The last time I spoke to Mystery Brewing founder Erik Myers was a couple hours before the airing of his appearance on the CNBC reality-game show Crowd Rules, where he was competing against two other startups for a $50,000 cash prize — based on the votes of the three judges and 97 other audience members in attendance.

Erik and I talk all the time. We’ve known each other for a dozen years, and if you’ve ever been to one of my ExitEvent Startup Socials, you’ve probably met him. He was the genial guy pouring you free seasonal Mystery Brewing craft beer, which he’s been doing since I started ExitEvent in 2011.

In fact, Erik and I had a long conversation a couple days ago about his surreal prime-time appearance on a major cable network, most of which appeared here verbatim at WRALTechWire.

But late Tuesday I called just to check in. I opened with: “So, you excited about the big fancy television show tonight?”

He returned with: “I’m terrified.”

We both laughed, but we both knew he was only kidding a little. He’d tweet later that he was a “little nervous” about the whole thing.

And remember, this is a guy who already knew he won.

I think I get that. In all my years in and around startups, I’ve never once, not once, publicly pitched an idea to anyone who didn’t have the capacity to immediately write me a check. The public-pitch is a relatively new concept in the startup universe, and not one I’m all that in love with. It’s supposed to be practice. It is not.

The closest I’ve ever come to a public pitch is a speed-pitch session, where I went from table to table of actual investors and gave them the standard three-minute pitch, two-minute Q&A routine.

I’m very practiced at that kind of thing. But I hated every second of those five minutes. And I wanted to kill the guy with the bell. And I was terrified. Because I wasn’t thinking about all the ways my company was going to make this investor a huge return, I was thinking about the damn bell. The whole time.

I can’t imagine what it was like replacing that bell with a studio audience and a bunch of television cameras.

Nonetheless, I can see the merits of a public pitch, as long as its understood that there’s a fat line between the pitch you make for investment and the pitch you make for publicity. One has a lot more meaning, the other gets tweeted a lot if you blow it.

So yeah, if Erik was thinking about potentially getting tweeted back to the stone age on a national level, then I think I get his nervousness.

The hosts Kendra Scott and Pat Kiernen were nice and complimentary, leaving room for a third judge that you just knew was going to be the Simon Cowell of the group. They rotate a different expert in for each episode.

It’s Show Time

This episode focused on debt, as it relates to cash flow, which is a solid lesson for any entrepreneur. Erik’s video package was first, and the brewery showed well, as he had hoped.

In his first year, he stated, he grossed $229,000 for a loss of $76,000, mostly due to building out the brewpub in downtown Hillsborough, which is excellent by the way, and I recommend you go there. He said he needed the money for additional kegs to get more beer out of the brewery.

Next up was Sky Fitness from Myrtle Beach, a 24/7 gym. They had a nice, emotional, personal story. They want it to work, and they want the money to expand by adding tanning, aerobics, and day care. They came off like a lifestyle business, not a startup.

Dirty Girl Disposal in Millbury, MA was last. They’re a mother and daughters team who haul trash. They’re totally female owned and operated – so they say.

There were two crowd questions, one from an entrepreneur. Then the crowd voted for a “first impression.” Kendra’s vote was Dirty Girl for the women-owned angle. Pat brought up Dirty Girl’s low $30,000 in revenue and went with Mystery Brewing instead, based on the fact that Erik knows his market. Dirty Girl won the audience vote 43% to 33% for Mystery.

Next came the expert portion of the show, Larry Winget, who was kind of a southern, businessy Simon Cowell in an odd shirt. His thing was to visit each place and explore their story while discovering the reasons behind their issues.

His first package was Dirty Girl. He dug into the fact that they have no profits. Then the son of the family, who is also the VP of the company, threw everyone under the bus, claiming he was the only one working hard. Then Winget outed the fact that the women don’t actually go out and pick up the trash. The son does.

Then it went all Kitchen Nightmares.

Next came Erik. Winget said in short that the beer was great, the story was not. I said something nasty to the TV. Winget pointed out that it takes a minimum of $500-800K to start a brewery and Mystery is way undercapitalized. Rather than argue, Erik agreed, and blamed it on his own cockiness. Good move.

Actually, I don’t agree with Winget’s assessment. Needing more kegs is an issue, yes, but that’s an incremental expense, with more revenue coming in per keg purchased, not a lump sum, which is what the brewpub took to be built. Mystery took a big risk, but a manageable one.

Erik beat me to it, and came back with numbers on the difference in margin of pints vs. kegs.

Finally Sky Fitness was up. Winget hit on the good story and the personal angle right from the beginning. The issue was the fact that they didn’t understand their market.

However, they got all argumentative in the Q&A and, I don’t know, maybe they were right, but remember, this is a public pitch about publicity, and arguing is bad form. Which is part of the reason I’m not a big fan of public pitches.

And the Winner Is …

Elimination vote. This is what watching American Idol must be like. Mystery wins 63% to 29%. With 8%, Dirty Girls go home.

After that was the final plea. Erik was passionate and eloquent, talking about his great product that just needed a boost to get more market share. Sky Fitness gave a personal appeal on how important the business was to them and that they had nowhere else to go.

If you ask me, that just made it worse. But, I’m just an entrepreneur, not a member of a studio audience or judge with a fancy shirt.

Winget voted for Erik. Pat shifted his vote “with his heart” to Sky Fitness. Kendra also went with Sky Fitness because they “needed it more” and have a great story.


And then, get this, the crowd voted to an absolute 50-50 tie. But apparently, under the rules of crowd rules, the crowd rules, and in the case of a tie, the judges’ votes are eliminated.

Mystery Brewery wins 49-48.

Yes, this is a reality show. A reality game show, and the references to Kitchen Nightmares and American Idol aren’t too far off (I think?). But in the end, a win is a win, and if the money helps Erik buy the kegs and the publicity spreads the word about this incredible product well, like I said, I can see the merits of a public pitch.

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at