Should I Enter a Business Plan Competition?
What’s the value of entering a business plan competition? Should I spend the time and effort necessary to win such a contest? What are the benefits to participating even if I don’t win? Cory Hewett and Evan Jarecki, co-founders of Gimme, answer these questions and more as they are interviewed by “Decision Vision” host Michael Blake.
Cory Hewett and Evan Jarecki, Co-Founders of Gimme
Cory Hewett and Evan Jarecki are the Co-Founders of Gimme. Gimme won the 2015 TAG Business Launch Competition conducted by the Technology Association of Georgia, Venture Atlanta, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
Gimme transforms the way companies service micro markets, vending, and grocery by automatically identifying products, their placement, and inventory levels using computer vision verified by humans. Gimme’s software and wireless hardware eliminates errors and manual effort from warehouse staff and route drivers. Gimme empowers Route drivers to focus on delivering amazing customer experiences, and operators to focus on cash accountability, inventory tracking, and machine status data. Gimme’s solutions prevent stockouts, accelerate warehousing and restocking, and streamline product planning. For more information, visit http://www.vending.ai or connect with Gimme on Twitter.
Michael Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is Host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast. Past episodes of “Decision Vision” can be found here. “Decision Vision” is produced and broadcast by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX®.
Visit Brady Ware & Company on social media:
Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decision, brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware a regional, full-service, accounting advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make vision a reality.
Michael Blake: [00:00:21] And welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic. Rather than making recommendations because everyone’s circumstances are different, we talk to subject matter experts about how they would recommend thinking about that decision.
Michael Blake: [00:00:39] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a Director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia, which is where we are recording today. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator and please also consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Michael Blake: [00:01:03] Our topic today is Should I Enter a Business Plan Contest? And this topic is is interesting, I think, really on the forefront of the minds of many people who are listening to this program because, if nothing else, the business plan pitch contest, if you will, has been made famous by ABC’s Shark Tank, a show which I still have not seen to this day, by the way. But I’m familiar with what it does.
Michael Blake: [00:01:31] And pretty much, every city with a venture community of any size has some kind of business plan competition in it. And in Georgia, we’ve had a number of them. Some have come and gone. Some have stayed for the long term. And there are national business plan contest as well. Sometimes, alumni groups of universities hold them. I know Georgetown University, my graduate alma mater, has them. Venture firms, sometimes, hold them as a way of generating deal flow. Business incubators often have them.
Michael Blake: [00:02:10] And to do one right, to be a participant, it is a time-consuming exercise. In fact, I’ve been assigned teams when I’ve coached and mentored them through the programs, and we’ll get one or two weeks into the process, and say, “You know what? I don’t have the time to do this. I’m out,” which is perfectly fine. Rather, you do that on week two than a week before you’re supposed to kind of finish the thing.
Michael Blake: [00:02:36] And so, I think it’s a fair question to say, why do you put yourself through that? Because the business plan contest has a fair amount of of time that you have to invest. Typically, a business plan contest sponsor will have a mentoring – excuse me – or training program that leads up to the podcast — I’m sorry, that leads up to the competition itself, where they want to make sure the teams are all prepared. And that requires some time.
Michael Blake: [00:03:04] And then, somewhere along the way, you have a bunch of people that have never met you, that you don’t know who they are. And the public forum, they’re going to ask you tough, invasive questions about your business, right? And it’s fair to say, who needs that? Well, why would I put myself through that? I might as well go on Shark Tank and are willing to do that in front of an audience, television audience of 30 million people, even though we know a lot of that stage is basically WWE for business, but anyway.
Michael Blake: [00:03:34] But I have a couple of people here who have not been through the WWE version. They have been through, at least, one business plan contest. And I had the privilege of being there, of being their coach, and they were successful enough to overcome my coaching and winning that contest, which was the TAG Business Launch Contest back in 2016 or 2017. I’m trying the year. I think it’s 2016 now.
Michael Blake: [00:04:01] And so, joining us are Cory Hewett and Evan Jarecki, who are co-founders of Gimme Vending. Gimme transforms the way companies service micro markets, vending, and grocery by automatically identifying products, their placement and inventory levels using computer vision verified by humans. software and wireless hardware eliminate errors and manual effort from warehouse staff and root drivers. Gimme empowers route drivers to focus on delivering amazing customer experiences, and operators to focus on cash accountability, inventory tracking, and machine status data. Gimme solutions prevent stock outs, accelerate warehousing and restocking, and streamline product planning. For more information, visit www.vending.ai or connect with Gimme on Twitter, @gimmevend.
Michael Blake: [00:04:52] Cory and Evan both are graduates of Georgia Tech, and both worked at Gulfstream Aerospace before creating Gimme Vending. And maybe we’ll get some of that background in the interview today. But we have some work to do in terms of covering this topic. So, Cory and Evan, thanks for coming on the program.
Cory Hewett: [00:05:08] Hey, thank you, Mike. And good to see you again.
Evan Jarecki: [00:05:10] Thanks, Mike.
