Season 1,

Be Prepared: Marci Lobel-Esrig of SilverBills

July 03, 2017
Marci Lobel-Esrig of SilverBills

Marci Lobel-Esrig, Founder of SilverBills
(photo credit: Kat Araujo)

Natalia gets the 60-second pitch from Marci Lobel-Esrig, founder and general counsel of SilverBills. SilverBills is a tech-based solution for the elderly, their families, and caretakers. In the Legal Minute with Mitzi Chang, top founder mistakes when seeking funding. Plus, this week’s Investor Take from The Harnisch Foundation.

Music courtesy of Seven Seas Music (a Pipeline Angels portfolio company!)




by Alyssa Hrenyk

Natalia: Hi everyone, my name is Natalia Oberti Noguera. I am the Host and Creator of Pitch Makeover and I’m also the founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, where we are changing the face of angel investing and creating capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs.

Gina: And I’m Gina Delvac, the Founding Executive Producer of Pitch Makeover. We’re taking the concept of a fashion makeover and applying it to startup pitches. Entrepreneurs pitch, we talk, and then we share some feedback on what they should keep, delete, and maybe even more important—add to their pitch. Our goal—help more voices, as Rihanna says, shine bright like the diamonds that they are.

And after the Pitch Makeover we have the Legal Minute with Mitzi Chang of Goodwin, answering burning startup legal questions, followed by First Pitch. And stay till the end for this week’s Investor Take from Ruth Ann Harnisch of The Harnisch Foundation.

Natalia: Welcome, everyone. We’re back [1:00] at it at Pitch Makeover and we have another fantastic entrepreneur on the couch ready for a Pitch Makeover today. I am excited to introduce Marci Lobel-Esrig, the founder and general counsel at SilverBills. Welcome, Marci!

Marci: Thank you, thank you very much for having me.

Natalia: Well I also want to give a shout-out to your kid who’s in the studio because, you know, that was actually the first question that you sent me when I invited you, you’re like, “hey, can – can I bring my kid?” And I said “yes!” because what we’re here doing is we want to get more voices at the table and often times more – in order to get more voices, we need to be aware that more voices have other stuff on their plates, including childcare. We need to create the systems where there’s the flexibility, there’s the openness, and that’s why, like, we’re hoping also to be modeling [2:00] both at Pipeline Angels – which actually that’s one of the ways that we got to meet, I’m so glad you presented to our members – and also through this podcast, being able to model the ways that we can engage more voices. So – so shout-out to – is it Jordan, am I remembering?

Marci: Yeah, it’s Jordan.

Natalia: Shout-out to Jordan! Without further ado, Marci, are you ready for your pitch?

Marci: Yes, I’m ready for my pitch.

Natalia: Okay. Ready? Set? Go.

Marci: Hi, my name is Marci Lobel-Esrig, and I’m the founder and general counsel of SilverBills. Millions of Americans want to age in their homes, but they have issues paying their bills on time and correctly. This arises for a lot of reasons such as their vision is failing, their memory is failing and they have problems writing checks. It becomes an issue for physical as well as mental reasons. SilverBills solves this problem and has the potential [3:00] to help millions of Americans age with safety and security in their homes. We receive, scrutinize, and ensure that their bills are paid correctly and on time and they no longer need to open envelopes, write checks, or remember when bills are due. We’ve helped many individuals avoid foreclosure, eviction and suspension of services such as heat, hot water and electricity, and we’re hoping to scale nationally and grow throughout the United States.

Gina: Fifty-nine seconds.

Natalia: Yay! So you mentioned that a huge part of the aging community want to continue living in their homes, so apart from SilverBills, what has been the answer? Has the answer been no longer living in their own homes?

