Oct. 24, 2018

#51 This Bot Can Fight Your ATM Fees

#51 This Bot Can Fight Your ATM Fees

Founder Paul Kesserwani says we’re all losing way too much money to fees — credit card fees, bank fees, ATM fees. And he thinks his company, Cushion, has the answer: A friendly bot that will battle those fees for you. Can he convince investors that there’s major money to be made in the fee-fighting business? 

Today's investors are Howie Diamond, Jillian Manus, Phil Nadel, and Michael Hyatt.


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Go behind-the-scenes with the founders and investors on The Pitch



Today’s entrepreneur wants to get you your money back ...


Paul: Unlike other consumer finance companies out there that are just giving you advice, we're actually doing the work

Paul Kesserwani is here raising money for his company, Cushion. A bot that fights bank and credit card fees for you. And that might sound simple, but Paul says he’s using machine learning to train his bot so that it’s better than anything else out there. 


Can he prove to investors that he’s got something special on his hands? Here’s who he’ll have to convince…


As a serial entrepreneur Phil built companies that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. Now he manages one of the largest syndicates on AngelList.


Jillian is a partner at Structure Capital, where they’ve invested $98 million so far in high-profile startups like Uber.


Howie is our rockstar investor. No really, he was in a band. And since changing gigs, Howie’s invested in over 50 startups.


Michael built and sold two software companies for over $500 million dollars and now he invests for himself.


I’m Josh Muccio and from Gimlet Media, this, is The Pitch.


Paul: Hey everyone. My name is Paul Kesserwani and I'm the founder of Cushion. And I'd like to start things off today by laying out a little scenario for you. You have $500 worth of bills due at the end of the week. Your bank account only has $300 in it and your paycheck is still ten days out What do you do?


Phil: Call my parents.


Paul: You call your parents. It's a good option. But if they're not down to give you the money, you could just overdraft the account. But that's going to end up with some very costly overdraft fees These are the kinds of questions being faced by millions of Americans every single year, and when they make a wrong decision, costly fees can start piling up. And it could take months or even years to get back on track And this is the problem we're solving at Cushion. Our technology understands the nuances of your bank accounts, your cash flows and what you need to do next. And when we figure out the right steps to take, Cushion does them for you automatically. And that's our special sauce Unlike other consumer finance companies out there that are just giving you advice, we're actually doing the work For example, our first product negotiates with banks on your behalf to get back money wasted on fees and credit card interest ... automatically So I'm here today raising $2.3 million to grow Cushion by adding support for more banks and building out our next set of products And I think the best way to showcase what we built is to show you the actual product and then obviously answer any questions that you have along the way 


Michael: Great


Paul walks over to the investors, pulls out his phone, and opens... the Facebook Messenger app...


Paul: So this is currently designed in the Facebook Messenger bot, which I will not get too hung up on. This was just to get ourselves up and running as fast as possible. But essentially, we built a little bot called Fee Fighter. It was very adorable. It's full time job was to negotiate with the banks to get your money back.


Jillian: Fee fighter. I love that.


Paul: And I think people like our bot more than they actually like the fact that they're getting money back


Jillian: Yeah but it has personality and I think that's important. Because people have to trust it. 


I can say emphatically, Fee Fighter is pretty cute. It’s a little white cartoon robot. Its head kind of looks like a fluffy marshmallow, and it has big, blue button eyes and a friendly robot smile … it reminds me of Rosie from the jetsons.

Michael: Okay. So take us through. What does it do?

Paul: So the process from a user perspective is very simple. You select the bank that you have. We currently only support three banks: Chase, American Express and Wells Fargo.


The robot connects to your bank. It then analyzes your account and shows you a summary of your fees. Interest charges, atm fees, wire transfers.


Michael: I've been charged a fee for a bank wire. Okay. Now how do you fight it?


Paul: So now this is the bot tells you, okay, there's two wire fees. I'd like to fight them for you. So I don't know if you can see the 'fight my fees' button? This is the only action the user has to take. 


Jillian: Okay. Fight my fee.


Paul: So press the button And what's going to happen here is if you have multiple fees, it's going to run an algorithm to find out what's the grouping that I should go after first. If you have 47 fees, it's not going to after all of them 


Michael: So how does it go after that fee? 