Michael Blake: [00:05:10] So you are looking well, and you’ve had some pretty good success since we last worked together closely. And I’m very happy for you. So, let’s go back to sort of what I think was was something of a turning point for you guys, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Talk about the business planning contest you won, sort of a high level. What was it? And why did you decide that you wanted to take part in it?
Evan Jarecki: [00:05:36] So, back when we were getting involved with just starting the business, we were trying to get more involved with the Atlantic community and learn what were ways that Gimme could continue to get exposure and who can we meet through that process. And the Technology Association of Georgia was one of those places that seemed like they were everywhere. The BusinessX — the business lunch competition.
Michael Blake: [00:06:06] That’s a good idea. BusinessX is going to do a lot of contests.
Evan Jarecki: [00:06:08] BusinessX contest, there you go.
Cory Hewett: [00:06:09] Business RadioX Launch Competition.
Evan Jarecki: [00:06:11] There we go.
Michael Blake: [00:06:11] So, if you want to have a business lunch competition through Business RadioX, just an email to firstname.lastname@example.org We’ll get right on that.
Evan Jarecki: [00:06:19] That’s right. No. It was when we decided to go for this competition, the business launch, we made it our total team effort. This was everything for us when we first got involved with the opportunity.
Cory Hewett: [00:06:36] Well, it’s certainly attractive to consider working on the business competition because it came with a quarter million dollars worth of prize money and services. $50,000 and nondilutive cash, that’s important to a startup that’s just getting off the ground. And then, another $200,000 in products and services that we’d be able to use to benefit the business as well.
Cory Hewett: [00:06:55] And like you mentioned before, we had to balance that against this idea that if we want to have a real business, at the end of the day, these types of things won’t give you a business. Great products, great customers, focusing on those two things is what build a business. The business competition, though, maybe gives you the fuel in the car to take you to where you need to go or, at least, maybe get you there a little quicker. So, the idea of cash, the idea of services, and the idea of credibility and some exposure within the Atlantic community, that could be very, very valuable.
Cory Hewett: [00:07:25] So, like Evan said, once we decided that we’re going to do it, we went all in that we were going to focus and put everything into it to maximize our probability of success to winning the competition.
Michael Blake: [00:07:37] So, get in, I forget how many companies. I think, at the outset, there are something like 30 companies. At what point did you start to think you might win? Or did you think you would win day one?
Cory Hewett: [00:07:52] I don’t think we thought we were going to win day one.
Evan Jarecki: [00:07:54] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:07:54] We knew that we’re going to try really hard to become a winner in the program, but there were a lot of rounds. So, I remember the first round, Evan and I hadn’t really done an elevator pitch before or had to go on stage to pitch our business, but the one time when we were leaving Georgia Tech, and we pitched it to the community there. So, we hadn’t done it in a televised, or WWE setting, or even in front of just an audience of people that didn’t include, at least, a couple of friendlies.
Cory Hewett: [00:08:18] And so, the first round was a couple hundred businesses. And it was more of an informal dinner meet and greet where we had to talk to different investors and judges who were there. You had to go find them. They would write down how you were doing. And if you made an impression, they wrote your name down after you just gave them the cocktail hour elevator pitch of the business. Then, you got to make it past that 300-round to maybe the top 30 round.
Michael Blake: [00:08:42] I didn’t know that. That is wild.
Evan Jarecki: [00:08:43] Yes, it was a speed-dating around. Yeah.
Michael Blake: [00:08:45] That is wild.
Evan Jarecki: [00:08:46] A couple hundred.
Cory Hewett: [00:08:46] So, the couple of days leading up to it, and even in the car driving over there, I remember in the car driving over there, we took what we had written. We’re like, “It’s all wrong. We have to redo it. Let’s redo our elevator pitch.” And getting there and talking to judges. And you asked, did we know that we’re going to win? Our answer to that is no, but we tried hard.
Cory Hewett: [00:09:06] And it wasn’t until that very last night, that very final round, we still had no idea. It was all this effort for not or is it going to turn into something? And I remember the moment where we had made it to the top two, and it was me and Stanley Vergilis of another great company called Hux, and we came out there with a lot of theatrics. We had worked with the art department at the SCAD studio where we were presenting. We had sound. We had rented this very expensive high motion camera to capture our competitor’s product exploding. So, that happened on stage. We showed that big screen video of the product exploding. We came out high energy, high theater, and did the best possible pitch that we could while we were there. And Stanley came out with a very different approach.
Evan Jarecki: [00:09:55] Complete opposite.
Cory Hewett: [00:09:56] Complete opposite. And his performance was so strong that as soon as I left the stage and saw his, I felt good about what we had done. It was the best job we could do. But then, when I saw his and the radically different approach, up until the moment that they unveiled the check to say who won, it was not clear.
Evan Jarecki: [00:10:13] Right.
Michael Blake: [00:10:14] So, let let me follow up on that experience, even though it’s not in our script. But in the final four, you may remember, another company had gone on, and they had banked on video, and it failed.
Cory Hewett: [00:10:27] It failed.
Michael Blake: [00:10:27] Do remember that?
