Anshu Prasad has already raised tens of millions of dollars for his tech startup that is working to transform the dynamics of the transportation industry. His venture, Leaf Logistics, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Madrona Venture Group, Playground Global, REFASHIOND Ventures, and Schematic Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Building company culture in a remote business
- The future of transportation and logistics
- Anshu Prasad’s top advice for launching a business
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About Anshu Prasad:
Anshu Prasad is the co-founder and CEO of Leaf Logistics, a data and analytics platform transforming the logistics and transportation industry. A future-thinking leader, Anshu is driven by the desire to help all stakeholders in the logistics industry, which employs millions and is the backbone of so much of our economy, making the transformational shifts needed to remain competitive and become more efficient.
Anshu’s curiosity pushes him to ask the right questions: not “how can we do this better” but “why are we doing it this way in the first place?” That mindset, combined with a deep background in analytics and a team of technologists with significant domain expertise, has produced Leaf’s platform, which reimagines the logistics market as an exchange, ensuring reliability and efficiency.
Prior to founding Leaf (fka LogisticsExchange), Anshu built and led A.T. Kearney’s global Analytics practice, working with clients to utilize technology and data to empower business transformation.
His passion for entrepreneurship has been evident throughout his career, which he began in a startup environment. He helped start and grow an analytics technology business and led its expansion into Europe.
He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Biochemistry and earned a master’s from Oxford University.
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Connect with Anshu Prasad:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alright, hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So we have a very exciting founder today. We’re going to be talking a lot about logistics in fright and you know about why companies like Coca-cola and others. You know they need actually startups to really thrive. So. You know in this case, we’re gonna be talking going from corporate to the venture world and beyond so without farther ado let’s welcome our guests today anshhu prasad welcome to the deal maker show.
Anshu Prasad: Thanks a lot alandro great to be with you.
Alejandro: So you were born in India grew up in calota and then you came to New York city at 9 years of age so give us a walk through memory lane. How was how was life growing up None
Anshu Prasad: Um, life was great. Um, yeah I’m ah 1 of 3 kids my my family um you know we had a ah great early part of my life in India and then we when we decided to emmigrate to the states I grew up in queens we moved to flushing New York which is the home of the New York Mets and yet I became a yankee fan in the 80 s which is a terrible time to be a yankee fan so I’ve been a have been a lifelong new yorker more or less. Um and and I’ve really enjoyed the entrepreneurial journey which is kind of like the immigrant’s journey. There’s a lot of you got to just figure it out. Um, and lots of very helpful people that come assist you along the way and had that in life too from teachers the wonderful schools that have had a chance to attend friends that had become lifelong friends. Um, yeah, that’s that’s memory lay man.
Alejandro: Nice now how was like coming to New York obviously different culture different everything you know how was I was adjusting to New York city
Anshu Prasad: Um, you know, um, we we had some family that had emigrated some years prior and even with their stories and their photographs. It didn’t quite prepare you for what’s showing up in you so we we landed in December at Jfk and you know it was the none time I’d seen snow or ice. Um, we weren’t prepared for the weather and yet you just figured it out right? People again were very helpful. Um, you know I made them. You know pretty significant error in judgment looking for the warmest thing we could find before I started going to school in January and we found a sweater. Bright red that came with extra you know would look like arms to us but were in retrospect leg warmers. So I went to school with the warmest clothes I could find and I was probably wearing clothes that weren’t meant for me. Um, but you know aside from a couple of stumbles along the way. Ah, no, it was. It was a big adjustment but None that we were familiar with I mean one of the benefits I had was I’d gone to english medium schools englishspeaking schools. So yes, of course there were some nuances to to language and and and the and the like but I didn’t have some of the challenges that the other immigrants have in that I spoke english and I was able to acculrate. Um, or at least join my classes and and follow along more quickly
Alejandro: So you ended up being cornell. So not far away. But but basically why biochemistry what? what got you into biochemistry.
