StartupBus Part 4: Thursday

December 14, 2017

The Story

Every day this week we’re following StartupBus, a hackathon on wheels, where a bunch of strangers come together to launch companies in one week, all while on a bus. If you haven’t heard Monday’s episode, start there.

It’s Thursday, day four on StartupBus. The bus has finally arrived in New Orleans, where teams from all six buses will go up against one another and pitch for a spot in the finals. By the end of the day, only five teams will be left standing. And a behind-the-scenes look at the judging process raises some concerns for reporter Eric Mennel.

The Facts

David Herman and Ian Scott mixed the episode.
Mark Phillips wrote and performed our original theme song.
Bobby Lord wrote the special StartupBus theme song.
Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music.

Additional music by Quinn Deveaux, Jupyter, The Shrugs, Michael Charles Smith, Andrew Joslyn, Kent Rockefeller, and Bobby Lord.

Show transcript

LISA CHOW: Before we get started, a quick warning. There is some swearing in this episode.

ERIC MENNEL: It’s Thursday morning in the garden district of New Orleans. The rain started overnight and there are no signs of it letting up. Outside the hotel, a shuttle is waiting to take teams over to the venue where the StartupBus pitch competition kicks off in just a few hours. Teams from Florida, San Francisco, Ohio—they’re all milling about in the lobby, eating a continental breakfast. Colleen Lavin from Daisy, the funeral planning app, is practicing her pitch to herself, under her breath.

COLLEEN LAVIN: Daisy will be joining a rapidly growing, $20 billion a year industry. With no major competitors, Daisy is poised to kill it.

ERIC: There is one team I don’t see: Denari, the blockchain team. So I head up to the floor where they’re staying.

ERIC: Denari.

ADAM GALL: Uhhhhhh.

ERIC: Uhhhhh

ERIC: and it’s like a scene out of Scooby Doo. People are running across the hallway, they’re in between rooms, opening doors, slamming them. I spot Colleen Wong and try to stop her.

ERIC: Hi Colleen. How are you  ?

COLLEEN WONG: We are freaking out now. We don’t have our pitch deck ready because Anne-Gail and I both fell asleep because we set our alarms…she set her alarm for 30 min I set mine for like five am and like I woke up and it was like 8:30. I was like, “Fuck aren’t we supposed to be downstairs by 8:30?”

ANNE-GAIL MORELAND: Dude, I am freaking out. Why? I’m just so fucking mad at myself.

ERIC: I walk into the room and Anne-Gail is sitting on the bed, knees propped up with the laptop resting on them.

ANNE-GAIL: I’m just so mad at myself.

COLLEEN WONG: We’ll pull together something. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

ANNE-GAIL: It doesn’t have to be perfect, but my whole pride as a designer is that I can make something that looks beautiful, and if I make something that looks any less than what the vision is my head, I feel like I genuinely, I’m just so disappointed. Oh boy. Our alarms just didn’t go off.

ERIC: From Gimlet Media, this is StartUp, the show about what it’s really like to start a business. I’m Eric Mennel. All this week we’ve been following a group of young entrepreneurs as they compete in the StartupBus competition. Today is day four of our trip. It is the day we have been careening towards at 60 miles per hour, all week. It’s competition day. The teams from New York will be facing off against the rest of the buses in the preliminary round of pitching. Now, if you haven’t listened to the first three episodes of this series, I would highly recommend you go back and do that, and get to know some of the people competing today. Alright, let’s get to it.


ERIC: The teams get on the shuttle and head over to the pitch venue, about a mile away. It’s a three-story coworking space, a giant concrete room, with glass offices along the edge and a lofted second floor. Every corner, every office is filled with different teams from around the U.S. and Mexico. One of the first teams I see is Course Align, from Tampa.

COURSE ALIGN: It’s the Gimlet Media guy, again!

ERIC: It’s the Gimlet Media guy again!

ERIC: You may remember Course Align from Tuesday. I met them in Charlotte—they’re the two guys who seemed like the best friends there ever were, just rolling right along. This is from that conversation the other day.

ROBERT BLACKLIDGE: Within the first hour we had already pivoted two or three times. It was incredible. Like, yes, validated, validated, validated!

ERIC: When I see them here in New Orleans, I think to myself, surely they must have had some hiccups by now. Here’s one of their founders, Trey.

TREY STEINHOFF: Honestly, I’ve competed in a lot of these competitions – this is one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.

