June 21, 2017
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The hotel room hasn’t seen disruption since the addition of the television in the 1950s. Pieter Boekhoff wants to change that—by transforming what happens when we look in the mirror. But first, he has to convince investors that there's money to be made in hospitality.
From Gimlet, this is The Pitch. I’m Josh Muccio. On this show we hear real entrepreneurs pitch real investors — for real money.
It comes down to that critical moment — when founders put it all on the line, and investors decide their fate —
Phil Nadel: So you could do gambling in a hotel room in Vegas?
Howie Diamond: That’s not convincing to me.
Jillian Manus: Can I talk? First of all shame on you.
This week an entrepreneur pitches his idea to reinvent the hotel experience. But when things don’t go according to plan, will our startup founder be able to throw out his script and adjust on the fly?
First let’s meet our panel of investors.
Phil: I’m Phil Nadel with Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners.
Phil co-founded one of the largest syndicates on AngelList called Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners.
Phil: If for some reason the members don’t bite then the thing falls apart.
Phil is a straight shooter looking for companies without a lot of question marks.
Jillian: This is Jillian Manus and my fund is Structure Capital.
Then there’s Jillian Manus. Jillian is something of a legend in the world of Venture Capital. In her early twenties, she survived domestic abuse that left her living in shelters in NYC. She was able to pick herself up, start several companies and is now a multi-millionaire.
Jillian: You can have the most incredible product, but if you don’t know how to talk about it, you’re gonna have a problem accelerating.
Jillian tends to take center stage and really drive the conversation.
Jake Chapman: My name is Jake Chapman with Gelt Venture Capital.
Jake founded the venture arm of Gelt Inc. an investment firm with over a billion dollars in assets under management.
Jake: They're going to shut you down on that name. It's definitely a trademark infringement.
As a former attorney, Jake brings a lawyerly mindset into a pitch — if a founder can hold up under cross examination, he might just invest.
Howie: Hi, I’m Howie Diamond.
That’s Howie who founded the VC firm, Ranch Ventures.
Howie: There needs to be a moral and ethical code that's aligned.
Howie is looking for altruistic companies: he’ll only go in on a startup that’s making the world a better place.
Sheel Mohnot: I’m Sheel, a partner at 500 Startups.
Joining us this week is Sheel Mohnot — he broke into the big leagues of venture capital when he sold his company, FeeFighters, to Groupon.
Sheel: This isn’t going to work. You should do something else, seriously.
You can always count on Sheel to say exactly what he’s thinking — and he appreciates the same candor in an entrepreneur.
Ok, on with the pitch.
When today’s founder, Pieter Boekhoff, walks into the room it quickly becomes clear that he’s got this demeanor you don’t often see, in someone about to pitch their company: he’s extremely laid back.
Pieter Boekhoff: So My name's Pieter. We invented the iMirror which is a Minority Report style interface on a mirror for hotels. I spent a lot of time growing up in hotels. My parents were managers of hotels so the staff was like my family. Spent a lot of time in unbooked rooms watching TV and ordering way too much room service, but absolutely loved it.
While growing up in hotels, Pieter learned firsthand just how much goes into guest services. And he was constantly thinking about how to improve the hotel experience.
Pieter: So, fast forward twenty years, watching a conceptual video made by Corning called A Day Made of Glass. Some of you may have seen it.
Sheel: Yeah, I saw that video, yeah.
So Pieter sees this video, that looks like something pulled out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. It shows a family’s home outfitted top to bottom with interactive glass: the kitchen counter, the fridge, the bathroom mirror, every window — it’s all interactive and touch enabled. And this is when Pieter has his eureka moment.
Pieter: And I immediately thought, this can change the way customer service is done in a hotel room. Hotels haven't been disrupted since widely adoption of the TV in the 1950s. So think back the last time you walked into a hotel room, there's that closet on your left or your right and the mirror across from it. If you could tap on that mirror, order room service, book shows, book an Uber, change the lighting, play some music, you can even check out on the mirror. That’s what we built. So we're raising a million seed to roll out 5,000 mirrors to hotels.
At this point, Pieter opens up his laptop and presses play on a video that shows investors just what iMirror can do. The investors begin to narrate what they see on the screen...