Marci: So, yes actually that is often a consequence. There are people, they’re called “Daily Money Managers,” and it’s unlicensed and in some cases uninsured. There’s a group of people that go into your homes [4:00] and write your checks and help you with your bills. Now, this is troubling to me as an attorney who’s witnessed a lot of financial exploitation, because it’s not transparent and it’s often not technology-based. We provide an alternative because New York State did a study last year in 2016, their estimate was US$1B in one year of financial exploitation of the elderly. And part of this occurs because this particular function is done behind closed doors in a very old fashioned way which is much of the population still writes checks. When you have informal arrangements for bill paying, it can often lead to financial exploitation and I’ve had countless clients referred to SilverBills who had their life savings stolen by neighbours, by home health care workers, who are “helping them write their checks.”

So, we provide an alternative to that and help people age with a transparent technology [5:00] solution to the problem. So those are kind of the alternatives. The other alternative is Adult Protective Services needs to get involved because for example, our newest client, he was on an oxygen tank with COPD and he had a turn-off notice from Con Edison. So, imagine what would have happened in two weeks had we not intervened, and he had not enrolled with SilverBills and his electricity got turned off. 9-1-1, Adult Protective Services, it’s very expensive, and very horrific for the individual and the family to go through that. So, this is a problem that was always the unpaid daughter’s work and, you know, as someone committed to have daughters paid for their work, this is a way of outsourcing that task and having a paid professional transparent tech solution to the problem.

Natalia: And, you know, you mentioned a profile of some of your clients. How many users do you now have?

Marci: So, we have, you know, we haven’t raised [6:00] – we have a friends and family investment right now and I can’t give per ticket specific numbers because of confidentiality issues, but it’s in –

Natalia: And my lawyer would be very happy to know that you’re not giving any confidential information because we’re not a financial advisor, legal advisor, or investment advisor at Pitch Makeover!

[Marci laughs]

Marci: But I could tell you it’s, you know, it’s in the double digits, and increasing every day. And we’re forming relationships with institutions, just in the process of signing a co-marketing agreement with a bank in the mid-west. I just went to Milwaukee and trained ten branch managers and met with a very high-level New York City government official yesterday, actually, to try to get a pilot project off in New York. So, really ramping up the customer acquisition.

So, that’s where we are in terms of numbers, but if you’re asking about demographics, it’s such a broad spectrum. And we are a social venture, so we are committed to helping every individual age with dignity and security without having to manage this process. So, we *do* have some pro bono clients [7:00]. And  you know, I’ve prevented homelessness, literally, for a client in Yonkers who was about to be evicted and we were able to work out an agreement with the county and with the Department of Social Services to make sure he wasn’t evicted.

On the other end of the spectrum we have some very wealthy clients who were recently widowed; it’s such a stress and burden to them because they’ve never dealt with these issues before. We have a completely 100% guaranteed cancellation policy if you’re not satisfied. I’ve never had a client cancel. In fact, one of my proudest moments – and after being a lawyer for twenty years, I can say this is the first time I ever had a client do this – client called in December, she has Macular Degeneration, the husband has Alzheimer’s, and she said “can I pay you more?”

Natalia: Ohhhhh!

Marci: “This has relieved such a burden. I couldn’t sleep at night until I met you and had you do this for me.” Because it’s just a tremendous emotional burden for a lot of people and they’re so relieved [8:00] and happy. So, that’s been really gratifying to us.

Natalia: That’s so powerful, Marci. And, so, there are two things that I kind of wanted to dig a little bit deeper and then we’re doing the Pitch Makeover. You mentioned conversations with a bank in the mid-west, so am I kind of sensing that there’s, like, a B2B part of your model? And if so, talk to us more about it, please.

Marci: Definitely, yes. We’re a very new startup, it’s been a year and a half. So, we still figuring out the best and more opportune marketing channels, but B2B is definitely something that we’re very interested in. The enrollment process can be done through the mail, it’s very simple, so it’s scalable nationally. I’ve even had some overseas interest about opening, you know, in Cape Town or Spain. I haven’t explored the legalities of that yet, but definitely this is a pinpoint for banks. With the population geographically so spread out. The elderly [9:00] are often alone in their homes and their family, if they have any family, are spread out all over the country. So, elderly clients often go into branches and ask for help with this problem. And it’s often not the best solution to have branch managers or personnel writing out the checks, so as part of the win that we had last year Inspiring Capital’s Pitch for People, we received a PR package and received some national press, one of the articles was in a payment’s publication, and as a result of that a lot of banks approached us. So, this was the first one that we did a training on and we’re – and it’s a solution for them.

