pitch Creator. Pitch Creator was founded in 2014 with the goal of creating jobs in the Baltimore area by teaching entrepreneurs how to communicate with investors and raise capital. We started by teaching live classes in incubators and accelerators. I saw a lot of really smart, energetic entrepreneurs who were working really hard. And then when they were out trying to raise angel or seed rounds or whatever they were trying to do, they were getting passed over by investors. And the directors at the incubators were saying, “Oh, it’s because angel investors in our area don’t invest like they do on the west coast.” I used to live in Silicon Valley and there’s some truth to that. But a lot it is that they just really didn’t fundamentally know how to communicate with investors. So I founded Pitch Creator under that premise.
When I was teaching classes, I couldn’t find really good instructional material, so I created my own e-guides. In 2017 we created an online course. Now we have multiple online courses. We’re self-funding, so I volunteer my time and the advisory board members volunteer their time. We create multiple types of courses. Some are free. Some are paid. Some are online. Some are live classes. And then we reinvest the profits by hiring freelancers and consultants. They help with video, audio, graphics design to constantly improve the platform. And our goal is to break even but each year we usually lose a little bit of money. But we get pretty close.
We serve three categories of people, individual entrepreneurs, over $78 million dollars raised by just the entrepreneurs that you’ll see at the testimonials in the top of our website, and then college instructors who are preparing students for a shark Tank investor pitch competition either in their class or at their school. And in the third group of people we serve, are accelerators and coaches who are working on entrepreneurs and trying to help them prepare to raise investment rounds.
The Pitch Creator team has experience both on the investing side and the fundraising side. I like to say both sides of the negotiation table. As a team, we’ve invested over 120 million dollars in different companies of all kinds and stages: Angel, venture capital, growth equity, and buyout. Also, we’ve raised over 150 million for individual companies as well as funds. All that experience is baked into our courses. And I think that’s sort of the fundamental outline of what Pitch Creator does.
Thank you, Jason. So earlier you mentioned that Pitch Creator has an online portion. Have you seen an uptick since the Corona crisis?
A little bit. We have a course that individual entrepreneurs can go right to the website and use. It’s designed for entrepreneurs with an existing business that are generating revenue. And they might be raising their angel round, seed round, VC round, or growth equity round. It’s called the Foundation Course. And it’s designed to teach fundamental principles. Think of it as the 101 class that you would take in college. On top of that we have more advanced classes that are live instruction. But the fundamentals course, the foundation course is online. And we’ve probably seen a little uptick in that.
We have a special version of that course for colleges, universities, for instructors to use and that’s tied to when they have their pitch competitions. Right now what’s happened is a lot of them have had their Pitch competitions and their Shark Tank competitions inside the colleges, were planned already for this semester and they’re moving them to online formats. So they’re still using our course. And interestingly, everyone’s looking for more online content. And the college foundation course, and having that virtual Pitch event for the students is actually really important because particularly right now having something like that it tends to get them more engaged in the class because they know they’re going to have to pitch. And even just doing it virtually they still have judges. And some of them are still running prizes and they’re actually awarding money. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily picked up and volume, but the importance of it has probably gone up to colleges, universities. We might see that start to flow through next semester.
So what stage of business are you targeting or would benefit from Pitch Creator the most?
So you can think of Pitch Creator as the brand. And then we’ve got different courses for different types of people. The online courses that you can take independently mainly is this the main one. We have some free resources on the website and under the courses page that– I mean, we’re continuing to add to those at all times. And they’re mainly short lessons and things that people can watch for free. Some downloadable white papers and things like that. But the main sort of flagship course is that foundation course. And the idea is its fundamental principles of pitching investors. How to communicate with investors and raised capital that I developed based on what I do at Camden, what Calvin and I do at Camden, with later-stage companies. My prior experience in Silicon Valley in San Francisco in investment banking. Raising money for companies that were preparing to go public. As an investment banker, advising companies on their sale to bigger companies, and technology companies. So 5 to 30 million dollar company, work with that CEO and help them prepare to sell their business.
