#5 FITGuard

July 12, 2017

Concussions have cast a major shadow over contact sports, from youth leagues to the pros. But entrepreneur Anthony Gonzales thinks he can fix it by putting a gadget in the mouths of athletes. Now he just has to convince investors to put their dollars behind his idea.

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Show transcript

From Gimlet, this is The Pitch. I’m Josh Muccio

On this show, we venture into the world of startups, to a critical moment, when aspiring entrepreneurs put it all on the line and pitch investors for funding.

This week

Anthony: I want to talk about the estimated 450 million athletes around the world. 10% of those athletes – ten! – will suffer a sports-related concussion at any given season.

Howie: I’m just wondering, is this the way to solve the problem? Or is helmet technology the way to solve the problem?

Jillian: But it doesn’t protect them from getting hurt. Because it shows after the impact has happened. It’s not protecting them.

Today, an entrepreneur lays out his plan to reduce head trauma in sports.

But can he get coaches, athletes, and our investors to play for the same team?

Phil Nadel is with Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners. In pitches, you’ll hear him put the focus on the hard numbers.  

Phil: You’re gonna try to price it so that you’ll break even on this initial sale. That’s what you’re gonna get up front.

Jillian Manus is here representing Structure Capital. More than any other investor, she’ll really engage a founder to understand what problem they’re solving, and how they’re solving it.  

Jillian: So explain to me what’s the why to them. Because it’s cool? It has to be more than that.

Jake Chapman’s here with Gelt VC. He looks at every startup as a bit of a puzzle — and if he can imagine all of the pieces fitting together, he might just invest.

Jake: I think a lot of great businesses have been built on the back of hacks. My problem is that I think you haven’t thought through yet, or you’re not at the stage yet of figuring out how to move from the hack to the sustainable company.

Howie Diamond founded the VC firm, Ranch Ventures. He looks for scrappy founders who pull themselves up by the bootstraps and really deliver.

Howie: How’s it going, overall, for you, like as a first-time entrepreneur?

Sheel Mohnot is with 500 StartUps. He brings a sense of humor into a pitch, and he loves when a founder will play along.

Sheel: Yeah, you’re just probably stereotyping about 30 million people.

Alright, here we go.

[room tape of investors saying hello to Anthony Gonzales]

It’s been a long day of recording and our investors are a bit fatigued.

When Anthony Gonzales strides in sporting a big smile and a snappy outfit, you can feel the mood in the room immediately lift.

Jillian: Love your outfit! Hi I’m Jillian.

Phil: Anthony, let me just say, you haven’t said a word yet, but so far you are the best dressed pitch man we’ve had, best dressed founder.

Anthony: Thank you.

Anthony: All right, well I’m going to get started here. I’m Anthony with Force Impact Technologies.

Sheel: Force Impact?

Anthony: Force Impact Technologies. And we’ve created the FIT Platform. Our goal was to identify, document and reduce the amount of traumatic brain injuries in sports. Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve been involved in every level of sport. All the way up into college where I played rugby at Arizona State. Go Devils.

While concussions in sports are nothing new, in the past decade or so, both the professional sports and medical communities have awoken to the severe risks posed by repeat head injuries. And where there’s a problem, there’s bound to be enterprising entrepreneurs like Anthony, who are ready to combine their love of sports with their nerdy fascination with hardware…

Phil: What is your background?

Anthony: I have an MBA in supply chain and logistics. I worked for Avnet Electronics, which is the world’s largest distributor of components. That’s where I got all my hands on all this fun stuff.

Howie: Where are you guys based?

Anthony: I’m personally in Los Angeles. My co-founder is in Phoenix.  He’s phenomenal. We’ve been at this for four and a half years. We’re not a new startup; we’re not just coming up with something. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. And making sure our execution strategy is optimally…strategized.

Howie: So four and a half years seems like a while.

Anthony: I’m sorry, three and a half years.

Three and a half years. Anthony is really taking the start out of startup. Often, when investors hear an entrepreneur is still trying to raise their first round after several years, it can be a sign that something is fundamentally wrong.