Sheel: Walking through Vegas. It's the ultimate immersive guest experience.
Jillian: Right. Two people walk in the room.
Sheel: Oh, there's a virtual concierge. Two people walk in the room.
Jillian: Oh, look, there's a mirror, honey.
When someone touches the surface of the iMirror, and a list of options pops up.
Jillian: It says 'room service' on the mirror. Or all these other things.
Howie: Order food.
Jillian: Oh, and all the photos of the food that I can order. So I just touch it with my finger, and immediately your food will be up on the mirror, which says "your food will be up in 30 minutes."
Now someone is playing a slot machine on the mirror.
And this is when Sheel, who’s normally pretty skeptical, leans forward and starts to get really animated.
Sheel: I like this.
Pieter: Yeah. That's a live demo.
Sheel: That's live?
Jake: Is that real money gaming they're doing on that thing, or no?
Pieter: This would be. That demo was fake.
Phil: So you could do gambling in a hotel room in Vegas?
Pieter: As long as we've connected and disabled the one on the floor, on the casino floor. You just can't have more, you can't add...
Howie: Yeah, more units.
Jillian: For Las Vegas, this adds gambling time. So not only do you get them down the casino, but you also once they get to the room and they're all drunk already, then they start playing with the mirror, so to speak.
Jake: I have one, in the weeds UX comment about using the mirror in hotels for room service —
This is Jake, our former lawyer, who tends to obsess about the tiny details.
Jake: I think you might run into a problem where people who are looking at themselves in the mirror, and then choosing food.
Jake: I'm serious! I think this is going to reduce the conversion of food orders in hotel rooms. And it's a bit, in the weeds, I think you might see that.
Pieter: Not a chance.
Howie: Or maybe based on like your body type they'll recommend different foods for you.
Phil: Go with the salad!
Jake: Sir, I would recommend the fruit cup to you. Are you sure you want the fries?
The investors are starting to have fun — which can be a sign that they’re getting excited about an idea. But before they get too carried away, Pieter takes control and steers them back to his pitch.
Pieter: With a mirror you spend on average 18 minutes a day looking in a mirror, and no one is competing for your attention on that. And my six and four-year-old niece and nephew walked up to the mirror, immediately saw themselves, and started swiping through photos.
So Pieter has shown his promo video and talked up iMirror’s features, but Jillian, who always keeps an eye on the big picture, moves past the the slick presentation to get to the heart of what Pieter is really selling.
Jillian: So, I always like to hear from founders, what is your best question you've ever gotten from a VC that really helped you to distil your, either your pitch, or something that you wanted to let us know, but we weren't asking the right questions?
Pieter: Um... It wasn't a VC, but it was Rob from 500 Startups. And he really wanted to instill, telling the story, because people don't understand that it's a pain point in a hotel room.
Pieter: Hotels are suffering a lot by not being able to reach millennials.
Pieter: Their demographic is aging, and they're having a really tough time competing and getting millennials to come in, spend money in hotels, and want to be there.
Jillian: Why do we need this? Why is it important to me? Not to me, because I'm clearly not a millennial. For everybody who is now listening to this, in case you wondered, I am not a millennial. Actually, none of us are.
Sheel: I think it's...
Howie: I'm on the cusp.
Sheel: You're on the cusp.
Howie: I'm on the cusp.
Jillian: Okay. I'm cusping. We're cusping.
Howie: We're on the cusp.
Jillian: All right. We're cusping. So it's the why. It's not what and how, it's why. Tell me why this is going to be — let's pretend that I'm a millennial. I've invested in hotels. I own some hotels. I know this space pretty well. So explain to me what's the why to them. Because it's cool — it has to be more than that.
Pieter: It's an extremely personalized experience for you. So based on your loyalty program and the information we know about you in the room, we can give you a personalized experience, a concierge service to you in the room.
Jillian: So when I return, as a repeat customer, everything will already be there. So just for everybody here, what hotels do after you leave a room they literally go in, they count how many towels you used, what portion of the meal that you've eaten, how much of the soap that you've used, everything. And then they store it. And that's how they've been collecting data for years.
Pieter is pitching iMirror as a personalized in-room concierge and entertainment hub for guests — but Jillian has a different vision.
