For seven seasons, the hit show Shark Tank has put aspiring entrepreneurs in front of a panel of shark investors to pitch their ideas, inventions, and companies. A fortunate few secure an investment from one or more of the sharks, who include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, real-estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, and inventor Lori Greiner, affectionately referred to as the Queen of QVC. Even with an investment, the real challenge begins out of the tank and after the camera stops rolling. Just as a shark that stops swimming sinks to the bottom of the ocean, the sharks on Shark Tank and the entrepreneurs they invest in are bound to a similar rule of nature: the moment their drive to innovate ceases, they, too, will begin to sink.
As many entrepreneurs know, the need to innovate or sink can sometimes mean starting from scratch. Take Corey Egan and Swapnil Bora, founders of Dallas-based Ilumi solutions. In 2014, the former University of Texas at Dallas MBA classmates took their idea of an app-controlled, color-tunable, LED light bulb startup to the sharks and walked out of the tank with a $350,000 investment from Mark Cuban. That same year, ilumi raised $200,000 via crowdfunding. It was an impressive start. But Egan and Bora thought it wasn’t enough. Even though they had $500,000 in the bank, they went back to the drawing board.
“We launched our first smart bulbs after appearing on Shark Tank, but feedback was that it was too expensive,” Egan says. “Cuban’s team helped us launch our second generation of smart bulbs, and we were able to drop the price while improving the product. Nearly cut the cost in half for our customers.”
“Ilumi is a great example of a company finding a way to be relentless,” Mark Cuban says. “Their backs have been against the wall many times. Manufacturing issues. Business glitches. But it neverstopped Ilumi. In fact, it made them work harder and smarter and now they are hopefully on their way to a huge success.”
In addition to Mark Cuban, the minds behind Ilumi credit Dallas as instrumental in their quest to change and adapt. “Dallas enabled us to launch the new product from scratch in nine months when otherwise, it could’ve taken much longer and cost a lot more. The talent in Dallas, in addition to the cost of living, made everything much more efficient,” Egan says. “The result of an innovative company, partner, and city: Ilumi has launched an improved smart bulb for a lower price ($29) via crowdfunding, and will soon be in 510 Best Buy stores across the country.
“Ilumi is a great example of a company finding a way to be relentless,” says Mark Cuban, who also owns Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures. “Their backs have been against the wall many times. Manufacturing issues. Business glitches. But it neverstopped Ilumi. In fact, it made them work harder and smarter and now they are hopefully on their way to a huge success.”
The Gameface Company
In 2007, Doug Marshall had a dream. Literally. The DFW entrepreneur dreamt he was at a football game, sitting next to fans with face paint that began to come off as the game went on. When Marshall awoke the next morning, he took the dream to heart and came up with The Gameface Company, which creates temporary face tattoos and masks that peel off, replacing the mess of face paint and the discomfort of masks. “I thought, why not replace face paint with something you could easily apply and remove that wouldn’t come off,” says Marshall, who officially founded The Gameface Company in 2008, and after three successful years, took his idea to Shark Tank. “My dad, son, and I went to L.A., and stood in line with over 1,500 people auditioning for season four of the show,” Marshall says. “We were one of five who got to go through.”
By the time Marshall pitched his company to the sharks, he had already evolved its focus to meet the demands of markets originally not considered. “It was created for sports, but it took off as Halloween masks, and then was used as camouflage for hunting,” says Marshall, referring to a few of the many different markets The Gameface Company reaches. “We continue to create new designs.”
Marshall also improved the product’s functionalities. It started as a temporary tattoo, and then phased into a temporary tattoo you could wash off easily, and then into something you could peel off your face, and it’s now a mask that you peel and stick and don’t need water to apply it.
The ability to evolve, grow, and repeat landed Marshall the first-ever million-dollar offer on Shark Tank, when sharks Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner each put up $500,000 for a 17.5-percent stake in The Gameface Company. And from there, the company was pushed to expand its market focus yet again. And in a very big way. “People watch Shark Tank all over the world, and [our episode] continues to air, when they play repeats,” Marshall says. “We were getting calls from around the world to distribute our product in their country.”
The ability to evolve, grow, and repeat landed Marshall the first-ever million-dollar offer on Shark Tank.
The Gameface Company’s newfound exposure and the high demand for its products, led the company down a road of reorganizing and rethinking its approach. A new path Mark Cuban helped navigate. “Mark has his whole team ready to help you with any questions you have,” Marshall says. “He is a visionary and he sees the big picture. He can look at your business or product and can tell you where it’s going to be in the next two to five years.”
Today, The Gameface Company is working with 25 international distributors to sell its products in more than 25 countries. All of its products are American made.
Dallas entrepreneur and owner of Villy Customs Fleetwood Hicks was one of the first to dive into the Tank. Three years ago, the former men’s fashion designer pitched his brand of fashionable, luxury cruiser bikes that can be customized online to Mark Cuban and his fellow sharks. “Villy Custom is the new way to buy your bike. You can go to the website to customize your bike by colors and style to create the product you want,” Hicks said as he pitched his first-of-its-kind luxury bike brand to the sharks. At the time, Villy Customs was the projecting about $250,000 in sales for the year. When Hicks left the tank to come up for air, he had two new partners, Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran, and a $500,000 investment at his side. Yet surviving a swim with the sharks was just the beginning. He found he had to innovate.
Yet surviving a swim with the sharks was just the beginning. Hicks found he had to innovate.
Following Shark Tank, an experience Hicks describes as pressure-packed and super fun, Villy Customs relocated to Dallas from the East Coast because of the central location and it’s a great shipping hub. Since that time, Villy Customs has worked with Mark Cuban and his team to change, growing business tenfold with sales projected to reach $2 million by the end of this year. “In addition to money, Mark’s team has been really instrumental in helping us improve our web presence,” Hicks says. “We are continuously reinventing our entire website builder for better customizing options for our customers.”
What Comes Next?
Villy Customs, The Gameface Company, and Ilumi solutions have embraced innovation. They’ve relocated, reinvented, and even re-imagined. And it’s paid off.
Each of these Mark Cuban-backed Dallas startups is growing fast, increasing revenue, customers, and buzz. Ilumi and Villy Customs have been recognized at different points over the past few years by Entrepreneur magazine as among the top 100 most brilliant ideas and companies. The Gameface Company has grown its sales by 300 percent since appearing on Shark Tank. But these Dallas companies aren’t wasting a beat to stop and celebrate. They are focused on what’s next. Hicks is beginning to expand options for companies. “We are excited about an upcoming new feature where companies will be able to load in their color schemes, graphics, and logos. They will be able to see exactly what the bike looks like before they order it.”
For these entrepreneurs, sinking is not an option.
Ilumi plans to ship its second generation of LED smartbulbs this month and from there, continue to take advantage of Dallas, which Egan believes has become a tech and startup hub.
And The Gameface Company is continuing the dream with plans to release its latest set of new products in 2016. “We’re in constant growth mode as we evolve the company, with new designs and new products, trying to stay fresh each year,” Marshall says.
For these entrepreneurs, sinking is not an option.
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