Howie: Is it a timing issue do you think? Or has it just taken that long to come up with a product?

Anthony: It’s really hard to create something tangible when you don’t have any money. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s an iterative process.

Jillian: No no, that makes sense.

Anthony: Raise money, be frugal. We’ve gone through two accelerator programs.

Years of work and two accelerator programs — without much money to show for it — has meant Anthony and his team are barely scraping by. Getting the funding he’s asking for would be his chance to break out of this frugal mindset and actually build his company.

Phil: How much have you raised to date?

Anthony: I’m coming in today with $250,000 committed to this round. We’re currently raising an additional $500,000 to make it a total of $750,000. We’re really looking for more than an investor. We want someone who is going to meet with us, go to our wedding, be our friends.

Sheel: That’s smart.

Anthony: Gotta hang out with us. Like, we know we’re going to be married to these people. And so I’m here to date you guys. I want to learn about you, you guys want to learn about me. But we’re really looking to selectively and strategically bring on people who we can work with for the next near future.

Jillian: I always tell founders that early stage investors are actually co-founders.

Anthony: Right. I couldn’t agree more.

Jillian: Absolutely. Roll up your sleeve, dig in.

Speaking of rolling up your sleeves, it’s time to hear what Anthony’s actually selling.

Anthony: But I’m not here to talk about me. I want to talk about the estimated 450 million athletes around the world. The Centre for Disease Control estimates that as many as 10% of those athletes – ten! – will suffer a sports-related concussion at any given season. A staggering 47% of those athletes, nearly half of them who are concussed, will not self-report or self-diagnose any symptoms. That means every single year, millions upon millions of individuals are remaining on the field with an unidentified or undocumented head injury. The FIT team set out to change that.

To change it, Anthony focused on early warning detection, at the point of impact, through the use of a smart mouthguard.

Anthony: Our intelligent mouthguard, which is seamlessly integrated into a standard mouth guard. This mouthguard is worn by the athlete. If they are hit with a significant amount of force, this mouth guard will light up and change colors.

Any time an athlete is hit hard enough, the mouthguard lights up with LEDs that are so bright that a player’s cheeks actually glow red.

And then the data on how hard they were hit is sent via bluetooth to the FitGuard mobile app, letting them know if they might be at risk for a concussion.

Howie: I mean, like, is this… I know concussions are a problem in football.

Jillian: No, it’s huge.

Jake: Have you seen the movie?

Jillian: And it’s not just football. It’s soccer. There are more concussions in soccer than there are in football. And now with soccer being such a huge, huge sport, I would think you would start this in soccer.

Sheel: There’s so many. There’s wrestling, rugby, every sport.

Anthony: And anything that’s even not a contact sport. Horseback riding. Parajumping.

Jillian: And just so you know, I know this space very, very well. Okay. I’ve sat on these boards. Um, we work a lot with concussion research at Stanford Hospital.

Anthony: Dr Camarillo, very familiar.

Jillian: Yes. Yeah. And so, what a concussion basically is, all a concussion is, is the inability to perform your basic functionality. That could be everything from not being able to, as you know, to focus, to just being a little bit off-center, to not being able… I mean, that is called a limited concussion, you know that.

Anthony: Mhm.

It’s music to an entrepreneur’s ears to hear an investor digging into the severity of the problem you’re trying to solve. The trick is, of course, convincing them your solution is better than the alternatives.

Jillian: You don’t really need a mouth guard, doctors really don’t need mouth guards, and especially coaches right now, if they see that you are basically unable to focus for even a spit of time right now, you are off the field and you are done. So I’m just trying to figure out where this mouth guard comes in because it’s not diagnosing, right?

Anthony: Nope.

Anthony: So first of all you made a lot of assumptions that would be great in ideal situation. Someone will see that: that is a very broad assumption. When you’re a volunteer football coach and you’re responsible for a hundred kids that are bashing their skulls into each other two hours a day, seven days a week, statistically you will miss something. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Jillian: Oh this is for just kids?