Jillian: Because for a hotel, yes, the customer is fantastic. But everything that comes before and after, before they check in and after they leave, is actually some of the most important data that we want to capture. And so I think that this needs to be a part of this. This is not only for your consumer, it's actually for the hotel efficiency. And that's a bigger play. See, I think you need to incorporate that into your pitch.
Jake: Really interesting. I know I've talked to a gentleman who used to run hospitality for the Ritz Carlton. And he was talking about this. That they would come into the room afterwards and if you had moved the waste bin from next to the desk to the foot of the bed, the next time you stay at a Ritz, the waste bin will be at the foot of the bed. Because they've come in and catalogued your personal preferences. But I'm sure it's paper and pen. So a system that was just a touch screen for the housekeeping staff...
Pieter: And when housekeeping walks in, they can bring up all the information of things specific to you that they might want to do for the room.
Jilian: Well, for future reference.
So Jake says hotels are stuck on paper and pen when it comes to collecting data. And the investors like the idea of bringing hospitality into the 21st century.
Here’s Howie —
Howie: Does it even need to be a mirror? Could it just be something that's on the wall, or that could be portable? Because I actually kind of like ordering food from bed. Or I like doing things from wherever.
Pieter: There's a complimentary app to it. So if you want to do that on your phone, you can. If you want to add an iPad to the room you can.
Howie: So why not just have it all on the app?
Pieter: In a room, if I walk past that mirror [00:36:00] and it says hello to me and has my name on there and says I can do some things and prompts me to interact, and I can change the lighting, turn on a song.
Howie: Everything you described can happen on an iPad. But you're saying that it should happen on a mirror on a wall. That's not convincing to me.
Sheel: Where is it live right now?
Pieter: We have a live in retail. We have one big client that we have an NDA with, they make athleisure wear. And then we launch with Tommy Hilfiger, their store of the future, in two weeks.
So the iMirror isn’t just an idea. It’s already a reality. Not in hotels, but in retail stores.
Peter: It's basically a concierge fitting room experience. The items pop right up on the screen, and you can learn more about the item, or you can ask for a different color and size. That information gets sent directly to a store associate. They respond, they say I'm coming in one to two, or two to three minutes. And then they bring your item back.
Howie: So you started in retail, but now you're moving to hotels? Why?
Pieter: So hotel was always the vision; we just had our first big break with an international retailer. So it allowed us to get to commercialization and learn all the stuff we need to learn. So we'll be rolling out more mirrors in those as we go, but we're looking to do a pilot in hotels to start.
So Pieter says hotels were always the vision, and the only reason he launched in retail is because a retail client saw his product and wanted to buy it for $450 thousand. But the question is, now that he’s finally pursuing the hotel market, will he keep going in retail?
Jake: So the customer who paid who $450k, they're in retail?
Jake: For how many...?
Pieter: We have five units out with them.
Jake: Five units. And how many mirrors could they possibly represent?
Pieter: They have 330 stores.
Jake: Okay. And you're currently deployed, those five mirrors are currently deployed in how many stores?
Pieter: It's in five different stores.
Pieter: Seoul, South Korea. Mall of America. Santa Monica. Vancouver. They've got analytics on how many people touch the mirror a day. So the flagship store launched in New York — in the first eleven days had was over 20,000 interactions.
20,000 interactions with the mirror in 11 days, sounds pretty good. Pieter may not mean to, but he’s making a good case for why his mirrors really belong in retail.
And iMirror is about to debut at one of Tommy Hilfiger’s most prestigious locations.
Pieter: Tommy Hilfiger is doing their own marketing and branding for their Store of the Future. It's in the biggest shopping mall in London, West Stratford.
Jillian: If that is successful, what does success look like?
Pieter: For them it's 700 stores. So for us that's at least 700 units.
Jillian: Right. But you're only launching one store? Or it's one store and based on the success of that store then they will do another —
Pieter: Yeah. So it would take five years to roll out to their whole fleet, and it would be staged over the five years. Even if we did ten mirrors a store, that's 7,000. But if you get the Venetian, one hotel, one market, that's 7,200 rooms. So it's one of the reasons that we don't think retail is the right spot.
