Dan Hershberg loves golf. So much so that he founded the Amateur Golf Society – a PGA-style tour that any golfer can participate in. The investors think his flexible tournament model is a hole in one. But things get complicated when they discover a majority of the company is owned by a private equity firm, not the founder. Will the VCs and the PEs come together for the love of golf? Or will this deal land in the bunker.
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GOLF, today’s pitch is about GOLF. But before I get back to my scramble, there’s four other letters that you need to know.
There’s VC and then… there’s PE. No, not high school gym class. Private equity.
Private equity funds are similar to venture capital funds in that they invest in private companies. But that’s where the similarities end.
VC’s invest small dollars at the beginning of a company. When PE comes into the picture, it’s way later in the game. They’re the pot of gold at the end of the fundraising rainbow.
But that means when private equity invests, they take control.
Here's the twist - today’s brand new golf company is ALREADY backed by private equity. And now they want to raise some venture capital too. Which is … backwards.
Can VC and PE hit the course as a foursome? Or will one be forced to caddy for the other?
I’m Josh Muccio, welcome to The Pitch, where real entrepreneurs, pitch real investors, for real money.
I’m Beck Bamberger, managing partner of Bad Ideas group, welcome to San Diego
Hi, I’m Al Bsharah, the managing partner at Interlock Capital
Hi, I’m Jillian Manus, managing partner of Structure Capital
I’m Howie Diamond, managing partner of Pure Ventures
The pitch for Amateur Golf Society is coming up AFTER THIS. And if you want to watch the video of this pitch, go to pitch.show/youtube. The video episode premieres on Wednesday at 4pm eastern.
The information provided on this show is not intended to be investment advice and should not be relied upon as such. The investors on today’s episode are providing their opinions based on their own assessment of the business presented. Those opinions should not be considered professional investment advice.
Al: Oh, hi there.
Beck: I'm Beck.
Dan: Dan Hershberg. Nice to meet you.
Beck: Hey Dan.
Al: Dan. Al. How are you.
Dan: Dan Hershberg. Pleasure.
Jillian: Hi Dan.
Dan: How are you guys doing?
Howie: Doing well. How are you?
Dan: I'm wonderful. Yeah. So good afternoon guys. My name is Dan Hershberg. I am the General Manager and founder of the Amateur Golf Society of America.
Dan: So all across the country, millions of golfers are faced with a similar problem. They want to play more golf, but due to a variety of reasons, they find themselves unable to do so. Whether it's the exclusive prohibitive pricing of private clubs, or limited access to greens fees at crowded public courses, they really don't have an easy solution to that problem. That is, until now. So our team at the Amateur Golf Society has developed a uniquely formatted events series that allows golfers of all skill levels to compete in fun and friendly tournaments 100% on their schedule. Our week-long format allows members to tee it up at any day or time during a seven-day window at the host course, and as a result of their performance, they can earn points and prizes on our weekly and season-long leaderboards. After two years of proof of concept, we saw membership double and we saw engagement nearly triple. So I am here in front of you guys today raising $1 million to help us take AGS national, and who's ready to tee it high and let it fly?
Jillian: Oh! Tee it high -
Al: That was a nice finish. That was a great finish.
Jillian: - and let it fly.
Howie: Why do you think this is a venture backable business?
Dan: Well, I think when you look at the amount of golfers across this country, golf has really experienced I think a renaissance as a result of the pandemic. So the growth in the game is nearly 20% from what it was prior to the pandemic. And you're not getting that kind of traditional old school age demographic that you're used to seeing in golf courses. You're getting a lot of younger people going out and playing, people who had never previously considered the game, they're engaging at top golf, they're engaging at local simulators, and then that kind of next step. It's like for all of us when we play golf, we get that itch, it kind of gets under our skin. So the number of golfers that you're seeing at like traditional public courses, they're doing 45, 48,000 rounds a year. And the way our business model works is that we monetize those rounds, in addition to membership. So if you simply look at it at scale, if there's 1500 golfers paying at a golf course per week, at every single course in every single region across the country, and we're getting a cut of that revenue, to me it feels like we can grow it pretty quickly. And then we have a number of potential acquisition partners that are more or less within like one degree of separation of our existing organization through our partners. So I think that's kind of what makes it venture backed.