Natalia: Yeah, makes sense, in terms of that’s an efficiency that they’re able to outsource to you.

Marci: Exactly. And it’s a sticky service so it keeps their clients happy with their branch. And then there’s also – I’ve had a number of conversations with hospitals because I’ve had hospital personnel say to me, “we have clients who’ve had strokes and have gone home to no water and no heat.” [10:00]

Natalia: Oh.

Marci: You know, their families can only stay for a week or two, they’re gone and then it’s a disaster. Definitely B2B is a way we’re hoping to go and grow.

Natalia: Just one more thing before the Pitch Makeover, Marci.

Marci: Sure.

Natalia: You mentioned, you know, something that I really I found striking was, you know, when you mentioned Daily Money Managers and how they’re unlicensed and uninsured. And you mentioned, you know, as an attorney, like, the two main issues is there it’s not transparent and it’s not tech-based. So you shared with me that SilverBills has a transparent tech solution. What about – so, like – how are you tackling that unlicensed, uninsured part of what is currently in the market?

Marci: You know, that is a bigger issue that I think at some point I’d like to address because I’ve just heard a lot of horror stories about these individuals and my most recent job was at a company that lost US$500M of paper to Bernie Madoff. So I had a real, very interesting [11:00] window into financial exploitation and the psychology behind it and when people enmesh themselves in your lives and you become dependent on it, which the elderly are particularly vulnerable to, there’s this real potential for financial exploitation. So, I don’t know how I’m going to address that. I mean, one day I’m hoping I’ll be able to, but right now I’m just trying to focus on SilverBills without really worrying about the competition.

Natalia: Well…what even just your sharing that story, it’s almost that sense of, you know, like, that people think in terms of, like, yes there’s something positive about people and the connections and the trust, and etc., at the same time, people are subjective. And, like, not having to depend on one specific person who has *all* the information and instead the info, it sounds like – and let me know if, like, I’m getting it – it sounds like it’s centralized.

Marci: Yes.

Natalia: And so, like, more than one person can have access to it. And, like, the more that – the more people that have access to the data, the harder [12:00] it is for someone to actually do something with the info.

Marci: Exactly. And also, SilverBills does not have direct access to our clients’ financial accounts. We create a link between the vendor and the client’s existing bank account. And the other thing is: I think it’s really important when you’re dealing with the elderly and seniors not to have a paternalistic view towards them, like take away all of their autonomy. We want them – and I really believe – they should be as involved as they want to be and can be in their financial life. So, they – in all of our cases – our clients continue to get their bank statements. They see that everything’s been paid. We just get all of that other…static. You know, the – the Verizon bill, the water bill, all of the other bills and it’s saved in an online secure file system that if they have, for example, you know honestly 90% of our clients don’t have computers, but sometimes in writing they authorize, for example, their children, where their children can get a secure login and log into our site [13:00] and see the secure back-up documentation. But their parents and our clients are still getting their bank statements and they can see everything paid.

Natalia: Okay. Are you ready for your Pitch Makeover?

Marci: Yes, I am.

Natalia: I’m already thinking about all – all of the stuff you said, I’m like, “how are we going to keep it to one minute?” because there’s so many awesome things that I want you to add but I don’t really think I have much for you to delete!

Marci: I know, that’s the problem.

Natalia: So, let me see.

Marci: That’s the problem with one minute!

[Natalia laughs]

Natalia: So, in the keeping: I want to make sure that you keep – you had such a visual introduction to your pitch when you said, like, you want, you know, like, that a lot of the aging population wants to stay in their homes. You know? And you mentioned they have issues paying their bills on time and correctly. And you also shared very specific tangible examples like their vision issues, or, like, there might be physical or mental reasons why [14:00] it’s hard for them to pay their bills. And then, I loved how you explained how SilverBills solves the problem and how you do it. I will say that in terms of what I would add: the B2B model! You know, like, and when you mentioned the potential clients, you know, such as banks and hospitals. Especially because when there’s a potential investor and thinking about how to monetize, you know, like, what are the revenue streams and the fact that, you know, I already – I already get who your B2C customer is. It’s like, I already get who that customer is, I get that need. It hadn’t occurred to me that hey there’s actually such a phenomenal B2B opportunity. So, having you bring that up would be important.

