Hill Country’s Marc Glosserman on Making It in BK
October 13, 2015
Our Make It In BK + Brooklyn Education Innovation Network Pitch Contest on November 5, 2015 is taking place at Hill Country Barbecue Market here in Downtown Brooklyn. This isn’t just a fun location – the restaurant is part of Hill Country Hospitality, founded by successful serial entrepreneur Marc Glosserman.
We spoke with Marc at length in this great interview about his story, his experience, and his best advice for entrepreneurs pitching at events.
You are the founder of Hill Country Hospitality. How many restaurants sit within your business?
Marc: We have a total of five restaurants – three Hill Country Barbecue Markets and two Hill Country Chickens. The company also has a large Catering & Events business as well as branded concessions at places like Madison Square Garden, the US Open, and Lincoln Center.
Back when you studied International Relations at UPenn, did you ever think you would become an entrepreneur?
Marc: I’ve always been fascinated by entrepreneurship and knew at an early age that I wanted to start my own business. I found the challenge and adventure of it captivating. Similarly I had a passion for traveling and a curiosity of foreign places, which led me to study international relations at Penn. Traveling and living in foreign countries forces you to view the world differently, which is a critical skill for successful entrepreneurs. I didn’t connect the dots back then, but in hindsight, I guess the common thread for me was the excitement of exploring, learning a new perspective and way of doing things, envisioning how that could apply to my native environment, and ultimately building something new that bridged my old and new experiences.
You have an MBA from Columbia University and gained experience as both CEO and COO of companies in the US and UK before founding Hill Country. Obviously, you have some serious qualifications for starting and running a business.
What aspects of entrepreneurship are learned vs innate inside us? Are entrepreneurs born or made?
Marc: My best guess is that it is a mix of learned and innate skills. Certain people are endowed with an extra high dose of curiosity and vision, which leads to questions like “What if?” that come at the very inception of a new business idea. However, I believe many of the necessary traits are developed over time, as life experience undoubtedly influences the color and shade of lens through which you view the world. For instance, to be a successful entrepreneur you need nearly-boundless optimism (a pre-condition for risk-taking) to keep you careening through failure after failure until you finally get through the goal posts. Optimism develops over time either through good fortune (life has been good to you) or through the grit, determination, and resilience required to overcome adversity and build confidence in taking on the hard stuff that life throws at you. Likewise, when someone taps into a career, hobby, or pursuit that they enjoy and gradually become more skilled in it, their confidence and optimism will grow commensurately. In other words, you can build up the entrepreneurial muscles along the way that you will need when you are finally ready to take the leap. *Note that I emphasize “nearly” boundless optimism because it is equally important to have two feet grounded in practical limitations, so you don’t overshoot.
What do you wish someone had told when you were a student?
Marc: Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the freedom. Explore, learn, and think deeply. Sooner than you know, you’re responsibilities – work and family – will consume you, and you won’t have the same opportunities to do then the exploring and learning you can do now.
You were named Crain’s New York Business’s 40 under 40 recently and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the year in 2000 and 2001. Your pitch game must be pretty tight. Specifically regarding the art of the pitch, what advice can you share with Brooklyn’s entrepreneurs about how to create a pitch that really hooks investors?
Marc: We all, investors included, have short attention spans. It’s important to hook your audience early on in your pitch.
There are essentially four things that you need to accomplish in very short order: 1) state the market challenge/environment; 2) explain your idea to solve/address it; 3) describe the opportunity; and 4) make the “ask.”
Each one of these should be able to be distilled down to a bullet point. Getting this part right will prime your audience and keep them engaged as you elaborate in greater detail on your business.
It’s ok to be nervous going into your pitch. After all, you are here because something deep inside you has driven you to the verge of making an enormous, life-changing commitment. The future is uncertain, which goes for all of us by the way.
However, it’s important to show passion and conviction during your pitch. Investors are betting on you as much as the idea. They want to know that you have the will and the chops to see this thing through. Life as an entrepreneur is tough. You will face a never-ending onslaught of challenges from dysfunctional personnel, to withering competition, to imminent cash shortages, to things far beyond your control. Your entrepreneurial spirit and strength of character need to shine through.
Also, be prepared. Know your numbers, understand your market, research your competitors, rehearse, and get a good night’s sleep. The better prepared you are, the less nervous you’ll be.
And, finally, have fun. Asking for money can be a drag, but you should have a sense of joy and excitement in pitching your business. If you’re not having fun now, get out while you still can.
What is a mistake you’ve made while pitching investors and what lesson did you learn from it?
Marc: I’ve botched a lot of them. In my early days, I’d prepare a relatively canned pitch and barrel through it without necessarily reading my audience or observing their body language. I could speak for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes without coming up for air. The lesson I learned over time is to engage your audience.
Pause from time-to-time to make sure your audience is still with you. Ask questions to check if they are listening. Even if rhetorical, they will make your presentation come off more like a conversation than a pitch. Be respectful of their time.
Assume that you have no more than ten minutes to get to the “meat” of your idea. Don’t spend too much time on background. No one cares that much about the life-changing experience you had while working in the Congo. Leave your audience plenty of time to ask questions.
Also, don’t make stuff up. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and let them know you’ll get back to them. If you start dancing on a high wire, sooner or later you’re going fall off.
What is the number one piece of advice about entrepreneurship that you want to share with the five finalists who take the stage to pitch at Hill Country on November 5th?
Marc: One of the best pieces of advice I got early on from a mentor was this: There are generally two types of entrepreneurs in the world. For the first, if “it” makes money, they will love it. For the second, if they love “it,” it will make money. Figure out which one you are, and follow your passion.
Thank you, Marc!
If you’re an entrepreneur with an affiliation with any Downtown Brooklyn higher ed instituation (incubators included), you’re eligible to apply for one of five spots at the Make It In Brooklyn + Brooklyn Education Innovation Network Pitch Contest in November for a chance to win $5,000 and other great prizes. Deadline to apply is Sunday, October 18. Apply here or find out more at makeitinbk.com.