ERIC: Damnit, really??

TREY: One of the most well-composed, driven teams, immediately sat down and got to work. I think because of that reason alone I’m feeling pretty good about where we are.

ERIC: It’s about 10am now, an hour or so before the pitching starts. I walk upstairs and in a back corner of the building I find team Phishly. They have big grins on their faces, and they’re high fiving each other. Turns out, last night they launched a beta test of their software. They tried to phish all the people who run StartupBus—the mentors and organizers. They wanted to see whose passwords they could steal.

ALEX ROMERO: We just found out that, we just got the data back. We ran… Vaed talk to them

VAED PRASAD: This is the stats of all the people we attempted to fish and got.

ERIC: This is Vaed, a developer.

ERIC: How many did you get ?

VAED: Of the conductors, of the 13 conductors we got six of them.

ERIC: That’s amazing.

VAED: But think, we could have gotten the passwords for the emails of six conductors. It’s amazing that such a simple thing could have compromised the livelihoods of six people. But like, we got actual people!

ERIC: Almost directly below Phishly, on the ground floor, Colleen Lavin from Daisy is pacing by herself.

COLLEEN LAVIN:  Getting close to the wire here.

ERIC: Yeah. Just practicing?

COLLEEN LAVIN:  Yeah, practicing. Took a little time to like listen to the Hamilton soundtrack to just amp up.

ERIC: What song?

COLLEEN LAVIN: I’m not throwing away my shot. I’m not throwing away my shot.

ERIC: Let’s get this girl in front of a crowd! Hamilton? Anyone? No? Alright… Around the corner, Denari is out of bed and at the venue. I spot Ash. Ash had a tough week. He was at the center of a couple arguments on the team. At one point there was discussion of him even leaving Denari. But the turnaround has been pretty remarkable in the last 24 hours. And he feels good about what the team’s done.

MOHAMED “ASH” ASHMAWY: Everyone should really be proud that like we’re all here in one piece and everyone has something to show to someone. That’s a, that’s a great achievement, regardless of anything else.

ERIC: You look proud.

ASH: Yeah. I’m, I’m proud of everyone, I’m proud of myself, I’m proud of Colleen. I’m proud of AJ. I’m proud of… I really am happy to see … like, this is why I love the U.S.

ERIC: Ash, remember, moved here from Egypt when he was 17.

ASH: It’s good. That people are having this kind of like opportunities here. This reminds me of why I packed my bags, and I decided to make an opportunity here for myself, so I can help other places, like my home country, become something similar to this, you know?

ERIC: While Ash is taking the time for some reflection, two other members of Denari, Adam and Parker, look like they’ve just walked out of a hall of mirrors. They have these completely freaked-out expressions on their faces.

PARKER MCCURLEY: This entire thing is like a some kind of weird Truman Show psychotropic experience.

ERIC: At first I think Parker’s talking about me. I mean, I’ve been following him around with a microphone for four days straight. But he’s actually realizing some deeper truth about StartupBus itself. The teams have been getting different information about the competition all day. They’re hearing conflicting things about timing, about whether or not pitch decks are allowed. And this confusion, it all feels weirdly intentional. Parker thinks he’s figured out why.

Parker: This is a Navy SEAL training program for startups. This is like we’re going to push you to that to the limit of your mental strength, like every single person on their team is that like living in a role that’s very different from what they walked on the bus wanting to do. You’re pitching.

ERIC: Parker is talking to Adam here, who is about to pitch for Denari on the main stage. And I feel like it’s worth hearing what Adam sounded like when he first got on the bus. This is him on Monday.

ADAM GALL: I’m nervous

ERIC: Yeah what about?

ADAM: I’m new to this thing. I’m new to hackathons and startups. I’m a risk averse, cautious person so like me doing this is very outside my element.

ERIC: Compare that to Adam now, as he stands across from Parker, here in New Orleans.

ADAM: This whole thing has been what I’ve been about for so long, like this whole idea that we’re pitching here. I’m like, now I’m on a bus, where it’s like I’m being taught how to like raise myself up to realize it, you know. There’s no reason not to be hyped as fuck. Like that’s the point right. Like I’m here. Take advantage of it.

ERIC: Adam punches one hand into the other. And then, as he walks away, jumps to smack the low hanging balcony.

ANNOUNCER: Alright startup bus let’s get this competition underway.