Cory Hewett: [00:10:28] The live.
Michael Blake: [00:10:28] Did that make you at all nervous about what was going to happen with you guys, or were you so tight, you didn’t even think of it. You just knew it’s going to work?
Cory Hewett: [00:10:36] No, we knew it was a risk. Another mentor of ours warned us, you never do live demos.
Evan Jarecki: [00:10:42] Yeah, I think it was through the coaching and the practice that had us try to maximize for a more guaranteed success with the presentation style. And so, that was one of those pieces, avoiding it.
Michael Blake: [00:10:54] And I think that’s a good lesson, though, is that mentors and coaches are just that, right. They’re not your boss. They’re not your mom. They’re not your board of directors. At the end of the day, it’s your company, right. And if you’re going to take a risk, you’re going to take a risk. And look, especially at that time, you’re in a risky business as a startup, right. So, I can see from a certain perspective, look, we’re already here, man. We’re already here. We’re already living with risk on a day-to-day basis. Why are we going to stop now, right?
Cory Hewett: [00:11:27] Right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:11:27] Yeah.
Michael Blake: [00:11:27] Is that as a fair way to kind of characterize it?
Evan Jarecki: [00:11:29] Oh, yeah.
Cory Hewett: [00:11:29] I think it’s a risk/reward thing. We knew that there was going to be risk. The more things that we introduce that we didn’t have total control over, like we avoided a live demo that relied on cellular connection because those can go down, and since we violated that rule, and it’s burned us. So, it’s a rule for a reason. If you rely on cellular and you do live demo, it could go poorly. So, we had made sure that everything that we were showing was, at least, local.
Cory Hewett: [00:11:52] And the reward for us is if it played correctly, and we tested it before in the theater to make sure that it would, but we knew that if we got it to play correctly, that the value that it would generate for the audience would hopefully help them get that emotional feeling of what we are trying to do in our space. And maybe it’s helpful for the audience.
Cory Hewett: [00:12:09] Before we got involved, the technology in our space was really, really old. And the people who were forced to use it had so much pent-up frustration that when they got to watch the competitor’s product explode, you could see them light up. And maybe, if we were back in the horse and buggy days, and you hated your buggy after a while, you got to watch it just get set on fire and replace with the car. You’d be like, “This is great.” And we knew that if we could create that emotional response for our audience, our customers, and if that appealed to the judges as well, then we thought it would be worth the risk of maybe the chance of a tech error.
Cory Hewett: [00:12:43] And I feel terrible for the guy that that tried to do the live demo, and it didn’t work for him, because, you know, they’re kind of like us. They’re working hard to make it work, and nobody wants their demo not to work.
Michael Blake: [00:12:56] And they were doing well up until that absolute up until that.
Evan Jarecki: [00:12:59] Absolutely.
Michael Blake: [00:12:59] Up until that point, right. They’re a very strong competitor.
Cory Hewett: [00:13:01] Yes.
Michael Blake: [00:13:03] Yeah. And that emotional component, I think, is really important on two levels. It is tried and true. It reminds me of the Macintosh commercial from years, and years, and years ago where they smashed a PC in the middle of a commercial, right. And the whole Macintosh value proposition was the PC is just designed to frustrate you, right, and the Macintosh is not right. But everybody wanted to take a sledgehammer to their PC. Every single person, except for maybe somebody working at Microsoft wanted to do that. And I think you sort of captured on that.
Michael Blake: [00:13:40] And then second, it seems to me, and tell me if you think I’m wrong, you can only educate an audience so much about your business, right. And preventing stock-outs and vending machines and, now, at the retail level, it’s a great business, right. But it’s not the kind of thing that you go to the Thanksgiving table and everybody gets all fired up. That’s not like you’ve paid the college-
Evan Jarecki: [00:14:00] Hey, Cory, how’s that inventory on the [crosstalk] going?
Michael Blake: [00:14:02] That’s right. You’re not making call of duty, right?
Cory Hewett: [00:14:04] Right, right.
Michael Blake: [00:14:06] But if you can connect on that emotional level, everybody gets it. And you don’t even have to be in the business. If you’ve just ever been frustrated by technology, or laser printing in work, your Wi-Fi crapped out, you get it, right. I think that’s what really helped.
Cory Hewett: [00:14:21] I think that one other special component that was — I think our secret sauce to the presentation was probably bringing a customer onstage. This was something a little bit later in the practicing and the presentation style where we actually were able to include our first customer as a part of the presentation midway through the numerous stages. But along the way, that set us apart and, we think, had led to some of the success and the understanding from the audience that this is a real opportunity. And this customer has helped us understand exactly what Gimme does.
Michael Blake: [00:15:01] I think that was very dramatic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done in a pitch before. And in the minds of those judges, whenever they’re looking at those companies, “Okay, it’s great what technology they have, Is there actually a market for it?” And the fact that you brought the market with you on the stage, I think, that won it for you frankly. I mean, the video was great, and I think that got you to the top two, But the customer, they’re saying, “Yeah, I’m buying this. It’s going to save my business,” how do you sort of say no to that? And I’m sure the other competitors are like, “We should have done that.” They look at their coaches like, “Why didn’t you tell us to do that?” So, other than that kind of the speed dating part, what part surprised you about the process, if anything?