Anshu Prasad: Yeah, so my dad before we immigrated years back had been an organic chemistry professor. It’s the thing that he talked about he looked back on his life that he really loved doing. He loved being a teacher and I wanted to be. Potentially an academic in the in the society that love the sciences I love various things that you know I had a chance to study through high school wonderful high school experience here in New York um you know ah and and I wanted to pursue I just found the subjects really interesting I dabbled with a bunch of different ideas in the first couple years college and then. Biochemistry stuck so. That’s what I wanted to do postgrad I wanted to a I’d looked at a handful of labs and graduate programs and I got some advice from some of the you know seniors who I’d been working with in labs to say you know this is a. Interesting time. Some some of us are contemplating jumping off the ph d bandwagon and pursuing startups. Um, and it was just this time in the late 90 s where a lot of internet technologies were coming online and people just had this energy around starting companies in biotechnology but also in general just in starting companies. And I got caught up in that. So while I did study biochemistry I very more much more actively pursued ah startups just as a way to kind of really accelerate my learning.
Alejandro: Now in your case. Um you know you you, It’s interesting because you’ve been with companies you know like for quite a while you know either with this startup or with a K I mean what do you think cost you to stay put you know for so long with with these different companies.
Anshu Prasad: You know I think one of the things that you know I learned also just from watching my dad and others growing up was um, really taking ownership of a problem just um, being part of figuring things out, not just intellectually, but just making the actual solution work. So. Um, at Tigris which is the startup I joined um in the late 90 s there was a lot to figure out but as we worked the problem. There was always another interesting problem on the other side and there were people involved and if you could actually make things work better. Um, you could grow the company you could expand into different. Had a chance to go to London early on in my career and open an office it just as interesting opportunities presented themselves. They weren’t just intellectual challenges they were they required you bringing all of the tools that you could muster to bear to solve them including execute and deliver and results. So um, that. Kind of taking an ownership for the outcome has always been important to me um and being sort of able to deliver on the on the promise or the expectations to others. So that’s why I mean I think you know the team that I had a chance to build and and grow at Carney. Um. I continue to stay close to some of them have come and join me to kind of work on leaf but others have continued to be supporters and and friends and advisors from from you know the sidelines. It’s it’s at the end of the day doing meaningful work with people you respect and can learn from and you know when that means just. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in the problem you know I’ve had I’ve been fortunate to have lots of opportunities to do that.
Alejandro: Now, let’s talk about problems so on a t kearney you know when it comes to um to doing consulting work. You know like you definitely develop that understanding on how to tackle problems so in your case, you know this gives you the exposure to to the world of fright. So how was tackling problems. What did you learn about tackling problems and then also what were some of the issues that you were encountering in the Friday segment.
Anshu Prasad: Yeah, so even before Carney you know some of the work that we did at Tigris was focused on freeight and logistics and so I went to carney to to help build out an analytical practice but an analytical practice focused. In large part on supply chain and logistics that tended to be my area of focus. Um, and so the kinds of problems I’d seen before at Carney but also through my time at Carney um, showed me a couple of things None is this is a big deal right? So to companies in consumer package goods and retail. Um, freight is oftentimes the none or none largest expenditure. It’s one where you know getting the budget wrong or getting service wrong has significant long-term impact. Um and yet unlike some of the other areas in the in their business. Um. They just don’t have very good data. They don’t have very good tools do anything other than react and so what I learned also was the operational burden that it takes to actually manage rate. Um both for buyers and sellers I had the chance to work on the other side of the table with trucking companies as well. As with none party logistics firms and brokerages. Um. This is a very hard problem and it rhymes in other gegraphies that the chance to do some of this work in in Asia in Europe and Latin America um there’s patterns to how freight is bought and sold that have persisted for a long time that involved a lot of people doing fairly tactical transactional work. And yet it’s a big deal and needs to be sort of respected for um, the complexity of the job I mean these are very hardworking very smart people. Um, but their talents are largely getting um ah consumed in tactical management. They have a lot more to contribute so those were the. Core core observations the operational intensity but also just this is a problem that really matters.
Alejandro: Um, now in your case I mean being for 10 years with Carney I mean at what point do you realize? hey you know what? I I think it’s time for me to really explore this farther and and go out it on my own.