Beck: So is it - is it an app? Is it an event company? Is it a partner organization?
Dan: So we actually don't staff our events. And then the tech is what drives it. So the way we’ve built this model, if you are an individual golfer, our membership fee is anywhere between 65 and $100 for the year. regardless of your skill level or ability, there's a place for you to play.
Jillian: So what does that guarantee with that membership? X number of games, x courses.
Dan: So all it guarantees you is the GHIN number for your handicap license, access to our event schedule, and then member perks and benefits from sponsors. What makes it nice is you don't have a minimum commitment of tournaments. So some of our members say, hey, I love the rota of courses you play, I love the fact that I can get exclusive advanced access to tee times, but I can't play 30 times. I have kids or I have a job or I have some combination of the both. The way that we've broken it out is say, hey, listen, all you have to do is choose your schedule that fits your life. If you want to play in six events, play in six. If you want to play in 10, play in 10. And your only cost is the greens fee that you would pay as if you were a daily fee golfer. So there's no additional cost to the golfer, and we don't have to change their behavior.
Al: So they all have to compete at the same course just different times.
Dan: Any day during that week. Correct.
Howie: Okay. And then how many events do you do a year?
Dan: So this year we have 60 events in 3 states. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. A lot of what drives excitement and partnership from courses is that the golfers that play on tour might not have previously gone to that course. Right. Like, I live in South Philadelphia, there are probably 35 courses within an hour and a-half of me -
Jillian: Public courses.
Dan: Public courses. Yep. And I might not have heard of a dozen or 20 of those. And because we've built this rota in this schedule to allow you the opportunity, you don't have to think, right.
Beck: It's like a class pass.
Dan: Yeah, very much so.
Beck: It reminds me a little bit.
Jillian: So you mentioned one event per course. One event per month? One event per year?
Dan: One event per season.
Jillian: Per season.
Dan: So if you look at - kind of what I think the ultimate vision for this is, the way the PGA tour runs their schedule. It's the same event with the same sponsor at the same course, at more or less the same time every year. Right. Provides consistency for fans for everything. What we wanna do is find the best 20 to 25 course partners in each market and say, hey, Kimberton Golf Club, you are June 6 through June 12th every year.
Al: What's your close rate?
Dan: Close rate is about 85% of the courses that I talk to.
Jillian: Remind me of the membership fee.
Dan: So it's 65 for seniors, 75 is our standard, and then 100 is our premium. So going back to the actual model itself. So we monetize the membership revenue, and then we take a $5 cut of every greens fee booked by our members. And that is either through our app. So we've created this proprietary booking platform. This is one of the major value props for our members is it's super crowded and challenging to get a tee time at a public course right now. So what we say is, hey, if you join the tour, the day that you - we open registration, every single one of our events will allow you to book a tee time in advance. So that means -
Beck: It's like a super open table.
Dan: Yeah. Exactly. And you don't have to fight with the general public for it, right. So the course gives us a $5 cut - and like, this is how a conversation would typically go. So let's say Jillian owns a golf course and she's like, Dan, this is really cool, I like you, your model's fun, but my tee sheet's full and I'm getting 100% margins. Like, why would I give you spots.
Beck: I don't need anything.
Dan: So what we do is we say, listen, there's a couple of things that we do. First, we're only there for one week, right. So this is only taking one week of your whole golf season. Secondly, every golfer that books a tee time for that event, they agree to provide their email and their contact information to be added to that course marketing list. But on top of that, what we do is we have a agency that shoots photo, video and drone content for all of our course partners. If you've ever looked at a golf course social media, it is - it is bare. These guys are all used to working with an older demographic that doesn't care about that stuff. So they don't have any content. On top of that, I think what we really get excited about, how we can scale and make this valuable is that we could add, in our app, pre-purchasing for food and bev, pre-purchasing for pro-shop credits, and like our guys and gals who play on tour, they typically end up spending money above and beyond the greens fee. And then again, we capture that for those courses. Not just for that week; they get all that revenue above and beyond.
Al: I just want to dive into traction a little bit we haven’t really talked about number of customers, revenue, all that kind of stuff. And I'd like to kind of understand that with a sense of time, as well. So like what's it look like growth-wise. Because you said two years and your membership doubled.