Anthony: This is for kids. This is a mass market, high volume product that anyone can afford and anyone can implement.

Jillian: But it doesn’t protect them from getting hurt. Because it shows after the impact has happened. It’s not protecting them, okay? At all.

Anthony: I mean I would disagree. Because second impact syndrome is a fatal condition, in which you remain on the field with an unidentified injury, you receive a similar injury, and your brain stops working. So empirically, if we stop the second injury from happening because we got ’em out as soon as the first injury happened, then they are safer.

We hear a lot about repeat head injuries, sometimes known as CTE. These are the kinds of problems that show up on brain scans of old football players, and the results can be devastating. But what Anthony is talking about here is a little different.

Second impact syndrome is when you sustain a second concussion without fully recovering from the first. The condition can be fatal, and those who survive are often severely disabled.

Howie: I’m just wondering, is this the way to solve the problem? Or is helmet technology the way to solve the problem? I know you said like, helmets are…

Anthony: I played rugby. There’s no helmets in rugby.

Sheel: The data says that helmets have made things worse, right? There are more concussions post-helmets.

Anthony: Helmets reduce skull force, not cranial acceleration.

Sheel: Exactly, yeah.

Jake: And it makes people reckless, right?

Anthony: It does. Moral chaos. You’re more risky because you feel protected.

Howie: I’m trying to figure out how to get down to the root of the problem. And I guess we can’t solve the root of the problem, unless we just stop playing football.

Anthony: Stop hitting your head against things that are hard, is the root of the problem.

Sheel: Stop playing sports!

If the investors are in agreement on anything, it is this: sports are dangerous. But they also know this is probably not going to stop people from playing. The obvious next question is: are Anthony’s mouthguards the key to helping people play sports more safely?

Sheel: Will you show us the mobile app and what does it do?

Anthony: Of course. I’ll pass this around.

Sheel: Let’s say this is me. I just got hit in the face.

Phil: Let’s reenact it.

[laughter]

Howie: There you go.

Anthony: So it’s going to sync it up. You’re going to download it. First your mouth guard is going to change colors if it was a significant amount of force.

Sheel: Okay.

Howie: So the… The data, you’re receiving from the teeth or the jaw or from where? Where is it coming?

Anthony: The cranial acceleration. So how fast is the head moving in a frame of space. From the mouth guard, so what’s actually measuring it. Being inside of the skull means we are physically closer. We have a better retention and coupling to the skull, so our data is just highly correlated to what the brain actually felt.

Jillian:  And so the coach has it on his phone, so that every time a player is hit and the mouthguard turns color, although they’ll never be able to see it across a field, but it will go into his assistant coach’s app or whatever and it will light up to say, number 32 should be pulled and assessed?

Anthony: I do want to clarify. So in theory that’s correct, but we do not do live data transmission. Our data uses the Bluetooth protocol which has a range limitation and so that’s why we have the on-device notification. So the mouth guard changes colors, come over, sync to the app. It’ll sync up when you’re within ten meters.

Phil: Why don’t you make it vibrate?

Jillian: Just so you know. Those kids are never going to come in on their own.

And just like that, Jillian pulls the room towards a very different conversation: not about technology, but about the social dynamics on the field.

Anthony: I’m an athlete myself, and it’s very hard for someone to pull themselves out of the game. So we come into someone who has authority and says, this is our league protocol.

Jillian: But you’re not going to be able to see them across a field. And they’re not going to be synced up other than ten feet.

Anthony: No, no. The mouth guard will light up. And it will stay lit until it’s synced back…

Phil: But depending on who sees it, and who reacts to it.

Jake: It stays lit until you sync it back with the base station?

Anthony: Until you sync it. There’s no way to hide this. You can’t take your mouth guard out.

Jillian: Okay.

Anthony: Mouthguard’s required. In football, when I played football, every single play a ref would go around to every single kid and look at them to make sure their mouth guard was in. This was ten years ago. So I’m assuming, if they’re going through that protocol, they’re just checking for red lights. I mean, it’s pretty obvious if someone’s mouth is glowing red.

