I jumped into this world with the idea of creating a product that could help caregivers, the family and friends of loved ones with Dementia, find the support they need to do a good job. The 12-minute medical appointment doesn’t have answers when I ask “What does that flaccid look on her face mean?” or “How do I get access to her bank account before she loses her house?” or “What should I do when she won’t cooperate and shower?” Hundreds of touches in the medical system and all I got were shrugs. It’s not right.
Here’s why you should care:
I feel so fortunate to live in the Bay Area of Northern California, with the hub of innovation and technology at my disposal. Could I have come this far if I lived in Poughkeepsie?
I’ve built the minimal product, recruited our first advisors and Experts, am building the community of caregivers and now have to find money to go to the next stage. I start to pitch investors.
With 25 years of sales and management experience, I’m comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, presenting or training. I know how to craft my words to engage my audience which I realize is a gift I take for granted. And my age is also a gift. I know myself. I recognize my skill set and know where I need help. Age also allows me to not care about what others think. It’s very freeing. I have a thick skin and know, like in sales, it’s a numbers game and if this investor doesn’t invest, another will. I have to find the right investors who care about doing a good job taking care of someone they love. I’m not selling a gadget or the next Uber. I’m trying to create a meaningful community and product to change world of caregiving.
Here’s a gem of a pitch story.
At my first pitch, very first, I am third in a line of four pitches to a crowd of 50 people. It’s a Fem Tech event, which means we all have products women will use. The first pitch is an anesthesiologist who has invented a medical device which detects fetal distress sooner, by oxygen, vs. traditional heartbeat, in utero, during labor. His pitch deck is full of slides with statistics as he’s already testing it at Stanford.
The second pitch is an app that offers 35 different tests a parent can do at home to detect the early signs of autism. It can be uploaded to their doctor in advance, therefore making their pediatric visit more productive and get to an earlier diagnosis, increasing the chance for a better outcome for their child.
Whoa. I choke down the intimidation and I’m up.
A funny thing happens. My 5-minute presentation, turns into a 35-minute exchange with the four investors and the audience. One female investor says “I can’t believe we’re talking about this. I just had to put my Mom in assisted living for dementia yesterday.” Another young male investor says “I can’t believe we’re talking about this either. My family just named me executor of my grandmother’s estate because she has Alzheimer’s and because I’m a guy. I don’t’ know the first thing about being an executor.” The last female investor says “Wow. I’m only 26 and didn’t know this was a problem until you explained it. Holy shit!” The fourth male investor is quiet.
I answer more questions from the audience and it’s time for feedback from the investors. All three give me constructive feedback and the last, quiet male investor, I’ll call him Taylor, has his turn. He's MEAN!
“This was a total waste of my time. It was so emotional, I stopped thinking about investing and bought into your problem. I can’t believe I’ve had to listen to this now, for like, almost 45 minutes and I wouldn’t invest in you if you put a gun to my head. You have no traction. No data. I’m fucking done.” he says, leaning back in his chair and throwing his hands up in exasperation.
I take it. Stunned. And in that split second where I’m about to respond, both female investors turn toward him and shout, “Are you kidding me? Have you ever cared for anyone in your life? What are you doing here? Of course it’s emotional, she’s looking for early Angel investors. They invest in early stage and take risks on emotion. She doesn’t have data because she’s just about to launch her beta. Are you even married or do you have any kids? Do you even have siblings? Do you have parents? You’re fucking clueless. This is the exact reason we need Fem Tech events. There’s a world out there dude.”
I stand, holding my microphone, listen and watch, feeling vindicated as they fight the fight for me, so grateful they could say what I’m thinking. I can’t say it rolls off my back but these women help. Big time.
When we leave, one female investor tells me, “Jeesh. That felt like a TED talk. You certainly stand out in my experience of listening to pitches.”
Fast forward a few months and I’m invited to pitch again because I won a pitch at a different competition and they’ve invited all the winners back from to pitch against each other. It’s flattering. I see on the invitation; Taylor is on the judging panel. To break the ice, I send him a Linkedin message and tell him I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
He replies, “So we meet again.”
Here we go.
This event has 6 Founders pitching and I’m number 5. I watch as some have great products but they’re lousy speakers, mumbling and saying “Um” a hundred times. Others have traction but they’re slides and presentations are so garbled, I barely know what they do. One woman has got it all though. A cool product, Optimity, and beautiful slide deck, traction, confidence and they’re making money. She’s raised $1.5mil and is looking for $5mil more. She can’t be more than 29 and she knows her stuff. The investors pepper her with detailed questions about customer acquisition costs and burn rates and she nails it. I’m in awe.
But in all of my pitch experiences since that first time, no one has ever had a reaction to me like Taylor. I’m not usually nervous but I am now with him in the investor panel seat. I text my husband and ask him to tell me a joke.
It’s my turn and I get up and do my thing. I’ve gotten better since that first time and a calm comes over me. It’s a feeling of grace and somehow I’m even more relaxed and comfortable. I’ve also gotten used to the audience reactions to my pitches, with tons of questions and total engagement. It’s fun and I enjoy the education Care Better brings to people 30 years younger than me.
When it’s time for feedback from the judges, I brace myself for Taylor. He passes on the opportunity, leaving me perplexed but I let it go. I listen to the other three compliment me on the idea, the problem I’m trying to solve, the presentation and one actually says, “OMG. I have nothing to say. I’m speechless.” They offer some constructive suggestions.
I don’t win the event. The young women whom I admire rightly does. I wish I could invest in her myself she was that awesome.
Then, as what happens every time I talk about Care Better in a crowd, I have folks lined up to talk to me, tell me their stories, offer their assistance, join my beta test and my soul is filled. Care Better is meaningful.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, turn around and find Taylor 2 inches from my face. I startle and flinch backward.
“Hey. What did I tell you the first time I saw you pitch Susan?” he asks, not angry, but intentional. He speaks quietly because we are so close.
“You told me a lot. Where to begin? That I was too emotional or that I didn’t have data?”
“Well. You weren’t too emotional this time. You could use more data. But mostly. You need to talk more about money. That’s why we’re here.” he continues softly.
“OK. Good advice” I relax, letting my shoulders drop after realizing I was also clenching my jaw and physically holding my body tight, preparing for the onslaught without female back up.
“That’s helpful and I appreciate it.” I add and start to sense we are in very tight quarters with the crowd around us and he had to be that close to me. I relax and realize my fear is all in my head.
He leans in and hugs me, hard, and says “Who doesn’t’ want to do something about Alzheimer’s? Keep at it. You’re on to something and your presentation is excellent. Come back and see me in six months. I believe in you.”
Miracles catch me off guard. I watch him make his way through the crowd towards the door.