There are certain moments in life made sweeter after victory.
For Tatiana Birgisson, it’s the extreme fear she had in 2012 of pitching her Mati energy drink in front of a crowd. It’s the hours with boyfriend and fellow entrepreneur Jake Stauch spent cutting apples and lemons, and waiting for huge amounts of water to boil on her apartment stove before they had industrial grade equipment.
It’s the two years of experimenting and taste testing to get the perfect blend—realized when she and Stauch couldn’t sleep one night because the caffeine level was so strong.
It’s living off $13,500 for a year—winnings from the Duke Startup Challenge and a summer stipend from the university. It’s when she realized selling Mati in kegs wouldn’t scale—two major office customers reduced their orders in the same week.
As the judges sipped Mati placed strategically under their chairs, it was all of those things that sent Birgisson home with a huge trophy (which she carried into the night Thursday), $100,000 investment from investor Steve Case, national media headlines, a spot in a prestigious Silicon Valley bootcamp and a stack of business cards from investors willing and ready to fund her $1 million round.
“It was huge affirmation—not only did they think it was cool what we’re doing but they awarded us the best prize,” she said holding her trophy from the stage Thursday.
How it went down
Birgisson pitched first at Demo Day, and yet continued to stand out after 11 more presentations. Different from many competitors who immediately jumped into the business opportunity, she started with her story of how Mati was a solution for herself in a fight with depression in college.
It stood out from the rest because, according to former AOL co-founder and Revolution Ventures investor Steve Case, “It’s a great story.”
And Google Ventures partner Blake Byers noted it was a well-designed pitch that clearly and quickly communicated the mission of Mati.
The pitch also proved Birgisson's resourcefulness—she ran the company alone for nearly three years before bringing on her first employee in December 2014 and second just last week. And she raised only enough money to fuel the company to profitability—her only investor is her entrepreneur-uncle Gus Higuerey.
Birgisson told me after Demo Day that she only recently felt ready to raise a round, “When I was confident we can give it back many, many, many times over."
Said judge Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners: “We always say we know a company is going to get funded when we drink the Kool aid. Literally, we did drink the Kool aid.”
Props from Steve Case
Winning over Case was especially important—he’ll visit the Triangle May 5 for the Rise of the Rest Tour. Case told me after Demo Day that his team at Revolution Ventures had made several food and beverage investments—Sweet Green and Revolution Foods to name two—and that “healthy options are a major trend in food.”
Birgisson’s product fills a gap in the energy drink category—in most other categories of food and beverage, there’s already a healthier contender.
While there’s a low barrier of entry for food and drink entrepreneurs—they can easily start in their kitchen— what’s hard is first, getting on shelves and then proving people will buy the products, Case said.
She was able to do both by wooing Whole Foods and then proving she can outsell existing energy drink options.
Case called Birgisson “amazing” and “a creative entrepreneur who made a lot of progress on her own.” Though last year he invested in all 10 demoing companies, this year, he chose only to invest in the four companies founded by women. Each takes home $100,000.
Investors line up
Jones said he was “blown away” by Birgisson’s win in a field of software companies.
Davis ensured Mati is on the docket to meet with Triangle Angel Partners in coming weeks.
“It’s a great acknowledgement of the quality of entrepreneurship that we won this Demo Day two years in a row and with very different businesses,” Davis says.
Birgisson said Thursday night that one investor offered to fund the entire round and connect her to a major chain of convenience stores his company owns. She'll stay in Silicon Valley through Tuesday to field meeting requests. Here's a reminder of how she prepped for Demo Day. Birgisson will also be back in Silicon Valley in several weeks to participate in Blackbox Connect, a bootcamp that brings together entrepreneurs from under-represented communities or populations around the globe to learn and network from each other and to take advantage of the network in Silicon Valley. The goal is to build the leaders and help them develop a vision to change their industry around the globe.
Blackbox Founder Fadi Bishara told me that Google for Entrepreneurs frequently supplies him with quality candidates from around the world. But Birgisson was a stand-out for the spring session, which is its first only for women entrepreneurs and the first open to U.S. entrepreneurs. It all comes down to the power of her journey.
"She’s an entrepreneur who has the emotional connection to what she’s building,” he says. “It’s authentic—from her own kitchen to stores and hacked all by herself."
*Pictured top left to right: Mary Grove of Google for Entrepreneurs, Mati investor Gus Higuerey, Jake Stauch, Tatiana Birgisson, and judges Blake Byers of Google Ventures, Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and Steve Case of Revolution Ventures.