Six Utah Valley companies have walked the long “Shark Tank” hallway, prepared to meet their (money) makers.
With prepared pitches on the brain — and a stomach full of nerves — these homegrown entrepreneurs left the fishbowl to play with the sharks.
And, you know, to be seen by 8 million people on national television.
“When you go down the hall to pitch, you actually stand there for a minute while they check lighting,” says Nate Holzapfel, co-founder of Provo’s Mission Belt Co. “It makes most people pretty nervous just standing silently in front of the sharks. It could be pretty awkward and get you flustered.”
But Holzapfel didn’t flinch. And truth be told, neither did the other five local companies — Freshly Picked, Scan, FiberFix, KISSTIXX and Sub Zero Ice Cream. They represented Utah Valley with pride, garnering shark shouts of “I love you,” “You’re brilliant” and, our personal favorite, “That is literally the best story to start a company I’ve ever heard.” (Represent!)
That’s not to say their appearances were without disappointment. Two of the six companies walked away without a deal — and yet both still gained an instant following and an increase in sales.
They call it “the ‘Shark Tank’ effect.”
We call it gold (fish).
Read on to find out how our very own fish navigated the tricky waters, what they would have done differently and how their businesses are floating these days.
Why make a ripple when you can make a splash?
Scan and Deliver
It was the sandal scandal heard round the world.
“They made a really big deal about my Adidas Sandals,” says Garrett Gee, founder of Provo-based Scan. “Robert said, ‘We’ve never had anyone ask for a million dollars in flip flops!’ They became iconic. ‘Shark Tank’ showed them in every preview. They showed them on their website. They showed them throughout my episode.”
But Gee says it was no gimmick.
“I wore them because they are my trademark sandals that I actually wear in every real life investor meeting,” he says. “Then I wore them to the viewing party and hid behind them in nervous fear as I watched.”
Gee was right to be nervous. He asked for $1 million for 5 percent of Scan, which is a QR-code-scanning mobile app. But the sharks weren’t biting, citing unfamiliarity or disinterest with the QR code industry.
“In a sensor world, (QR codes) don’t exist,” Mark Cuban said.
“Show me the money, not the downloads,” Kevin O’Leary said.
They proceeded to call him brilliant and were impressed with his drive, but Gee flip-flopped back down that hallway without a deal — from these sharks, anyway. Two days before his appearance aired, Scan announced it had raised $7 million in funding from Entree Capital, bringing his funding total to $8 million (he previously raised $1.2 million with Google Ventures, Menlo Ventures and others).
You see that money, O’Leary?
I applied for “Shark Tank” before its debut season! And I didn’t give up. My persistence finally paid off five seasons later.
I do quite a bit of public speaking, and I never recite anything. I find it difficult to preserve any sincerity when reciting something memorized. For that reason, I was uncomfortable when they asked me to memorize my intro pitch. Luckily that would be the only part — the rest would be Q&A, which is unrehearsed.
Rep to protect
I knew I couldn’t predict or control too much about the show, so my main focus was to represent my company and myself in a positive way.
Mind over matter
For me, 50 percent of my mind was listening to questions and answering, but the other 50 percent was fully aware of the cameras, lights, my posture, my smile and the rising temperature in the room.
I honestly felt defeated — like I had failed my company, my team and myself.
Surprisingly, seeing Scan get denied by the sharks on TV provoked a sense of extra advocacy amongst viewers. Not only did Scan see an insane burst in traffic to our website and downloads, but we also received loads of supportive messages from viewers around the world.
“That literally is the best story to start a company I’ve ever heard. It should be in every business book — every entrepreneur’s guide. You personify the American dream.”
It’s not every day Mark Cuban tells you that you’re an inspiration to entrepreneurs. But he said it to Provo’s Susan Petersen … on national television … in front of 8 million people.
And rightly so. Her story of banging the glass out of aluminum window frames so she could make $200 at the scrap yard to start her baby moccasin business, Freshly Picked, is indeed impressive. But like she told the sharks, she’s a worker.
“No one has ever had to do the work for me,” she said. “I will do it.”
Then she proved it. Petersen shared with the sharks her sales last year alone — $500,000 — and that 10 percent of her 56,000 Instagram followers (which has now more than doubled to 109,000, by the way) purchase her moccs. Plus, out of all her customers who have made one purchase, 50 percent of them have bought moccs three more times.
So what did Petersen want from the sharks?
“I want to build a big, big business … I haven’t been to school. This is my first business. And I have been burned a couple times,” she said. “We have a lot of retailers interested, but I can’t keep up with the demand … I need help with manufacturing.”
With two sharks biting (Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary), Petersen eventually shook hands with John, her “dream shark.” But that’s not even the best part.
“The best thing has been the outpouring of customer support,” she says. “We feel so lucky.”