Evan Jarecki: [00:15:54] I think the biggest surprise were the different changes that needed to be made throughout each round. Round one was speed dating with 300 companies. Very quick pitches. No presentation. Just you verbalizing it. Round two was a an eight-minute pitch. I think, it was.
Cory Hewett: [00:16:16] Eight minutes right before St. Patrick’s Day.
Evan Jarecki: [00:16:18] Right before — on St. Patrick’s Day, I think it was.
Cory Hewett: [00:16:20] On St. Patrick, that’s right. We were working that.
Evan Jarecki: [00:16:22] Yeah, exactly. That was an eight-minute pitch. And there was an audience involvement in that one. And then, it moved to a 20-minute pitch. And that was where we brought in the customer. And that was in front of the theater in the auditorium. And then, from there was the final four, which was a three-minute solo CEO/Founder pitch. It was changing and preparing for each of those, that was a big surprise for us, not just one.
Cory Hewett: [00:16:50] Each one was different.
Evan Jarecki: [00:16:51] Each was different.
Cory Hewett: [00:16:52] You had to make it through the screening round of each one. So, it required so much creativity.
Evan Jarecki: [00:16:56] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:16:56] You couldn’t just use the same presentation. “Oh, we’ll just dress it up or make some tweaks.” It was brand new every single time to appeal to a different — within a different environment, different audience, different levels of theater and energy. At least, in our case, bring the customer on stage.
Evan Jarecki: [00:17:12] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:17:12] So, each one required its own set of problem solving. The other thing that surprised me, not just the rounds, was, if you will, a little bit of the stress and the time consumption. So, we knew, with your help, you’re like, “Hey, I’d rather you quit right away than at the end,” I think we got the same advice back then too, “because this is going to be really tough.” So, we knew it’s going to be tough and time consuming. And when we got into it, it was tough and time consuming, and it still is a surprise how much we are spending in time.
Cory Hewett: [00:17:40] And then the stress, I remember the eight-minute on the St. Patrick’s Day. It stuck out to me because I got up there to start speaking, and young in your career with public speaking, I made it up to the stage. My tongue got so dry. I couldn’t form words. I’m just trying to make noises with this stick of sandpaper in my mouth, and I’m watching the timer go down. Just physically, I lacked the ability to speak properly and just trying to force my way through it.
Cory Hewett: [00:18:06] So, the stress was just a little bit surprising. And I think that you’ll get that on your entrepreneurship journey. No matter who you are or what the circumstances, you’ll go through that too. But that was a bit of a surprise.
Michael Blake: [00:18:19] Okay. And is there a part that you thought was the hardest to address? Was it the stress? Was that the hardest part, or the time you had to put in, or was there something else that stood out as a challenge of being a participant in something like this?
Evan Jarecki: [00:18:33] Well, I think Cory had mentioned this in the beginning was the focus of, as a business owner, putting everything into your customers and your product. And because of the time consumption, it was highly distracting towards being able to focus on product and on customers because there were days that would go by where the entire day was spent preparing for the next presentation, or just creating the slide deck, or whatever it might have been, and that can distract from the main goal. And sometimes, it would just be challenging to say that the purpose, why we’re in this competition is for customers, is for the business, and just kind of reassuring that. Even though you may not be developing or making that very next feature in the moment, that serves a very important purpose. So, just making sure that balance was maintained between both throughout the time.
Michael Blake: [00:19:28] I want to stop and highlight that because I think that’s very important and very instructive that if you walk into this process thinking that’s going to, kind of, be the side gig that you spend a couple hours a week, you’re not going to be very successful. You’ll probably be eliminated in the first round, certainly, and are unlikely to win.
Michael Blake: [00:19:47] And I didn’t realize, as you really took the perspective, this was not a side gig. This is part of executing your business, right. And the fact that you are willing to hold days off from the “core operations” of your business to pursue that exercise, I did not know that. And I think that if you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking about being in this kind of program, and you have designs of being successful, are you in a position to make that kind of commitment? Because if you aren’t, maybe this isn’t the right time to do it. So I think that’s a very important bullet.
Cory Hewett: [00:20:26] And that’s okay to do too.
Evan Jarecki: [00:20:28] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:20:28] Through that exercise, we’ve become pretty selective-
Evan Jarecki: [00:20:31] Yes.
Cory Hewett: [00:20:31] … in what we choose to do because we can lose the competition and win at the business. But winning at the competition does not necessarily guarantee, in any way, that you’re going to win a business.
Evan Jarecki: [00:20:44] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:20:44] So, you have to focus on the business first. And if you do take a day, or two days, or three days off for the competition, you have to keep in mind it’s, in many ways, a vanity. It doesn’t change your core business, it won’t make your customers happier necessarily, and your product won’t be any more mature, or better tested, or better evolved at the end of the process.
Michael Blake: [00:21:02] But you had a goal of starting to build a network and starting to get your name out there, right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:21:08] Exactly.
