Red Duck Does Louisville

Written by Jess Zutz, JD/MBA 2014
At 5:00am on Friday, February 15, the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Challenge began for Red Duck Ketchup.  As we all slugged through the security lines at the Eugene Airport, our excitement was deeply concealed beneath the drowsiness that accompanies wakeup calls before the sun rises.  Though we didn’t quite know what the next 48 hours would bring, we confidently napped on the plane knowing that if nothing else, Red Duck Ketchup was coming to Louisville, Kentucky in full force.  This was just the calm before the storm.
Our arrival in Louisville was much sunnier, colder, and more alert than our departure from Eugene.  After briefly hiding Kurt’s luggage from him while we checked into our rooms, we changed, regrouped, and finally walked up to the competition’s opening reception.  At the reception, each team was to give a 30-second brief on its business.  We elected to send Shannon up to tell the crowd just what Red Duck was all about, and were immediately welcomed by a chorus of “Go Ducks!” from people in the room (and Nathan wasn’t even one of them!)  Still, it was a nice warm welcome.  As the evening wore on, it became very clear that we were in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Southern drawls, the Woodford bourbon and Yum! Brands hats in our gift bags, and of course, the crown jewel of “Possibility City”: personalized Louisville Slugger bats.  It took every ounce of our energy to keep those bats in their boxes when we received them, but we managed to contain our home run swings for at least a few hours.  When the reception ended, we all decided to grab some dinner and call it an early night knowing full well that the next morning we’d be putting our game feathers on.

Say it with me now: “There’s no ketchup like our ketchup…”

Luckily for us, we were the last team in our 3-team track to present, which meant that we could sleep in.  The morning seemed to fly by, however, and after a practice run, we found ourselves passing out ketchup samples to the four judges.  The room our track competed in seemed packed.  Though our attention was, of course, focused on the four esteemed judges seated immediately in front of us, there was a great energy in the room punctuated every so often by the photographer’s flash bulbs.  Our presentation went well- it was perfectly timed, we had great answers to most of the judges’ questions, and even managed to get laughs from the whole room when describing the origins of our company name (We’re all Ducks, and our ketchup is red.  Sorry, nothing more glamorous than that).  Still, we were on edge throughout lunch as we waited for the winner from each track to be announced.  As we nervously nibbled on “Kentucky Pride” chicken (it wasn’t fried!) and Sky High Louisville Pie (cheesecake with pecan pie in the middle- over the top for sure), we especially enjoyed the brief speech given by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer as he rattled off reasons why we should all move to Louisville.  We were struck by his business experience, and especially inspired by his charge to go forth and be good citizens by giving back to the community.

Utter disappointment.  There was really no other way to describe how we felt when another team’s name was called from our track to advance to the finals.  We felt so good about our presentation, we got great feedback from everyone sitting in our room, and yet that day we came up just short.  We had no time to feel sorry for ourselves, however, because within the next hour we would receive feedback from the judges and then compete in the Fast Pitch (Elevator Pitch) competition.  The feedback we received from the judges quite possibly made the loss worth it.  They expressed how difficult their decision was and reassured us that just because we hadn’t advanced didn’t mean we weren’t going to make Red Duck a successful business.  After a few pointers, a few handshakes, and a few business cards, we headed over to the Fast Pitch competition.

Shannon delivered the fast pitch of the century.  We felt good after our presentation, but we felt REALLY good after her pitch.  She combined all the elements of what we have learned a successful elevator pitch includes: passion, specifics, an ask, and an alluring investor ROI.  Our eventual win wouldn’t be announced for several hours, but we sat back and enjoyed watching the finalists compete for the $25,000 prize.  It was fascinating to see other programs present their business plans.  These presentations were well-oiled machines, with at times (seemingly) every breath calculated.  We would have loved the chance to present just one more time in Louisville, but we’re not convinced that we won’t be back there soon to do so.  Next time, in front of executives with a sale on the line.
The real victory of the trip came at the closing reception when we were given the chance to sample our ketchup to everyone.  We knew that we had a good product that would do well in the Pacific Northwest, but the overwhelmingly positive sentiments expressed by everyone in the room were all the affirmation we needed to know that this is a concept that will do well nationally.  People told us they don’t even like ketchup and they liked ours, they bought the samples we had right out of our hands, and handed us business cards imploring us to contact them because they own supermarkets on the East Coast.  And then, we won $1,500 for our fast pitch grand slam.

Red Duck Ketchup receives their prize for winning the Fast Pitch competition.

An oversized check, gushing feedback, and a renewed sense of purpose were the wind beneath our wings as we came back to Eugene.  Competing at the Cardinal Challenge was an invaluable boost to our confidence that we certainly appreciated as we hit the 4-month mark in our concept’s brief history.  But perhaps the more lasting remnants of our time in Louisville will be the connections we made.  We met dozens of people who loved our ketchup, loved us, and undoubtedly (yet again), have a renewed sense of respect for the caliber of talent coming out of the Oregon MBA program.  Maybe it’s something in the water here in Eugene.  Or maybe it’s something in the ketchup.

Written by Andrew White

Andrew is an MBA Candidate in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. A native of Massachusetts, he came to UO to refine his business skills and build his expertise in the sustainability arena. His primary interest is in helping organizations implement environmentally and socially sustainable strategies for long-term success, and he is a regular participant on many of the MBA intramural sports teams.