ERIC: Everybody gathers on the third floor in this giant concrete space as one of the organizers kicks off the pitches.  So, here’s how the next three hours are going to go. There are 22 teams in total. The judges are a few people who help run StartupBus, along with some guests from the New Orleans tech community. About half the teams—10 of them—will move on to the semifinals later tonight. And of those 10, only five will move on to the finals tomorrow. The setup for the pitches is, in a word, janky. There’s a microphone plugged into an old guitar amp, and it’s very prone to feedback. And given the size and concreteness of this room, the teams all sound like they’re pitching from the bottom of well. There are about two hundred people milling about at any given moment, watching the pitches, preparing their own. The first team up to pitch is called Presence. They’re a team of people from San Francisco and Ohio. And the room goes silent. This pitch will set the baseline for the rest of the competition.

RAPHAEL: Hey guys, I’m Raphael and we’re working on presence. A meta social media platform. We are your online passport. The Rome of social media. A contacts book with superpowers. Your facebook about section on steroids.”

ERIC: Huh. OK. But it doesn’t take long for the energy to pick up. You might remember Yetigram, the singing telegram company from Tuesday, in Charlotte. Well today the woman pitching comes out in a full Marilyn Monroe costume—white dress, wig, the whole get up—and she’s written original lyrics.

YETIGRAM: You’ve just gotta enjoy the ride and always shine, refresh your site because of terrible wifi. Cause baby you’re on startup bus, show them what your pitch is worth, make them go ah ah ah, as your value goes up up up.

ERIC: With 22 teams, it’s inevitably a mixed bag. Some of the ideas seem a little half-baked, others are good ideas with a lackluster pitch. Still others seems like they’ve really got it together.

ANNOUNCER: Alright, give it up for team Course Align from Tampa.

ERIC: Take Course Align—the two guys from Tampa who became fast friends. Their company is trying to help universities offer classes that actually match the jobs available on the market. And, as you might expect, given how well their week went, the audience and judges are really responsive to their pitch.

TREY: “Hi everyone, my name is Trey and I’m going to start this pitch with some audience participation. So raise your hand if you graduated from a university?

ERIC: Almost everybody in the crowd raises their hand.

TREY: Now raise your hands if you graduated from university and you felt like you had the skills you needed to get the job you wanted and make an impact?

ERIC: At this point maybe two people raise their hand.

TREY: Not many. And you’re not alone. Universities can’t keep up with the changing job market.

ERIC: On the other side of the room, Karim and Alex Romero, from team Phishly are practicing their pitch.

KARIM EL GAMMAL: Hello everyone. Thanks having us here today. Do you know that 85% of US companies this year are compromised by a phishing attack?

ALEX: What’s phishing?

KARIM: That’s a good question.

ANNOUNCER: Alright send up the next team. Give it up for team Phishly from New York City.

ERIC: Alex and Karim take the floor. Alex bends over to grab the microphone and then he yells into it “we’re not gonna need the mic!”

ALEX: We’re not going to need the mic.

ERIC: And drops it on the ground, directly in front of that janky guitar amp.

mic dropping noise

KARIM: Hello everybody. Thanks for having us here today. Did you know that 85% of US companies this year were hacked and compromised by a phishing attack?

ALEX: What’s phishing?

KARIM: That’s a good question, Alex. Thanks for asking that. Phishing is a real problem.

ERIC: The rhythm is good, their timing is down. They tell the audience about their little phishing experiment the night before and there are audible gasps.

ALEX: And it’s not good news. Over 40% of conductors actually clicked the email and tried entering their credentials. Had this been a real attack, their credentials would have been compromised.

ERIC: And then, they layout the platform, and all it can do.The whole thing is a little corny, but Alex and Karim seem totally aware of that. It’s a real show. People are loving it.

ALEX: Tell them the good news.

KARIM: Are you sure?

ALEX: Tell ‘em!

KARIM: The good news is Phishly if officially live.

Cheers

ERIC: After the pitch there’s a Q&A, which goes pretty well. They walk off stage, and everyone has huge smiles on their faces. Alex, in particular, has this sort of A-Team quality about him.

ALEX: I love it when a plan comes together.  

KARIM: It feels so good. You can see it in everyone’s smile and eyes and like they were laughing and that was the key. That was great.