Jillian: You just need one hotel.
Did you catch that? Pieter says, despite his early success, he doesn’t think retail is ultimately the right spot for iMirror, which means he’s asking investors to buy into his plan for hotels — a market he hasn’t yet proven.
Howie: Have you had conversations with hotels? Like, how far along are you in the sales cycle with hotels?
Pieter: We've a meeting with MGM on the 27th, I think we just booked.
Howie: Okay. So you're starting to have these conversations?
Pieter: Yeah, so this is just, we're just pushing into that.
Jillian: Let me go back to retail for a second. I like the idea of this being in a dressing room. There are many times when you're in the dressing room, where you need another size and you have to stick your head out or go around half naked. The other part of it is can you buy while you're there? So can you pay for it as well in the dressing room? Oh, I like this, and not have to wait for someone else. You just walk in, love it, pay for it, put it in your bag and leave.
Pieter: Yeah, so on our roadmap it's in the next six to eight months to finish developing that.
Jillian: Because that would be a game-changer for retail.
Pieter: The cost for us to do a ten mirror pilot in a hotel is not significant enough for us not to do it. So that's our plan right now is to do a ten mirror pilot, and then test it out so it is what we're passionate about right now. We're not stopping the retail side. We're just not as aggressively pursuing it.
It’s decision time. Has Pieter talked investors into his vision of hotels as the future for iMirror?
Howie’s up first.
Howie: If you gave me a demo and I was just completely blown away I'd probably, that would be, it would be a higher probability for me to want to go in this deal. I still think that I'm more bullish on, like the mirror aspect of it, the form factor sort of seems like a little bit of a red herring in terms of like the actual problem that you're solving. And I think the problem for me that you're solving could be solvable in a way with much less friction in terms of just really a pure play software. That would be something that I would be more excited about. So I think for those reasons I'm going to pass.
Okay, Howie’s out. Phil’s up next. He’s been quiet in this pitch, and it’s hard to tell which way he’s leaning.
Phil: And I really have to agree with you. I have serious concerns because of the form factor. It just doesn't get me that excited. And also, just from your traction standpoint, I mean, having started kind of in retail and now shifting your focus, let’s say, to hotels where you don't yet have a foot in the door. For me, I'm going to pass.
So Phil passed. Here’s Jake.
Jake: For me, whenever it is a physical product I look at it through the lens of me as the consumer, would I use this. And I'm thinking of myself, in a Vegas hotel room, like I'm not going to want to stand in front of that mirror and interact. I never see myself doing that.
Phil: I try to avoid mirrors at all costs. If you look like me, you want to avoid mirrors.
Pieter: To be fair, there's four of the wrong gender sitting in front of me for spending time in front of the mirror.
Sheel: Oh yeah.
Jake: No, so I wouldn't use it in that context. So it's just hard for me to get over that. I really liked the idea that Jillian pitched, which is just the data collection for hotels. But if that's the product, then I think we're really talking about an app that you get the housekeeping staff to download.
Pieter: I do feel you guys are potentially thinking that I'm pitching you an iPhone, and you're telling me that people want to use a Blackberry in the room.
Jillian: Oh that is so unfair.
Pieter: And that form factor and user experience doesn't matter.
Jillian: Pieter, shame on you!
Pieter: Form factor and user experience are incredibly important. So, I do feel that you're trying to tell me that they want to use a Blackberry in the room, which is not correct.
Jillian: Can I talk? Okay. First of all, shame on you.
Pieter: And I'm Canadian, too, so it's —
Jillian: Yeah. Double shame on you.
Up until this point, Jillian’s been pretty responsive to this pitch. She highlighted what data brings to the equation and she really keyed into the the retail side of things. But she did not like that iPhone vs Blackberry comment.
Jillian: Here's the thing. We all start companies for millennials. I actually, I'm worried about this in the hotel space simply because, one, I have invested into and I have investments into Las Vegas hotels, A. B, I have hotels all over the country and in fact two overseas. So I do know the hotel business. I do know millennials. First of all, with the millennials, I worry that they don't spend that much time in the hotel room. It's all about getting outside of the hotel. They go in, they do their hair, they do their makeup, and then they do everything else because they want to network. And they want to be where the action is. And the action is not in their hotels until after they're drunk, and then the action is in the hotel.