Dan: I should add some context too. So this business, I - my previous entrepreneurial venture was a craft brewery called Work Horse Brewing Company. So like every business that had an on-premise component, we woke up March 2020 and were like, uh-oh. Like, this is not good. We need to figure something out. So our board sat down, they said, Dan, you're the creative guy. Give us an idea that's pandemic-proof. So what we said is, where can we find our customers in a way that they are safe, they can enjoy our product, and this can last for as long as the pandemic lasts. So we said, okay, golf courses. If we can provide ancillary value beyond just beer, it's highly likely that they will not rotate our product from their draft line. So if I create a golf tour, that I can bring golfers to their course - if you let us come for that week and you purchase our product, not just for the week of the event but for the season, we'll bring you all this revenue. So that's kind of how this all got started. To kind of answer your question, that first year we had about 175 active members, and about 35 golfers playing per week. The second year we did it, we grew it to about 450 active members, and we were seeing 100ish - a little over 100 golfers per week. This year we launched - so there was a kind of a protracted legal extrication to take the assets and IP out of the brewery to launch as its own business. So we've only really been open for two months, and we have about 620 members right now, and our average field size is closer to 160.
Al: Your yearly revenue is what? 50k?
Dan: No. So this year we're probably looking - cos we have sponsor revenue, that's the other big chunk - so total revenue this year is probably gonna be something around $200,000 would be my guess.
Beck: I had a business that was a food tour business in San Diego. And we grew it to be the largest food tour business in San Diego. And we tried to take it to Vegas and we tried to take it to another country, and the big finding was, oh, you need to be on the ground and very local in order to do that. So In order to expand outside this little niche area that you have. Does that hinge upon local people on the ground?
Dan: So I don't think you necessarily need boots on the ground. Cos we've tried to build this without doing so, right. The whole idea is every decision that I make as a leader of the company is how can I optimize for automation and streamlining all of our processes. So our - we kind of joke that like our customer acquisition costs should be 25% of what it is on paper, because if you guys are gonna play golf, one of you is gonna book a tee time and then you're gonna tell the other three.
Dan: So we have to automate and create a very comprehensive referral system where there's either discounts or benefits to bringing your friends. But at that point, it's just a snowball effect, right. And every foursome has one guy who has another three guys, another four guys, so on and so forth. So.
Jillian: Who's building the tech?
Dan: So Golf Genius, which is the industry leader in tournament management software, real time scoring, our private equity backers who had a majority share of the brewery and now are majority owners of this business, have an ownership stake in Golf Genius.
Jillian: So how much does Golf Genius own of the company?
Dan: Golf Genius owns nothing.
Howie: No, I think you meant the private equity firm.
Dan: Oh, the private equity firm. So they have about a 35% ownership stake in the business.
Howie: Oh wow.
Howie: And do you umm do you like them as partners?
Dan: They've been great.
Howie: Did they invest money? The private equity firm? Or?
Dan: So what they did - so they basically forgave $2 million worth of debt that was owed to them from the brewery to set the valuation, and then that's how we kind of got things started. So they didn't put any new money into it for this particular round, but they forgave that debt, came on, and then we raised 1 million on top for a 3 million post.
Howie: Is this a spin - this is a standalone company, though, right?
Dan: It is now, yeah. So we spun it out.
Howie: Okay. And then you raised an additional million from them?
Dan: We raised 725 of this $1 million round through strategic investors, some folks within the golf space, some folks that I had kind of kept tabs on through the brewery side of things.
Al: This one million is on the 3 million post?
Jillian: 3 million. Jesus.
Howie: And 35 - and how much - you're the, you said managing director?
Dan: I'm the general manager, founder, app guru -
Howie: You're the man.
Beck: But general manager.
Howie: You're the main man.
Dan: I'll go with that.
Howie: How much of the company do you own?
Dan: I have 20% of the company.
Howie: Okay. And -
Al: Who's got the rest?
Dan: A variety of individual investors. So I went to Cornell undergrad. and a couple guys that I know through that relationship brought a couple of their group in. Collectively, they represent about 400,000 of that 725. That's -
Howie: How much does the team, your cofounding team, own?
Dan: 25%. So it's 20 for myself, and then 5% for my COO.