And there’s common principles that are the same whether you’re raising in angel rounds or you’re getting ready to take your company public. Not everything’s the same, but there are fundamental principles that are the same, and that’s what we teach at the course. So if you go to our website, in the top there’s testimonials, and they’re actually broken down by first-time CEOs and early-stage companies, late-stage CEOs, repeat CEOs of late-stage businesses, college instructors, accelerators. Because that course is so fundamental principles-based, it’s used by a lot of people. And I’ve had repeat CEOs who have raised rounds for multiple companies, mainly in a workshop format, go through that course, and say by going back and going through the fundamental principles again, they’ve learned something. Because a lot of times, even if you’ve raised money for multiple companies, unless you’ve really worked with an investment banker and gone through a full sales process with an investment banker, or taken a company public with an investment banker, there’s a lot of things that are fundamental that you might have missed over time. And that’s what we try to teach in that core course. And then we do other things on top of that that are mainly live instructional. So right now, I’m working on a live course that will be for late-stage CEOs. CEOs who have between 5 and 25 million of revenue.
So you’ve talked a lot about some of the similarities between what fundraising pitch decks should have, and how you should be raising at every level. Can you talk about the differences in how you’re having conversation as you’re doing a friends and family, to a seed, to a series A, to a series B, and what those look like, and how you’re targeting the investors differently as an entrepreneur?
Yeah, so that’s a great question, and we talk about the equity life-cycle in the course. So if you think about it, typically the entrepreneur has to put some money in. Investors want to see that you have skin in the game, and usually that happens, right. It might be sweat equity, opportunity cost, but just putting some money in there. One way or the other, you’re loaning the company business to get going. Then it’s the friends and family rounds and it’s your relatives. The next sort of phase is typically that angel investor. And then there’s what I call– there’s a big chasm. You have to make a big leap. After that angel rounds, you’ve got to make this big leap to the seed rounds. And why is that different? Well, as soon as you leap to the seed rounds, the difference is, as an angel investor, I’m investing my own money. As a seed fund, I’m a fiduciary. I’ve raised capital, just like we do at Camden. We raise a blind pool of capital every four years or so, and then we invest that into 12 to 15 companies. A venture fund, which is a little earlier stage than what we do, they’re going to raise a blind pool of capital, and they’re going to invest in 20 to 30 companies. A seed fund is probably going to be doing something similar to adventure funds, 20, 30 companies, but smaller bite sizes. But what’s important to note, are those are institutional investors, right? When Calvin and I are working for Camden, we have a fiduciary responsibility to those people that have entrusted us with that money when we invest in those 12 to 15 companies. The standard of care is so much higher than one I might personally make an angel investment in the company, right? So as an entrepreneur, you have to understand that. You’re still going to do your best to communicate, right? In a way that’s– you’ll be do much better– you’ll be much better off if you approach it as if– if you approach your angel rounds with the level of work and effort that you put in this seed run. Like that’ll always benefit you. And always kind of looking one step ahead benefits.
But the big thing to notice, to be aware of, is that leap from angel to institutional. And a lot of times what I talk about is what’s the perfect angel investor? The perfect angel investor is the CEO who– it successfully grew and exited. Let’s say your version of whatever you’re doing is version 3.0. They’ve grown and exited the business as version 1.0 or 2.0 of whatever you’re doing. They have now made a lot of money, and they’re pretty much retired. Okay, why is that important?
That’s important for two reasons. Number one they have time. And with that time, they can help mentor and advise you, right? That’s what you really want. Number two, they’ve got the right industry contexts. So they can help introduce you to new sales and create new business development. Because what they are doing is– what you’re doing is a better version of whatever they were doing, you know? It’s the newer version of the problem they were solving with their company. But all their contacts, all the people who they sold to, you know, they’re going to be customers that you want to get in front of, and you want to explain why version 3.0 is better than 2.0. And hey, by the way, the CEO of version 2.0 is one of my angel investors. So another thing that that angel investor does is particularly in the angel stage, a lot of people will look to see, they’ll look for that lead angel, right?
