“Hi, my name is Quincy Godwin from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the – uh – United States. I’m a Global Gap Year Fellow doing an internship at a social startup called SustainEarth based in Tih-doo-potty. When I return to the States I’ll begin my undergrad studies. I’m 18 years old – and believe me, at this moment I am feeling very 18 years old.”
This was the introduction that fell out of my mouth and into the live microphone when they handed one to me and told me to start my 60 second elevator pitch at the MIT Global Startup Workshop.
I looked down over near 400 faces, most of which were wrapped around skulls that contained brains that had completed IV league engineering degrees. Brains half of which were somewhere else, back in a lab – developing tomorrow’s technology.
Speaking from center stage, their eyes watched me curiously, wondering what it was that I could produce, if it would be worth their attention.
Who am I to them? I thought. What could I possibly say in a simple 60 seconds that would not only lift them from their deep pit of apathy but actually compel them?
These thoughts rested like a brick in my mind as I continued.
I had practiced this pitch a million times it seemed, in the mirror, in the hostel room, in the nearby commode stall. But this was the 1,000,001st time, the only one that mattered.
Okay, the introduction was flawless – proud of myself for reciting the obvious information that was essential to my mental construction of reality: my name, my place, my reason for existing here and now, a jest to ease the pain of not knowing – then my thoughts hit that brick I spoke of and I choked like a kid trying a cigarette.
“166 million households in India alone… uh… um… still burn solid fuels like – um – wood to c-cook their meals. 25 million of these homes own cattle that produce –“
I swallow the foam under my tongue and blink up at the lights a few times hoping that the stimuli would start my heart again. It feels like my blood has turned to slushi in my veins.
C’mon Quince, save it, save it.
”They produce poop.”
The past 3 days flash before me in a great blur of handshakes, business cards, coffee, buzzwords, and having no idea what I’m talking about.
I am a professional Frankenstein:
Previously I had been backpacking through India with long, oily hair and 3 ratty outfits, rarely washed and dried on a rooftop.
The shirt I’m wearing was borrowed from a hostel-mate.
The khakis are second-hand with an inkstain in the front left pocket.
My toes hurt because the shoes I’m wearing are 2 sizes too small, but they were the biggest the store had the night before the workshop.
Even the rubberband restraining the blaze of my unprofessional do was stolen from the front desk.
The ideas in my head aren’t even my own – this is me pitching someone else’s passion project with a fraction of the passion.
Dr. Frankenstein stitched all this together, zapped it with synergy, and called it in for an interview for the position of “ALIVE!!!”
“We take that poop and make a valuable commodity from it. We’re building a brand new brand of biogas with new materials, new technology, and innovative ideas. We are saving communities and helping to stop climate change with our product.”
I look around at all the distinguished people in their silk suits – the hotel I’m in is the nicest building I’ve ever entered. The room the conference is being held in is 3 times bigger than my highschool’s gymnasium.
I’m a polished turd in a jewelry box.
I think about the gymnasium – the last time I spoke publicly. 9 months earlier I delivered a 10 minute graduation speech to 2,000 of my closest friend’s relatives and teachers.
I tried to relate this experience to that one – this should be nothing! A tenth of the time, a quarter of the people… but, in my head, a billion times the stakes.
I was lost in a 12ft dream wearing concrete galoshes. Way, way over my head. My 60 seconds were dwindling in the single digits. As quickly as I could:
“SustainEarth is the future of clean cooking in rural India. We’re looking for the financial support of investors as well as product refinement and partnershi–“
“STOP!” yelled the announcer.
I breathed for the first time in a minute. I could feel my face again – it was burning hot.
Then the least believable thing of my gap year happened.
Before I even reached the bottom of the staircase, a short balding man in a very nice suit took my hand in a firm shake and pressed a business card into my palm.
“Hi Quincy, my name is Vinay Rai – MIT Alumni and member of a firm of angel investors based in Bombay. We’re very interested in your project – I’d like for you to send me some more information about your model and needs. Be in touch.”
This was a fever dream. The space between my ears combusted – I could only laugh. “Are you serious?” is what I didn’t mean to say.
His eyes shimmered in a smile at my childish demeanor.
“Absolutely,” he said, “we’re looking for ideas, not actors… but that pitch was decent.”
I stumbled through the rest of the day with stars in my eyes. Everything was gold and so was I.
I reflected on the workshop, through and through. It was incredible. I made deep connections with people I aspired to be like, people on similar paths as me just 10-15 years ahead – providing survival tactics and protips on making it the right way.
I met hearts of gold pursuing foolish ideas that will never work – but I didn’t tell them that, or even worry for their future. They’ll solve their problem with a new idea, that’s the entrepreneurial spirit. (I learned that, too)
On Monday morning I emailed Vinay. I gave him the information he wanted and put him in touch with the entrepreneur of the startup, Koushik.
Late Tuesday night Koushik was at my door with a big, fat grin on him face.
“Thanks, dude,” he blurted before I even pulled open the door all the way.
I stepped out.
“For what?” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I stood on my porch in a dirty tank top and boxer briefs, slapping at a mosquito biting my neck.
“We got an investment,” he said coolly.
“NO!!! NO WAY!!!” I screamed before I could catch myself – waking up the neighbors in each of the six adjacent houses to mine. The dogs began barking and standing against the driveway gates, like my heart on my ribcage.
This was 2 days ago and I’m still not sure it all really happened – or what to take away from it.
Maybe if you can’t polish a turd then you didn’t try hard enough.
Or Fake it till you make a poop joke.
Or those in glass houses get sunburnt.
Or maybe I’m just really bad at reinterpreting idioms.
Anyway, the real lesson is to never stop putting yourself out there and never underestimate the impact you can make. Rip it up, guys.