Phil: That's different action.
Jillian: That's a different action. Okay, let me do the flipside of this. In the retail space, I think that's your market. I think there is so much that you can add to the services of those mirrors, in those dressing rooms, you know, and it is such a huge value to brands. It's the point of purchase. It is simply that. So I would love to see this more really dive deeply into retail, rather than divert your attention and your dollars to hotel. And that's the reason why I won't — that I'm going to pass.
So four of the five investors are out. Pieter’s last chance is with Sheel, who was the first one to really get into the in-room gambling concept.
Sheel: I tend to agree with Jillian. I think there's probably an opportunity in retail. Although it's a lot less in numbers, you could probably charge a lot more. You could probably have a higher profit margin on that retail side.
Jillian: And then you're getting percentages of every sale.
Jake: I think the cross-selling opportunities are huge too, [00:56:00] right? Like, you should definitely get a cut of every time you sell a pair of shoes to match a pair of pants, right?
Jillian: Absolutely. There’s a lot of opportunity in retail. I really want you to think about that.
So Sheel didn’t actually say it, but he’s out -- like the other investors, he’s more excited about retail.
Sheel: So, the thing is, retailers and malls, like I talk to them all the time, and they're always like what is something that is going to get me — get people into the mall. So I think you have a buyer in retailers and malls that are just hungry for any technology. And so I think, much more so than hotels are. I think it’s a much more receptive audience.
Pieter: Yeah, we have a ton of traction in retail.
Jillian: So go and do the retail and see how that works. Raise this around the retail, and then, if we can prove this and really really dominate this market, then we're going to go into hotels.
Pieter: I agree with everyone on the retail. And then I respectfully disagree on the hotel.
Pieter: And I think you'll be very surprised.
Jillian: So this is one opinion. What i say about opinions are, If you hear an opinion once, it's still an opinion. If you hear an opinion twice, it's still an opinion. If you hear an opinion three times, that's a consensus, and that's something. Then you do something about it. Well, Pieter, we loved having you. And I want you to succeed. And I think that as you launch in Tommy I'd love you to come back to me on this. Because I'd really love to see how that launch goes. But thank you. Appreciate it.
Phil: Thanks for being here. Good job on the presentation.
Howie: Thanks a lot.
Pieter: Thank you for having me.
Jillian: And next time bring a mirror.
So Pieter didn’t get the funding he hoped for, he walks out of the room. But investors keep chatting about the pitch, surprisingly they can’t stop talking about how much they love iMirror — just not the way Pieter pitched it.
Jillian: I'm telling you, he's missing this. He is missing this. This is so huge.
Sheel: Retail is the way to go.
Unfortunately the retail side of things isn’t what Pieter pitched today.
After the break… We’ll find out how things are going with iMirror and whether Pieter was right to stick to his guns about hotels. Stay with us.
Welcome back! A few months after his pitch, I sat down with Pieter to catch up on how things are going with iMirror.
Josh: How's business in general what's happened since you came on.
Pieter: Yeah things are really good. The world of retail has started to, it's almost like we were two years too early, and now we're just right in the thick of this. Everyone needs to innovate, I get, I get emails, whenever there's anything mentioned about store of the future or innovation of retail or digital concepts, so it seems like we've fallen right into the middle of it all. So I guess the best way to put it is our funnel is pretty full.
Josh: Alright so getting into the pitch obviously none of the investors on our show were interested in investing at the time. First of all, I just want to get your take on like, what do you think happened in the room? Why didn't they invest?
Pieter: I think I had the wrong approach coming in as far as talking about this exciting portion of our business that I think we want to explore which is the hospitality side and doing a small pilot in there and getting some —
Josh: Hotels you're talking about.
Pieter: Sorry hotels. And getting getting some information back on whether or not that's a viable opportunity. And that's really a small part of what we do because we're all of our traction is in retail and focus in retail. And so I was getting feedback in the room like you should focus on retail and I kept trying to say that's where we do 90 percent of our stuff. And I think I didn't position in the beginning saying hey we make all of our money in retail and we're raising money to accelerate the growth on the retail side and try a little test here.