And I use this example of Jerry South. Jerry South founded a company called Town Park. Which is a regional valet parking company. Camden Partners was the first institutional investor in that business and threw acquisition and organic growth, we’ve grown it to the largest valet parking company in the US. Multiplied [inaudible] by six times, and then also grew it overseas, and then also went into the healthcare market. And then we sold it to a bigger version of Camden. And Calvin that was chairing it really well. Because Jerry’s also the– or got involved in the second new version of that business, right? But let’s use that Town Park example, cause a lot of people in Maryland know that company.
If Jerry South invests in some other valet parking company, right? There’s going to be a lot of investors who are going to follow behind him and say, “Well, Jerry South really knows what he’s doing, cause he was extremely successful at building this other business.” So if he’s doing this other thing, he’s the lead angel investor, I’m going to invest just on the basis that he’s putting his money in. So it’s kind of like a lemming effect, to a certain degree, right? So that’s what you think about when you have that lead angel. Number one, they have the time. They have money to invest, because they been successful. They have the business contacts. They’re going to create that Lemming effect. Because other angel investors are going to follow them. Then there’s another thing that’s important to think about. Everything about investing is balancing risk and reward. So they understand, Michelle, whether– they understand the risk and reward of your business better than anyone else on the planet because they ran and exited 2.0. And if your 3.0 version is truly better than what they were doing, they will recognize that immediately. And the risk or reward to them will be always better than the risk or reward to somebody else like me. I might not understand that business quite so well, right? And that’s also part of the Lemming effect. Other people realize that. Oh, if this person is investing in Michelle’s 3.0, it’s got to be good. So that’s what you look for for a lead angel investor. Some of those attributes are similar when you jump over to the seed rounds. But again, you’re really thinking more about fiduciaries. Even at the Camden stage a lot of what we do in terms of diligence is so much more than what a venture firm might do because– or a seed fund might do because we’re later stage. But as you go up the equity life cycle, the big jump is between angel and seed. And then it just gradually goes up from there. Does that answer your question?
Yes, that was super helpful. I think that one– even from what you’ve talked about, it seems like when you’re having conversations with your investor if it looks like an angel investor or an individual investor to someone that is an institutional investor, there has to be alignment in the kind of business and the relationships that they have. And then maybe messaging to them in different ways. Is that something that you’ve done through the work that you’re doing with pitch creator to help them hone that message?
Yes. A lot of what we talk about or I think fundamentally a lot of what we do is what I would call learning the language of investors. There’s probably 15 to 25 concepts that investors care about. And they’re different than what your customer cares about. So you could be a very successful CEO at selling to customers but you have to understand that investors are a different type of customer. And you have to understand their language and how to speak to them. Because statistically as an angel investor I’m going to look at four big companies for every one I invest in. And Calvin and I– and Calvin can attest to this [laughter], we’re going to look at over a hundred companies at [Camden?] for every one we invest in. So some of that is what you just pointed out and what we were just talking about is I’m going to have a– particularly at Camden, I’m going to have a very specific types of companies and industries that I’m an expert in, right? The risk and reward of those businesses is going to look better. I’m going to tend to want to invest there because I can help those companies grow. Same as an angel investor. So some of it’s that. But some of it’s also, particularly at the angel stage, if you can’t communicate to me as an investor if you don’t understand the language of investors, right? And you don’t pitch me very well, I can’t invest in your business even if you have a good business. The reason is, as an angel investor I know you’re most likely going to need to raise more money. And if you don’t know how to communicate with me now, you’re not going to be able will raise money in the future and I’m going to lose my investment. Now, I might say to myself, “I don’t know. I’m going to put a lot of effort in, to weed through Michelle’s pitch, and try to figure out and spend a lot of time and figure out whether she’s got a good business or not.” I might decide to do that an angel sometimes will, but the reality is if I’m a really disciplined angel investor and I know I have to look at 40 companies for everyone I invest in, and I need a portfolio of 25 companies to really be successful because a lot of early-stage companies I’m not going to get my money back. Doesn’t mean they’re going to wipe out, but I’m going to get diluted down by future investors. So if I’m really good at angel investor and I’m very disciplined about my portfolio, I don’t have the time to spend with you to do that. I’m going to pass. I have to. It doesn’t always happen, but to answer your question, yes, one of the things that we teach fundamentally in the foundations course are what are those 15-25 things that investor’s really care about, and what’s the order they want to receive that information and how can we make it as easy as possible for them to receive it?