ERIC: Denari is up soon. And like a drummer in an 80s hair metal band, Adam has decided to perform without any shoes He’s walking around the room in his socks. Grounding himself, he says…

ADAM: I’m in a zone of transcendence right now. I’m trying to stay very focused and in the moment, because, because something big is going to happen. So I’m trying to stay very aware of what’s happening. I’m calm. I’m good. I’m good. I’m in the zone.

ANNOUNCER: So we’ve got another team from New York City coming up here right now. Give it up for Denari.

ERIC: Adam takes the stage, besocked.

ADAM: Luis is a pumpkin farmer in Venezuela. Six months ago a storm ripped through his town and destroyed his farm and his home. He lost his crops, he lost his business, and he lost his potential to earn money.

ERIC: Parker McCurley, Adam’s friend and teammate from Cleveland, is standing right next to me. He’s watching Adam like a proud older brother.

PARKER: I mean, I think this is his purpose, and I think if someone follows their purpose, then all the world conspires in your favor. So, I’m just gonna watch that happen. It’s beautiful.

ADAM: Introducing Denari, the first universal peer to peer giving platform that connects people around shared values. Over the past 24 hours, we’ve had over 250 people express interest in our platform. We’re currently in conversations with CEOs from Amnesty International, MercyCorps, Women2.0, and social entrepreneurs in Myanmar, Singapore, Italy, and Egypt. We’re Denari, and we’re here to make giving easier for everyone.

ERIC: The rest of the team comes up for the Q and A. There’s a question about whether the app works yet and Denari says they can demo it later tonight, if they make it to the semi-finals. The team mostly has solid answers for the judges… but about 30 seconds before time is up… they get a tough one. A judge asks Colleen Wong: How is this not just going to turn into a money laundering platform?

JUDGE: How is this not going to get turned into a money laundering platform overnight?

COLLEEN WONG: Of course, there are, there are concerns about money laundering and funding terrorism. But we down the road are exploring a process in which we can have a solid vetting process, in which we have people on the ground in these communities in these countries.

ERIC: She gets through it, but it’s never a great sign when you have use the phrase “concerns about funding terrorism.” They leave the stage, and after they’ve had a minute to collect themselves, I find Colleen Wong and ask her how she thinks it went.

COLLEEN WONG: I’m feeling bad about myself. I feel like I fucked up the Q&A. Like I am terrible when I’m in front of people, like in a crowd. And I think my team was upset with the way I handled it.

ERIC: You think they’re upset?

COLLEEN WONG: Yeah. I totally got that impression. And, I don’t know. I just, I don’t feel like I’m a good leader most of the time.

ERIC: Are you kidding me?! Have you, like, seen yourself this week?!

COLLEEN WONG: I’m like, I don’t know. I’m just not like very confident and like. I’m not like a typical like outspoken person.

ERIC: But you, like, pulled together the, like, craziest team on the bus. It was a great thing.

COLLEEN WONG: I don’t think it was me. I think it was just like timing and how things went. So.

ERIC: But you were in charge.

COLLEEN WONG: Eh, I don’t know.

ERIC: The next and last team from New York is Daisy. They’re huddled together on the far side of the room. Colleen Lavin and Rebecca, Daisy’s CEO, give their thoughts on the competition so far.

REBECCA BATTERMAN: I mentioned to Colleen that I thought that the telegram singing was a little pitchy.

Laughter

ERIC: And then, Colleen Lavin gets up to pitch. No microphone.

COLLEEN LAVIN: Alright, can you hear me in the back? Awesome. Hi, I’m Colleen, and I’m here to talk about everyone’s favorite topic … death.  We are all going to die and many of us have friends and family who we care deeply about who are also going to die. So most of us in this room, at one point in time or another, are going to have to deal with the horrific circus that is planning a funeral.

ERIC: Daisy is one of the last companies to pitch this afternoon. 20 other teams had gone at this point. And through almost all of those pitches, the room remained pretty busy. People were walking in and out; they were mumbling in the back, typing away on their computers. It felt a little like a school cafeteria that happened to have a pitch competition going on in the corner. But as Colleen starts talking, something remarkable happens. The room goes silent. People in the back shuffle their way forward to the stage. They pull out cell phones and start taking videos. She commands the room in a way no other team has managed.

COLLEEN LAVIN: Daisy is a funeral planning platform that guides next of kin through each step of the funeral process from start to finish. It offers a funeral planning checklist, connects you to florists, caterers, funeral homes and reception venues, showing you the average price per item for your area, so you know what you’re getting into and don’t get oversold or scammed.