The investors have been slowly passing around the mouthguard that Anthony handed them earlier. Now Sheel is holding it, trying to figure out how it works.

Sheel: Is there something to turn it on?

Anthony: This is our prototype model, it doesn’t work right now.

Sheel: Ok got it.

[record scratch]

Three and a half years to this moment, and Anthony is pitching his company with a broken mouthguard.

Sheel: So this is a non-working prototype…

Anthony: Yeah but we’ll get to that soon enough.

There isn’t much Anthony can say to explain the broken prototype, so he does his best “hey, look over there!” move, in this case pointing to the business of FitGuard.

Anthony: It’s cheap. Initially, they’re $129 to capture those early adopters. As we start to scale up, those definitely are going to come below $100.  

Jillian: So you’re assuming that all these teams will be able to afford one of these mouth guards for every one of the players?

Anthony: Yeah.

Howie: Who is going to be most receptive to, like, getting this into the players’ mouths?

Anthony: The executives in that organization. The people who make the decision with that league, because they have the most —

Howie: So you’re selling to leagues? So you want it to be mandated by the leagues?

Anthony: We are business to business. Yes.

Jillian: There seems like there’s going to be some sort of rift and problem with coaches from one team to another if some of the kids have them, and some of the other kids don’t. And within the team itself.

Jake: I think it would be the opposite problem.

Anthony: That’s really our marketing strategy.

Jake: The coaches won’t want the kids to have the mouth guards, because the coaches might not want to have to worry about pulling kids out of the game all the time.

Jillian: Okay. Well that’s another thing.

Jake: It’s the parents, not the schools, who would buy these mouth guards, right?

Anthony: Ah. So the parents will do whatever the schools tell them to. The consumer is actually going to be the person purchasing this, but we know the decision of who and what to buy comes from a higher authority and the parents just listen to the coach.

Sheel: But he’s saying the opposite. He’s saying they wouldn’t want to buy it because it might tell them they should be pulling the kids. I mean I’m sure these kids…

Anthony: We’re focusing on kids. Safety is more important than winning. We’re not talking about professionals or D1.

Phil: Blasphemy.

Jake: You’re right though if it’s just one kid, especially if you light up it’s not just that it looks geeky that you lit up. It’s that, you lit up, now you have to go to the sideline. And nobody else on your team does? And you’re gonna get shit in the locker room—

Howie: You’re a wuss.

Jake: — because you got pulled.

Jillian: You’re a wussy,

Sheel: I think what you could, where you do have an angle, is selling to parents. Being like, hey, your kids need to get pulled.  Otherwise, you’re talking permanent brain damage.

Some of the investors are parents themselves, so they know youth sports all too well: hyper-competitive coaches, kids trying to fit in with their teammates. These could be major stumbling blocks in marketing directly to leagues. But Anthony is betting there’s a larger shift happening in sports…

Anthony: There’s always friction when you have change.

Jillian: Yes, of course.

Anthony: Culturally,  it’s coming up perfectly to our timing to enter the market where I think we’re well fit with people’s willingness to accept one, wearables; two, electronics on their body; and, three, about concussions being a serious problem. And it’s okay to be hurt. You’re not demoralized, you’re not weak. It’s not your fault that you got possibly concussed. And we really are starting to see a shift in that mentality and acceptance.

Sheel: What you have to do is sell the parents on convincing the entire team.

Jillian: Yes, that’s it.

Howie: Or sell the leagues.

Anthony: That’s one of our strategies. That’s a long-term play, is the leagues. Obviously, initially, we have early adopters, we have people who want to buy this. There’s already kids who are saying this is cool, I want this. If you guys are worried about market validation, during due diligence I would be happy to show you our validation, our studies, our surveys.

The investors are worried that players and leagues won’t buy into FitGuard. But Anthony’s confident in his product — and with good reason.

Sheel: How far along are you now?

Anthony: We’re doing some validation testing with Arizona State University, coached by Olympic medalist Zeke Jones, who also coaches the USA freestyle team.