Anshu Prasad: Um, you know I think it it really goes back to what you asked me before which is you know, knowing that there is a core problem that I can take ownership of um, you know after several years of of consulting and you know I had a chance to work with wonderful clients. But also a tremendous set of colleagues. Um, you know there was a rhythm to the work that I was doing that I was very familiar with and yet there was a problem that kept gnawing at me that you know we were still kind of going through the same processes that we’d been following for well over 10 years at that point um and expecting a different outcome sometimes and that didn’t seem rational. So um, you know the inertia that some of our our customers have to say look this is how this is done. You guys frankly taught us how to do this. We’re going to do it again and again and you know hopefully it works better next time um was something that gnawed at me and um I really wanted to think about it for a while was focused on. Is there a different way to. Rethink the problem and it discussed it amongst my colleagues at Carney two who obviously work in multiple areas beyond freight and you know the buying and selling of transportation. Um, and you know I really felt that the idea of rethinking the problem. Um, you know perhaps we were missing the forest for the trees. Was something that a I had done my legwork in but b I felt pretty committed to a different approach being taken so no better way than I could think of was then to step back and say look I’m going to commit to doing this differently and um and before I did that for myself and my family. And was really important for me to kind of go out and talk to some of these people who I had worked with or worked for and kind of sound them out in terms of did what I was thinking about make sense to them. Would they try it would they work with me would they even join me on the effort and kind of help building this company and when when that came back overwhelmingly positive. Um I had the sort of the impetus I needed to go do something different.
Alejandro: So what were the next steps.
Anshu Prasad: Um, frankly, you know to be a real student of the process I’d never been part of a venture scaled business before um, some of my friends had kind of gone down that journey. So of course I started with them to ask them sort of what did they learn? What would they have done differently now with a couple of years of hindsight that they could benefit from. Um, and you know much of the same way that I was going back out to people that I had worked with or um I respected and I wanted to understand their point of view I started talking to the people that my friends recommended I speak with just to learn so the none step really was to try to get a. Comprehensive understanding of what it takes not just to kind of build the company but to get the support enlist the support you need whether it’s investors. Um, critical early employees how you convince a customer I mean you’re talking to household name brand companies that have been moving freight around this country for decades and you’re asking them to do something different. How does that conversation go so I actually put my list together of 20 or 30 conversations with former clients people had had dialogue with to say I’m going to do this would you be willing to try something completely different and and I did my homework there that was the none step.
Alejandro: Now for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of Leh logistics.
Anshu Prasad: So the business model was very much um, a data and technology enabled platform business and that means for us that we don’t have necessarily a product that everyone in the world just needs to absolutely consume. We don’t sell the Iphone. But we are essentially creating the app store. We’re creating a basis on which trucking companies that have sold trucking capacity for a long time can sell their trucking capacity at a higher margin with better life and you know lifestyle as well as pay for their drivers. We’re selling. That same platform the ability for companies like Coca-cola and nestle to buy transportation. That’s higher reliability and lower cost. So it’s really about facilitating the buying and selling a transportation differently, but the way that we do it also allows us to create unique data. Can be used to really plan freight and create new products like insurance products and payment products and lending products that frankly can’t be created in today’s industry because it’s so transactional because you don’t have the kinds of datasets that insurers and lenders really need to. Comfortably and confidently engage in this industry in the way that they can through leaf. So it’s it’s we are really a platform business model.
Alejandro: So now in this case for you guys at what point do you realize that you got product market fit and you’ve come from 0 to 1
Anshu Prasad: You know, um, the none time that that light bulb went off was I mean pretty early in the journey. um when we go to um you know household companies and ask them for all the data that we need to kind of make our models run. That’s a very strange and unusual ask right? So um. Maybe if you were doing a massive consulting project for them. You might have these you know broad data requests. And yeah, they’ve already agreed to do the project with you they share but generally speaking if you’re in the transportation industry asking for the data that we asked for was an unusual ask. But when we saw. Ah, multiple companies say absolutely. We’ll give you that data and and actually provide it. You know without much more than us just kind of showing them the beta version of our technology. Um, we knew that there was an unmet need that was the None big indication that no, there’s some latent demand here for something different something new. When we knew we had product market fit was when we used that demand ran it through our analytics and sold these customers something that they’d never had before which was a way to just manage a portion of their spend with very high predictability using a digital contract that we introduced to the world when that started to work and frankly we were you know. Yes, we had modeld it. We had sort of done our math and analysis off to the side but when it started to work and deliver better service at lower cost while still delivering margin to the suppliers that they hadn’t seen before then we knew then we knew that we had to kind of really think about the go to market and the business model to your point before to really bring this capability to. Other companies and start to step towards our mission.