Josh: Do you think you are in error in going so far down the hotel? I mean you were down that path and almost seemed like you were like ready to kind of let go of the retail side.
Pieter: I think the thing is that knowing your audience going in is one thing but reading them in the moment is different. And I perhaps didn't I didn't adjust quickly enough or I didn't read it quickly enough to transition or to claw it back from the direction I was going. I was committed to the way I was going to pitch it. And there were two options of the ways to do it and I think I got a little bit unlucky and I think I also didn't didn't adapt quickly enough which which is fine. That's probably what I learned the most out of it.
Josh: So no no clients on the hotel side yet.
Pieter: We want to keep our retail clients happy first.
Josh: No I think that's smart. And I think that's what the investors were getting at in the room. ‘Cause I mean hearing you now it sounds like you completely agree with them but in the pitch in that room you were really defending the opportunity in hotels and they were like well you have traction in retail just keep going for it.
Pieter: Yeah I might've felt that they were saying there wasn't an opportunity in hotel and I do fundamentally disagree with that. So that's probably where I was digging in my heels and for me sometimes you know you hear all the time that the thing that people have the hardest time connecting the dots to is often the biggest opportunity and I you know I would stick by that.
Josh: I mean you certainly stick stuck by it in your pitch.
Pieter: Good. I'm stubborn.
Josh: I think investors got that and I think it I think maybe it rubbed on the wrong way. I mean did you sense that in the room
Pieter: To be blunt, I felt that one person kind of controlled the conversation and led the direction and I was having trouble following even the path and the sequencing of the conversation. So —
Pieter: I'm not sure that it was five people telling me the same thing aggressively as much as I did feel there was there is a strong voice in the room and she and I may not have hit it off directly so, which is fine.
Josh: Have you reached out to Jillian since the pitch?
Pieter: No I haven't. I haven't talked to anyone.
Josh: Well, what's funny is I'm totally picturing an alternative reality of this conversation where you said you know what I walked away from that and realized retail really is the way to go. And so we've been diving into that 100 percent and it's totally paying off because it's just very different picture than what we saw in the pitch.
Pieter: I'm confused because I didn't need convincing that retail was the way to go. I think I didn't articulate well enough that that is our core focus.
Josh: Well, I mean, you are obviously killing it on the retail side, which is exactly what the investors wanted or were excited about.
Pieter: Maybe I’ll reach back out to them.
Josh: You should.
Pieter and I were about to hang up, but right before we did he told me this story that felt kinda out of left field — later I realized it got to the heart of exactly why his pitch failed.
Pieter: You know I’ll just tell a really random weird story. But the hardest thing I ever tried for in my entire life was to make the grade seven basketball team. And I tried so so hard and I didn't make the team. And I couldn't figure it out I could not understand it. I was distraught and I was really upset. And so I went to talk to the teacher who was the coach and she said it had nothing to do with your skill. You're one of the better players. She said it was your attitude You never smiled once you weren't happy you weren't — It looked like you were having the worst time ever. And so I like to think I learned that perception — and you know that I need to have a dry sense of humor. I'm not as quick to smile as a certain people and I'm potentially a little bit defensive when people are questioning an idea but I need to continue to think back to that time and know that even when I'm trying my hardest to be coachable or have a conversation with these investors that potentially I'm not coming across that way. So yeah.
What do I think? I think Pieter and the investors were in agreement about retail all along! But that didn’t really come across in his pitch. And that’s a lesson for us all: read the room. Keep reading the room. What you went in thinking you were going to pitch might change — and you need to be able to see an opportunity when it arises.
And just remember: everything you need to know, you probably learned in junior high.
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Alright, you’ve been listening to The Pitch from Gimlet Media. I’m Josh Muccio. See you next week.
Next week on the pitch, we hear from a founder who’s on a mission to clean up the planet and to do it, she needs your trash.
Amanda Weeks: What do you think is the single largest components of landfills? Do you think it's plastic? Do you think it's paper? Because it's actually food.
Jillian: So the incentive here is a do-good incentive, right? Maybe I'm not getting the total value prop for a customer other than, you know, do well, right?
Phil: They're not saving money.
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