Pitch perfect: College District

Owner: Jared Loftus
The pitch: Winner of SeNSE High Stakes Pitch Night during BREW 2011
Capital gained: $0
Business inception: August 2004

Jared Loftus tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit in college when he transitioned from selling T-shirts out of his backpack to establishing a retail store near LSU to clothe college sports fans with creative T-shirt designs. Loftus competed in Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week’s pitch night in 2011, seeking capital for his e-commerce college merchandise business, College District, after selling his retail store in 2010. Since then, Loftus has become an experienced pitcher, participating in numerous competitions in Baton Rouge and across the country. He has expanded his focus to other ventures in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, co-founding a social media consulting business, two food trucks and a co-working space. Nationally, Loftus serves as the chief operating officer of the country’s fastest growing ACT prep company, Mastery Prep.

What did you learn from the pitch competition?

I learned that talk is cheap and an offer doesn’t count until the check clears at the bank.

What was the next step after the BREW pitch night?

Keep pitching to anyone anywhere I could. It never stopped. The competition was a starting line, not a finish line. I don’t know anyone that has raised a significant amount of money based off a five-minute pitch in front of hundreds of people. It always takes more meetings and more time.

What lessons did you learn from the judges?

Even though one of the judges claimed he was going to “wire me money the next day,” that was more for show and the thrill of the night. However, I did get to go meet with him again in Boston. It was the toughest meeting I’ve ever had. I felt like I got beat up when I left. But it made me better as a businessperson. He asked me tough questions that no one else had asked yet. It really made me think about my business differently.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs on giving a pitch?

Be selective in the competitions that you choose to participate in, because they’re not all going to be beneficial. You have to constantly be asking yourself if the time you are spending on preparing for a competition is more valuable than actually operating your business. Sometimes it won’t be. Look at who else is participating. What kind of investments are others seeking? Are you in line with those? You don’t want to ask for $250,000 when everyone else is asking for $25,000. And conversely, you don’t want to ask for $250,000, when everyone else is asking for $2 million. Also, know your judges. Who are the money people? Do they typically invest in companies like yours?

What didn’t you expect as part of the business development process?

That raising larger amounts of money may actually be easier. I remember talking to a guy in New York one time who asked how much I was looking for. I told him $1 million. He kind of laughed and said, “I can’t really help you with that. Now, $100 million, I could help you with that.”

What was your biggest barrier to success moving forward?

Not raising enough money. It’s not that money was always an issue, but it became an issue when we got stuck in between rounds and needed more than the previous round, but couldn’t quite get to that next level. Our biggest mistake was assuming we had an investment from someone before the check actually got deposited. We were up against some deadlines, the investor had the paperwork and was ready to invest, and we made some operating decisions based on the idea that the deal would eventually close. It never did.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

Conserve cash and not be tempted to spend what we raised. There is this idea that when you raise money, you have to use all of it at once to get the explosive growth. I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with sustainable growth.

What is the next step for your business?

We’re tweaking the model and the kinds of products we offer. We’re good at T-shirts and offering products that are relevant to our customers. We ended up trying to offer other products that got us away from our core offering.

 

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