Alejandro: Now it’s interesting here because you would think that the larger companies you know they could do this. You know, internally like Coca-cola so why would they need a startup to really help them out.
Anshu Prasad:s Yeah, it’s a great question. Um, you know so I think this is a lesson we learned from working with these companies and working at some of these companies some of us. Um, you know Coca-cola has a lot on its plate. Um, there is a lot to do to manufacturing to manufacture their products. And get it to customers to operate a big large unwieldy organization. Oh by the way and deal with competition their investors and the like Coca-cola supply chain and the transportation that kind of underpins it is built to produce you know Coca-cola and. Send it to its customers. Um, unfortunately for Coca-cola what the truck that picks up that fizzy water and then delivers it to the customer does before picking up the fizzy water and what it does after dropping off the goods at say a Walmart. Is incredibly important to Coca-cola if they want to have reliable service and lower costs. It’s just that Coca-cola has no needs to do anything about it right? They have enough on their plate just running their supply chain executing everything winning in the market is a herculean effort at Coca-cola but the trucking that they utilize to do it. Basically sits in a much larger network. We call it the grid you know the larger grid of transportation capacity that Coca-cola needs to ah tap into to do the the work it needs to do to kind of get its products onto the shelf. Is not something that Coca-cola can fully appreciate even with a few hundred million dollars of trucking that they buy. There’s still a very small part of the overall industry and on an operational practical level what that truck does before and what the truck does after Coca-cola’s job is incredibly important. Maybe existentially important to the trucking company. And so a startup like us who can kind of sit above the phrase. Neither Coca-cola nor the trucking company but can use data to make things better for coke and for the trucking company play air traffic controller if you will across the grid that is a benefit to both coke and to its suppliers. It’s just. Um, by themselves. No one unilaterally disarms right? Coca-cola starting to you know, get out of the business of making its unique products and now all of a sudden be this um, agnostic sort of data connector of all transportation just not anywhere close to their core mission. It is ours as a startup we have earned the right to focus on a specific problem. We think we have a different point of view and perspective on and we could bring all of our skills and talents and experience to bear on that specific problem to the benefit of our customers that ability to focus.
Anshu Prasad: What we’re focused on let’s put it this way Coca-cola focused on something that makes them pretty unique and very successful and did it brilliantly. We have the luxury to focus on something different.
Alejandro: So got it now for you guys. You’ve raised quite a bit of money. How much capital have you guys raised today.
Anshu Prasad: Um, a little over $60,000,000 through a couple of rounds.
Alejandro: And how the how has the experience or I guess the expectations from investors shifted from one round to another.
Anshu Prasad: You know, um, by and large it hasn’t shifted that dramatically I think from the earliest investors that we engaged to our series b investors our series b closed in in January of this year they knew that the problem we’re trying to tackle is complex. Um. But addressing it successfully is a massive opportunity. It’s ah you know it’s a chance to build truly a generational company and you know they’ve seen that happen in their portfoli. We have the benefit of working with some very experienced investors if we’ve invested across sectors but they’ve been parts of building truly. You know, titonic generational companies and um and so therefore their expectations have been learned to be aligned with a pretty big mission. Um, that said, yeah, absolutely as we’ve kind of matured through different stages of the company. There are different sort of signs of health and progress. And our investors have been really helpful. Not just to sort of say here’s what we think we need to see at this stage. But here’s what the next stage and the stage after that typically looks like for companies that are on a trajectory like yours. Um, it’s it’s this sort of trick of um, focusing on the problem that we need to solve meaningfully differently now. But still kind of thinking a little bit ahead peering around corners and in some ways our investors are you know they’re experts having seen those types of Journeys yeah hundreds if not none of times themselves. They’re people that we you know we’d look for for some guidance from. Um, they’ve been really great partners.