I’m a fan of the show and I was looking for investors. So I thought, “Why not do it on national television in front of 8 million viewers?”
The waiting game
You wait when you apply, you wait to get a film date, you wait to film, and you wait to see if it will air. But everyone we worked with — from Mark Burnett to the PAs — was amazing.
Our whole pitch was tailored for TV. And we really tried to focus on my entrepreneurial story.
I was surprised by how nice and friendly the sharks were and how much they wanted me to succeed.
Being on the show is nerve-wracking because it’s a closed-door investment meeting being viewed by millions of people. I had to share enough to hook a shark, but not too much private business information.
I had more time to deliberate than they showed on TV, but in the end, I knew who I wanted to work with — and it was totally worth it.
No holes barred
When Nate Holzapfel went on “Shark Tank,” he blew the sharks out of the water.
“I love you! I love you!” Mark Cuban yelled.
“You’re great. You’re a hero,” Lori Greiner said.
And Holzapfel couldn’t argue with them. After all, he is the co-founder of Mission Belt Co., the company that revolutionized the belt world — belts with no holes! — and gives $1 of each belt sold to fight global hunger.
“I was wondering which one of them was going to want in,” Holzapfel says. “We felt we had a compelling product and a good investment opportunity for them, so I had not even considered not getting a deal — it was more about who would get it. I think that’s a fairly common attitude, though. Everyone thinks their business idea is the best.”
Except this time, Daymond John thought so, too.
“I’m happier about being in business with HIM,” John said. “He’s going to call me every morning and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you get up and do something?’”
We tried to get to know the sharks and their investing preferences — what kinds of questions they asked, what things were important to them. We also reached out to “Shark Tank” alumni, particularly the KISSTIXX guys to get their advice, and they were tremendously helpful. Since then we’ve tried to do the same, and we hope our experience can help other future “Shark Tank” companies.
Our pitch went even better than planned. We spent time practicing, pitching to friends, getting feedback, all while trying to run our new business. We got pretty burned out, but in the end it was well worth it.
Making the deal was a no-brainer, and to work with Daymond was a slam dunk. There is more that goes on that they don’t include on television. They actually cut out everything from our pitch where we talked about the mission behind Mission Belt Co. — how a dollar from every belt goes to fight global hunger and poverty. After the deal was made, I confessed to Daymond that we would have given him half the business for nothing just to be partners with him. It’s definitely a real discussion — unscripted, actual on-the-fly negotiations. It’s quite the experience.
We sold more in the 24 hours after the show aired than we had up to that point. We went through some pretty extreme growing pains — we ran out of all the belts we had on hand and had to hire a full-time customer service department and fulfillment staff overnight — but fortunately we made it through and it’s been full-speed ahead since.
Daymond the man
We text and talk nearly every day. He has opened up his organization and business resources to us and it’s great to have him as a partner, mentor and now friend.
Eric Child and Spencer Quinn were in a bit of a fix. After energetically introducing their “super tape” FiberFix, three (count ‘em, three!) sharks put deals on the table.
Kevin O’Leary offered $90,000, with a 70 cents per-unit royalty until the investment is paid back (and then 20 cents in perpetuity).
Robert Herjavec offered $90,000 for 10 percent of the company.
And Lori Greiner — a QVC maven — offered $250,000 for 18 percent of the company.
And that was just the beginning.
“Negotiations were a little trickier then we had imagined,” Quinn says. “The sharks started to bite quicker than we thought they would, and it was hard to keep track of the details of the deals being thrown at us. We wish we would have brought a calculator!”
As the bicker and banter added up (especially between the competing sharks), the room got intense. But once Quinn and Child set their sights on Greiner, the deal has been as super as their tape.
“Lori caught our vision for FiberFix right away, and she’s been tireless in helping us carry out that vision,” Quinn says.
We knew if we could partner with a shark we would be able to get the exposure a new product desperately needs to be successful.
We literally spent weeks coming up with different versions of our pitch. When we were waiting to audition, we spent hours in the hotel practicing. We even made a PowerPoint with all of the questions the sharks ever asked on TV and went through it a hundred times. As much as a great pitch would make good TV, so does a bad pitch.
You are forced to make a major business decision that will change the entire course of your business within a matter of minutes, with millions of people watching you. Plus, the sharks keep throwing questions at you, so you can’t actually stop to think. It was an extremely stressful situation.
Honestly, because we had to make a decision so quickly, we weren’t sure we were making the right decision. Even after walking off the set, we second-guessed what we had done for several hours and even days. At this point, though, we feel great about having done a deal — it has slingshotted FiberFix two to three years ahead in growth. It’s been phenomenal to see what 10 minutes of national coverage can do to a company.
The results were immediate and dramatic. FiberFix has rolled out nationally in several large retailers and is now in almost 10,000 retail locations. We have added several dozen jobs, moved to a larger warehouse and are already expanding internationally.