Michael Blake: [00:21:08] I think that was part of the justification that — I mean, yeah, you also want the money and the prize. We’ll get to that in a second, but you’re students at Georgia Tech at the time or recently graduated?
Evan Jarecki: [00:21:19] Myself, recently graduated.
Michael Blake: [00:21:24] Okay.
Cory Hewett: [00:21:24] Yeah, I appreciate the intro at the beginning, but I actually left with a couple of classes left my senior year to found this company.
Michael Blake: [00:21:30] I didn’t know that.
Cory Hewett: [00:21:31] So, I’m not a graduate of Georgia Tech.
Michael Blake: [00:21:32] The secret is out.
Cory Hewett: [00:21:33] I’m a, yeah, senior year drop out of Georgia Tech that left to pursue this. I went full time.
Michael Blake: [00:21:39] Well, you’re like a bunch of other loser dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. So, what did they ever do, right? Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you back at your leisure. So, talk-
Cory Hewett: [00:21:54] You’re bringing up what — we had just left Georgia Tech, and with the value going to be that we could get more credibility in addition to the cash and services. And the answer was we had to be somewhat calculative. And we knew that as very junior members of the entrepreneurship community in Atlanta, we’d have to be willing to spend a little bit more time to get that exposure.
Cory Hewett: [00:22:15] And we knew that we were going to have to raise. We’re a company that has smart software, as well as hardware. So, we knew that raising money, fundraising would be on the horizon. And actually, the investment and the time within the pitch could be recycled just in benefiting the education to young entrepreneurs, and all the materials and presentations we’re preparing for these pitches could be recycled in the future outside of the competition as well. And actually, consolidating it, getting the mentor help, for instance, from you.
Cory Hewett: [00:22:44] And one of the things that you did that really helped us out was when you brought together that Shark Tank style, other community people-
Michael Blake: [00:22:50] Oh, yeah. I forgot about that
Evan Jarecki: [00:22:52] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:22:52] I remember that so well because it gave us that raw, critical feedback that mom, and dad, and friends, and even people that you know in the community may not be willing to tell you, “That’s a terrible side. Oh, no, that I didn’t understand you at all. I would never invest in you.” I mean, you need that feedback. And you helped give it to us. So we were able to make the decision, not just hopefully we win some money, but even — we set out to do our best to win, but we knew even if we didn’t, we could recycle that effort and turn it into something positive for the business down the road.
Michael Blake: [00:23:25] I forgot about that. Even at that point, we’ve been working together for, I don’t know, about 10 weeks or so.
Cory Hewett: [00:23:30] Right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:23:31] Right.
Michael Blake: [00:23:31] And by that time, as a mentor, I’m starting to drink the Kool-Aid, which means that my ability to be that effective sounding board on myself was starting to become impaired, frankly. So, that probably is a good lesson that if you’re in a program and your, and your mentor isn’t setting that up, set that up for yourself, right, because.
Cory Hewett: [00:23:52] If your mentor is too nice, that’s a problem.
Michael Blake: [00:23:54] It can be, it can be. So, you received cash, and services, and prizes. I’ve heard people sort of kind of thumb their nose at $50,000 in cash, but 50 grand for a startup, actually, you can get a lot done with that.
Evan Jarecki: [00:24:10] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:24:11] That actually really helped to one of our first full-time employee hires.
Michael Blake: [00:24:15] Really?
Cory Hewett: [00:24:15] We talked with contractors and part time. But you bring on that first FTE, you want to make sure that you don’t have a couple of weeks of salary in the bank. You want a couple months that you can play this.
Michael Blake: [00:24:24] You’re not laying off in three weeks.
Cory Hewett: [00:24:26] Right. “You’re hired. Oh, just kidding.” This is-
Michael Blake: [00:24:29] Thanks for everything. There’ll be no severance.
Cory Hewett: [00:24:30] So, the $50,000 cash made a difference to us because we are bootstrapping as hard as we could. As young entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their journey, you’re hustling, and you’re putting everything together that you can. And to bring that first person on board full time, that’s the difference it made for us, along with a couple other things.
Cory Hewett: [00:24:51] So, that’s what we saw in our mind. If we win this, we can earmark the funds to grow the team. And I don’t know if I’m skipping ahead on how you wanted us to talk about it.
Michael Blake: [00:25:02] Go ahead. Keep going.
Cory Hewett: [00:25:02] I’m speaking on chronologically, but that was a big moment for us. We did win the competition. That was a proud moment. And then, we immediately put up our first job ad for a full-time employee and and brought them on. And that was another huge victory. And that really helped the product and the customers. And so, it turned into something really positive for us.
Michael Blake: [00:25:26] And on the other side, you also won some services. I’ve always kind of wondered how much do the winners actually take advantage of the services? I think my firm offered business valuation, and somebody is offering legal services, accounting services, I don’t know, manicures, mani and ped. I have no idea. Did you find yourself taking advantage of those?
Cory Hewett: [00:25:48] We printed out that Excel spreadsheet, and we went down the list, and we contacted every single one, and we are going to extract 100% of the value that we could out of it.