Howie: That worries me -
Howie: - in terms of future rounds and dilution and -
Al: Wait a minute, is this. So you have 20% of the company right now.
Dan: That's correct.
Okay. If you’re confused here’s a quick recap. The Amateur Golf Society was spun out of Dan’s old business, a brewery. There was a private equity firm invested in the brewery, and they now own 35% of AGS. They got that ownership in exchange for forgiving $2 million in debt from the brewery.
But that’s left Dan with only 20% of his own company.
Al: At this stage, that's kinda low, and you're gonna need to raise again probably cos you're at couple hundred thousand a year. Like, what's gonna keep you motivated as you get diluted further and further? Like, you're almost starting from scratch kind of at 20%, which is really low.
Dan: Yeah. I think for me it's less about the overall ownership - of course I want to have as much of the pie as possible. But we built this business in a way where because of how efficient it is, how asset light it is, and because of the opportunity for acquisition - in my mind, I'm trying to build this as quickly as I can and then flip it.
Howie: What is the upside here? Because I think the right answer to Al's question would be, well, when I build a billion dollar business and I own 5%, that's a great outcome for me.
Howie: But it doesn't seem like you wanna do that.
Dan: I wanna build it as aggressively and as quickly as possible, knowing that we have existing partners in place who have an interest in this problem that we're solving right.
Howie: And so what is a great outcome for you?
Dan: So if we look at every single AGA in the country, of which there are 58, if each one of those markets has an AGS tour in it with 2500 members, this business is cash flowing $30 million a year.
Howie: How many members do you need to get to that $30 million revenue mark?
Dan: So it would be 2500 members in 35 markets.
Howie: In 35 markets? And what's that math?
Dan: That math would be like 80,000 members.
Howie: 80,000 members would yield conceivably 30 million in revenue. And then you would think then the company is at an optimal point to start socializing it to the market for acquisition?
Dan: Part of the reason why I like talking to people in your seat is because this is a new experience for me. Right. So like I could sit here and I could tell you I know exactly when the time to do that is, but I've been first a sole proprietor, I was hustling parking lots. I think I'm the only Ivy League educated Jewish parking lot hustler in South Philadelphia sports history. That was great. I learned a lot. Did it all by myself. Grew the brewery. I had to wear every single hat from architect, general contractor, sales person, production operations, logistics. I did it all. Now, I'm in a role where I'm eager to learn. I think I know a lot. I think I can be really valuable. But I think finding partners who can help assist with that growth, both personally and professionally, is my ideal situation. So to your point, like, yes, would I love to own 5% of a massive business? Of course. But what I'm also looking for is support and leadership from people who can help take what I think is a really good idea with proof of concept and then take it to that next level.
Beck: So I'm out. because I have problems with like the event space and how much it takes to be like on the ground. So that just gives me the thought of, oh, this is gonna take a lot for you to do that. So I see it less of a tech play. And then the second thing that's a bit of a problem for me is just the cap table and just all the other people involved. It makes me go back to thinking of like, get your other angels involved and just run this thing and then flip it like you wanna do.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, that's certainly an option. I'm not gonna pretend it's not.
Dan: I think the only thing I would ask and appreciate the opportunity to come to you about it. I don't think there is any on the ground need. It's me making phone calls. But we don't staff events. Like, I don't have to physically be there. But again, I certainly understand why from point 2 it doesn't make sense.
Al: What's the million dollars for? What's it get ya?
Dan: I think primarily marketing, to be honest with you. The business in my mind is really unique because it only has two KPIs that matter. It's the number of members you have and the engagement at which they play. If both of those numbers are good, you can't screw it up because it just flows cash. It's literally just getting members in the door.
Howie: I don't see a reason why you couldn't get to 80,000 memberships.
Dan: I mean, I don't think so either. I think it's just time and money is really what it is.
Al: How much money do you think -
Howie: I was gonna ask what you're gonna ask.
Al: Yeah. How much money do you -
Howie: Like, out of this round -
Al: - think it takes to get there? How many rounds? How much capital?
Dan: Yeah I think from the first million dollars what it would be - the biggest success for me would be if we could open three to four new markets next year with five to 700 members. So in terms of what the spend would go towards, it's like how do you - how do you acquire that many members? And I think it's you hire a marketing agency, you get the right social components, you get some influencers on board.