Alejandro: Ah, now 1 thing that was very interesting here. You know to me is that right before the pandemic you decide on remote first how lucky is that.
Anshu Prasad: You know it seemed a little silly ah to even some of our investors. They asked us some pretty hard questions that looks like we’ve we’ve got this sort of pattern like we see a lot of companies they all huddle together in some you know, dingy room or in a garage somewhere and they produce brilliance and where’s your garage. What do you mean? remote. Like why does does this make sense and um yeah I got to say on 2 levels. It turned out to be a blessing and discuss one. It was absolutely necessary for the business we wanted to build. This is not a business They’ve done right? needs none and None of people but it needs a few very very strong very functionally so you know adept people. You know people bringing quote unquote their superpowers to bear on this problem but we need those people fully engaged and if they sit on you know, mars as long as they’ve got strong bandwidth we don’t care right? like they need. We need them to be fully plugged into this problem fully invested in kind of now there’s ah there folks on this team that um. Happened to be you know ph d level data scientists but their their dad drove a truck. You know when they were in high school and in college and so they’re personally invested in using their specific talents which are in very so short supply and in high demand to solve this problem. Do I care where they live like as long as they’re fully and so we were you know remote none allowed us to really focus on getting those great people that could make a big difference. But of course it also built scaffolding and infrastructure when everyone had to be remote so it wasn’t much of a shock for us when um, you know we had to. The pandemic our none gathering as a team was basically in a big wedding tent. You know, um, a friend of ours who has you know a venue that he uses for weddings when you know those were allowed which was not the case in pandemic had this big tent sitting on his property and we were able to meet 8 or 10 of us. You know. None or fifteen feet apart kind of shouting at each other from different tables but because we build the scaffolding these people had worked asynchronously for all their time at leaf. They understood what they were talking about. We could have very productive conversations. Even if that meant we only got together once every six months at the time in in terms of physical interaction. So no it. Um, it was I remind some of our early investors about sort of the skepticism they had about ah building a remote first culture. It definitely served us in good stead. The last couple of years
Alejandro: And how do you go about building a culture. You know that is remote I mean obviously as you were saying Now, you’re not going to have those moments or being you know like behind the trenches together and so how do you make sure that people are still in tune in sync with each other and that you have that they. Camaraderie to certain degree you know going on.
Anshu Prasad: You know it’s ah, there’s the serendipitous kind of what what used to be water cooler conversations. You know the fact that you know what’s going on with your colleagues kids and those types of things became hard to do. Um when we were all remote. Um. You know, not just in the pandemic but before so we made time for serendipity like we made time for just social interactions when we started when it was just a handful of us and we were you know on the west coast or in Europe and kind of working the same problem and on very different hours and of course in the early days it seemed to be all working ah at all hours but um but it you know it helped to to sometimes engage on sort of the human part of you know this this group of people that actually likes to work together because the second part um of remote working particularly at this early stage of startup life was also essential. You needed to to have the space and the trust. Debate meaty issues and yes you know when it was a handful of us we could jump on a plane and could you know crash it in my apartment and and work the problem together for a few days but that soon became unwieldy um, and yet we still needed to have that culture. Of trust enough and confidence in each other and in our point of view to go debate things to frankly argue over points that we cared about and so we created space for that even asynchronously to to essentially write down I mean one of the things that we borrowed from Amazon and others was you know, just getting clarity of thought. Down on paper if you had a point of view and you wanted to do something that you know we weren’t doing as a company yet do the work to write it down communicate it to us in prose we would all do you the respect of reading that point to view and then we will have a debate but it’ll be an informed debate and so we started to figure out how to not just. Continue to care about each other as people some of us had worked together in the past so we had a little bit of shared history. But for the others we wanted to have that sort of camaraderie which super important given sort of the the lonely slog that a startup sometimes feels like but it also helped build that scaffolding to fight over stuff that we cared about. Because we got to better outcomes faster.