The other thing that I’d add is the US$1B of financial exploitation of the elderly. Like, that’s a huge number.

Marci: Just in New York state.

Natalia: Yeah, and – and, like, you don’t realize how big the problem is. Right? Like, you can think [15:00] about that one person that you know, or like, relative, friend or family. That’s a *huge* number. And then, I really wanted to honour a comment that you made which is that you’re committed and SilverBills is committed to having individuals age with dignity. And that’s really powerful. Like, this is not a transactional business alone. It’s almost like humanizing – humanizing aging. And saying there’s a solution for these issues that are happening as someone ages. And so, that’s really compelling. And so, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, Marci! Because I told you – like, these are things I want you to keep: people wanting to age in their homes, like, the issues why that’s not happening, how SilverBills solves the problem. And I want you to add the B2B model aspect of it, US$1B of financial exploitation [16:00], and then the dignity part of it. You know? So, I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that you stay at one minute. So, we’ll see what happens.

Marci: I have to do that in one minute?

Natalia: Okay. Yeah!

[Both laugh]

Natalia: Okay. Ready? Set? Go!

Marci: Hi, my name is Marci Lobel-Esrig, and I’m founder and general counsel of SilverBills. Millions of Americans want to age in their homes, but they struggle to do this because of the challenges of paying bills accurately and on time. For a variety of reasons such as losing manual dexterity in their hands, visual acuity, and mental issues – and mental, psychological issues, they fail to pay their bills accurately and on time, and also fail to detect financial exploitation which in New York State in 2016 it was estimated to be US$1B in that year. SilverBills solves this problem by providing a tech-based transparent solution to bill paying. We receive, scrutinize, and ensure our clients bills [17:00] are paid correctly and on time and they no longer need to open envelopes, write checks, or remember deadlines. We’re hoping to expand nationally and have partnered with businesses such as banks and hospitals, and we’re hoping to grow more and more and help every individual age with dignity and security without managing bill paying.

Gina: One minute, five seconds.

Natalia: Let’s give you a round of applause! I love that!

Marci: Thanks.

Natalia: What did you think of the Pitch Makeover? What did you think of that second pitch?

Marci: I thought it was better. I mean there are points that I didn’t address in the first one. So, that was very helpful feedback. You know, especially when you’re thinking about pitching to investors, you have to think about what they’re looking for which is the B2B, you know, the potential for huge customer acquisition.

Natalia: Because that’s how scaling happens, right? And giving them an opportunity and I appreciated how you hinted at it. You know? Like, you mentioned partnerships with hospitals and banks [18:00] and I’m thinking that that’s also a way for people to get more curious and be like, “well what sort of partnerships?” Right? And then that’s an opportunity for you to continue the conversation and share a little bit more details. I love how you end – like, the ending. Like, how you tied it back to this key word which is dignity. And I appreciated also how, like, you were able to distill that big number, the one billion in exploitation and connect it to why SilverBills is doing this and the, sort of, target market and the aging population and the issues that they might have and why the exploitation happens. And *how* SilverBills is solving that.

Gina: Next up is the Legal Minute with Mitzi Chang. Stay tuned after that for First Pitch.

This is the Pitch Makeover Legal Minute. I’m back with Mitzi Chang from Goodwin [19:00]. On this episode, we’re going to talk about the three biggest red flags when an investor is looking at a company that they may be interested in investing in. You’ve represented both founders and the investment side. What are the things that just send investors running for the hills when they look at a startup’s paperwork?

Mitzi: So, I think out of the top three, I would say that you need documentation that shows that the company actually owns its intellectual property. You know, we see that often. It’s fixable, but that’s kind of a big red flag is that, you know, maybe the founder knows everything, it’s not the company, but the investor’s putting money into the company, so what are they really investing in?