Thank you, [inaudible].
I want to go back and touch on– You talked about speaking– This is to Jason or it could be to Calvin, speaking of language of investing, you mentioned lead angel investors. How do you identify lead angel investors? Is it the fact that they’re the first to invest or is it that they have more experience and bring more – how should I say – like environmental resources to the business at hand?
Yeah, I probably didn’t explain it very well, but what I was talking about with Michele is– So you have a business, and I would call it “version 3.0”, it’s a better version of something else, right? You have a cloud platform, and you’re Salesforce.com, right? You’ve got a CRM in the cloud, right? And it’s 2005 or 2003– Salesforce.com went public in 2004, so it’s 2000, I don’t know whatever. Whenever they were raising their angel [around?], right? And I was the CEO that had an “on-premise” version of a CRM. Now, I sold that company. I did pretty well. I made some money. I’m kind of retired. I invest a little here and there. I do some angel investing. I sit on a couple of boards at a few charities. I’m financially independent, right? I might be a very ideal angel investor for you as one of the first companies coming out with a cloud-based CRM because I know what selling CRM’s is all about. But I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, Sir Walter’s got a much better version of what I did. He’s in the cloud.” I know that I sold my on-prem company and I did pretty well, but wow, what he’s doing is really cool. Because you could do it all in the cloud not. I don’t have to send out CD’s and update software and blah, blah, blah. So in that case, I’m the ideal investor because you’re doing version 3.0 and I did version 1.0 or version 2.0, right? So that would apply to anything. The reason why I’m good is, A I’ve made money and I’ve exited, but I’m going to be able to introduce you to people that you’re going to sell to, because you’re going to be going into the customers that I sold to and say, “Hey, you used to buy from Jason. You should buy from me because version 3.0 is better than Jason’s version 2.0 or 1.0. And by the way, Jason’s also invested in my company as an angel investor.” Does that make sense?
It does, thank you.
Let me add to that.
One of the things that actually Jason taught me was when you’re working with companies, a lot of times they come to us and they’re really interested in raising money very soon. And we tell them, “First, slow your horses down. Yeah, you might need money now, but it’s very important to get this message very tight and crisp, but also don’t go looking for money. Go looking for advice from people who can give you very, very good advice and who can introduce you to people who can help you in the industry. And as they give you advice and get excited about your company, those are the people who will naturally be interested in giving you money for all the reasons Jason just said; because they’re in the industry, they’ve been successful in the industry already. They’ll be able to help you strengthen your business, and after they’ve strengthened that business, they’ll see the investment opportunity better than anybody else who’s never been in that business before, who you’re just cold calling or cold emailing asking for capital because they’re an angel investor that you got off a list or somebody introduced you to.
That is a great point and I will expand on that a little bit. Thanks for bringing that up, Calvin. There’s an old saying, “Ask for money and get advice; ask for advice and get money.” So fundamentally, when you think about how do you find that lead angel it’s by asking for advice. By going to them and saying, “Hey, I got version 3.0. I know you did really well with version 2.0 when you exited, I’d really like to get your advice on the business.” I’d like to buy your coffee or lunch, and talk to you about what I’m doing. And it’s likely you’re not doing everything perfect. And this person’s going to give you some good advice. If nothing else, they’re probably going to make that business development intro for a new sales that you might be able to make. But in that course of asking for advice, they’re going to learn about the business. And if what you’re doing is really, truly version 3.0 and better than what they did, they will naturally want to invest. So that concept of–
I was going to say this might be a good point where you can talk about the structure of what we had the entrepreneurs develop. Because a lot of times when they’re coming in with that investment summary, this is the compensation when they’re showing it to those to those advisors for the first time, to those potential angels.