Howie: Yeah. Does the - all this seems doable. I mean, I really like you. I like the origin story, I like - you're saying all the right things, man. You're saying all the right things and I dig your hustle. I think you're trying to prove yourself. Like you're on your growth edge right now. Like you wanna show something to the world. It seems like you've found it with this. I am a golfer. and I want to play more. I'm like literally your ideal customer. I like you. I wanna bet on you and I wanna bet on this. My issue is really ownership. I need to own 5% of this business, which I think would be like 150k. So (a) is that available?
Dan: We have 275 left in this round.
Howie: Okay. So it is available.
Dan: So it is available.
Howie: Typically if someone says they're looking to build something really quickly and flip it, I would be out. But at a $3 million price point and with what you need to achieve to get to that $30 million revenue mark, which I think could translate into a - $100 million enterprise value business. The price is right and that would be the minimum that I would want to come in at, and it seems like there's room. So -
Dan: There is.
Howie: I'd like to partner with you.
Al: Yeah. Like, I'm - you were fantastic. Like, I think you could sell anything to anybody. And you know this business inside and out. There's not even a hint of hesitation in your answering of anything here today. So kudos to you for that. I'm still struggling with what it's actually gonna take to get you to grow. I feel like the fact that you want to flip this, like I don't know what your timeframe is. Like, I don't feel like you're gonna get there in three years. And so, how many years are you in to this for? Like, give me a sense of what flip quickly means to you.
Dan: I mean, I should probably - I get very excited because like I want - I want to have that success. I want to look back on my career and say, all of the hustle, all of the learnings, it was all worth it. Right. But that doesn't necessarily mean a flip. If the business is flowing 20, 30 million dollars of cash and we're enjoying those profits, like that - that's a great success as well. But for me, I love golf. I just - I am legitimately addicted to the game of golf. So for me, I don't have another business on the horizon that like - when I flip this, I'm not looking to then go and do something else.
Howie: I also want to be clear from my perspective when you get to 80,000 subscribers in three years, which I will help you get to, and you flip it for $100 million in three years -
Beck: No one's mad.
Howie: No one's mad about that. At a $3 million post money valuation. Like, I am very excited about that. Very happy about that.
Al: Okay. I think I'd like to be a part of this. I definitely want to sit down and chat and dig in a little bit. But probably in the I'm guessing 50k range or something.
Dan: Amazing. Thank you so much for the support.
Jillian: Howie, you're gonna go in for 150?
Jillian: Well, um you almost had me at hello. You could be selling me toilet brushes, and I'd invest in it, because you're that good. You're tenacious you have that golfer mentality where you're gonna putt putt putt putt putt.
Dan: Hopefully not that many putts, though.
Jillian: No, no -
Dan: That wouldn't be a particularly good score, though.
Jillian: That's true. That's true.
Al: Well played.
Jillian: So I'm in for 50.
Dan: Amazing. Thank you guys so much.
Howie: I think we just closed your round.
Dan: Thank you guys so much. This was awesome. I really appreciate it.
Beck: Thank you.
Howie: I have one really important question though, that I totally flipped on, but it's like really important and I hope it doesn't change our answer. You own 25% of this business?
Howie: This PE company owns 35%. They have a controlling interest in this business. Who, from a board standpoint, from a governance standpoint, who's calling the shots here? Cos it has to be you otherwise I think this is gonna impact our decision.
Dan: Sure. So there's five board seats. There's three for the private equity guys, one for myself and one for the group of fellow Cornellians.
Al: So they have control?
Dan: They have control. Yeah. But what I can tell you, again, from my experience, I've now worked with them for eight years, they saw this venture through the brewery. These guys stuck by my side, they continued to invest in it. At the end of the day, look, I mean, we can look at numbers and we can say this is what it is. But I've been with enough people that I have a gut sense for who they are as people in addition to investors and I -
Howie: I wonder if that's true, if we could put something in our contract.
Jillian: Well, we need a board seat - like a board seat.
Howie: Like a -
Al: Yeah, we would need to balance the board a little bit-
Howie: Or a key man clause. We can talk about something to put in. Because look, this is all a testament in wanting to invest in you and believing in you. And you realize -
Jillian: But they shouldn't have control of the company.