Paul: So actually think about it. If you need something from the bank, there's a few different ways to approach them. You can show up at the branch and talk to somebody You call them on the phone. You can send a secure email Or you can do an online chat. We've automated the secure email and the online chat. The bot is going to generate a message that's completely tailored to my situation with the bank. So for example, with these two wire transfer fees, it's going to say something like: "Hi there Wells Fargo support. I'd like some help with these two wire fees from June 4th and June 6th. As you can see, I actually have four accounts with you. One currently has a high balance and I've been paying my bills on time. I'd really appreciate you returning this money."


Phil: You customize it to that degree?


Paul: Yeah. It knows everything about your account history, how long you've been a customer...


Phil: Well, let's say, in your example, I don't have a high balance and I've only had the account for a few months. You'll come up with other good justifications for waiving the fees. I love that. 

Michael: What’s a classic example of you getting money back for me? 


Paul: So one of the easiest is ATM fees We basically say, I’ve been hit with 7 ATM fees for, I don’t know, $20. I’ve been with you for a while now. I have a couple of accounts. I’d really appreciate you crediting this back 


Jillian: And why would they say yes?


Paul: They say yes because they don’t want to lose you.


Howie: Success rate. How many times do they say yes?


Paul: Sure. 80% of the folks who we've fought fees for have gotten money back in some capacity. For every dollar that we're fighting, we're getting 30 cents back right now. But we're being very aggressive because we're trying to train the model and figure out what works and what doesn't 


For each fee that Fee Fighter fights, it learns. And that’s what Paul means when he says that they’re “training the model.” Which also means the bot has to decide what to do when a bank denies a refund request.


Michael: Does it escalate to another level? Can you phone? Or like what happens?


Paul: Yeah. So there's a couple of things if the bank pushes back, we have a score internally that says, you know what, I'm pretty sure I should have gotten some money back. Do we want to push back here? And if it does, it'll then push back with another message saying, you know, I'm choosing to bank with you, I have all these accounts, I highly recommend that you give me some of this money back, If you have 47 fees, which by the way is a very common case with our user base, the bot is not going to go out and fight all 47 at once across three accounts. It's going to choose a cluster. Say, I'm going to start with your credit card fees, get these back for you. Comes back and says, listen, I'm going to wait a couple of weeks, I don't want to slam the bank, I'll come back and let you know when is the right time to re-approach them. And then…


Phil: How do you know when the right time is? How do you know what that timing piece is?


Paul: That's something that, we initially we'd done so much of this manually that we kind of figured that out. But now we have a machine learning algorithm that the bot's just teaching itself. So what we’re doing is we’re using both data science and automation to find out is there an opportunity to help the user out? And then using out automation to actually do the work for them. Which is usually the thing that stops somebody from actually moving forward. You can give somebody a financial plan, but they’re like, oh, I’m busy, I’m working two jobs, I have to pick up my kids.


Howie: How big is your client base right now?


Paul: So we kicked off our private beta in January we’ve built up a waitlist of over 16,000 people We’ve onboarded 3000 users. For those 3000 users, for only three banks, and across only the last three months, $1.2 million in fees that we found.


Howie: And how much did you get back?


Paul: So we fought $300,000 of them. We've waived 100,000 out of the 300,000 


Howie: How do you get paid? Sorry Jillian.

Jillian: Go ahead.

Howie: How do you get paid?

Paul: Yeah, so our business model is super simple. We take a 25% cut of the money we’re recouping for our customers 

Jillian: So you said you have 3000 that you onboarded, and you have 16,000 on a waitlist. Why are those 16,000 on a waitlist?

Paul: Good question. We only support three banks today because we built the brand new technology. There’s no APIs or out of the box way to do this. So we’re having to do integrations bank by bank. We’re not trying to obviously support the top 10,000 banks in the country. We’re just going to try to support the top 15.

Michael: So let me ask you something that struck me about your business. When we look at companies, you ask yourself, are you a platform, which is a big, big thing, like most successful companies. Are you a product Or are you a feature? Convince us for a second that you’re not a feature. That you’re a product and you have somewhere to go 


Phil: And just to make Michael’s point, also, if this gets super, super successful, banks could decide look, we’re not ever going to waive fees anymore. Because this is getting ridiculous.


