I was soooo nervous; Mr. East Coast Analyst turned entrepreneurial adventurer mooching around the city of San Francisco, riding up to this fine loft South of Market to pitch to…..who were these guys again? Yes, yes, a group of accredited investors – angels. These gents agreed to see me, and here I was riding their private elevator.
Woosh. There I am right in the suite, the home of Daniel Xavier Thornton (not his real name), a fabulously wealthy retired gent who made his fortune in the heyday of HP, Intel, Xerox. He worked for them all as an engineer, executive, advisor, and board member. For over 20 years, he and his close cohort have been placing seed funding east and west. These fine gents were notable for sometimes placing bets on good ideas from team-less subject matter experts; they are not impressed with voluminous business plans, they invest on the gut. Sometimes (often) they help build the teams and go hands on with operations. Sharp, mature, modest, wise angels.
Whenever they addressed me they always used my first name in an almost formal manner, “Alan, we hate most of these Web 2.0 guys, we want to get back to investing in real inventions”. “Alan, can you tell us more about your background as an electronics technician?” “Alan, please don’t tell people who we are, you can do that blog thing, but change our names and location”.
“Ok”, said Thornton, “Do the standard alligator pitch and then we will pick you apart”.
I didn’t want to quibble over terms, “You mean ‘elevator’ pitch’?
“Well, Alan, let’s just say we are eager to see if you can take a bite out of our skepticism”, Thornton shot back at me.
“Gentlemen”, I began, “The market for independent automotive trades such as towing operators, mobile locksmiths, and mobile glass repair, has been all but ignored by the software companies that provide mobile messaging systems for the purpose of dispatching work orders. Likewise, the industry specializing in SAAS and hosted mobile solutions has offered nothing for this small fleet trade. The fleet management industry only concerns themselves with large truck fleets with manned dispatch desks, whereas independent automotive trades often work out of their trucks. Therefore, the architecture and system that I am proposing, called ThruDispatch, is designed to serve these small operators, connecting them to outside agencies in a way that is congruent with their itinerant methods of working, and in a manner of ‘loose coupling’ to those agencies.”.
Now, these men had read my briefing, as I was to find out shortly; this stand up was to gauge me. They had also done their research into my target market, as I was also to discover.
Thornton’s eyes were almost closed as he spoke.”Alan, you obviously know your sector, and you know, as we do, that you have been campaigning on both coasts for almost two years, with many close calls – we know this.”
He continued, “We also know that a plan like this is very un-sexy and working class, regardless of the objective merits of the actual business as proposed. I personally believe that this is going to be hard to fund in the Bay Area, due its blue collar target constituency, which is a shame. Furthermore, even if we here in the group decide not to engage with you, it is not due to the lack of merit of your plan, but rather we have been steering toward basic inventions and early technology breakthroughs, such as post academic physics, nanotechnology, polymer chemistry, materials, green tech, etc.”.
At this point, I may have deflated a bit; detecting this, Thornton bucked me up:
“We may be able to help by seeking another avenue for you, or through friends of friends.” He continued –
“You know, Alan, what sinks more startups than any other reason, especially in this re-take of the second bubble of false and redundant capitalizations of yet more social media and the like?” I had no idea, and I said as much. Well, I had many ideas, actually.
Thornton was definitive, “it is the notion that a founder is a combination of CEO, CTO, CFO, and BMF all wrapped in one. There is no such person with that kind of acumen, and we fellas here have made some money where others have lost millions, by realizing that human limitation.”
I was really perspiring.
“Do you need a drink, a scotch, son?”
Did I hear him correctly? “Uh, no, Daniel, I’m not much of daytime drinker”. Did I just insult him?
Thornton and his eerily silent partners all smiled, and the other man to Thornton’s right, who had not said a peep, suddenly piped up in an almost birdlike voice, the last words I were to hear that day, “don’t give up on this one, Alan, I know it’s tough, it’s a good idea in its basic tenets. Look me up on the web, you will see what I went through at Fairchild, it was hell going out on my own. It will be harder for you because you don’t have the academic credentials, although you have a distinguished career, such as it is in this market.”
This distinguished old man continued with a line that would shock me cold, “I worked with Major Edwin Armstrong, he died over his obsession and dedication to his inventions and dreams; don’t drive yourself crazy like he did – walk in equanimity.”
I could not believe what I was hearing; I idolized Edwin Armstrong, his inspiration drove me forward. I was zoning out on the older partner’s words when Thornton chimed into my thoughts:
“Well, Alan, this has been fun, we will get in touch if we can help you, and will certainly try to be of some service if we can’t place actual funds. Don’t give up, son. Charles will show you back out, leave your card here.”
I don’t even remember riding down on the elevator. which on the ride up had impressed me so, in that it opened into the loft itself.
I was on the street South of Market, in San Francisco, five blocks from BART…