Yeah. So while I was going to wait till they asked me what are the biggest mistakes. But one of the biggest mistakes or the biggest mistake that people make, and it’s not their fault because when you go and search on fundraising on the internet or an Amazon or Google, anywhere, it’s all about the slide deck. And we teach the slide deck at the end. You need to know what your talking points are. And before you get a slide, a slide deck is designed to help support you when you make a verbal presentation. Well, there’s two things that have to happen before that. You’re going to have to do what we call an elevator pitch, or you’re going to have some conversation, right, with this angel investor, somebody, to get them interested enough just to take the coffee or the lunch with you, to spend time with you. I mean, the opportunity cost of time of everybody is high. You’ve got to get them engaged to want to meet with you. Then you need to usually send them something via email before they’re really going to say, “Okay, I’ll take the time and meet with Jason, he’s got something, he knows what he’s doing.” We call that the readme pitch. And we focus a lot on that, because that’s your talking points. If you really get that nailed down, then you create the listening pictures to the slide deck, which you’re going to use at the end. So maybe Calvin, you talk a little bit about, in coaching, why we start with the listens or the reading the pitch, what it is, and what’s on there, and how that could be used to naturally have these asking for advice conversations, which would naturally turn into in a very fluid way an investment from an angel.
Yeah, it’s when we are coaching entrepreneurs, a lot of original conversations are exactly to what Jason said earlier, helping them to understand how investors think, and then crafting this story under that format. So that format is going to be what is the business. Can you tell me what your business is in one to three sentences? What problem are you trying to solve for? And then what exactly is your solution for that? How big is the market? Do you have any competitors? What current customers do you have today? If you are already in business, now, how much revenue did you make last year? How much revenue are you going to make next year? How much you make this year? And then are you profitable? So those are just a few things. But there’s a list of like Jason said about 15 things that we get entrepreneurs to put down into a readme pitch, which is basically one to three pages max. And when I say three, I mean, the last sentence is on the third page, but it’s really two pages, you know, what I mean? But the idea is that for the investor when you send them that, they’re going to be able to very easily, very quickly in this bullet pointed format, see exactly what your business is, what you’re trying to do, how you’re solving it, an understanding of what you think the prospect is for this thing to grow, and how you’re doing today very quickly. Because they’re not– suggest this point earlier. They’re looking at 40 to 100 companies. They don’t have time to go through an entire slide deck. And a lot of time when they look at slide decks, again, it’s formatted for the customer that’s buying but not necessarily for the investor. So it’s not telling them sometimes the right information. When I’m talking to a customer, I’m not going to tell them my financial information, but you’d better have a summary of financials when you talk to an investor or at least have an understanding of what you expect it– what you expect your finances to be if you’re just starting your business.
So those are examples of things. It really helps the entrepreneurs because you see this light bulb happen when you have these conversations , this a-ha moment when they start to understand exactly what the type of information is. And they see that difference between the information that they have to give when they’re selling and the information they have to give when they are investing– I mean when they’re raising. But because we focus on the read-me pitch, and we spend most of our time there, by the time we get to the slide deck, the slide deck is just so easy because it’s all the same stuff that’s written down. And now you’re just building a presentation. So instead of trying to figure out how to make the right slides, how to know what the right talking points are, and how to present it all at the same time, you already understand the right talking points. You already understand how to present it. Now it’s just building a slide deck to help you present it when you’re in that conversation with the investor.
Okay. So Calvin, since you’re a coach, two questions for you. Can you describe what function the coach score sheet provides? And what criteria do you use in regards to critiquing the improvement of the pitch by the student/CEO?
I’m going to ask Jason to come in on the quant of it, but I can talk to you a little bit more about the qualitative of when we’re using the score sheet. The first time they give us a read-me– actually, let me tell you the process. The process is they will go through the online course on their own, then after that, they have to do a read-me pitch on their own. Following that, they have to then send that read-me pitch to two to three advisors that’s not me, people that trust them– that they trust, that know their business, and are invested in them as a person, to read it and give them feedback. After that, then they send me the read-me pitch, at which point, I’ll then read it, red-ink it, and then have a one-on-one conversation with them about the business that they’re building. Sorry, something just dropped– the business that they’re building, what they’ve written, and to give them that investor’s eye.