Howie: - they can vote you out tomorrow. And this is what concerns us.
Howie: Because we're not angel investors, we're, you know, we're professional institutional investors. It's really important for us to protect our investment in you, because we're investing in people. I'd love to meet your partners. We have to meet your partners.
Dan: No, I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you guys. Thank you so much. This was a real treat.
Howie: Yeah. Thanks.
Al: This was fun.
Dan: I'll see you guys at the brewery cos I -
Howie: Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jillian: All right.
Dan: I didn't fly across the country to not have some beers.
Dan: All right. Thank you guys. Appreciate it.
Al: Man, that was a lot of rollercoaster ride on that one, right?
Howie: Yeah. I - I was like, it just dawned on me at the very last minute, like, sh*t this guy - I love him but he doesn't have - I don't know if he has control.
Jillian: Well, if he doesn't have control, that's a big -
Howie: That's a problem.
Al: Yeah, cos he's - he's the company.
Howie: He's the company.
Jillian: He is - well, that too.
Al: He's closing 85% of the deals. If that's a real number, that's absurd.
Howie: I'm curious of what his partners - that PE, that private equity firm -
Al: Yeah, that could be - that could be a big deal breaker for the whole -
Howie: I'm just curious what they're - I mean, it gives me a little bit of reassurance that they've worked together for eight years. Like, he's -
Jillian: And they also -
Al: Yeah. Cos PE -
Howie: They allowed for this pivot -
Al: PE kind of has a bad -
Al: But those two letters together have a little bit of a bad vibe.
Jillian: Well, so does VC.
Al: Sure. 100%.
Jillian: That's a wrap. We're good. I'm saying we're good.
Howie: All right. We're good.
Al: We're outta here.
I say when it’s a wrap Jillian, and this story is anything but a wrap.
Dan secured $250k in the pitch room. Golf claps for Dan. [claps] But then he dropped a quadruple bogey on the VC’s. Dan’s private equity investors control 3 of the 5 board seats.
Yeah, that’s not going to fly with these VC’s. Something has to change. When we come back, venture capital and private equity collide.
Welcome back to a brilliant pitch for the Amateur Golf Society. No ifs ands or putts about it.
Unfortunately Dan is caught in the middle of a power struggle between two investing factions, the PE’s and the VC’s. Will these two factions lay aside their differences for the love of golf? And Dan.
The meeting of the factions did not play out on the golf course, sadly. It played out on a conference call a few weeks after Dan’s pitch. On this call, the VC’s asked the PE’s to give up one of their three board seats. No board seat, no deal.
But if you’ll remember – this PE group forgave 2 million dollars in debt to get those board seats. And the whole thing about private equity is that they want control.
They didn’t come to an agreement on the call. But the PE faction said they’d put together a formal proposal on the, quote, “outstanding governance questions.”
We caught up with our faction after the proposal arrived
Jillian: have you guys spent more time talking to the blokes on the board?
Al: yeah they did uh, send an email back. I don’t know if you guys saw it or not. they essentially said they would give us a board observer seat and promise not to fire the CEO for 18 months.
A board observer seat btw, doesn’t hold the same voting power as an actual board seat. In fact, a board observer seat holds no official power whatsoever.
Jillian: I'm concerned on why they won't allow one of us on the board
Al: yeah I think they should have set the founder free to go do his next thing with a brand new company. All they seem to have done was really create a convoluted situation that benefits them more than anybody else. This is the founder's brainchild He raised all the capital yet they own like 35% of this company and the founder is starting with what? 20 percent ownership at first fundraise when he should probably be at 80 and it just like, for lack of a better term, it feels kind of predatory and that sucks
Howie: it felt like Dan just had to take whatever was offered to him.
Jillian: it's not a partnership. And Dan should just try to get himself out of this and go start another company.
Howie: Yeah, like I want to, I want to invest in Dan.
Jillian: I do too!
Al: Yeah, we all do.
Howie: The way it's set up right now, just the optics and just from a psychological standpoint, you know, it's not his company. I just can't get past all that.
The next day, they all got on a call with Dan to fill him in.
Howie: Al, Jillian, is it okay if I just lead?
Al: Yeah, dive in.
Jillian: Absolutely, Howie.
