is no stranger to the stage. In 2013, she took home the top undergraduate prize in Duke University’s yearlong Startup Challenge, a win that helped get her healthy tea-based energy drink Mati into cans and onto local Whole Foods Markets shelves.
Birgisson also won over family members with the Mati story—her uncle provided the seed funding to ramp up the business in December 2013.
But Thursday’s pitch before big-name Silicon Valley investors puts her on a much bigger, global stage. Last year, the Google Demo Day audience included some of the biggest names in venture capital—500 Startups, Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, along with AOL co-founder and Revolution Ventures investor Steve Case.
It’ll be clear to those investors that Birgisson’s story is different. Every other pitching company is involved in technology—yet hers started with a struggle with depression and a tea kettle in a dorm room and evolved over time to include a daily dose of chemistry, ingredient sourcing, packaging, logistics, branding, marketing and retailing.
Birgisson will make those differences play in her favor through what she calls “moments of fearlessness”—the same moments that helped her win over buyers at Kroger, Costco and Whole Foods over the last 18 months.
“I don’t fit the traditional model for pitching at Google or the traditional mold for who gets an NC IDEA grant,” she says. “But I’ll have the same mentality as any sales meeting I go into—believe in yourself and that your product is of benefit to the other side.”
Confidence aside, Birgisson has had some major prep to be ready for this week’s pitch. Below, check out how she prepared for what could be the opportunity of a lifetime for Mati.
Critical to the entire opportunity is the pitch Birgisson will give before the crowd Thursday morning. It must be compelling yet concise, informational yet inspirational. To prepare the presentation and determine the content and tone of the pitch, she met weekly with Soar mentors John Austin and Lauren Whitehurst. She then hosted three sessions to pitch in front of the American Underground community and receive feedback.
The biggest aha: slow down at key moments so the audience can absorb the information.
A likely outcome of Demo Day is meetings with investors—last year, Steve Case offered $100,000 investments to every demoing company and both Windsor Circle and Automated Insights made valuable investor connections at Demo Day. That possibility has required Birgisson update her business plan and create an expanded pitch deck with relevant financials. She worked with a lawyer to make sure all was in good legal order.
She also could receive a term sheet, and that meant thinking and doing research about possible valuations for her company. One realization in that process is that it’s incredibly hard to value a company that is doubling sales every month and grew 666 percent in a year.
Though energy drinks are commanding higher multiples than beverage industry standards—Coca-Cola acquired a 17 percent stake in Monster late last year at a multiple of 7 or 8 over trailing 12-month revenue.—her growth hasn’t steadied enough to give an accurate picture of future revenue opportunity.
“It’s more similar to a tech startup where you just try to come to an agreement on what I’m willing to give up and what they’re willing to get for their money,” she says.
The Media Attention
Birgisson met with PR experts Esther Campi and Billy Warden and her Soar mentors to talk about media targets and discuss story angles for both local and national audiences. Ellie Gamache from American Underground has worked for several weeks to pitch her story to various sources (CNN Money picked it up a week ago).
Birgisson’s big takeaway from those meetings is to not be shy about sharing her version of “the American Dream,” starting a company in a dorm room and eventually outpacing Red Bull in grocery store sales.
Readying the Product
Another outcome from Demo Day (and all the media attention) could be introductions to new retailers or distribution channels. And so Birgisson made sure fulfillment could ramp up with just a month’s notice. She typically produces one to two batches of product a week, but she’s already secured a production facility that could allow for higher volume production runs.
To expand sales into independent retail locations, gyms and offices within two hours of the Triangle, Mati has also set up its own smaller scale distribution and is in the process of buying a refrigerated van to make deliveries.
Though Birgisson only recently released a second flavor—cherry—she’s working on a third. And this summer, she’ll introduce a shelf-ready can, so that Mati can be stored in warehouses and sold on regular grocery shelves rather than in refrigerators.
Investors will be able to see her regular focus on improving her processes and building a portfolio of products.
Planning the First Spend
To participate in Google Demo Day, Birgisson is required to raise a $1 million to $4 million round. And so she had to form a plan for how she'd spend all that money—the company has been lean to date, with just two full-time employees.
Birgisson plans to spend a third of any funds to scale up manufacturing and a third for sales and marketing to get distribution all along the East Coast over the next 18 months. She’ll also hire a third employee.
Her goal is to continue to seek profitability (she is profitable today), so she’ll quickly work toward earning back the money spent before raising any future rounds.
Remembering where she came from
Birgisson recognizes that her success is a result of community. It started with her experience in The Cube at Duke University—building her business alongside other aspiring student entrepreneurs. That motivated her to enter and win the Startup Challenge, which made it possible for her to take the big step of pursuing Mati full time after college.
Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship gave her free office space at American Underground for 18 months and sent her to California for pitch events before other Duke graduates.
She hopes the Demo Day experience positions her to also pitch before the new Duke Angel Network and its matching investment fund.
“Duke is really showing that an education doesn’t really end at commencement, but commencement is really the beginning of a new relationship with the university,” she says.
Participation in American Underground events led her to Soar and the NC IDEA grant process. NC IDEA funds helped her introduce a second flavor, build out a new website and prepare for the investment round she hopes to raise after Demo Day. Soar mentors introduced Birgisson to Jonathan Prinz, a consultant who has performed branding work for American Express and Coca-Cola and has since taken on the Mati brand.
Practice has been key to helping to calm the nervous feeling of pitching on stage before dozens of high profile Silicon Valley investors, many of whom are expecting to see a field of tech companies.
Because Birgisson is the only entrepreneur at Demo Day building a consumer product brand, she feels some extra pressure. But she also hopes that it plays in her favor.
“Google had plenty of tech companies to choose from and chose Mati—they were excited enough about what we’re doing and our traction to say, ‘We want something different.''”