Michael: Or we’re going to waive yes. So how will you..




Michael: Take us on a journey of your company. How does this become a big business? How does this not get shut down? 


Paul: Okay. These are a lot of questions. I’m going to tackle them in an order that hopefully makes sense. The way we’re updating the product such that the message comes the user, this can’t get shut down. Because essentially, the banks would be blocking their own customers That’s one. Two is that even though the banks might not love this initially we’re surveying a bunch of our users to find out, hey, like how loyal are you to this bank or credit card. And after we get the money back, will you stick with them? And a lot of them are saying, yes. Now that I’ve got this $300 back, I’m probably going to stick around for a while. So as we scale, we can actually show the banks that if you want to potentially work together at some point, we can help you reduce customer support costs and increase retention At the end of the day though, we’re not building a bank fee fighting company. This is our wedge. This is the first thing we decided to go after, because it’s a $200 billion market, there’s no digital solution, because it’s so technically challenging to build this. And then after that we’re already working on the next set of features to build this out to be a massive platform 


Phil: What are the next set...


Jillian: What are the next set of features? Jinx


Paul: So there’s a couple of different categories here. One is found money. This is essentially called basically found money. We fight these bank fees. People never expected to get the money back. And so we have actually uncovered there’s $40 billion worth of money sitting around at the state level throughout the US that’s unclaimed We can fully automate that process. No one has ever done that. So that’s a $40 billion market after our $200 billion market that we’re going after now.


If you’re like me and this sounds unbelievable that there’s money possibly just sitting around somewhere with your name on it. It’s true! Unclaimed assets is basically your money … but the government is holding on to it, because they couldn’t find you to give it to you. Undelivered tax refunds, for example is a big one.


Phil: Do you have the unclaimed assets functionality already working?


Paul: No. We have part of it We’re trying to get it in the hands of users half baked, and then see if it works That’s one piece. The next side of it is a lot of folks are using the wrong bank accounts and credit cards, and it’s so clear from the data that we’ve found. So this blew my mind. We had a customer who came on board, we waived $75 worth of monthly service charges for him. He emailed me saying, Paul, I love this service, I just signed up and got money back. Why am I getting charged these penalties? And I told him, I was like John, you signed up for a premium Chase account, it requires a minimum of a 15k balance to not get hit with these charges. Your average balance per month is $600. Why are you using this? 


Michael: So it’s more than just trying to get back fees. You can look at my entirety, from credit cards to where I bank to what I pay on everything.


Paul: Yeah.


Howie: I'm in a company called Albert. It's a personal financial management.


Paul: Yeah, I know those guys. They're great.


Howie: Yeah.


Phil: So there’s lots of companies that help you get the best credit card. 


Howie: But the thing about Albert that I liked, and why I invested is because it's transactional 


Jillian: Then why couldn’t Albert do this? 


Paul: They can’t.


Howie: They probably could.


Paul: No, they cannot. 


Howie: Why?


Paul: They cannot take actions within the users account 


Howie: Well, not yet.


Paul: Go for it. This is something that we just, it took 18 months to get here. Sorry, go for it, Jillian.


Jillian: So I'm out. And it's just because I think it's too early for me to really understand how this is going to scale. I see that it is, but I'm not really quite sure that I'm committed to this first product enough to feel comfortable 


Paul: Okay. That's completely fair feedback 


Whew. That was tense. I'm not sure I've taken a full breath in a while. Breathe in... and out. Let's take a break. When we return … Paul battles back.




Welcome back … before Jillian passed on Cushion, the investors were digging in, hoping to find out what makes Paul’s startup different from the competition. So he gets in the weeds to explain. 


Paul: Most folks today, if they want to start a fintech company, a consumer finance company, they connect to Plaid, which is a very popular data aggregator, they get read only access to people’s bank accounts. They cannot take any actions within their accounts. We went a completely different route right of the bat. We partnered with a different aggregator, set up this partnership with a security company, and built all the security infrastructure. It took us 18 months to get our beta out And that is why we’re able to take actions on their behalf.


