PieShell's Cheryl Clements

Food crowdfunding site PieShell is shutting down.

The news was shared publicly today by company CEO and founder Cheryl Clements via an open letter on Linkedin. She published the letter after sending an email earlier this week to notify one of her original investors, Wilson Tsai, of the news. Tsai then published a redacted version of the email which did not disclose the company or Clements’ identity.

From her post on Linkedin:

Hi everyone, last week I had the horrible task of emailing @Wilson Tsai, who invested in my equity crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2017, and letting him know that I have not been able to find a lead for our follow on seed round, which means that I will have to shut @PieShell down.”

When I contacted Clements via Linkedin, she told me barring an unforeseen miracle, the company’s last day will be on March 28th. She said that she chose that day because it will allow PieShell to keep raising money through the end of a campaign for ex-Pilotworks employees which has raised close to $180 thousand.

From her letter:

The Pilotworks campaign I launched personally on PieShell, my own platform, has raised close to $180k for these disenfranchised members. As my runway was getting incredibly short, I still fought for these companies that did NOT deserve what happened to them and I am so proud to be able to get close to 60+ companies some funding to help get them back on their feet. That project ends March 28th, if you’d like to check it out and help them too. https://www.pieshell.com/projects/pilotworks

The letter, which can be read in full below, is both heartfelt and heartbreaking. Clements not only describes how painful it’s been to tell her investors and lay off her only employee, but also describes the heavy toll startup life has had on her marriage.

I’ve personally gotten to know Clements myself (she references me in the letter) and, I have to admit, it seems like she’s been a fixture in the world of food innovation forever. That’s probably because Clements is one of those startup founders that seems born for the job, a natural that others (myself included) look to for inspiration.

“PieShell was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life,” Clements told me via Linkedin. ” I know that we made a difference and I believe in my bones we still could, but without the funding to support us and our vision, barring a miracle, the responsible next step is to bring it to a close.”

I, for one, am hoping for a miracle.

You can read Cheryl’s letter below:

Hi everyone, I wanted to jump in here, because I am the founder that Wilson sent the email to. My name is Cheryl Clements and I am the founder of PieShell.com a crowdfunding site for food and beverage focused companies.

Sending Wilson that email, where I had to share that I was not able to find a lead for our seed round and would have to shut the company down, was by far, the hardest thing I have ever done after losing my Mom. I was very grateful for Wilson’s grace and feedback, but as some of you have questioned, as he admitted to, I would have loved to have had it earlier, but I should have also reached out to him for his advice feedback myself and more directly.

I want to clarify a couple points. Wilson invested in my pre-seed raise for PieShell that I did on SeedInvest in the fall of 2017, over 1.5 years ago. I wanted to raise a minimum of $250k, and successfully raised $390k, of which $100k came from Wilson. Via the platform, I could have raised a maximum of $1.07M, but I knew that was never a reality. Those funds, allowed us to operate for 1.5 years, helped hire our first employee (who came from Indiegogo), paid for some tech development, and marketing costs. I am VERY proud that I stretched the approximately $320k net (after all the legal, marketing, and site fees) as long as I did. I didn’t start trying to raise my $1M seed round until last summer.

This is my first start up, I’m lucky enough to be turning 52 in a few weeks, I’m a woman, AND a single founder, so I knew the odds were against me, but I also knew that what we want to do is needed and I believed, heck I still believe, I could make it happen. I started with zero network and now have wonderful friends, allies, and respect from the food and beverage community, for which I will be eternally grateful. We also have been given amazing opportunities, while Wilson is correct that the sponsorships were not the best use of funds, we only spend $23k on paid sponsorships and all other opportunities, were comped or paid speaking engagements at events like NOSHLive, Expo East/West, Food Loves Tech and the most recent event, we were comped a $5k table for the first foodtech focused event at CES, by the amazing Michael Wolf from TheSpoon.

I do not take having to lay off my only employee lightly or having to tell my investors, which are in excess of 240 (I did equity crowdfunding) that I have “lost” their investment. I cried many a night over it. I cold emailed over 1200 potential investors, I met and talked to anyone and everyone that was intro’d to me, I had $300k soft circled, but couldn’t find that one lead.

I am walking away from a partnership with MISTA Food, the opportunity to partner with Whirlpool, and the opportunity to be an inaugural partner with the new WeWork Food Labs, who said “We’re so sorry to hear of the closure. PieShell has made some great contributions to the food community, particularly in regard to the former Pilotworks members. We were really looking forward to the partnership. We’d love to continue working with you. We’d also be thrilled to have you remain involved as a mentor.” just to name a few of the missed opportunities.

The largest price I might have paid is my marriage. What I didn’t share with Wilson is that my husband, who had been supportive, does not understand startup life in any way, shape, or form. The insecurity of no salary for me and the amount of hours I had to put in, which I LOVED, caused a fear in him that he could not deal with. He just wants me to go back to my old life being a highly paid consultant and the principal bread winner, even though I have never been happier and we still have money in the bank, the journey for him is too much.

I will never regret starting PieShell, because I was able to help so many companies. We directly hosted over 30 companies, projects, they ALL reached their goals, and far beyond. They have shared many stories of how we allowed them to grow beyond the funds they raised. That is what I wanted the seed round for, to take that info, tweak the site to support them even better, and scale us to the next level. The Pilotworks project that we will end with shows, more than any other, why I did what I did.

Pilotworks was a $13M VC backed company that was run by 2 Forbes 30 under 30 tech darlings, who, after ONLY 10 months, ran out of money and on October 13, 2018 at 6pm locked the doors to their commercial kitchen putting over 190 companies out of their production space with NO warning. Full disclosure, this was the second company they had VC funded and failed at.

The Pilotworks campaign I launched personally on PieShell, my own platform, has raised close to $180k for these disenfranchised members. As my runway was getting incredibly short, I still fought for these companies that did NOT deserve what happened to them and I am so proud to be able to get close to 60+ companies some funding to help get them back on their feet. That project ends March 28th, if you’d like to check it out and help them too. https://www.pieshell.com/projects/pilotworks

Did I do everything right? Absolutely not. Did I make mistakes? 100%. Did I ask for too much in my seed round? Maybe, but I did everything with the best of intentions, taking on board advice from some of the best in the business and I have learned no much. Am I still holding out hope for a miracle? 1000% I have only shared  Iam at the end of the road with a select few so far, but I have three opportunities that might be Hail Mary’s, and so I am pushing to see if I can still make it.

I will always feel such pride and some regret at what has transpired. I am very proud of the community have I built and am now a part of, and I regret that I wasn’t able to be one of Wilson’s successful investments. I know he understands that is how investing in startups works, but that does not make it any easier, trust me.

Wilson, I want to publicly thank you so much for your belief in me and for investing in PieShell. It meant more to me that you will ever know.

Thank you to all of you that invest in startups, your faith in what we might just be able to pull off, is incredibly appreciated.

Cheryl Clements

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