He was last, but he came in first.
Jason Dolle, president of Testimonial Tree, who was the last of four entrepreneurs to pitch his company to a panel of investor judges, won the latest round of VenturePitch SWFL.
With kids and a family life, he didn’t get as much time as he wanted to prepare over the past few weeks. He’s the man who makes it happen at his company, so his daily demands can get crazy.
“I’m the only one that answers the phone,” he said.
He stayed up until midnight the night before the competition.
“I practiced a lot. But my presentation was fast,” said Dolle, admitting he was a bit nervous.
He’s made pitches to investors before, but never in such a public way, with others from the business community watching him — others he was sure to see again.
After entrepreneurs with three other companies made their pitches on Thursday night at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, Dolle said he thought his chances of winning the community competition were slim. He thought the others had “knocked it out of the park,” and he wondered how he could compete.
“There was a little more pressure than normal,” Dolle said.
He won the votes of the judges and the audience, which was polled while the judges deliberated behind closed doors after hearing the four presentations. More than 140 people attended the competition, organized by Naples-based Tamiami Angel Fund II, an investment group. It was standing room only.
At the “Shark Tank” style event, entrepreneurs weren’t vying for money, only recognition that their concepts were “investable” and everyone seemed to agree that Testimonial Tree was the clear winner.
Testimonial Tree offers a quick way for Realtors and other professionals to collect testimonials for their websites from happy customers. The testimonials can easily be shared online and through social media and updated as a promotional and marketing tool.
Dolle talked fast, but his passion for his company really showed and that’s what really sold the judges on it.
He shared that his company has almost 30,000 users, mostly in the U.S., and that it has been making money since Day 1. Revenues, he said, have doubled every year.
“This year, this month, has been a record,” Dolle said. “We signed up probably 3,000 people last week.”
One of the company’s leading partners is LeadingRE.com, based in Chicago, which has 120,000 real estate agents and 500 real estate brokerages.
He told the judges he has a patent pending on his web-based platform and shared statistics that support his platform. More than 80 percent of consumers are willing to recommend or refer a business after a positive experience, he said.
Here’s how Testimonial Tree makes its money: For $5 a month, a user can collect and view five testimonials. More testimonials cost more, up to $29 for 40 testimonials a month. For an unlimited number, more fitting for larger enterprises, there’s a subscription service that costs anywhere from $800 to more than $50,000 a year, depending on the number of users.
“People love what we’re doing,” Dolle said.
The company, he said, had a fully functioning product, a recurring revenue model, and it’s extremely scalable, with a clear path of growth.
“We found a niche so it’s been pretty interesting,” Dolle said.
Felix Lluberes, the founder and former CEO of Position Logic, an INC 500 and Top 100 software company, was one of the competition’s judges. He asked whether Dolle was looking to sell his business, so he could start thinking about his next venture. Dolle said he wasn’t ready just yet.
Other judges wanted to know what Dolle would do if he could raise more capital. He told them he was looking to grow his staff and to expand on his product, including adding video testimonials as a choice for his customers.
Bud Stoddard, a judge, serial entrepreneur and member of the Tamiami Angel Fund II, asked what kept Dolle up at night. Dolle said the “speed to what we want to get to.” He wants to move quickly to expand and grow his service, while also making sure he keeps up with customer demands and keeps them happy, he said.
After his presentation Dolle watched the audience votes come in real-time. He got 33 votes, more than half the votes cast by attendees, using their smartphones. The next closest competitor was Relax and Order, with 15 votes. That company has a web-based app that connects local vendors with customers who want a resort-style experience in their home, from massages to fancy dinners.
Dolle was grateful to win.
“It’s was pretty surreal. I don’t know how to explain it. It was amazing,” he said.
With his win at VenturePitch, Dolle will now advance to compete for $50,000 in cash and prizes at the Startup Expo in Fort Lauderdale next month.
He said he expects to soon get a round of capital from a big group he already has a relationship with, allowing him to grow the business.
“It’s not a done deal yet, but it’s getting pretty close,” Dolle said.
By Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News / Photo by Laura Layden/Staff