Phil: Because you’re using a different aggregator other than Plaid?


Paul: And we built up all this infrastructure. For example, the concept is kind of crazy. The fact that you can put your bank credentials into Cushion, we never touch or see them, but our bot is able to log into your account and talk to the bank. It’s pretty auto-magical at that point 


Michael: What’s the MRR right now? The monthly.


Paul: We haven’t started charging.


Michael: Okay 


Phil: When you start charging, how do you think customers will react? Even though they’ll see this as getting their fees waived, getting a refund, when they have to pay 25% to you, how do you think they’ll react to that? 


Paul: A couple of things there. One is this is free money. This is money they never expected to see again. So they’re not paying for the product out of pocket. We’re actually paying ourselves as we get the money back. Two is we’ve been polling our users and asking them and calling them and saying, how would you feel if we start charging? Some said, no problem, I never thought I’d see this again. Others said, can you make it easier for me to drop that down from 25% to something less. So they’re asking for incentives there. 


Phil: I’m just trying to understand... So the existential risk I’m worried about for the company is that you’ll ultimately get pushback from the banks who will say, we’re not going to work with these, with this company anymore. We’re not going to allow this kind of... And maybe they can’t figure out if it is automated or not. I don’t know. But let’s say they do. I just want to hear from you, what do you think the reason is that they would not pushback like that?


Paul: If they’d like to push back, they can. But the same way you can give a broker authorization to make trades on your behalf or a finance manager authorization to move money around for you, you can give authorization to a company to do this for you. But I don’t plan on being in this bank fees product for the whole company. This is just our wedge that’s working very, very well for us. And as we add on more services we’ll be less dependent on this. And I promise you, we’re going to be able to help the banks really retain a bunch of customers through this service 


Michael: So tell us a bit about the 2.3 million. It’s a very specific number that you’re raising 


Paul: It is a specific number. I’m trying to get 18 months worth of runway for us. This is a very tech heavy play and just needs engineers.


Michael: Where are you based?


Paul: San Francisco 


Michael: So take us through your raises so far 


Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. So we raised a million dollars in angel and pre-seed almost 14 months ago 


Jillian: Who led that?


Paul: So Afford Capital, the largest pre-seed fund We had the cofounder of NerdWallet and the cofounder of Funding Circle came in very early on; We have angel investors who are security experts from Lifeloc and Symantec, And I built up a lot of my reputation at Twitter. That’s where I helped scale revenue for the company. And that’s where half our cap table is angel investors from the Twitter executive team. Folks I’ve worked for 


Paul: Right now we don't have a valuation set. We have a ballpark of where we want to be. We're raising a priced round, but you're actually the first folks I'm pitching our seed round to. 


Michael: What is your ask?


Paul: 2.3 million, it's probably going to be 9 or 10 pre-money.


Howie: Those are San Francisco prices.


Paul: They are San Francisco prices. But to be honest, the fact that we have this domain expertise, we have this tech, we have a killer team, and we have no competition right now


The investors don’t like the price tag Paul just threw out for his company. Everyone knows that in Silicon Valley, prices for everything, housing, burritos, startups. Are sky high. And Paul is based there in San Francisco. So though the investors may not be surprised that they’re being asked to pay more, to own less of his company, that doesn’t mean they have to like it.


Investor: What I struggle with is that I don’t really know much about the unit economics, I don’t know well it’s going to take off or work, I don’t understand the landscape in detail. And you’re asking me to pay essentially kind of a $10 million valuation for a company that’s pre-launched So help us bridge that differential between you not really being crystal on your product yet, which is okay, because you’re early, and this valuation which is what I call a beautiful Silicon Valley valuation. I don’t blame the Valley, but it is a bit Valley.


Paul: That’s fair. So I’m going to reiterate a couple of points, one is I’m not going to get too hung up on the actual valuation. I care more about the specific partner at the firm that’s leading the round for us. That’s most important thing for me. Somebody who gets that.


Michael: I think that’s a good call. 