After that, everything changes. They do a whole new read-me pitch, and it’s completely different. But in that moment, when I’m helping them after that first point, I’ll do a sort of baseline benchmark on the score sheet that then goes to Jason. And that’s really just to see kind of where they were after they had that first conversation with me. It also allows me to then know where to focus my attention with them on.
Because a lot of times, for example, one of the things that’s always very difficult is total adjustable market for especially very early stage company. So I usually have to spend time there and on the financials. I find more than, say, the problem and the solution. But it allows us to to be able to focus as coaches on where should we make sure that we are giving them the most time. But then also when– if they’re in a pitch competition, by the end of the pitch competition, they need to have improved and I need to be able to measure that so that the folks that are running these competitions can see the value that they’re getting from the pitch creator course. [inaudible] anything you want to add?
Yes. Yeah. [inaudible], that was good. Really the coach score sheet is exactly that. There’s sort of eight core learning objectives. They’re very similar to the things that Calvin mentioned earlier. How do you summarize your business? What’s the problem? What’s the solution? What’s your revenue model, the TAM? There are the certain things that– and then they repeat through the course because your slide deck is being built on your readme pitch. So those things repeat, and really it was initially designed just so– if Calvin’s coaching five or six people at the same time or 10 people at the same time, and I’m coaching some, it gets a little confusing. So the coach score sheet just helps you say, “All right, for this particular entrepreneur this is where they were, this is where they are right now on eight core learning objectives.” I’m going to score them. I might write a couple of qualitative notes. Then when they come back with the next version, I can go right to that and see, “All right, here’s where they are. Oh, they really improved here. They didn’t make a lot of progress here.” It’s a way of staying organized, but what’s happened with it is it’s really for not-for-profits where they’re going out to raise grant money. At the end of this, you have a relative improvement score for each entrepreneur. You can then average those scores and show how much on average the program– how much improvement the program created. And for something like pitch coaching, which is normally very labor intensive, and the course takes a lot of that out because for the coach you’re leveraging the course– that the entrepreneur’s doing it on their own. So it takes a lot less time than it would be to try to do it one on one. But then now you’ve got– so you’re saving a lot of time if you’re an incubator or accelerator or whatever, and then you’re also– all the coaches are doing this score sheet because it helps keep them organized.
At the end you can quantitatively show the improvement of all these entrepreneurs. Now when you go out and try to write another grant and raise more capital for your program next year, you can show a quantitative result. And that’s really for pitch coaching especially which is– people usually think of it as qualitative like, “Oh, I went through this thing last year, and they’re a lot better.” Now we can actually show quantitatively how did each one improve and how did it roll off into a score. And that by accident just turned out to be something extremely valuable to the not-for-profits who are raising grant money. And it was really intended just to keep the coaches organized.
And then the same thing can be used at the colleges. It’s a way for them to say, “Hey, our program’s really helping the students and quantitatively here’s how they did.” And that helps them– it might help a entrepreneurship instructor get more budget for a bigger competition or maybe get some prize money or get alumni to sponsor their pitch event to provide prize money which really provides more motivation for the students. So it’s been important for them as well. And it was a little bit of an accident. It was really intended when Calvin was working with a lot of entrepreneurs as a way to kind of stay organized [I just didn’t?] see what was going on.
So I know that we touched on this a little earlier on our podcast, but we talked a little bit about COVID and how it’s impacting entrepreneurs. And as a current entrepreneur, I’m in the process of scenario planning, understanding cash flow, making some really hard decisions. So with that as a background, understanding that we are in a global pandemic, that many economies around the world have halted, how are you changing or modifying Pitch Creator’s content in a difficult time? And what kind of guidance are you giving to your entrepreneurs that you’re coaching?