ERIC: Her teammates are smiling from the side. They know it’s going well. And then, that last line.

COLLEEN LAVIN: With no major competitors, Daisy is poised. To kill it.

Clapping

ERIC: The team comes up for the Q and A. There’s a question about how Daisy is going to market their product. And then there’s a question that catches me off guard. Well not so much the question as the answer. A judge asks what inspired the idea.

JUDGE: What inspired thIS idea?

COLLEEN LAVIN: Inspired the idea? My dad’s been having a lot of health problems lately. So when I was visiting home last, we had to go to the estate lawyer, my mom mentioned buying a funeral plot, and I realized that I had no idea what I would do during that time. And I figured there are more people like me. So we decided to make this.

ERIC: The Q and A wraps. Daisy exits. The pitches end.

ANNOUNCER: Alright, that’s the last of our teams for the preliminaires. Let’s give it up to everybody who made it through this experience and just pitched for you. The judges from here are going to take a 30-minute deliberation break and we will announce who is making it into the second round tonight, which starts at five.

ERIC: The judges pack up their things and head to another room. I ask if I can join them for the discussion. They tell me “no”. But after about 20 minutes I get a tap on the shoulder. And that’s how I wind up … in the room where it happens… the room where it happens… the room where it happens… Hamilton? Anybody? No?… Alright. That’s after the break.


ERIC: So it had been about 20 minutes since the judges disappeared, and then something strange happened. One of the competition’s organizers came up to me and said, “Hey – I was in there with the judges, they know you’ve been recording a lot, do you want to come in and listen to the last few minutes of their discussion, before we announce the winners?” And I said, “Yeah, that would be great.” So I follow the guy downstairs, and I wait outside the glass room where the judges are. And then, one of them signals for me to come in. I walk into the room with my microphone turned on, and I say…

ERIC: Hey everyone.

ERIC: “Hey everyone…” and that’s it. For the rest of the time I’m in that room, I just record, I don’t interject. What they explain is that they have made their decision. They’ve voted, and they know who they’re sending to the semi-finals. And what they want to do is just re-enact the end of their conversation. So this tape starts right as I walk in.

ELIAS BIZANNES: So. We’ve decided. We want to be careful though what gets recorded. So

JUDGE 2: We can discuss a couple of teams but just say that team or this team instead of saying…

ELIAS: Should we just replay the last conversation we had?

JUDGE 2: Sure.

ERIC: To be honest, I didn’t think this would be that interesting. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t even use it, because, I don’t know, it’s fake. But, let’s just let it play out.

ELIAS: We’ve said we’re only going to send 10, which means we need to cut one of the last group. So the last group is a bit of a mixed bag. But we have Titan, Phishly, Yetigram, Money Expert, and Lucking. Now, how are we going to decide what to cut there.

ERIC: So ten teams are moving on. They’ve got 11 they like. So they’re choosing one from the bottom five to cut. Those teams—Titan, Yetigram, Money Expert, Lucking…and Phishly.

JUDGE 2: There’s, one of those that is a product that’s already been done several times, and that would be my vote for who we decide to cut.

JUDGE 3: Yeah if it exists, why should we…

JUDGE 4: Yeah it’s already been done all over the place, there’s no question.

JUDGE 2: If we’re talking about the same team, their presentation was off the chain. It was amazing. And was probably one of my favorite pitches but the fact is it already exists 3, 4, 5 times over.

ELIAS: But isn’t that how most, like you think about most businesses are successful, it’s already been a mature, commoditized industry.

JUDGE 2: But in their pitch I didn’t see how they’re going to execute better.

ERIC: Now, I’m standing to the side, trying to piece together who they’re talking about. Because, remember, at this point, this is supposed to be a reenactment. No names or anything. And best I can gather—a great pitch, a product that kind of already exists—I’m pretty sure they want to cut Phishly.

JUDGE 2: I mean it really looked like an identical product with an identical client base and delivered in a near identical way.

ERIC: And this is where things start to take a turn. The conversation the judges had been reenacting, they now just slip back into just having that conversation. They start relitigating the decisions they’d made before I walked in the room. So one of them asks, “If we’re worried about identical products, what about this other app from Mexico, called Lucking? It’s also been done before.” “Yeah,” they say, “but it could also tie into other apps, so that would make it more valuable.” Then someone mentions Denari.

