Three years ago, Arlene Battishill and Desiree Estrada started GoGo Gear, a company that specializes in chic riding gear for men and women. Last month, the ladies were thrown into a literal shark tank — actually, a television version of one. The duo was featured on ABC’s reality television show “Shark Tank,” where inventors and business owners vie to win the financial backing of the Sharks, a panel of such high-profile business gurus like billionaire Mark Cuban, real estate professional Barbara Corcoran, and FUBU founder Daymond John.
Dealernews: What made you apply for “Shark Tank”?
Arlene Battishill: One of the reasons we wanted to go on shark tank is because 6 million people were going to see our product. We’re going to get significant penetration with that type of exposure. A friend of ours emailed us and said she had seen an advertisement that they were having auditions for the show. That was probably in June of last year. When she told me about that, I said, “Oh forget it, I’m not going to do that, this is stupid. But as I thought about it, I figured we have nothing to lose if we just auditioned. The show got 20,000 video submissions, applications and auditions, and that out of the 20,000, my understanding is that the show selected 90 companies for the season. And less than half of the 90 ended up on TV.
DN: It seemed pretty brutal, what with Mark Cuban calling you both “cockroaches” and all. Was the entire process pretty difficult?
Battishill: I think both Desiree and I said, “Whoa.” We didn’t have a real reaction though, because we knew he was being overdramatic in that moment. We’ve pitched to venture capitalists before, and we know how a pitch and due diligence works in real life. We knew this was television, and that the pitching experience was going to be exaggerated and dramatic. [Cuban] also called us stupid and said that we didn’t know how to run a business — but you didn’t see that on TV. There were some other things said to us during the taping that were designed to get reactions out of us some of which caused one of the products to run up to us after the taping and say “We are NOT going to air that!”
This is reality TV, and we knew that going in. The sharks always have to win, even if you get a deal. They are the stars, the entrepreneurs are the “props”. They asked about our profit margins, they asked us about patents, every last thing about our business and we had answers to all of it that they had no problem with, but you didn’t see any of that on television, either.
We had worked out this whole routine for the pitch. Desiree was describing the features of the jacket, placement of armor, and there was this one part where we all turned to the right and punched each other in the back, in the armor. There was a lot of product demo that never made it to air. Another thing that you didn’t see was Robert wanted to try on a jacket. He is a motorcycle rider. He said, “I’ve been in a motorcycle accident before, and you’re telling me this is a motorcycle jacket and everything you’re describing is inside this jacket?” And I said “Yes, let me show you.” I brought over a ladies jacket in a size 4, and I’m starting to explain to him what’s in our jacket, and the next thing you know, he’s trying to try it on. So some of the really good stuff that would have been great for our product never saw the light of day.
It’s interesting to have a completely different experience in a taping from what you saw on television — where they make you look like a total airhead. The sharks were making it seem like we had just pissed away $400,000. But in reality, we spent $150,000 manufacturing product, we spent $150,000 in sales and marketing, $15,000 in intellectual property, $25,000 for product development and overseas travel and $60,000 for two years worth of business operations — like phone/fax lines, cellphones, merchant account fees, etc. They made it sound like we didn’t know how to manage our business or manage our money. But we got 15 minutes of national prime time advertising for free, so I couldn’t care less what they make me look like. It doesn’t feel good, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
DN: You were able to broker a deal with Daymond John. Can you tell us more about that?
Battishill: The only thing I can say is that we are finalizing the details of a deal with him. We went into the show knowing that we had to impress him. He was the fashion guy, and he rides a motorcycle. We knew right away we had to get him, and we knew he was going to understand out product from day one. We were never concerned at what the percentages were. Both sides have the ability to walk away, you’re not bound to the deal. Afterward, we sent him all of our financials, our business plan, strategies, and we all started working on what would be the best strategy, and how Daymond can help us with that. Part of why you want to partner with them is not only the money, but what kind of connections they have.
DN: Now that your segment has aired, what has happened since?
Battishill: When we did the TV on the deal with Daymond, we had actually been working with him since last August, when we taped. And within two weeks of the taping, he called us. We started working with him right then. He is amazing, he brings so much to the table. This is a guy who’s clothing business has generated $6 billion. He’s in the big time, and we’re just riding along with him on this. What we’re doing right now is not so much the deal we’ve done with him, rather trying to determine what the best strategy is for our business.
It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen going forward. Our go-forward plan is to see what we’ve got here, and we’re going to go from there. We’ve been in a holding pattern for a number of months now. We didn’t want to make any major business decisions because we didn’t know what was going to happen once our episode aired.
DN: Right after the show aired, did you and GoGo Gear get immediate attention?
Battishill: We have been contacted by other prospective investors, a very big distributor of helmets in Spain who is introducing an electric scooter to the US market and has distribution all over Europe, and there’s a continuous flow of emails from legitimate people and it’s only been 72 hours since the show aired! We’ve gotten a continuous flow of emails from people about distributing the product, too. And we’ve definitely had sales, absolutely. Our website traffic is up 1000% from before the show aired. We’ve even been contacted by a couple of television producers asking if we were interested in having a reality TV show developed around Desiree and I! I think I’ve had my fill of reality TV for a while, but it sure is flattering!
Another interesting thing was, as soon as the show concluded, my phone went off — I had so many text messages from people, and people were calling all over the place. People were just sending me messages saying, ‘I was on the edge of my seat not knowing what was going to happen, it was great entertainment,’ and we were happy to provide that. Others were like, “You gave up 65 percent of your company, it must have been so stressful.” And of course, all of this happened to us last August, so we’re going about our business as usual, but when the show actually aired, everyone was like “Oh my god.”
The next night we went out to a restaurant and we barely had our butts in the seat, and this guy came running up and said “I saw you on ‘Shark Tank’ last night.” It’s a really funny experience, this whole TV thing. I don’t need any of that stuff, I just need people to buy my jackets.
This is the full version of a story that appeared in the Dealernews May 2012 issue.