Evan Jarecki: [00:25:57] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:25:57] And it actually turned into some pretty neat relationships that we still have today. At the time, you were working for HA&W.
Michael Blake: [00:26:04] Yeah, Arpio now. Yeah.
Cory Hewett: [00:26:04] Right. We now continue to work with Aprio.
Michael Blake: [00:26:08] Good.
Cory Hewett: [00:26:08] We were able to work with a PR team called the Carabiner.
Evan Jarecki: [00:26:13] Yeah, we worked with Carabiner still to this day. And that was where we had been introduced to them was from the business launch competition.
Michael Blake: [00:26:20] So, you’re working with them. I’ll go ahead and give them some free ads. I’m a big fan of Peter Baron’s and Carabiner, so.
Cory Hewett: [00:26:25] So, we love working with them. And we wouldn’t have had that relationship without them participating and giving their services. And we were able to spread out the dollar amount, so it lasted us about a year of being able to work with Peter and his team to benefit the company. I mean, Evan, you’re still working with our account rep there pretty much daily, right?
Evan Jarecki: [00:26:45] Yeah. In a week-to-week basis, but participating in some of the things that we plan for on the day to day. Like most recently, one of the biggest events that we’ve done was a livestream product launch. This is something that Carabiner was heavily involved in and actually participated in person for some of the event planning. So, the introduction has been extremely valuable to the growth of our team and of our product.
Cory Hewett: [00:27:16] One of the services that really stood out was with the management psychology group and-
Michael Blake: [00:27:20] No kidding.
Cory Hewett: [00:27:21] Yeah. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Evan and I probably wouldn’t have chosen to do this if we had to pay cash out of pocket to do this, but having gone through the experience, now, I see that there’s a lot of value in this, especially if you’re head hunting for a founder level role or an executive level role.
Cory Hewett: [00:27:37] But it was a two-day process, two half days where Evan and I went in, and they tested all parts of our psychology. They had quizzes for intelligence, et cetera, et cetera, to try to see how people would work together. And I don’t think we would have done it because we already knew — Evan and I already knew we worked well together because we were great together.
Cory Hewett: [00:27:55] But we went through the process, and it was so fascinating to have a broken down for why that was. And when we got the results back of this management psychology test, Evan and I at the core groups, the big categories, were highly, highly similar. But when they broke it down to the subgroups, the reason why and the little things that make people unique, he and I were extremely dissimilar.
Cory Hewett: [00:28:19] So, it was like we shared common big goals, but we had lots of compliments where I was weak, he was strong; where he was strong, I was weak. And it played really nicely to to see how that worked out. And we wouldn’t have got that either without the services. And that’s just an example to me that stands out. I still remember it today, like, “How do you work so well with Evan?” Like, ” Actually, it’s fascinating. I have a diagram that shows that.”
Evan Jarecki: [00:28:42] We kept it [crosstalk].
Michael Blake: [00:28:43] Those are my strengths.
Evan Jarecki: [00:28:43] And they’re really neat. I mean, yeah, it was very in-depth and something we’ve kept, and I think it hold — I mean the exact same thing holds true to this day. It’s very interesting. And, yeah, it was fun experience.
Michael Blake: [00:28:59] It’s weird how sometimes topics come together. Right after this one, we’re going to be recording a podcast about executive leadership basically from another kind of industrial psychology company. I may kind of bring that up with them and see kind of what their view is on those kinds of approaches. One thing that also struck me about when you guys won, you both have family there to think, right?
Evan Jarecki: [00:29:24] Yeah.
Cory Hewett: [00:29:25] Yes, yes.
Evan Jarecki: [00:29:25] And both the public pitches we had family.
Michael Blake: [00:29:28] You did, okay. And I’ve never asked you this question. It’s a little off topic. So, if you don’t want to answer, we’ll edit it out. But was there a sense of kind of validation? I don’t know if you have entrepreneurial families or not. If you don’t, sometimes, they’re kind of looking weary. You’ve got this great education. Why aren’t you going and getting a job? You’re Gulfstream. You could have had a great career there, six figures, right? Was there any kind of validation, maybe, to family members that were worried about the risk you took that this is sort of an external validation that you guys are going to be okay and really onto something? Or am I playing Dr. Phil, and I should knock in the psychology business?
Cory Hewett: [00:30:15] I don’t know if Evan would share this necessarily.
Evan Jarecki: [00:30:19] Yeah.
Cory Hewett: [00:30:19] So, I hope you don’t mind if I do.
Evan Jarecki: [00:30:21] Yeah, yeah, go for it.
