Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, August 16, 2021
by Neil Senturia
I recently attended a pitch for a very clever solution to a monthly issue that most women face, namely menstruation.
The pitch had won some startup competitions, earning a couple hundred thousand in cash and services, and the pitch was delivered by four women from a prestigious university with a slightly robotic, but sincere delivery. They were professional pitchers.
This group was highly educated, they had done extensive research, and had developed what could be a very innovative solution for a big market. In addition, they had learned how to win pitch competitions, but when I asked a couple of the basic hard questions, like cost to acquire a customer, how were they valuing equity, proposed financing, and their basic ownership structure, their answers were a bit fuzzy.
I admit that I was a bit pointed, but what came through to me was that their certainty, which had been bolstered by winning competitions, masked the dilemma of “it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that will kill you.”
The pitch competition is a longstanding, tried and true rite of passage. I no longer judge them, because I find myself stuck between being semi-decent and supportive, and wanting to tell them to look up at the ceiling and see the three swords on a thread that are hanging above their heads, and need to be addressed. The young women have good advisers, and if they listen to them, they have a real chance.
I have a longtime friend who runs a venture fund. He is facing a dilemma, namely when to cut the cord and let one of his dogs die. After all his years of experience, he knows the answer, but unfortunately, he has a deep affection for dogs. When he can no longer afford the dog food, I suspect he will come to his senses. But the lost time cannot be replaced.
Being the CEO comes with a Birkin bag of challenges. Another client is caught in a legal morass. He seems to think he can litigate his way out of a bad marriage. I think not. I propose that he interview a dozen divorce lawyers and see how often rational behavior triumphs against the “over my dead body” position.
It is the dog days of summer, and psychiatrists are on vacation, same as venture capitalists. Maybe they are seeing each other in the Hamptons or at the Cape. But the entrepreneurial fires continue to burn bright at the barbecue and I remain a true believer.
And finally, a touch of “you can’t make this stuff up.” Alyson Krueger, a New York Times writer, details this past week the rise of the “business shower.” This is the entrepreneurial answer to a baby shower. She profiles Sid Singh, 30, who had just quit his consulting job to build a financial coaching company. He gave a party with balloons and pizza to explain his vision to his friends and ask for their support.
Tell me, Sid, what are we going to name the little tyke? There is actually a startup, Makelane, founded by Dulma Altan, that offers a free virtual kit called “Startup Stork” to help female founders plan business showers. Krueger says “over 1,300 have been downloaded since 2021.”
Are you telling me that an entrepreneur needs a kit to explain how to give a party announcing the birth of their company that has no customers, no revenue and no idea what it is going to be when it grows up? Perhaps I will bring a Peg-Perego stroller as a gift.
“Female founders, in particular, are attracted to the idea,” says Krueger. Women with startups are now getting the same congratulations as they got for being pregnant. Thkisha Sanogo gave a shower with mini steak frites and cocktails, and using a business gift registry, raised $10,000, including airplane tickets to a technology conference and gift cards for Staples.
Just a quick refresher, in 1999, startups thought nothing of hosting million-dollar launch parties. Déjà vu all over again?
My next company is going to be an organic baby formula startup that turns into cash and equity when the toddler starts to walk.
Rule No. 676:
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”
— J.D. Salinger