Paul: That’s one piece. Two is just based on the unit economics of what we have, we’re getting 30 cents back for every dollar that we fight, we’re going to take 25% cut, just our waitlist today, if we were to monetize this, represents a million dollars in revenue. If you were just to scale this out. And so I’m feeling very good about where we at. I could have told you we have 500 users and we’ve monetized them. I’d much rather tell you we have 3000, 16,000 banging down the door and we’re going to blow this up 


Jillian: Can you talk about you? 


Paul: I’ve spent ten years kind of de-risking myself to start a company. I’ve wanted to start a company since I've been a child. I grew up in Lebanon. Tumultuous environment. My parents were entrepreneurs. They started business after business. So I’ve known, this is only a matter of time before I do this. Moved to the US, got a computer engineering degree and knew that, you know what, I’m not ready to start a company. I’m just going to dive face first into tech and startups. 


Michael: Good for you


Paul: Two IPOs and an acquisition later, I landed at Twitter through that startup acquisition, and that’s where I kind of really made a name for myself 


Howie: What’d you do at Twitter? 


Paul: I founded the revenue operations team, helped them go from $10 million in revenue to over 2.2 within four years. That was my team’s entire focus is how do we generate money? How do we scale it? Which countries do we expand into? And by the time I did that, look ten years back, I was like, I’m ready. 


Michael: So I'd like to do a couple of things. I think, where I sit in this camp I'd like to invest. I really like this space I believe people are going to react really well to getting their money back It's really interesting. So I think there's something here. I'd like to see the quality of the lead. Because I want to know if they can really help bring value and structure to this. And I'm not trying to be a lemming here. I'm trying to understand the market a little better So I'm in if I can get comfortable with the lead and comfortable with the valuation.


Paul: That sounds totally fair. 


Phil: Let me just say, I really like what you're doing. Firstly, I think you do have a clear vision of what you want this company to become. But it is early, right? And normally I don't look at pre-revenue companies. I really like this. I especially think the automation of it is, and the machine learning that you're putting into it, is smart. So I want to invest. I really want to invest. The valuation sort of range that you're talking about is very high, especially for pre-revenue. So for me, I want to see what valuation you arrive at with the lead investor. I want to see who the lead investor is, If the number is reasonable, the terms are reasonable, and it's a good lead investor, then I'm likely in.


Paul: Okay. Absolutely. I would love to have you and that all makes total sense.


Both Phil and Michael are in … with conditions. Here’s howie.


Howie: I’m not super price sensitive whether it’s 6 million... whether you’re raising at 5 million cap or a 6 million cap, or a 10 million dollar cap, right now, if I have that conviction, I’m not too concerned. The way that I’m thinking about it as an investor is, I’m just doing the math in my head, if you got to 100,000 users with this $2.3 million round, conceivably that’s 5 million in top line revenue. And so I can sit back and wait 8 to 12 months, see how this develops, see the new implementations, see how the customers are responding, really get some accurate data here and see what the real numbers are, and then I’ll pay more. I’ll pay double. Especially if you have 100,000 users and $6 million.


Michael: Because he can understand the unit economics by then.


Howie: Exactly. 


Michael: so i think you’re doing the right thing so I’m excited to hear where you go and take a deeper dive and see where this is.


Jillian: I’m going to take back my pass.


Wait, what’s happening, Jillian’s changing her mind? That’s a new on e for the show!


Jillian: I like hearing about you. I liked hearing about your path. And usually that’s the one question, and that’s usually the first question I ask. And shame on me for not. 


Paul: Probably should have started with that.


Jillian: Well, actually I should have been mindful enough to ask that, because that, we’re really investing in you. And I like your journey here, and obviously I like the fact that you’ve built this at Twitter. I mean, that speaks volumes to me. I’m going to hop on the bandwagon if this makes sense, of me being an investor and adding value. Which you may at the very end say, you know what, Jillian’s not the right type of investor. She passed on me at first so stuff her! 


Paul: No harm, no foul. Don’t take anything personally.


Jillian: That’s okay. But I would like to see the lead. And so I’m going to hop on the Phil and the Mike, and maybe it’s even Howie wagon, which is I’m not going to pass because I’ve learnt so much more, and I’ve learned that you don’t pass prematurely when some of the key parts which was your background had been omitted 


Michael: Thanks for coming in.