Sheel: How much are they paying?

Anthony: They paid like $7000 for about twenty units, because they were research grade.

Anthony: We’re researching with the government of Japan and their Judo. They’ve recently mandated Judo as a requirement for high school sports, so they want to validate the riskiness of that.

Jake: So these are all just conversations you’ve got going on with these folks?

Anthony: No. These are active letter of intent research programs that are ready.

Jillian: So no contracts yet, right? No signed contracts?

Anthony: Here’s the good news. I’ve already sold 5000 of them. They haven’t paid for them. These are all letters of intent, contingent on successful validation. That’s through our beta test program, we’re going to be launching first quarter 2017. We are going to be distributing in Ireland, France, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Anthony has several irons in the fire with these research programs, but what he really needs right now is money. Money to keep building FitGuard. Otherwise, it’s not clear how long he can keep going.

And with that, it’s decision time.

Howie is up first.

Howie: Cool. All right. I like seeing working prototypes, personally.

Anthony: They’ll be ready in two weeks. It’s not… Timing’s a little off.

Howie: Yeah, well, I can’t wait to see it. And then Sheel can punch me in the face and then I’ll see if it works.

Anthony: You can go to ASU wrestling practice, we’re going to be there all season. So stop by anytime.

Howie: you’re saying all the right things, you’ve researched it, you have clearly the passion for this and you have three and a half years under your belt to finally make a non-working prototype, and I think the timing is right for this. At this time, just because it’s so early and so nebulous, and I look at that mouth guard that you showed me and I don’t even really, I can’t put it in my mouth, I can’t feel it, I can’t see it light up.

Sheel: You can put it in your mouth.

Howie: I don’t want to put it in my mouth.

Jillian: He’s a germaphobe, don’t you remember?

Howie: It’s just one of my things, as an investor. I want to see something working. I want to know that you can build something that’s actually functional. So I’m going to pass right now.

Germophobe or not, Howie’s not touching FIT Guard this time around.

Anthony: So do I go?

Phil: No, he’s just one. You have to hear from all of us.

Sheel: He’s just one.

Howie: Actually, I’m the only one that matters, so yeah, you can go.

Here’s Sheel.

Sheel: I like where you’re going. I think there’s a need, for something that helps save lives on the football field and other fields. I’m not — I think, again, like Howie, I’d want to see it working. And I think, really, it’s crazy, because even if I believe you it’s going to be working in two weeks, it’s just something about seeing it that I think could be convincing.

Anthony: We filmed a live demo in London with the English national rugby team. It’s about a five-minute video clip. It did work, it just broke. I’m not trying to throw excuses at you. So I have video footage. Flew to London, BBC studio, filmed it all out there.

Jake: Breaking is a concern though.

Sheel: Yeah. In the mouth.

Anthony: It was the charging mechanism. No excuses. Understood.

Sheel: It’s like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, in the mouth. It’s exploding. No, just kidding.

Jake: Turn it off on the plane.

Sheel: I’m going to pass. But I think it’s pretty honorable what you’re doing. So that’s cool.

Anthony: Thank you.

Next up is Jake.

Jake: I’ll echo what Howie said about seeing the working prototype. I think it’s really hard when right now it’s just a non-functional model. Even if you’re only two weeks away and I don’t think you’re gonna be able to get piecemeal adoption, because I think the kids are going to rebel against it. But even if you overcome those things, and I think you can overcome those barriers, I’m a little concerned about the recurring revenue model. Because I don’t think you can build a really great business on just these hardware sales. And I think that’s really what you need to make this business big long term.

Anthony: Right. Well, in the long term we have those things in the pipeline. The permutations to make money are out there. And there’s money to be spent on sports. So we’re looking to capture it.

Jake: But for now, for the product you’ve got, for where you’re at, I think I’m going to pass.

Anthony: Okay.

Jake’s out. Now it’s Phil’s turn.