So Pitch Creator is a volunteer nights and weekends project, so I’m full-time at Camden. So it’s more about business that you’re working with, right?
Yeah. But yes, we can talk about both. I just say that because sometimes I forget to say that. The goal of it is to try to create jobs, and we hope to breakeven each year. And it ends up usually losing a little money, and I subsidize it. So we just sort of do whatever we can with the amount of time that we have, so we haven’t been adjusting the online courses in any way. I think the same would apply– well, I and Calvin work together on a lot of the same companies at Camden, and we’re engrossed in helping our CEOs and management teams survive, right? There’s unique moments in time, whether it’s this, whether it’s the financial crisis of 2008, whether it’s the dot-com bubble of [2001?]– I was in San Francisco, Silicon Valley during that time at a company and doing investment banking, and [inaudible] was up both sides of the roller coaster, up and down, right? In these unique times, everything changes, right? Everything now is on cash, cash management, how much runway do you have, and can you access– can you be nimble, and what sort of sources of capital can you access that are uniquely available right now, right? Through the PPP program.
So that’s what we’re really focused on with our companies, helping them try to take advantage of those situations, and also just to be defensive because a lot of– if you think about what’s the most important right now, and what’s most important right now is being always– an entrepreneurship means really two things, getting comfortable with failing, and learning and getting better. That fundamentally is what entrepreneurship is about, and that really is just being able to adapt. Well, right now, you have to be able to adapt to be able to survive. If you can fundamentally survive, that’s going to give you a big advantage from your– there’s going to be competitors who are not going to survive, so right now it’s more about survival than anything else. So it shifted from raising money to grow, to what do you need to do to your business and what do you need to do on the fundraising side to survive? That might be changing your cost structure. Things like growing your sales and marketing team don’t make sense now because we don’t know whether those people are going to be needed or not. If you have a choice to spend a dollar on sales and marketing and a dollar on research and development, you spend a dollar on research and development because you’re going to get something out of that. Whereas sales and marking, you’re not sure because there might be nothing– there might not be something to sell to they might hold back on that dollar, but I would say everything right now is more about survival. Calvin, what would you say to that relative to Camden companies who are working or whatever?
Well, simulate a portion of Pitch Creator first. Since I’ve been involved with Pitch Creator in 2018, by then, Jason had already done the first version of the course online. It’s 100 times better now than in 2018 because he’s continuously worked on it. But I’ve been able to, through coaching and other coaches really do a lot of it through zoom or through phone calls anyway. Usually, there wouldn’t be a need for an in-person until you’re really prepping for the pitch for the actual pitch event. So for a lot of companies right now, they’re not at that stage where they are ready to pitch. It’s right here and this is as effective as having the conversation in person. I think because most of the pitch companies are becoming virtual, this also seems to lend a helping hand towards getting folks comfortable with pitching from the living room as opposed to being in front– which, actually, might be more comfortable than pitching in front of a live studio or live audience. I think from a Camden perspective, is exactly what Jason said, everybody’s in survivability mode right now. Some companies that are seeing a tailwind because of this, because they’re already virtual or their offerings just become more in demand because people are moving more virtual. And then there are companies that have a significant headwind right now and for those companies like Jason said, it’s survival, it’s cash management, and unfortunately for some companies, it means fallows, not just in the Camden– I mean, this is systemic right across the entire economy. Fallows, people losing jobs. But the idea that we can continue to make sure that the company survives and can continue to thrive after all this is clear. Camden is a firm that is focused on growing companies. There are PE firms that are buyouts and then they slash-and-burn and they make money through financial engineering. That’s not Camden. Our main focus is to help a company grow from 5 million to 50 million or 10 million to 100 million. So times like these are very critical for us because it’s not a time of growth. And because it’s not a time of growth, making sure that companies know how to maintain and manage through the crisis is just very important and it’s frankly one of the ways we add value. As a firm, because we work with so many different companies, we can see what many companies are doing and the benefits of the positive things that happened over here we can transfer over here to this other company over here so that everybody benefits from the collective work.