Howie: Yeah, so Dan, Al, and Jillian and I spoke yesterday. Thank you for setting up a call with your board, uh, last week. they seem like great guys. Um, however, we feel like their actions don't seem that great to us. It's created a much larger barrier for us to invest. you only own 20% of the company. Um, meanwhile, the original partners of the brewery. Own 80% of the company. it's our opinion that like fundamentally those numbers are a bit egregious and we think like they literally should be swapped. in addition, those partners have full control of the board, which gives them full governance and authority over you. In my estimation, it seems like they're protecting their investment and they're not protecting you. And I care about protecting my founders. I want my founders to be incentivized and empowered and it just the way that this has set up doesn't feel good to me
Al: it feels like very much that they're just working more for their investment than they are for yours. And, and look, Dan, the bottom line, we believe in you in a big way. and I know we all do. We're really, really sad that this isn't something that that is something we're comfortable with.
Howie: it's early, it's exciting, you're on the precipice of closing this new round, you have some initial traction, it's all, all honky dory in these early stages. But now I get to use my Mike Tyson quote, which I, which I am so excited about. Um, as Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face Dan. our concern is when this company gets punched in the face and it will we believe you can take the punch. We have no idea if the board can take the punch.
[dan’s cat meows]
Dan: Uh, well, thank you guys for all the feedback. Can I ask you a question in terms of, if you were in my shoes you know 10 months ago, when I wanted to take this out of the brewery, and had no ownership of the assets and IP for the idea that I created as an employee for the company, what could or should I have done differently to be able to take this concept? I don't know what other choice I have. If I don't own the assets and IP to the idea that I created while an employee at the company, I'm somewhat beholden to partners to take it out. Right. So I, I never. I never felt like there was an alternative and I can only, you know, represent my own experience. I've never felt preyed upon or taken advantage of in any way. But again, I'm just curious as to what you guys think, what, what, what could I have done differently in that situation?
Al: Well, I think everything's negotiable, right? I mean, sure, in theory, they own this, but like, it was your brainchild. You're the one that's raised all the capital. and so I think you just start negotiating and say, look, yeah, I'll bring you guys down this path. But like me starting out with 20% of the company and you guys having full control, that just doesn't make sense. Who else is going to do this, right? This is my baby. You need somebody to run this thing. I'm going to do it. Like, and I think it just becomes a negotiation, right? Like everything is negotiable. And I feel like you, you probably had a stronger leg to stand on. Um then what you ended up with.
Jillian: They can't do this without you. Hard stop. Take the position to say, I am the company right now. Cause you really are.
Dan: This is all really helpful and really informative. Again, just really appreciate the transparency and authenticity of the conversation. It's been a real pleasure getting to chat with you guys on this project.
Howie: Yeah. Thanks Dan.
So I guess these VC’s didn’t want to caddy for private equity. The deal was off.
Josh: I mean, that kind of sucks, Dan. I mean, you've got like these three VCs that were all pretty stoked on you and your business, and they really wanted to participate in what you're building, but feel like the past baggage from the brewery and the way that structure is set up prevents them from investing in a way that they know they need for their funds.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, I don't think there's another way to say it, right? Like, that's just kind of the situation that we find ourselves in. I would feel different about it if I didn't believe in the people that are currently backing me and have shown a track record of backing me to this point, right? you know, I, I don't look at it as a bad thing. I look at it as I met three amazing people who said some fantastic things about both myself and the model that we have in place. And that external validation is incredibly valuable. so yeah, would I love to work with them and have them on board. Sure. But I also have, you know, really the utmost belief in the people that have backed me to this point as being the ones that can get us to where we need to get to.
Josh: Do you think by taking that stance, they effectively prevent you from raising VC for this company ever?
Dan: I think in one respect, I never want to say never to anything. I do think to your point that, yeah, that stance, at least for right now, would certainly make it more difficult to bring in, you know, outside capital. But I do think the beautiful thing about our business model is that it doesn't really require a ton of capital moving forward. And it's been designed with that in mind. So, you know, what, what we bring in now to help kind of get us to that next step, if we execute on our plan, there may not be a need to raise any substantial capital moving forward beyond what we're closing out here.