Phil: I mean, I respect the mission, I think it’s great. There is a problem out there. For me, I don’t feel like I can add a whole lot of value in this particular space. I’m just, it’s not something that…I don’t like the model. I’m not seeing the path to recurring revenue. I see hardware sales. And that’s all I’m seeing right now. And so for that reason I think it’s too early for me. So, I’ll pass.

Anthony: Okay. Cool.

As is so often the case, it all comes down to Jillian.

Jillian: Oh goodness. Okay. So, first of all what I want to say is that, we so appreciated it. You’re incredibly high energy. You smile all the time. You make us feel like, we really like you. And I think it’s important when you’re selling something. It’s all in the presentation. A lot of it is. So you should teach people how to do this.

Anthony: Thank you.

Jillian: I have a very emotional response to this. Because I’ve had two children that have had concussions. One is from soccer from repetitive hits, and one from football. And what I look for is something that will prevent concussions. So I do understand this would prevent the second concussion, but I’m trying to find something to invest in that would prevent the first concussion. And maybe that’s just my maternal instinct connecting to this. It is too early for me, absolutely. But I do think you’re onto something, and the fact that you’re trying to help young people and trying to do something that we all need to be doing pro-active around concussions, good for you.

Jillian: So, I’m going to pass. But I think I’d like to see what happens when you do launch in beta.

Anthony: Okay.

Jillian: Okay.

Anthony: That sounds great.

Jillian is out. And with that, Anthony seems to have struck out swinging with our investors. But he still has the same smile he walked in with.

Jillian: And thank you for coming. And thank you for your smile. Really appreciate it.

Anthony: Thanks so much everyone. No worries. Thanks for having me.

Jillian: It’s helpful at the very end. I’ve had so many chia bars today. And glasses of tea. And all I needed was a great smile and a good attitude. You’ve a great attitude.

When we come back, investors share exactly what they were thinking during the pitch, and I have a candid conversation with Anthony about the realities of life as an entrepreneur.

[break]

Welcome back. Back in the studio, after Anthony has gone home, investors reflect on his pitch and the larger problem he’s trying to solve.

Jillian: When he first started, I thought to myself, oh, I can so get behind this. Because concussion for me, every single time my son steps into a game, I absolutely flip my lid. It’s a big bone of contention in my family. But once again I needed it to be something that would prevent them.

Sheel: But is that even possible?

Jillian: I don’t know.

Howie: No. You can’t.

Jillian:  I don’t know. Well, that’s why I was so excited when he first said, I’m here to talk about concussion. I was like, ooh! I’m in! Tell me what you’ve got. But it was nothing dissimilar than…

Sheel: Maybe. But I think you can get it right. I think like, actually, he didn’t bring this up enough, but the real damaging is caused by repeated blows to the head. So he actually is right, but he didn’t stress it very emphatically, which surprised me.

Howie: But do you need a mouthguard to solve that? This is a hardware and software play, so I get that there’s a lot involved. But three and a half years? I feel like he should be further along. And the argument against that, to be, we didnt have any money, well…

Phil: Why don’t you?

Howie: Yeah, well, why didn’t you get money? Like, you come up with every excuse. It’s been three and a half years and you still don’t have a working prototype.

Sheel: I do think that somebody could make this solution work.

Phil: Yeah, maybe.

Sheel: But it’s not something that, as is, it’s certainly not something investible.

A few months later, I caught up with Anthony to see whether he has been able to secure seed funding for FITGuard — and find out how things are progressing.

Josh: First of all, welcome back to the show, Anthony. Excited to have you back on.

Anthony: Yes. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Josh: Yeah. So first thing, I got to know, what happened with the broken mouth guard?

Anthony: Yeah. So. It just didn’t work. We weren’t able to get it functioning. Once it’s in the mouthguard, it’s hard to get it out of the mouthguard to then fix things. So like, once you discover something’s broken, it’s very difficult to retroactively fix it. You just have to make a new one.

Josh: Okay. So let’s go to the specific moment in your pitch when you had to tell them that it was broken. And their reaction in the room was, they weren’t thrilled about that. Like, what were you feeling?