Cory Hewett: [00:30:21] But Evan did have the job lined up when he was graduating. So, he’d already accepted the job offer from Gulfstream. He had already selected his apartment. He was ready to go make that transition in his life when we started talking about Gimme. And my pitch to him is, “Hey. we should work a hundred a week. And we can’t pay each other any number of dollars probably the first year or so. And it would involve you not going down to Savannah, and you’d have to quit your job that you haven’t started yet. And maybe make sure that your parents are comfortable leaving you on health insurance and stuff a little longer. How does that sound?” And-
Michael Blake: [00:30:56] I guess it sounded all right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:30:58] Well, I think the way I describe it is that it unlocked a — I had some sort of limiter on where I thought a career — what I thought a career meant. And I don’t think I had ever considered entrepreneurship as a career path until there was an opportunity presented to me and, actually, think about what that could mean. And so, it just totally removed the limiter and said, “There is no reason not to take this opportunity,” is what it became. So, I just had to put the pieces together to make it work.
Cory Hewett: [00:31:31] So, I remember when Evan told me, “Yeah, I talked to my parents about it. They’re a little concerned, but they’re supportive. And they’re really good people. So, they were supportive, but I could tell that mom’s eyes got real big when she’s like, ‘Oh, he’s he’s quitting the Gulfstream job that he hasn’t started yet.'”
Michael Blake: [00:31:46] That’s nice.
Cory Hewett: [00:31:47] “What’s the new salary?”
Evan Jarecki: [00:31:48] “What’s the plan here?”
Cory Hewett: [00:31:48] “Oh, it’s nothing.” “Oh, good luck.” And she’s
Evan Jarecki: [00:31:53] Right, not another job that pays you. No, it was totally different.
Cory Hewett: [00:31:57] So, I remember for them, they were in the audience when we made it through that first round. And I don’t know, the look on their face. And my parents were there too, and I think they were proud. But I know for your parents, that was a first entrepreneurship, big endeavor that you’ve done, the big first external validation.
Evan Jarecki: [00:32:14] Yes, yes.
Cory Hewett: [00:32:15] You could just see the pride, and you could see a lot more confidence. Like, “Wow! Our son is not just ‘trying to be an entrepreneur’ but people believe in him too.” And the next thing happened on that final round, we didn’t just invite mom and dad. We invited grandma, grandpa. And then, we also invited a couple of our customers and a couple of the other people that have been rooting us along along the way. Evan, I know you took a valet job at the very beginning of Gimme-
Evan Jarecki: [00:32:41] Yes.
Cory Hewett: [00:32:41] … to pay the bills while we’re making the company work. Did you invite one of your top valet customers there, too?
Evan Jarecki: [00:32:47] Yeah, yeah. That may have been my first — actually, that experience is a big failure that turned into a really happy valet customer, if you will. I didn’t own. I just worked for the valet company, but there was an experience we had with just a car parking situation where I was able to diffuse the whole situation. I caused it, and I diffused it, and it became a really happy repeat customer. And they actually got involved with what we were working on at Gimme, and they participated in the TAG, the business lunch competition as well. So, we brought in, yeah, people from kind of everywhere during the first year’s journey.
Michael Blake: [00:33:30] I remember that. You had a lot of fans in that room. And when you won, it looked like kind of the end credits of, sort of, Family Feud. I mean, they swarmed the stage. And I thought they put you up on their shoulders. But it was great to see. Have you done anything like that since? Have you been in any other contests, or did you just retire after one championship?
Cory Hewett: [00:33:53] Quite like that. No, we haven’t been in any multi-round pitch kind of situations quite like that.
Evan Jarecki: [00:34:00] That’s true. That’s true.
Cory Hewett: [00:34:00] And most of it had to do with we extracted a lot of the value that we could. And like we mentioned, a lot of it was getting in front of the right people, in addition to cash and services, getting a name for ourselves in the Atlanta community. And thankfully, it helped us do that. So, now, I don’t know if the reward for doing that again would be as profound or pronounced for us. But we have competed in a couple other competitions since like-
Evan Jarecki: [00:34:22] Actually, the TAG Business Launch unlocked many opportunities in the area. We were invited to Venture Atlanta, one of the largest now that we’ve seen and participated in. And actually, it speaks to — this kicked off and falls in right in line with us as one of our core values. The number one is fiercely driven to win.
Cory Hewett: [00:34:49] That’s our top core value in the team.
Evan Jarecki: [00:34:51] That’s our top core value. And it’s related to customers, and it’s related to making sure that we are working for them. But it also does speak to the competitive nature of applying ourselves in these areas. So, we do participate in other contests and competitions. Recently, we won Best B2B Startup in Atlanta. There would be-
Cory Hewett: [00:35:14] We had a number of good competitors in that category.
Evan Jarecki: [00:35:15] [Crosstalk] is in that one. So. we’ve won, and we’ve lost, but we do participate. And when we do, we like to do a good job.
Cory Hewett: [00:35:25] I remember one of the ones that we lost actually right after the TAG Business Launch competition, we were kind of on a high feeling of, “Wow! If we set our minds to it-”
Evan Jarecki: [00:35:35] Like, how big can we take this thing? Where can we go with it?
Cory Hewett: [00:35:37] And our very next big thing that we applied for was actually the first season of Apples TV show called Planet of the Apps-
Evan Jarecki: [00:35:43] Right.