JUDGE 3: I thought the presentation was really slick.

JUDGE 2: That’s a shitstorm waiting to happen, are you kidding me? One, like they have so many regulatory hurdles. That’s like a go-to-prison kind of app. A user or the people behind it, someone’s getting arrested for that app.

ERIC: Then one of the judges, the founder of StartupBus, a guy named Elias, he makes an observation.

ELIAS: Just one other thing. If we cut Phishly, which I think we’ve got a split table on

that, there is no New York team appearing in the semifinals.

ERIC: This really surprises me. You know as well as anyone that the New York bus had its troubles. But everyone I talked to felt pretty confident at least one New York team would be moving forward. As it stands now, that is not the case. And it’s then that Elias points something else out. Something about the judges in the room.

ELIAS: I only want to flag. I don’t think we need to have each bus represented, but I want to account for a bit of bias here, because three of the five of us here each have a geographic bias.

JUDGE 2: There’s no New York rep in the room.

ERIC: When you look around the table, there are judges from Tampa, New Orleans, and Mexico City. The Mexico City judge was actually one of the mentors on the Mexico City bus. But nobody affiliated with New York is in the room. And there was one interaction I observed that actually makes this point feel pretty relevant. The judges were talking about a company called Money Expert. It’s a company from Mexico City. Most of the judges were on the fence about it. Money Expert didn’t actually have a working product yet. But there was one judge, the judge affiliated with Mexico City, who was convinced they could make the working product by the semi-finals, that night. And she put up a real fight for Money Expert. So they moved forward. Back at the table, the judges take another look at the New York teams. Just to see.

JUDGE 2: Who’s the highest ranked New York team that we ranked collectively who almost made it.

ELIAS: The highest ranked New York team? Phishly was the highest ranked.

JUDGE 5: Oh no I have Daisy as my highest ranked New York team.

JUDGE 4: Actually, me too.

JUDGE 3: My 11 and 12 are tied with Daisy, so I….

ERIC: It seems like the judges actually liked Daisy, but it kind of fell into this weird middle ground where, because of the ranking system, they never discussed it once they got in the room. This is the first time they’re bringing it up.

ELIAS: I actually went through this when my father passed away a year ago. And what actually happened was, the whole family is in shock. Thank God for my sister in law, she knew exactly what to do.

JUDGE 2: And the easier and more user friendly you can make that, the better off you are.

JUDGE 4: I mean her pitch was hilariously awesome… we all laughed about death. Even the corniest the last line, it was so cute!

JUDGE 2: They couldn’t have gone out and casted a better person to do that pitch.

ELIAS; Ok, so people like Daisy.

JUDGE 2: Yeah

ELIAS: Let’s drop Phishly and swap it out with Daisy. So now we’ve got a New York team that’s swapped with another New York team. But we still need to drop a team.

ERIC: So this means we’re back where we started when I first walked in. They are letting 10 teams move forward. They have 11 they like. So they need to cut one from the bottom. All that’s different is they’ve swapped out Phishly, and put Daisy in. This feels a little weird. The judges had made up their minds, and then they invited me in the room, started talking again, and they changed their minds. But also, I don’t know, I didn’t say anything. Mostly I think that, when I walked in, it gave them an extra five minutes to think about their decision. And if something else happened, like if the lock on the door broke right now, and that gave them another five minutes, I’m not so sure things wouldn’t change again. Anyway, they take another vote.

ELIAS: So I’ll include all the bottom ranked ones. So Titan, Daisy, Yetigram, Money Expert, and Lucking.

ERIC: The judges are out. Everyone is gathering on the third floor to hear the announcement. Frank from team Denari is standing in the middle of the crowd, his arms folded.

FRANK CARINGI: We’re going the find out soon who’s going to the next round, so I hope it’s some New York people.

PARTICIPANT: The moment of truth. The moment of truth.

ERIC: The judges gather up front.

JUDGE 2: First of all, everybody who pitched today, give yourselves a hand. We had a lot of tough choices to make. Actually we thought we had made the choices and then we started talking again.

ELIAS: We didn’t want to get recorded by the StartUp podcast, and then we said once we decided, we allowed them to come in and just pretend to talk, and we completely changed the results.

ERIC: Oh boy.

