CO.LAB’s annual business pitch competition Will This Float? is almost upon us and applications are due by February 17. In the hopes of inspiring you to overcome your nerves and take a stab at victory, I sat down with Nathan Derrick of Supply Hog to ask him how winning the 2010 Will This Float? helped him get where he is today. We sat in his lobby on 46 Main Street across from CO.LAB and he was kind enough to give us some of his time.
CO.LAB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I’ve only been working in the CO.LAB space for three weeks now, but I hear your name referenced a lot as one of the early success stories. How did you initially find out about Will This Float?
Nathan Derrick: I came across CO.LAB’s Twitter feed. I was living in Decatur at the time, and one day I drove down here to Chattanooga to find out more. CO.LAB had been open maybe two or three days when I met Sheldon Grizzle, and I told him I had this crazy business idea. My background is in construction, and I wanted to build a website that would sell building supplies and other construction materials directly to consumers at a lower cost by eliminating the middleman. That year’s Will This Float? was sort of a coming-out party for CO.LAB, and he convinced me to pitch my idea to the hundred or so people who would be there and see what happened.
CL: What was the atmosphere like?
ND: It was really fun; there was beer and food and a huge turnout. It was held at the Camp House that year and they were expecting a hundred people to show up, but it turned out to be around two hundred instead, so everybody was standing.
CL: How was the actual competition set up? What did you have to do?
ND: Each presenter went one at a time and pitched their idea to the judges while they did their American Idol thing where they gave you some really good feedback, and that was just one part of the competition. The other part was that the audience texted their votes in and got to help choose the winner. So you didn’t just have to win over the judges- you had to sell everybody on your idea. It sounds hard but it was worse because I had to go last, so I had to listen to everybody else’s ideas get critiqued by the judges. After hearing that, I didn’t know what they were going to say about my idea, but I think what helped me a little bit was that I might have argued my case a little more than the others.
CL: It must have been an incredible feeling to win. What effect did winning have on turning the idea into reality?
ND: Until that point all I had was an idea, and after that it was validated. I had formed a development team a little beforehand with Tyler Johnson, Nate Johnson, and Philip Brown, but the response at Will This Float? launched us so much faster than we anticipated. We applied to some tech accelerators and got funding from some local investors. We got accepted into the DreamIt! competition in Philadelphia a little while after that and had to do the same kind of pitch, except that that time the audience was completely made up of investors. I was a lot more confident at DreamIt! after my experience at Will This Float?, and we got a great response there with the investors.
CL: How is Supply Hog doing now, and how did Will This Float help?
ND: Our site went live three months after I gave my pitch at the Camp House, and we got accepted into the accelerator program at CO.LAB. They continue to help us daily, and in the last two months we have sold about $100,000 in building materials through the site, so things are going very well. Will This Float? introduced me to so many people I never would have met otherwise who have been very instrumental in our success. I specifically want to thank Sheldon and Enoch at CO.LAB, as well as Blank Slate and the Lyndhurst Foundation. This may not have been possible without their help. It’s so nice to be in a city that wants to see you succeed. I’m not used to that, and I’m very grateful. I was a new guy in town when this started, but I tell people around the country that I’m from Chattanooga now because of how much this city has done for me.
CL: What would you like people to learn from your experience at Will This Float?
ND: I was afraid to get up and tell a lot of people about my idea partly because I was afraid someone would steal it, and that’s a mistake.You shouldn’t waste time worrying about that. It’s hard to start a business, so it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to overhear you and take off with your idea. You need to get your idea out there to as many people as you can and get it off the ground. If you have an idea, send your application in.
CL: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you well and will be keeping up with your progress as Supply Hog continues to grow.
Check out www.supplyhog.com to see all of this awesomeness. You can also follow Supply Hog on Twitter @supplyhog and on Facebook at fb.com/supplyhog. Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.