Anthony: Um. You know, prepared. I had personally, or mentally managed the expectation that I was ready to deliver bad news, in delivering negative messages.

Josh: So you knew they wouldn’t like it, going into it?

Anthony: Yeah. And I understood that. But again, you got to put your best foot forward. And that’s what I did. Laid it all on the table. That’s what I had that day. And it was the best me I had to give.

Josh: Yeah. I mean, you have working prototypes now, right?

Anthony: Yes. We completed clinical trials at ASU —

Josh: Oh did you?

Anthony: — at the wrestling program last year. And they signed up for next year. And we’ve rebroken a bunch of those prototypes. So they’re broken. I mean, to me prototypes break all the time. So it wasn’t like that big of a deal. Because in my reality, I’ve broken hundreds of prototypes. That’s just what happens to prototypes.  You work with them until they break.  And then you find out how you broke them and you fix that for the next one.

Josh: Yeah. You sound like Edison. Yeah, we had a thousand failures before we came up with the one lightbulb filament that worked.

Anthony: Exactly. We’re going to be a ten-year overnight success.

Josh: Yeah. Thinking back to the investors, and their objections to your pitch, they didn’t see the market opportunity for this. Why do you think that is?

Anthony: If people don’t know or care or like about sports, it’s difficult to communicate to them like how big it is. You know, perhaps I didn’t do a good enough job communicating the amount of permutations that could be derived from this validation of it working well in sports. And then you can take that and put it into law enforcement, and then you can take this and work it with —

Josh: I mean, the investors knew and were very familiar with what you were building and were excited about the potential, but they still couldn’t get on board.

Anthony: Yeah. And, you know, it’s like dating. I can’t be offended because they’re not interested in what I have to offer.

Josh: That’s not the first founder who’s made the comparison to investors as a dating proposition.

Anthony: Like, I don’t personalize that they didn’t see what I saw. It’s my vision, and I’m my own number one cheerleader. And I’m confident in what we’re going to be able to deliver.

Josh: Yeah. I mean you’ve been at this for three and a half years now.

Anthony: M-hm.

Josh: That’s a long time.

Anthony: Yeah.

Josh: I mean… I think investors…

Anthony: Too long.

Josh: Too long?

Anthony: I mean, just, you know, it’s a long time. You know, in hindsight had I known it would have taken this long, that would have been rather prohibitive. But being naïve and ignorant and young and passionate, you know, I could conquer the world. But you know, it’s a journey, and, you know, there’s a lot of risk that you assume with that, personally and professionally.

Josh: Yeah. I mean it really looks you’re just clawing, like scraping by, trying to make this thing work. I just think that most people would have given up by now.

Anthony: Agreed. Perseverance is the number one indicator of success in this industry, in my opinion. If you have a good product. I mean, if you’re pushing something that doesn’t have that. Some people try to force their solution and come up with the problem. That’s not always the good case.

Josh: You don’t think you’re doing that?

Anthony: No. I mean, I was at jiu jitsu in the park on Sunday and I got kicked in the face. I have a black eye right now, I was mildly concussed this past weekend. So I’m a firm believer that this needs to happen, and it hasn’t happened.

Josh: Hold on. So you got kicked in the face, you looked at the data, and now you’re like taking it easy for a couple of weeks? Because you’re like, oh wow, I pegged the needle on Sunday?

Anthony: Yeah. Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I know better. I want to go to jiu jitsu tomorrow and Wednesday. But I know that I got kicked hard enough to give me a headache and to make me foggy and my jaw is a little sore, and so I know better than to go back. But other people wouldn’t. People need to know about this, and they don’t.

Josh: So like why do you have the perseverance when other people would have just stopped? Are you just stubborn?

Anthony: I think my fiancé would agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Personally, this is a foundation of what I believe in and I just, I need to see this through. It’s a personal endeavor to me at this point.

It sounded like Anthony was still going full speed ahead with FITGuard, but then he told me something that kind of surprised me — but underscored just how difficult entrepreneurship really can be.