Pros & cons
The best part is the credibility it lends your business. The only con is it brought on dramatic growth quickly, which is difficult to manage. But that’s the kind of problem we want.
Kiss and tell
It could have been the kiss of death. But Dallas Robinson and Mike Buonomo, founders of KISSTIXX — a lip balm company with “chemistry in every kiss” — were determined to make TV magic.
“We knew our pitch needed to be entertaining, which is why we ultimately decided to try and get two sharks to kiss with our product,” Robinson says. “Luckily it paid off and turned into an unforgettable ‘Shark Tank’ moment.”
That awkward (read: awesome) moment? When Barbara Corcoron (hand over her eyes) smooched Kevin O’Leary. It wasn’t love at first lips, but for Robinson and Buonomo, the business sparks started to fly.
They talked sales (about $80,000 a year). They talked wholesale potential (Walgreens wanted to order $540,000 of product for a Valentine’s Day promotion). And then with Mark Cuban, they talked deals (40 percent of the company for $200,000).
It’s been two years since they appeared on the show, and KISSTIXX is now sold in Walgreens, Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon.com, Kmart, on QVC and much more. Plus, Cuban is still involved on a weekly basis.
Feeling the chemistry, indeed.
When we started we were young college kids with NO business experience. We saw “Shark Tank” as a way to showcase the product to a huge audience — and get a mentor.
The hardest part was the initial pitch. You had to wait in a line for eight hours and got 30 seconds to pitch. We took everything into consideration — from the way we dressed to the energy level we pitched with. We did not want to go home empty-handed.
Pitching in front of the sharks was intense. It is surreal to be there in a place you have seen a million times on TV. When you are face to face with the sharks, your heart is racing.
It is tough to make any split second decision like that, but that’s part of the fun. You have to think fast and act — or you could lose the deal. You are in the tank a lot longer than what shows on TV, but you don’t have a ton of time to debate, especially if more than one shark is interested. In that case, you have to choose and do it quickly so the deal doesn’t change for the worse.
Many happy returns
The best part of being on the show is being a part of something global. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. The reruns are great, the follow-up stories are great, and the whole thing has been amazing.
There’s been a huge response and a couple million in sales. It would have taken a lot longer for us to do what we have done up to this point.
Pick of the sharks
Mark Cuban. He took a risk and caught the vision.
Cream of the crop
Sub Zero Ice Cream’s Jerry and Naomi Hancock wanted a shark deal so much they could taste it. After going separate ways with a business partner, they were looking for a way to cover the costs incurred from the split. All they needed was a shark to bite.
Instead, they got nibbles.
The sharks loved (and devoured) the sweet bait. And Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban even made some ice cream after the pitch. But ultimately, the sharks weren’t a right fit, they said.
“You’re doing all the right things,” said Robert Herjavec. “Keep on doing what you’re doing and don’t get a partner.”
“While we would disagree with them,” Jerry Hancock says, “it’s not a bad validation of our efforts and company.”
You know what else isn’t a bad validation? Cold, hard cash.
“We had the worst weather of the year in Utah,” Naomi Hancock says, “yet our stores had record sales in the weeks following our ‘Shark Tank’ airing.”
Strategy at play
Initially, the plan was that Jerry would be the one pitching to the sharks. But the producer said we needed to be on together because we “play well off each other.” And we do.
Barbara, where art thou?
We felt our best chance of getting a deal was with Barbara Corcoran. She’s the main shark who has invested in food, so when we found out Lori was going to be there instead, it was kind of a downer.
We had a pitch we had practiced, and we were flawless. The beginning had Jerry saying, “We’re going to blow you away,” and then he would blast LN2 out and make a cloud eclipsing the sharks. As we practiced, we didn’t have the LN2 tank with us, so we had been waiting for two days in a dressing room not knowing if or when we were going to tape. When we got the news, Jerry was afraid he wasn’t going to be pumped up enough for TV, so he took two Five-Hour Energy shots. Oops. As you walk down to the mark on the floor where you stand for your pitch, you’re supposed to stop for 30 seconds while they do a camera check. You’re looking at the sharks and the sharks are looking at you, and you just stand there getting freaked out about what is about to happen. And then they say, “Go!” and just like that you’re supposed to start. The two energy shots were hitting full force, and Jerry’s head started spinning. The pitch starts, and Jerry goes right through the part where he was supposed to open the valve. Naomi is next to him and elbows Jerry, and he says, “Oh!”…. then the blast goes out. After the initial stun of the blast, the sharks in unison say, “YOU FORGOT THAT?!” — and everyone laughed. It really broke the ice.
Crash and rise
The night the episode aired, our website crashed every hour on the hour. We had 3,000 people in one night with franchise inquiries … This is how dramatic the “Shark Tank” effect is.