Cory Hewett: [00:35:44] … where they were going to look at software startup founders and how their journey is going. And we made it past the first round. And then, they unceremoniously dropped us and let us know that we didn’t make it past the second round. And so, yeah, we’re trying and failing. But we try to be selective, so that we continue to keep our top focus on products and customers. But like Evan said, we’ve just recently been named Atlanta’s Best B2B Startup. We were named recently as well to Atlanta’s 50 on Fire. We’re proud of that accomplishment. That was just a couple of weeks ago.
Cory Hewett: [00:36:15] Within the industry, our team as a whole has been named Pros to Know. And some of the individuals have been named, individually, the Pro to Know on separate years as well. Each one of our products, and we have three now, each one of our products has been named the number one product in vending the years that it has been released. So, we’re super proud of that as well. So, yeah, we’re trying, sometimes failing, but we’re continuing to try and apply that fiercely driven to win mentality.
Michael Blake: [00:36:43] Well, these are harder to win. It’s not like a basketball game. It’s more like a golf tournament, right. Basketball game, you have one opponent. That’s it, right. But you have to be in the field, right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:36:54] Right.
Michael Blake: [00:36:55] Even Tiger was in his heyday, right, only one 20% of his tournaments, right. And arguably the best that ever played. So, I think you’re doing all right.
Evan Jarecki: [00:37:07] Thank you.
Michael Blake: [00:37:07] I think you’re doing just fine. So, since the competition, tell us the story now. How are you guys doing? You, obviously, want a lot of awards award. You’re expanding. You guys able to pay yourselves now? You’re not [crosstalk]-
Cory Hewett: [00:37:23] I’m not at all free anymore.
Evan Jarecki: [00:37:25] Right.
Michael Blake: [00:37:25] You’re not working for free anymore. Good, good. You have the most up to date max, I assume.
Cory Hewett: [00:37:29] Yeah, we do. The tool kit we actually advertise as part of our recruiting tool, everyone gets a brand new Apple products to be able to get their job done well. So, yeah, we’re expanding. We have about 20 people on the team now. We’ve got great offices. This year, we’ve just added 401(k) to our suite of benefits.
Michael Blake: [00:37:50] Wow. Yeah, you’re really growing up.
Cory Hewett: [00:37:52] And I think that we have a team culture that has attracted serious top players. So, we’re really proud of that accomplishment. I know that maybe people don’t speak to those metrics first, but a team of people that we have to work with now is just incredible. When you work at, if you will, alone, and then you hire that first one, if you can surround yourself with other people who are willing to match that and just put in so much effort to help the business succeed, it’s something special. It’s a different feeling than when you first started the company. So, that would be my top metric of success is the team right now is just crushing it. And we’re so proud of them.
Cory Hewett: [00:38:27] Outside of the team as well, we’ve seen our products and services grow. We started with the one. We talked about, we exploded our competitors product. That’s how we started. That was one product. But now, we’ve seen it expand from just a field service tool to — you mentioned it at the very beginning. Now, we’re managing the products and their inventories for the entire warehouse, the schedules of the people that service. Our software has expanded.
Cory Hewett: [00:38:53] And then, earlier this year, we announced that we could handle not only an entire warehouse of inventory and field services, but we could do that through computer vision and a neural network training. And to see that start to take off has opened up our customer base from just vending operators to, now, vending operators, micro market operators, and people who deliver to grocery stores. And for the first time, that means that, now, some of our customers are publicly traded, and we’re just thrilled at the growth that we’ve seen even as recently as this year that’s taken us to a new level.
Michael Blake: [00:39:31] So, I’m curious, to get to that point, have you raised any outside money? Are you still just self-funded?
Cory Hewett: [00:39:37] We did raise money. After the TAG Business Launch competition, we raised an angel round. We’re able to include David Cummings and John Lally, which were introductions that were either directly or indirectly helped, actually, from the competition. That’s where we raised our first half million. And since then, we’ve added a couple other institutional and larger people on our cap table as well. So, today, we’ve raised just over $2 million. And then, we have our sightline to a couple more exciting things in the near future.
Michael Blake: [00:40:08] Very good. So, I promise I won’t keep you here too long. So I’m going to wrap it up. But if people are kind of thinking about getting into a competition of their own, they want to know if they should do it, or get some advice, can they contact you guys?
Evan Jarecki: [00:40:23] Yeah, absolutely. Best way to reach out to us is, first, through our website, www.vending.ai, and go to our team page there. You’ll see Cory and my own, our bios and profiles. And you can get connected with us there. We’ve actually love participating in the Atlantic community, especially as mentors, and volunteers, and programs we’ve been a part of in the past. And then, look, of course, for any individuals, one on one. Cory will give anyone’s slide presentation good judging, that’s for sure. And it’s worth it. Trust him with that one. He’s got a knack for it, so.
Michael Blake: [00:41:02] All right. Well, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Evan Jarecki and Cory Hewett of Gimme Vending so much for joining us and sharing their expertise with us.
Cory Hewett: [00:41:12] Thank you, Mike.
Evan Jarecki: [00:41:12] Thank you.
Michael Blake: [00:41:12] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy this podcast, please consider leaving a review through your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us so that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor’s Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision Podcast.