Number two is, you know, having good, clean legal documentation. I know not everyone wants to pay for a lawyer but making sure that, you know, if you have board consents and board minutes, all that is clean, your documents are clean.

And I would say the third thing is not so much a legal issue, but is just being truthful and transparent with the investor in terms of their diligence, answering their questions. I think if you try to be a little shady, you know [20:00], that can turn off an investor because they’re not getting a feeling that they trust you, they want to partner with you

Gina: Thanks, Mitzi.

Mitzi: Thank you.

Gina: This has been the Legal Minute on Pitch Makeover.

And now we’re back with entrepreneur Marci Lobel-Esrig and our segment First Pitch.

Natalia: Tell me about your first pitch that you ever did.

Marci: So, it was the Pipeline pitch.

Natalia: Oh, really? Pipeline Angels?

Marci: Yes, yes. That was the first pitch. So it was a great experience. It was a very supportive environment and I felt like even though I didn’t win that I took a lot out of it and it helped me, you know, move on to the next step. So…and then I ended upone of theone of the Angels was in the Inspiring Capital women’s program that I did, so we, you know, it justit was a good, kind of, circle that I connected with someone there.

Natalia: I’m—I’m glad that you had that experience, Marci. How abouthow about your latest pitch that youyou gave? Your most recent [21:00] one.

Marci: So, my most recent oneI find, like, most of the pitches are in…the spring. So, I had a major one last spring, but I feel like I pitch every day [laughs]. You know? I met, yesterday for lunch, a pretty high city official pitching the idea for a pilot program and so, I consider that a pitch. Is thatshould I talk about that? Because it’s not a technical pitch but it really was a pitch.

Natalia: Well, I love that! And one of our Pipeline Angels portfolio companies called PhilanTech, the founderwell, first of all, like, it was the first one ever that our members did, so it was, like, so exciting, and they had an exit they were acquired by Altum, and the founder’s name is Dana Goldstein. And so, she had a saying which was something along the lines of “Pitching is the start of a conversation.” When you think about it that way, right? Like, I personally think that it demystifies and it makes it feel like something that you can do. Right? Like, that we can do [22:00]. And, like, to your point, it can happen each and every day. So, would love to find out what happened yesterday.

Marci: Right. So, this is a very high city official and, you know, she basically doesn’t have a lot of time and she said, “Just tell me what you need from me.” And what I told her is this is a US$1B problem in New York State, that the New York City Department for the Aging has a volunteer-based bill payer program, but they’re unable to accommodate all of the needs and it’s a volunteer program so that raises other issues. And I said, “There’s a study by the Brookdale Centre out of Hunter College which is a dispositive research study that shows that providinggovernments need to provide bill paying services to the elderly because the alternatives are dire and much more costly.” It was a microeconomic study, shows that the cost to government is US$60K more than providing bill-payer services.

So I told her about that study and I said, “Let’s do a pilot program because there’s *all* these people in New York City that cannot be accommodated [23:00] by the volunteer program that you have, it’s costing you more when you don’t do it, and the consequences are dire. So, let’s talk about that.” And she said, “I’m going to explore whether it’s a possibility.” So, that was my pitch yesterday. But, *literally* I feel like I’m pitching every day. I mean, I’m pitching clients, you know, trying to explain to them how, you know, when they call me with their problem that we’re going to help them solve it. And…I feel like pitching is something that has to be second nature to any entrepreneur.

Last year, I pitched at the Aging 2.0 startup competition in New York with a lot of other aging service providers. It was an interesting format, I mean there were *a lot* of startups. I felt like that there were too many startups pitching and…but I guess that’s just the nature of some of these pitch events where there’s a lot of startups, there’s not a lot of time, and there’s so much I need to say about SilverBills that it’s reallythat’s a challenge is fitting it all in, as you saw, really all of the important points that I need to get across. [24:00]

