Words of Wisdom While Pitching in a Pandemic


Photograph by KSD

Spartan Cup – Winner Ben Malamed holds his trophy next to Beck Trafton of Clothy and Scout Hudson of CluttrFree. Judge Jeff Hoffman, founder of priceline.com and Booking.com, is behind on the screen, along with Ben’s partner Tucker Horstmeyer and Beck’s partner Luca DeHeusch, who zoomed into the competition.

Karen S. Davis, CJE

Scout Hudson, a freshman and one of the participants in this year’s 8th annual Spartan Cup Business Challenge that took place last month on December 15th, described her experience like this: “Participating in the competition [and being in the Innovation course] has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. At times we were working hard putting together slide decks or finishing our Profit and Loss projections. Overall, it has been an enjoyable and engaging way of learning the process of creating a startup, from brainstorming to creating a finished proposal.” 

What was different this year for student entrepreneurs, besides having to be masked and pitch virtually to judges who were on zoom, was that the program opened with a 30-minute “town hall” style question and answer session that was moderated by The Spartacus. (Click on the link to watch the discussion.) The four judges, renowned entrepreneurs themselves, were able to share their thoughts, experiences, and advice with not only those pitching but with an online audience as well. Spartacus reporter Julian De La Cadena, who had pitched his business plan for ShipMe last year, was the moderator. Jeff Hoffman, founder of priceline.com and booking.com, Ocean Drive publisher and advertising executive Jared Shapiro, financial manager and advisor James Bergman and Ryan Amoils, founder of the motocross marketplace MX Locker offered valuable insight about risk-taking, work ethic, experiences with their own mentors, and why money should not be the main driver for success.

Hudson said the most memorable quote she took away from the roundtable came from Jeff Hoffman. “Being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff and then trying to build an airplane on the way down,” Hoffman told the group. “If that scares you, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. I’ve been jumping off of cliffs throughout my whole career. ” In fact, he says he believes being an entrepreneur is in one’s DNA.  It’s not about the money, he told everyone.  It’s about the challenge and striving for excellence. 

MCDS Alum Ryan Amoils agreed that the challenge is most definitely part of the fun but myriad product crashes, customer complaints, and people not sticking to plan are also all part of the “norm” for the typical entrepreneur. Becoming an entrepreneur is certainly far from an easy undertaking, but all four judges agreed that having a tight “tribe” and inner circle is essential to the success of creating a powerful and effective business. “You can’t go at it alone,” advised Shapiro. “Who you surround yourself with and how you communicate with your team is everything,” he added.

 Of course, in a competition like the Spartan Cup, not everyone can win. Bergman’s advice that the ability to learn from failure, pick yourself up, and dust yourself off is key and was relevant to the pitching participants and all entrepreneurs. The winning team this year was made up of junior Ben Malamed and freshman Tucker Horstmeyer for their business, Looze the Snooze. Other participants included Hudson for her business CluttrFree and Clothy, presented by founders Beck Trafton and Luca De Heusch. CEO Malamed took their advice to heart but felt confident nevertheless. “I learned that if I trust myself, I can accomplish anything! Once I replaced the nervous with “excitement,” everything fell into place. It helped me feel more confident and less nervous.” 

While, as Hoffman put it, being an entrepreneur is probably something you’re born with, classes can help to learn some of the fundamentals. This is the second year the Upper School has offered a one-semester Innovation and Entrepreneurship elective, taught by Spartacus advisor Karen Davis (herself a serial entrepreneur) where learning how to develop a business from brainstorming to execution ends with this competition.  Malamed put it, “The course was a lot of work, but in the end, it paid off. I felt great winning!”