All right, we’ve talked a lot here. Is there something that you wish we would have asked that we haven’t asked yet? This is for Calvin or Jason.
That was a good question [laughter]. That is one of my favorite questions. That’s usually my question [laughter]. Calvin, what do you think? You have a better sense of the audience here and what do you think they would want to know?
Well, what’s really important for me when the idea came to have this podcast with PitchGrader was for folks to really get the understanding of the program and what we do so that folks can use it because from my perspective, it’s really, really helped me when I’m supporting companies and coaching entrepreneurs. I know you spoke to [McKeever?]. I haven’t listened to that podcast yet, but I’m sure he probably spoke about the Builder Program. The Builder Fund up at TEDCO. The Builder Fund started as the Pre-Seed Fund between TEDCO and Harbor Bank and that was a conversation with me and [McKeever?] at lunch one day, where [McKeever?] said, “Hey, I have this great idea. We should give pre-seed money to entrepreneurs of color.” I was like, “This is a great idea.” And then he came back to me one day and he was like, “I got it approved.” I had no conversation yet [laughter]. [He stepped right up?] and get us approved. It eventually became the Pre-Seed Fund, which eventually became the Builder Fund. And one of the things that we had a challenge with was really making sure that we had enough resources, because for entrepreneurs at the pre-seed level and the seed level, you have to not just give them money but you’ve got to give them the support. And when I came to Camden, I had learned about Pitch Creator a little bit before Camden, but when I came to Camden and had a conversation with Jason about it, I really saw the value in its ability to help entrepreneurs write where they are at any stage, and especially at that pre-seed stage where you really don’t know how to pitch to investors, especially for folks of color. You might not even know an investor. [McKeever?] might be the only investor you’ve ever met. So to be able to go through the Pitch Creator course, get the Read Me pitch solid, it really gives you a leg up. And as a coach, it takes the conversation from level one to level five. That first conversation I have with an entrepreneur is always lifted to a different sophistication because they know how to talk, at least at some level, because they’ve gone through the course. And then I can help tweak it here, tweak it there, especially with understanding how to craft that story on the presentation when we’re doing the Listen to Me Pitch, it just makes it so much better. So I think it’s a super valuable resource for entrepreneurs in Baltimore, entrepreneurs across the country, specifically those of color who have never had that opportunity through school or through other means to meet investors to know how to talk to them when they finally get to introduce themselves to one.
On a different topic, I would say go to PitchCreator.com and go to the online courses dropdown and select free resources and watch the free videos and download the free stuff. We’re trying to always add to it, but I’ve got a lot of little lessons on there and probably learn some stuff just off the free– and then also check out the testimonials as well. It will give people a sense of who it’s worked for. I think we actually covered some of the important things, which is developing relationships with other successful CEOs who have raised money or, more importantly, built companies, and developing relationships with them, asking them for advice, really focusing on that. Other than that, don’t think of fundraising as a slide deck. It’s not [laughter]. It really is about knowing the key things, the language of investors, that are different than what your customers are interested in. So think of an investor as a specific type of customer and you’re selling to them. And unless you’ve really been exposed to it through an investment banking process, it’s almost impossible to know what their language is. Why would you? Even, you’ll see those testimonials, you’ll see those repeat CEOs on there, some of them have raised money for multiple companies. But in the big scheme of things, they really haven’t gotten in front of that many sophisticated investors at the seed, [v-seed?] growth equity stage. They’ve raised some capital from some angels. And the reality is, some of those angels are not really professional investors either. They just haven’t gotten enough pattern recognition. That’s kind of what it’s all about. You really shouldn’t expect to know this stuff unless you’ve had a chance to be exposed to a lot of professional investors. And that’s what the course can do pretty quickly.
Right. We want to thank you, Calvin, as well as Jason. Thank you for being our guests. Once again, can you tell us how people can reach out to Pitch Creator?
That wraps up this episode of the Disruptive podcast by Minority Innovation Weekend. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe. Check us out online at www.MinorityInnovationWeekend.org, and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. MIW 2020 is coming up on Saturday October. [music]