Natalia: Yeah, and we try to have, like, a Pitch Makeover Tip in each episode. And something that you mentioned, I want to underscore which was how, you know, like, your meeting yesterdaythe person that you were meeting said “tell me what you need from me.” And so, I’d say, like, today’s Pitch Makeover Tip would be: help me help you. That’s such an important skill that entrepreneurs need to have which is: do the research. Like, really find out who you’re meeting with and what are their pain points and how you can you be of service? How can you help? Because often times, unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs when they’re pitching, *they haven’t done their research.* And one of the issues with that is that they might not realize that they went to the same school, or they play the same sport, or, like, they can actually find a point of commonality with that potential investor that can spark some sort of connection. And we so often hear the whole pattern recognition, pattern matching [25:00] that investors – and predominantly they’re cis straight guys – are investing in who looks like them and what looks familiar. And if at least in some ways understanding that that is obviously, like, an issue that we need to disrupt and change, and at least with Pipeline Angelswhat I’m doing with Pipeline Angelswas, like, my whole thought was, like, “let’s turn that on it’s head and say well if that’s how we invest let’s get more voices on the investing side because we’re probably going to be more open about investing in more voices on the entrepreneurship side.”

The other thing that entrepreneurs can do, you know, like, in terms of hopefully increasing chances to find, like, that sort of “match” is do the homework. Find out who, like, you’re meeting with and how can you help that person through your startup and it sounds like you did that and often times you probably shared some data that isgiven, like, that governmental institutions are so hugethat probably came from, like, one of her colleagues, however, she might not have ever heard about it [26:00]. And that’s the way that you provided some value add to her day as well.

Marci: Right. I mean, maybe it’s my background as an attorney, but I’m a firm believer in research. I mean, I spent a considerable amount of time doing research and I know that everyone’s biggest commodity is time and I really do not believe in wasting anyone’s time. So I thoroughly research everyone I ever contact, call, email, whatever it is. Anything that I can find out. And, you know, I learned through Inspiring Capital actually: don’t use me like Google. Like, I would never ask an investor or anyone else a question even about themselves that I could Google and find out. It’s just wasting people’s time and that is just something I don’t want to do, especially with someone who has potential to help me.

Natalia: It’s almost like using up a freebie.

Marci: Right!

Natalia: When you put it like. I will say that because I know that sometimes more voices, one of our mentors at Pipeline Angels –he’s an angel [27:00] venture capitalist Eghosa Omoigui – he does have a saying, and he talks about, like, the MVS. So, you know, we talk about the MVP meaning the minimum viable product, like the leanest version of, like, what, you know, like, someone’s idea can look like, right? So the MVS stands for the minimum viable scholarship, so there’s also just making sure we’re not giving, like, those who are over-researching things, like, a free pass, like, continue to do more research because actually sometimes you just need to step up to the plate and just, like, pitch! And just actually, like, start! And so, I’m excited to know that, like, your first pitch was at a Pipeline Angels Pitch Summit and hearing, you know, like, how things are going has been phenomenal. Thank you for being part of Pitch Makeover! Thanks so much for joining us, Marci!

Marci: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.

Gina: This season’s Investor’s Take is brought to you by Ruth Ann Harnisch and The Harnisch Foundation. And today’s Investor’s Take is: be respectful [28:00] of other people’s money. What are we talking about here, Natalia?

Natalia: Well this is actually one of the frequently asked questions that I get in terms of “what’s the difference between a VC, a Venture Capitalist and an Angel Investor?” And the easiest way to describe it is Angel Investors are investing their own money versus VCs are investing other people’s money. Of course there are some VCs that are also Angel Investors. The important thing to remember is that when you’re asking for funding, it is actually someone else’s money and so keeping that in mind and remembering that someone is trusting in you and being respectful of that, it’s a two-way street.

Gina: Thanks again to Ruth Ann Harnisch and The Harnisch Foundation for today’s Investor Take.

Gina: Subscribe to Pitch Makeover anywhere you’re listening now including GooglePlay or Apple Podcasts where we’d love for you to leave us a review. More information and show notes are at and we’re everywhere on social media @PitchMakeover.

Natalia: Thanks for joining us. This has been Pitch Makeover [29:00]. Now go out and take over!

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