Anthony: So currently, I had to go back and get another job after three and a half years of running the startup. I work for the parent association of life sciences, in the state of California. Called Biocom. Biocom has been super helpful in making me understand how to get federal funding and how to use the government as a source of capital.

Josh: Wow, you are scrappy.

Anthony: You gotta be.

Josh: It’s like classic moonlighting. But it’s so weird that you would go from full-time 100% in on this thing, to now. Like, most founders that’s not the story. It’s like you start out moonlighting and then there’s this point where you’re like, I’m going all in. Does it feel like you’re going backwards?

Anthony: In a sense, I would almost say that this expanded the possibility for me to work longer and harder. I now have a steady income, and health insurance, and things that will allow me to then dedicate more resources into FIT. So it just allows us to make less emotional decisions, as well. Because I know that my pay check isn’t correlated to the decisions I make. And it also allows me to separate FIT from Anthony. And I think a lot of founders internalize company success as their own success. And of course implicitly that would be the inference, but psychologically you need to have two different…there needs to be a clear separation.

Josh: I totally get that. When I sold my company, that’s what happened to me. I was just like, who am I?

Anthony: Yeah. Founder depression is real and people should talk about it.

Josh: So you had, depression is something you’ve had to deal with as a part of this journey?

Anthony: Yeah, I mean, I’m a pretty optimistic and outgoing guy. And exuberant and friendly and extroverted. And so it just comes down to when you just feel like a different person and again you question who you are and why you’re doing this and what’s worth it. And it comes through internalizing lack of success in the company.

Josh: To being lack of success as Anthony.

Anthony: Yeah. And that’s just not the case. And so it took me a little while to understand that. And getting the job was obviously a very humbling experience. But it’s a pill you gotta swallow. It allowed me to get up every day and keep doing what I do for Fit and keep kicking the can down the road, and that was what I needed to do to be able to keep living and so I did it.

Every founder is going to have the dark times that Anthony is describing — long days, late nights, wondering if you’re crazy to believe this thing will ever take off.  The term “trough of sorrow” was coined to describe this very feeling.

Three and a half years without a real breakthrough might have sounded alarms for the investors — but to me it shows that Anthony has the mettle to stick this thing out. He is an entrepreneur.

Plus, I tend to believe moonlighting is underrated. Not every business needs to raise a ton of money and grow as fast as it can. If you don’t raise venture capital, you can build the business on your terms. And it stays all yours.

Maybe FITGuard will eventually take off. And if anybody has what it takes to be a 10-year overnight success, I think it’s Anthony.

 

Heads up! We are hiring. If you want to come work with our amazing team, go to the Gimlet website. Right now.

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We are actively looking for early-stage startups for our next season, to be recorded this August. So if you or someone you know is building something unique, go to thepitch.show/apply — and fill out the form

To hear scenes from next week’s episode, stay tuned till after the credits.

 

Our show was produced by me, Josh Muccio, Asthaa Chaturvedi and Rob Szypko. We were edited by Devon Taylor with help from Caitlin Kenney.

Our Theme Music is by Breakmaster Cylinder, with original music composed by The Muse Maker, Bobby Lord, Dexter Britain and Tyler Strickland. We were mixed by Enoch Kim with help from Matthew Boll.

Thanks to Lisa Muccio for planning the Season 2 recording event last fall.

And a quick disclaimer, no offer to invest is being made to or solicited from the listening audience on today’s show.

Finally, I want to say a quick thank you to the original sponsor of Season 2, the It’s Worth Doing Right Family for taking a leap of faith on us, when we were just a little independent podcast.

All right — you’ve been listening to The Pitch from Gimlet Media. I’m Josh Muccio. See you next week.

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Evan: Casinos are worried about how are they going to attract that underserved gambler that doesn’t currently have a game in the market for them.

Howie: You’re starting your own… So, you’re going to partner with casinos? Or you’re going to start your own casino?

Jillian: So, question. I still don’t understand why you need the money?

Jake: We’re contributing to delinquency of a minor.

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