Alejandro: Now in terms of like imagine that you go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of Leaveaf logistics is fully realized what does that world look like.
Anshu Prasad: Um, so so today something like a None of trucking capacity goes wasted in this country when a truck driver doesn’t um, doesn’t drive with a cargo in the back. He’s not getting paid There’s so many sort of friction points and pain points in this industry I think if tomorrow we could. You know, wake up to in a new transportation industry. We would be meeting the demand that we need met. You know all the fizzy water and tylenol and all the other things that products that need to be on the shelves that unfortunately the last eighteen twenty four months several of us experience is not often on the shelves when we need it. Transportation becomes reliable at and the demand gets met at something like 80 to 90% of the today’s capacity a significant portion of those empty miles get eliminated the the tax that you and I and everybody else pays for those wasteful emissions. The fact that. Truck drivers get paid something like none of what they would get paid if they were fleet drivers if they had actually salaried employees opposed to transactionally getting pushed from point a to b those types of ills would be worn out of our system and yes people’s jobs would change. There would be. Fundamental shifts in a lot of the work that’s done by none of white collar workers as well as truck drivers today but the end result would be a transportation grid that actually works efficiently with a lot fewer emissions a lot less waste with real wages. And wage increases for truck drivers which we really haven’t had for decades in our country. Those structural problems would get addressed and then we could start building the scaffolding the infrastructure the data that we’ll need for truly transformative technology like autonomous and other technologies like. Hydrogen or electrification to be brought to this industry today given the fragmented very transactional nature. It’s really hard for big transformative technologies to take root. But once you’ve kind of connected tomorrow morning we wake up these things are actually interconnected. Um. Then you can start to make a real dent in the way this industry operates. So it starts to resemble other big parts of our economy and not that sort of what seems like a vestige of decades past.
Alejandro: So now imagine if I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time perhaps to that moment where you were still at Kerney and and you had the opportunity of having a chat with your younger self. Imagine imagine what will be that one piece of advice that you give to your younger self before starting a company and why given what you know now.
Anshu Prasad: That’s really interesting. Um, you know one of the things I told myself that at the time when I was you know and my colleagues at Carney were incredibly helpful. Um, in kind of both engaging with the thought process but also in kind of giving me the space and the room to kind of really explore the idea. Um, what what the thing that I kept going back to I think going back to earlier question was I really wanted to throw myself in a deep end of the pool again I wanted to learn and I want to accelerate that sort of learning curve and and the best thing that I could think of now in retrospect is the people who help you do that. The best. Um, are the people who jump in that boat with you. The people who want to kind of work the problem with you and they could be you know early, you know colleagues but they could also be investors. They could also be some of your biggest skeptics and critics. They really want to work on the problem. So um. Would say to that younger version of myself you you really want to study the problem and and love the problem to be committed to to solving it over time and um, you know I got that appreciation for the problem and what it means and what it could mean for people right? It wasn’t. Like this intellectual exercise of saying hey you know we did the math model. It kind of works. Um, at the end of the day if you aren’t able to get the right people and resources marshall to go change that problem and able to change the the hearts and minds of the folks who need to do something different today than they did yesterday to actually make the change. Stick this is all academic so I would say it’s about that focus on people. Um, and you know it’s obviously a critical part to any startup but to your point earlier about culture. Um. You got to figure out what kind of company you want to be in the rear view mirror. Um, you know None ears from now when we’re looking back and and really happy and successful at the end of the day. It’ll be the people we did that with I think that’ll matter the most.
Alejandro: So absolutely. So for the people that are listening I Sure what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Anshu Prasad: You can certainly find me on Twitter I’m not that active social media is starting to become a little bit of a distraction. So I’m trying to temptmp that down but you can always reach me at unchu dot prasad at beef logistics dot com.
Alejandro: Amazing well and sure thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you.
Anshu Prasad: I Appreciate Allandra Great talking to you.
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