In the end, Dan did end up raising a little bit from our show. There were these two investors in the studio with us that day. Angel investors in our media company actually. They invested $25k in AGS. Yes, they knew about the whole board issue when they invested, they just figured that the board wouldn’t actually kick out Dan unless Dan was doing a bad job as CEO.
Because after all these private equity blokes… also have a stake in golf genius. They want this to work out for everyone involved. I don’t know. Maybe I’m picking up what the PE guys are putting down.
FYI, Dan closed out the rest of his $1M round from his existing investors.
But he hasn’t given up on our VC’s just yet…
Dan: I also sent Jillian a little something, uh, in the mail. I think she had told me. During the pitch that she would, uh, buy toilet brushes from me. So there's a little, uh, care package on the way to Structure Capital.
Josh: Stop! You sent her toilet brushes?
Dan: I said, the first one's on me. I said, maybe in the future, if she'd like a complimentary one, we can work something out. But, uh, yeah.
Josh: You gotta invest in the business if you want a second toilet brush.
Dan: You gotta start somewhere.
Dan plans to open 4-6 new markets in 2024. AGS: coming soon to a city near you.
If you want to hear more of Dan’s backstory, subscribe to The Pitch Insider. New stories come out on Fridays and feature a deep dive on that week’s founder. Subscribe at pitch.show/insider
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Next week on The Pitch… the founder ownership saga continues
Jason: He paid me personally a salary because I couldn't live off no salary at all. And so the agreement was, you get to have more equity and I need money to live off of, and here we are.
Paige: how much equity do you own as the founder?
Jason: So I have 14%.
Elizabeth: Oh, you have 14%?
That’s next week in The Pitch Room. And if you want to watch the show, check out our Youtube channel @ the pitch show. See you next Wednesday!
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This episode was made by me, Josh Muccio, Lisa Muccio, Kerrianne Thomas, Anna Ladd, and Enoch Kim with casting help from Peter Liu
Music in today’s show is from Our Many Stars, Purple Moons, Boxwood Orchestra, Joya, Hidden State, Onders, The Muse Maker, and Breakmaster Cylinder.
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The Pitch, Inc. and their respective employees and affiliates do not provide investment advice or make investment recommendations. The information provided on this show should not be used as the basis for making investment decisions. Listeners should conduct their own research and consult with their own investment advisors before making any investment decisions.
Founder & general manager, Amateur Golf Society
Dan Hershberg is the Founder and General Manager of the Amateur Golf Society and AGS Tour. A Philadelphia-born and bred entrepreneur, Dan has been the creative visionary behind four companies in the last 15 years, including a Philadelphia sports apparel brand (Philly Phaithful), and a production brewery (Workhorse Brewing Company).
Investor on The Pitch Seasons 1–10
Jillian Manus is Managing Partner of an early-stage Silicon Valley venture fund, Structure Capital. Branded “Architects of the Zero Waste Economy," they invest in underutilized assets and excess capacity. She was named one of the top 25 early-stage Female Investors by Business Insider in 2021. Jillian serves on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, these include: Stanford University School of Medicine Board of Fellows, NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center Board of Directors, Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
Investor on The Pitch Seasons 1, 4 & 10
Howie Diamond is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Pure Ventures, and early stage investment firm that also invests in the development of its founders. Also a musician, Howie founded and sold a music management/licensing company in Los Angeles called Lo-Fi Music. After that, he moved to San Francisco and began working closely with dozens of start-ups running business development for a Bay-Area tech agency called Sparkart.
Investor on The Pitch Season 10
Al Bsharah is the Managing Partner and Founder of Interlock Capital, a community of 1200+ investors who are entrepreneurs, founders, and operators. Al's been a founder and entrepreneur since '99 where he's been on both sides of acquisition. He's a Techstars graduate + mentor and has a loving wife, a son, a dog, a camper, a beach volleyball addiction, and a constant stream of startups that keep him (in)sane!
Investor on The Pitch Season 10
Beck is the founder of BAM, a PR agency for venture backed technology startups. In 2023, Beck sold the agency to focus on Bad Ideas Group, her VC fund that aims to help people and the planet live better and last longer. Beyond business, she is a licensed pilot, Krav Maga practitioner, chess aficionado, and global traveler. Holding a recent PhD in Organizational Change and Global Leadership, Beck also volunteers on the San Diego Police Department's Crisis Interventionist team.