One proven way to build a company from zero to winning angel investment is by pitching, listening and correcting. Fill gaps. Strengthen weak points. Listen to your customers.

I watched Precision Plant Systems pitch at the Bend Venture Conference last Friday for the third time in a year.

  • The first time I was thoroughly unimpressed; it seemed like science–sensors of nitrogen content in leaves–disguised as a business.
  • By the second time, last spring, founders had been out in the field putting technology into the hands of selected farmers, and the farmers wanted more features and better handheld technology. It had become a system, including CPU- and Web-based software, with humans walking around fields noting conditions in handheld units equipped with GPS, so the underlying software could output the results overlaid on maps of actual farmers’ fields. It was much better, but it was still hard to tell whether the business was about the software, the handheld units, the Web, the science or all of the above.
  • The third time, last Friday, it was an integrated system with a clear value proposition, making it easy for humans walking in fields to record information that can be retrieved later as part of a system–including notes, sensor data and GPS data. It’s a nice compromise between all-automatic data sensors that might be ideal, and entirely old-fashioned handwritten notes. With a lot of practical touches, like an option for Spanish. And, by the way, the team now includes two people who had been involved in other local ventures competing with this one for local angel money, but were now part of this one. One was an advisor. The other, a software pro, was a featured team member.

And this time around, the listening, the additional development and the fine-tuning paid off. The company took first place at the competition, which means an estimated $120,000 angel investment, pending further due diligence. And that was against some stiff competition.

CEO Larry Plotkin told the local newspaper he was surprised to win. What surprised me, as I watched his pitch, was how much stronger the pitch looked this time around. And the pitch had improved, but then the improved story line was much more significant.

Here’s the summary from the local Bend Bulletin:

Precision Plant Systems is developing a hand-held device to help farmers measure and map the health of their crops. The device is synchronized to meters that measure soil salinity, pH and compaction, leaf greenness, nitrogen, water content and the sugar content of the actual crop. The information is transferred to a map using GPS technology, Plotkin said, providing farmers with a comprehensive overview of what’s happening in their fields, allowing them to make better decisions.

And for me, this is a great example of how the process works when it worked well. It involved the two local Chambers of Commerce, two angel investor groups and a lot of people helping along the way. And a management team prepared to listen and react to criticism. Congratulations to this company, for a victory well-earned.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.