Paul: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.




Michael: Great guy.


Phil: Yeah.


Howie: I like him.


Phil: He does have...


Michael: Do you know, there's, you remember where that, well, Wells Fargo had that big problem of people, you know, suggesting bank accounts people shouldn't have. It's an interesting thing.


Howie: Phil’s thing about... The banks, if you become an enemy of the state to the banks...


Jillian: I like the unclaimed assets.


Howie: I mean, I'm a little worried about that.


Michael: I like the credit card switching. I like all of it. Listen, I'm going to, look, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to introduce him to a couple of banks in New York that I work with. And I'm going to just have a very cut and dry, what do you think of this? And they'll open it up and they'll tell me. And you'll do the same. We'll share due diligence. I always find that with entrepreneurs when I leave here, if I actually introduce them to potential clients, potential partners, I really hear the brass tacks of the essence and what's really going to go on. But this is a potential winner.


Jillian: I think he is a winner. Absolutely. I'm going to take a look and see if the product is a winner as well.


Paul leaves with investments from Phil, Michael, and Jillian! But they’re all conditional on him finding a lead investor.


When we come back. Paul tries to do just that.



Welcome back. When I caught up with Paul a few months after his pitch, I wanted to start by revisiting one of the moments that stuck out to me.


Josh: and that’s when the investors were really pushing you to try and figure out they wanted to understand like, why a competitor, someone with a bunch of customers already, wouldn’t be able to just replicate what you’d done. And you got pretty passionate in response. Um, let me play you the tape.


Paul: Okay 


Jillian: Then why couldn’t Albert do this? 


Paul: They can’t.


Howie: They probably could.


Paul: No, they cannot. 


Howie: Why?


Paul: They cannot take actions within the users account 


Howie: Well, not yet.


Paul: Go for it. This is something that we just, it took 18 months to get here.


[spacebar hit]


Paul: Yeah, I didn’t realize I got that defensive in the moment. Very interesting hearing that replay.


Josh: What, can you describe that moment, and what you were feeling, when you responded like that?


Paul: Um. Doing what we’ve done has been very very difficult, it would have been very easy for us to take the path of a lot of other fin-techs, where we find some easy to build feature and, you know, connect to Plaid, and just kinda get something out on the market. Instead we took the much, much more difficult path on purpose, so we would have this technology in beta moat. And so, I think when um, the investors were making statements, that, oh yeah, anybody can copy this, when that was so far from the truth, um, I think I definitely got a little bit defensive cause I’ve been putting, you know, blood sweat and tears into this now for close to 2 years, and I know how hard it is. So it was a combination of technology, but also domain expertise. Like I’ve done so many fee negotiations for friends, family, early users, that that’s something nobody can really replicate. No matter how much technology or money you have, somebody would have to spend time learning what I've learnt um, in this area. So it’s a bummer I got a little defensive there, but at the same time, I wanted to get the point across that this is not easy to replicate, and that’s why 2 companies tried to do this and failed, cause they tried to build it as a feature, and so, uh, yeah, 


Josh: Totally. So then, what happened after you left the room? all of their commitments to invest were contingent on you finding a lead investor. Have you found a lead?


Paul: So, we’re negotiating terms with one potential lead right now, but also we’re talking to a couple of other lead uh, funds So at this point we have over half the round committed from folks who want to participate. Like I said, I’m um, negotiating with one potential lead right now, but also talking to a few other lead funds. And once that’s done, the rest of the round should flow pretty quickly from there.


Josh: Well that’s great that you have half the round committed you mentioned following up with the investors. Have you followed up with all of them? 


