startup funding

Courtney Turich and Christie Barany describe using Shark Tank to help launch Monkey Mat

Courtney Turich and Christie Barany met in Michigan where they both worked for Stryker, a medical device company.  They worked well together and decided to start their own business. They co-founded Monkey Mat after Christie unexpectedly got stuck at the airport for six hours and desperately wanted something to cover the floor – but had to be portable – for her children to play on during the layover.  Courtney wanted a similar solution for her active outdoor lifestyle.  After searching for solutions and surprisingly nothing existing on the market, the two decided to create their own product.

When they started the business in 2012, they set as a top goal to go on Shark Tank. They submitted an application online and received a call from a producer for a phone interview.  This led to several rounds of more comprehensive application forms and video submissions, including a request from Shark Tank producers for a five minute video answering twenty questions.  Ultimately Courtney and Christie were invited to film in June. When they arrived at the studio, they met with ABC’s attorneys for hours to review the extensive legal aspects of being a part of Shark Tank. They also had to do a practice pitch to about 50 producers from which they received feedback on their presentation.  

On the day of the show they sat in their trailer on-set all day after hair and makeup until it was their turn to film.  When they walked into the “Tank”, they saw the “Sharks” for the first time.   At the time they had $40K in annual revenue.  Within two weeks of the show’s airing, they nearly doubled their sales. You can see the pitch here!

Shark Tank Video

While going on Shark Tank gave them an initial boost in sales numbers, they then experienced a slight drop in sales after the initial “Shark Tank effect” had worn off.  The activity of Shark Tank can distract from building other sales channels.  Since penetrating a retail channel takes up to a year of advance planning before actually having product placed in stores, focused attention on the process is a must.  Given the post-Shark Tank whirlwind, the ability for such attention was delayed, so there was effectively a rebuilding period after the lull to ramp up retailer presence.  

As for their Shark Tank investors, Lori Greiner helped them secure a feature on the talkshow “The View” and has assisted with their placement into key retail channels.  Mark Cuban and his team have also helped identify retail opportunities, co-presented the product live on TV shopping network ShopHQ, as well as provided backend support along the way, so the value of the investors has gone well beyond just funding.

As a consumer product goods company, they sell primarily on Amazon and through retail chains.  According to Christie and Courtney, packaging that effectively conveys the product and it’s value to the customer is a key point for penetrating the in-store retail market.  Courtney and Christie first started with belly band packaging, but unfortunately it did not effectively show off the product, so they shifted to a shelf box format which allows customers to actually visualize the product itself.   Today, they are in Bed Bath & Beyond, buybuy Baby, The Container Store, Big 5 Sporting Goods, and more.

They are now working on their next product line called Fur-eez, focused on portable and convenient solutions for pet owners.  The debut product is a portable pet sling for small dogs.

Courtney and Christie advise to entrepreneurs

  • You don’t know what you don’t know –  don’t get paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, you will learn plenty as you go!
  • Ask a lot of questions – the more the better, and talk to anyone and everyone!
  • Just do it – products and businesses will constantly evolve, so at a reasonable point you have to just get underway with the journey!

 

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