ELIAS: It was actually interesting. And I’m glad we did that, it was a much more effective judging process

JUDGE 2: It really was. And so no one should be disappointed with the results today.

ERIC: They start announcing the teams moving onto the next round.

JUDGE 2: So I think I’ll start announcing who’s going to be pitching in the semifinals. The first team…

CROWD: Wait wait wait, no, I’m just kidding

JUDGE 2: Is everybody calm, ready for this? The first team is Yetigram from Tampa. The second team is Del Campo from Mexico City! Daisy from New York City! You guys killed it!

COLLEEN LAVIN: Oh my gosh! I totally was ready for disappointment.

ERIC: In the end, only one New York team moves forward, Daisy. You can tell Phishly and Denari are both disappointed. Everyone genuinely thought at least Phishly would be making it through. But it’s not pure heartbreak. Anne-Gail and Adam are standing next to each other.

ERIC: How you feeling?

ANNE-GAIL: A weird sense of relief and a weird sense of sadness.

ADAM: Yeah, I’m bummed we’re not going on, but I think we all did the best we could here. I’m not disappointed with what we accomplished.

ERIC: But there is still one New York team in the running. Daisy. And right now they are literally running down the stairs to find a quiet place to prep for the semi-final round. It starts in just an hour or so. The next 60 minutes are a whirlwind. The team decides what they want to add to the pitch for their next round, and what they hope they don’t get asked about.

COLLEEN LAVIN: And I really hope they don’t look at this code. It’s kinda lame. Take that out.

ERIC: But it’s so funny!

COLLEEN LAVIN: No, but I want someone to hire me!

ERIC: Focus, focus.

ERIC: The next thing you know, Colleen is in a back on stage, pitching her heart out.

COLLEEN LAVIN: The average funerals costs eight to ten thousand dollars apiece. That leaves grieving families to deal with making difficult, expensive decisions in an already emotionally challenging time.

REBECCA BATTERMAN: How are you feeling? You did a great job with your memorization.

COLLEEN LAVIN: I had to check twice.

REBECCA BATTERMAN: That’s ok

ERIC: The rest of the teams pitch. The judges disappear again. I DO NOT ASK TO SIT IN THIS TIME. I LEARNED MY LESSON. Woof. The judges come back, and they take the stage to announce who’s going to the finals. Only five teams will make it.

ANNOUNCER:  So the moment that you’re all waiting for, the people who will be pitching tomorrow. The first team is Course Align! The second team is Daisy!

MADELENA MAK: Yes yes yes yes.

ERIC: That’s Madelena, who’s been standing with Daisy this whole time.

MADELENA: Yes! Yes!

ERIC: In the end they announce 5 teams. Course Align—the two guys from Tampa, Daisy, Initiate Today—an employee onboarding software, there’s a company making specialty bike pedals, called drop-in-pedals. And a website from Mexico called Del Campo, that cuts the middlemen out of produce distribution. A DJ starts blasting music as soon as the finalists are announced. The teams have until tomorrow afternoon to work on their products. And Madelena makes it clear. for Daisy, work is what’s in store.

MADELENA: No parties for all of you tonight. No parties.

REBECCA: So let’s leave this room and go have a talk.

MADELENA: Alright let’s do it, work work work. We did it! Daisy Daisy Daisy.


ERIC: StartUp’s regular host is Lisa Chow. This episode was produced by Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, Amy Standen and Max Gibson. Our senior producer is Molly Messick. We are edited by Annie-Rose Strasser. I’m Eric Mennel. Our theme song is by Bobby Lord. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. “Roll Bus Roll” is by Jeffrey Lewis. For full music credits, visit our website, GimletMedia.com/startup. David Herman and Ian Scott mixed the episode. Special thanks to Alex Blumberg, Emanuele Berry, Bobby Lord, Matthew Boll, and Alvin Melathe. To subscribe to StartUp, go to Apple Podcasts, or whichever app you like to use. And while you’re there, leave a review! It’s your chance to tell the world how you feel.

COLLEEN LAVIN: I’m not throwing away my shot. I’m not throwing away my shot.

ERIC: Find out more about the show at the Gimlet Media website: GimletMedia.com. Thanks for listening. There is one more episode left in our series, the big reveal, the grand finale. That is coming your way tomorrow.

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The guys @replyall are back for their first episode of the year with a new YYN — spoiler: the internet still confuses me! Listen now: https://t.co/OtVzVzmkno