by Trey Nosrac
On a snowy Monday morning, Sally and I sat in The Last Drop coffee shop on her first official day of unemployment. I drive for Lyft part-time, but my years of unemployment experience qualified me as her mentor in the unemployment field.
I tried to impress upon Sally that her furlough from Penfield Harness Track was more transcendent than tragic, more challenge than chagrin, and several other trite clichés I pulled out of the air to keep her from crying.
We decided that instead of sending out résumés, she should take a more unconventional route. I would aid and abet. This avant-garde approach to her future took some pushing on my part. Sally, my cousin, whom I have known for all of her 33 years, is not a person who makes mistakes. I make about 33 mistakes a week. I closed the deal with a slightly plagiarized quote, “Sally if you are not scared, then you are doing something wrong.”
Three weeks later, we met again at The Last Drop. I raked my fingers through my long brown hair, looked at a brochure and summed up the contents, “There are 17 presenters; we each will have 12 minutes.”
Sally said, “I can’t believe we are flying to California for just 12 minutes. How many firms are there?”
“Sixteen venture capitalist firms will have a representative. Nine of the firms are from California. My contact, the guy I drove to the airport, assured me those are the people with the deepest pockets.”
Sally took a sip of coffee, “What are we doing? I’m an ex-schlep from a harness racetrack on life support. You are a cab-driving jester. All we have is an idea. We don’t even have a PowerPoint presentation.”
I winked, “I prefer to call myself a Lyft driving visionary. And Sally, we have your Pretty Woman good looks, we have chutzpah, and we have a brilliant idea.”
“Pretty woman? Well now I know you are not a visionary. In fact, I question your vision. Still, that was very smooth and the sort of thing that women like to hear. You should save it for a non-relative? So, what’s our plan?”
“My contact has been to a few of these things. He never got a bite, so he still works as a coder for a gaming outfit getting into holograms. But, he shared that these flash presentations are very fast and to the point. He told me to keep in mind three things.”
“One, don’t be cute. Two, don’t over-explain. Three, don’t try to sell anything.”
He said it’s like dropping a raw hamburger in the ocean and hoping a big shark will snap it up and swim with it.”
* * *
The Hyatt Regency lobby was accented in gold and smelled of oak paneling. I nudged Sally and said, “There’s your target at two o’clock; briefcase, short and stocky, in a turtleneck. Work it, girlfriend.”
We walked quickly across the swirled carpet.
Sally smiled and asked, “Excuse me, did you give one of the flash Venture Capital presentations this morning?”
“Uh, uh, yeah.”
“We have one in about 90 minutes? How was it? Oh, I’m Sally, this is Trey.”
He took Sally’s proffered hand like he was in a dream and said, “David.”
Sally held his hand an instant longer than necessary and asked, “Were you nervous?”
“Well, um, not as nervous as I am right now.”
She smiled and pointed at a black leather sofa in an alcove. Sally sat next to David as I settled into a wingback chair facing them.
Sally said, “We don’t want to steal your idea, we just want to know what to expect if you could give us a few minutes.”
David had not taken his eyes off Sally. He fluttered his hand on his heart, “I’d probably give you my car.”
We all laughed and David continued.
“Well, they were young, most of them about our age. Sixteen people, 17 if you count the moderator. They sat like they were in the first two rows of a movie theater. You sit facing them. The moderator introduces you and asks a couple of questions. I got the feeling he asks the same questions over and over. After that, the rest of the audience chimes in.”
Sally asked, “What questions, hard questions?”
“Very basic. What do you want? What is the market? To tell you the truth, I was disappointed.”
He nodded at his briefcase, “I had tons of data. I studied for weeks, learning stuff like claw backs, committed capital, realization multiples, leveraging, management buy in, seed capital, series A syndication, secondary public offering and all kinds of weird terms. Sheesh, these VC folks live in another world.”
* * *
We decided that Sally would answer the questions, and that she would open one more button on her blouse. I would handle follow-ups and cinched up my new, and only, necktie. When we entered the room, everything was just as David explained, including the first questions from the moderator.
Q. Sally, tell us what you and Trey want?
A. We want to establish a new business with an unlimited upside. We want vested interest in a project that combines gambling, a sport called harness horse racing and technology. We believe we have a new model that can open the floodgates to huge markets.
Q. How huge? What are your markets?
A. The money comes from gambling. Thirteen billion was gambled in North America last year and many multiples internationally. Who knows how much more is gambled that remains unseen or unreported? This scale is why we approached this group; you do not fund small projects, you are looking for game changers.
The combination of a beautiful, confident woman and her forceful presentation sent a perceptible shift in mood. The panel leaned forward.
Q. Are you associated with the hierarchy of horse racing? Is this idea yours or the association’s or whoever runs harness horse racing?
I took the field.
A. We are not officially representing the sport. We both enjoy the sport, we both have limited experience in the sport, Sally has worked in the harness race industry and I am in the transportation industry. This particular model is ours. However, and this is important, the sport is at a crossroads. The racetracks, government, elected officials, breeding farms, everyone is worried. This industry will be receptive to investment and innovation to a degree never seen before.
Q. What are the pillars of your proposal?
A. There are four legs — gambling money, horse racing, the Internet and a forecast where the Internet will make state restrictions less likely. We have plenty of numbers and a specific outline, but until we get closer to funding, and until Sally and I are positioned, we will keep them in the pipeline. Basically, we have two main tracks, if you will pardon the pun, both of which rely heavily on technology. One is to make a wager on a race a very good bet. Although wagering on a horse race is for many an intellectual exercise, and we plan on keeping it so, wagering on a horserace is a losing proposition because of the take-out. We want to make our bet the best bet.
A. Take out is the money in any wager returned to the bettor. Some gambling venues return 97 per cent; horse racing isn’t remotely close to that number. We will change those dynamics. We also will control our money; we will not have the dollars chipped away. Scale of size will cover the costs. Ultimately, it will benefit the people who put out the product.”
Q. Any secondary considerations for your product proposal?
A. Presentation. We have a menu of 15 “must haves” to take this type of horse racing from static and passive to active and dynamic. Whatever VC firm lands us will find more. Harness racing can be more exciting than most wagering opportunities.
Q. You have one minute to wrap-up.
Sally closed the presentation,
“Harness racing is a beautiful sport, much more complex than it appears. We like the people, the traditions, the horses… but you don’t care about that. You want to make money. Here is the overreaching concept of this proposal: Gambling money flows freely in astonishingly large amounts. Much of that money flows to informed bettors, the rest flows to recreational gamblers who just want to have convenient fun. Our sport can do both. None of our competitors can.
“Wagering differentiates horse racing from other sports. A horse race demands that players make logical and thoughtful decisions. This empowers the gambler. Technology, lots of cutting edge technology, will allow us to position this creaky old sport to the top of the menu of gambling options.”
“If you fund this project and put your massive money and technical genius behind it, investment in harness racing will allow you a rate of return far higher and with longer legs than anything else you will hear in any other presentation today.”
“Thank you for this opportunity.”
* * *
In the hallway after the door clicked shut, Sally high-fived me and then slid into a hug.
She stepped back and said, “Your contact would be proud. That was one tasty hamburger we threw into that ocean.”
I replied, “All we do now is hope for a friendly shark bite.”