Paul: Michael, had a chat with Michael shortly after The Pitch, he introduced us to a fund in Canada, which was, we were very thankful, but he did, a great VC fund. They ultimately ended up passing, because they don’t love this space, but I’m very thankful that Michael took the time to do that. And then, Gillian’s been very busy doing a lot of traveling, so we’ve exchanged a couple of emails. I told her we have some commitments in the round, and that we’re still working on the lead. The most exchanges that I’ve done have been with Phil, he had a--


Josh: I knew you were going to say that


Paul: --Yeah, he had a lot of questions about unclaimed money. Um. It started to feel like it was my full-time job answering some of these questions. But um, I very much appreciate how diligent he was, and he asked some very very good questions, and I appreciated his feedback. He also told me to put aside an allocation for um, the syndicate, pending a lead, they wanted to make sure there’s at least there’s at least a certain amount allocated for him and his fund--Which was great. So it all hinges on getting a lead, working on it. Work in progress 


Josh: yeah Phil’s email game is unparalleled 


Paul: Yeah next level


Josh: so there’s another moment in the pitch that is a real standout when Gillian went out, very early, in your pitch. And then, at the very end, she came back in, like literally as you’re saying goodbye to the other investors, they’d all decided, and you’re walking out the door, and she’s like, you know what, I retract my pass. I want to invest. Like, how did you, first, like how did you feel when she passed early?


Paul: Um. I was a little bit surprised, and felt it was premature, but I didn’t really let that phase me at all. I, I knew that one thing Gillian really is all about is backing good founders, people from solid backgrounds, people who are very hungry and tenacious. And, as we got in like, further and further into the pitch, I realized I hadn’t spoken about myself, my background, what I had accomplished before starting Cushion. And I had a feeling that once we got to that, if I did a good job answering the questions for the investors, and then once I got to that, I had a feeling that she would reconsider. And so once uh, Michael said he’s potentially in, and then Phil said he’s potentially in, um, it was great to hear that Jillian wanted to give this a chance, and said OK, I’m in this as well. It was a really exciting moment.


Josh: What was it that flipped the switch for her? Was it, when you mentioned your background at Twitter?


Paul: Um. Combination of my background at Twitter, the fact that both of my parents are, you know, entrepreneurs, founded multiple companies, that I grew up in a pretty tumultuous environment in Lebanon and, there’s a combination of things. Like I kind of, I truly feel like I’m built for this, this is what I’m designed to do. And that came off towards the end of the pitch, once I’d answered all the questions and also conveyed what I’d done the last 10 years before starting this company.


Josh: Yeah. You’ve been preparing for this moment your entire life.


Paul: That’s what it feels like. I feel like I’m using every, every skill I’ve learned along the way to get this company off the ground, so.


Seems like Paul is almost there. He’s so close. And even though he couldn’t quite get it over the hump in the pitch room. Things could really turn around when he gets a lead investor on board. Come on Paul you can do it!

You may have heard, but we’re taking our show on the road! Come see 3 companies pitch our investors live at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on November 27th. It will be free to attend. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for more details, or subscribe to our newsletter at the pitch dot show slash newsletter.

Thanks for listening, I’m Josh Muccio see you next week.

Our show is produced by me, Kareem Maddox and Molly Donahue. We are edited by Blythe Terrell. We are mixed by Enoch Kim. Original music composed by The Muse Maker. Our Theme Music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.
Lisa Muccio planned the recording of this pitch.


And we found Cushion because Paul applied to be on the show. So if you’re thinking about submitting an application — DO IT! Do it now! At the pitch dot show slash apply.


Here’s our disclaimer, no offer to invest is being made to or solicited from the listening audience on today’s show. 


All right -- you’ve been listening to The Pitch from Gimlet Media. We’ll be back with a brand new episode, next Wednesday.

Phil NadelProfile Photo

Phil Nadel

Investor on The Pitch

Phil Nadel is the Founder and Managing Director of Forefront Venture Fund and of Forefront Venture Partners, one of the largest syndicates on AngelList. He has started and sold several companies and has invested in more than 200 startups with several exits.

Jillian Manus // Structure CapitalProfile Photo

Jillian Manus // Structure Capital

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.

Howie Diamond // Pure VenturesProfile Photo

Howie Diamond // Pure Ventures

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.

Michael HyattProfile Photo

Michael Hyatt

Investor on The Pitch

Michael Hyatt is a serial entrepreneur and active investor. He is the co-founder of BlueCat, (acquired by Madison Dearborn Partners), and previously co-founded Dyadem (acquired by IHS). He currently serves as a Director of BlueCat and is also a weekly business commentator on CBC, is the Host of “Business Unplanned”, a podcast to help small businesses.