LOVELAND — Another Colorado startup, this one from Loveland, has joined the pantheon of regional companies in the exclusive club that results from an appearance on Shark Tank.
HummViewer LLC, launched in 2017 by Lovelanders John and Joan Creed, made their pitch Friday and came away with an investment deal that they hope will propel the company onto retail shelves and into the hearts and minds of people interested in birds.
Shark Tank airs during prime time on TV network ABC. It opened at 7 p.m. with the Loveland couple first out of the gate.
Eight minutes later, they came away with a partnership deal.
Shark Tank is now in its 14th season. The concept: A panel of investors — or sharks — listens to pitches from entrepreneurs. Panel members either invest or reject the inquiries. About 35,000 to 40,000 hopeful companies apply for the show each season, with fewer than 100 making it to the airwaves.
Winners or losers often experience the Shark Tank Effect — a bump in sales as a result of the exposure on the show.
The HummViewer presentation
The Creeds came away successful with their solitary product, the HummViewer. It’s a head-mounted device meant to attract and feed hummingbirds just inches from the viewer’s face so that wearers can watch the tiny creatures up close.
“My husband John’s family has a cabin at Westcliff, and for his entire time growing up he was fascinated by the hummingbirds he saw there,” Joan told BizWest. “He wanted to get a closer look. One day he came out of the garage with a safety shield mask and created the hummingbird feeder.”
And a company was born, registered with the Colorado Secretary of State in January 2018. To get the product to market, he first had to find a manufacturer, which, thanks to a friend who deals with international vendors, was found in China. The couple invested about $40,000 to buy the first quantity of the product and to apply for a patent.
The market for the product, Joan said, is bird lovers, bird watchers in North and South America. The hummingbird is found only in the western hemisphere; the tiny birds for most of the U.S. spend summers in the north and then migrate to South America in September for the winter. In some coastal states, the hummingbirds are visible all year long, she said.
The whimsical company has had a slow start. Joan said that sales, up to the Shark Tank show, were a total of between $25,000 to $30,000. The viewer sells for $59.95, the couple told the sharks; however, the company website lists a $69.95 price tag.
“It’s such a visual product. You have to be able to show how it works,” she said. “The biggest obstacle has been marketing.”
That’s what John Creed told the sharks: He said he had spent his career as an electrician and needed help setting up the company and marketing the product.
And that’s where the Shark Tank Effect would come into play.
“We were looking for a partner. We knew we needed a partner who understood hummingbirds. We have had people wanting to market it, but they didn’t understand the bird. It was a real longshot to find someone on the show who understood,” Joan said.
But as the sharks evaluated, one by one they dropped out. “The hummingbird is known as a messenger, and it’s bringing me a message now. I’m out,” said Kevin O’Leary.
Daymond John said the product was more of a hobby than a real business, and he also dropped out.
Two other sharks also dropped out, leaving just one.
That someone was Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of snack bar company Kind LLC, who was a guest shark on the show this week.
“This is fate,” he said. He opined about how hummingbirds reminded him of his bird-loving father and how important his father was in his life.
“He just completely connected with it,” Joan recalled. “He was exactly what we wanted.”
She described the experience on the show as light-hearted. “It was a ‘reveal’ kind of show; they didn’t know what the products were going to be.” The sharks laughed along with the Creeds; since they couldn’t have live hummingbirds on the set, John had created model birds with real feathers that he used to demonstrate the feeder.
The Creeds asked for a $75,000 investment and offered a 10% stake in the company. Lubetzky countered with $75,000 for 35% of the company.
“John looked at me, pointed at Daniel and said, ‘you have a deal.’”
“You have just seconds to decide. This was the perfect partnership,” Joan said.
As the couple left the set, Joan said, “He was just the one we wanted.” And John said, “The crazy man in the mountains did it.”
A contract was signed after the July recording of the show, and they’ve been in business together since.
Lubetzky’s family of brands is Equilibra Partners Management LLC, where he plants businesses that he is helping get off the ground.
“We’re working with them actively. We’re doing a new website and working on marketing,” said Joan, whose role in HummViewer is the marketing and customer service aspects of the operation. John handles manufacturing and supply-chain issues.
“They’re [Equilibra staff members] helping us grow. They’ve been phenomenal.”
Joan said most sales have occurred via the company’s website although some sales have resulted from a wholesale arrangement with an online bird feeder company. The Creeds want to place more products in retail stores, but “we didn’t have a retail ready box to put product in. That requires funding,” which they now have. Birds Unlimited and Jax Inc. have indicated interest in selling the product once it is ready for shelves.
John, an electrician for 40 years, and Joan, a small business delivery service owner, have left their previous pursuits and are now working full time at the helm of their new company. “We’re 100% committed to this,” Joan said.
Hired staff has yet to come, depending on results from the Shark Tank showing. Also to come will be warehouse and office space; the company is home based for now.
What’s to come
Numerous other companies — at least six in recent years — from Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley have appeared on the show and have experienced the Shark Tank Effect.
Lena Phoenix, co-founder of Feel the World Inc., which does business as Xero Shoes in Broomfield, said the impact on sales was immediate.
“We did 10% of our lifetime unit sales in the week following the show,” she said. “It focused Steven [Sashen, Lena’s husband and co-founder of the company] and me on where we wanted our company to go. It solidified our business plan.”
And Xero turned down a partnership offer from O’Leary.
“Kevin O’Leary offered $400,000 for 50% of our company, which we felt drastically undervalued our company,” she said. As the results since have shown, Xero has been among the fastest-growing companies in the region, has raised millions in equity crowd-funding as well as more traditional sources of capital, and has spiked gross income year after year.
Still, “It [Shark Tank] is an excellent calling card to have. Shark Tank does a lot of vetting of companies on the show. People know you’re legitimate just to be on the show,” Phoenix said.
Xero was focused on the running community as its market prior to the show, she said. Sashen is a world-class competitive runner. “When we got in front of eight million people, we got a lot of calls from people about the alternative [footwear] we were providing. It was a ‘proof of concept’ that our product has a much broader audience.”
Phoenix said the network created by Shark Tank alumni also has been important to Feel the World. “It put us in touch with other entrepreneurs who have been on Shark Tank. It’s a great group for support and recommendations.” Phoenix offered to connect the Creeds with a “super secret” Facebook group open only to those who have been on the show.
The experience has been similar for Boulder-based RollinGreens LLC, which appeared on the show in 2020. Lindsey Cunningham, CEO and co-founder of the company along with her husband, chief innovation officer Ryan Cunningham, said the appearance “catapulted our direct-to-consumer business. It was like a 4,000% increase; massive.”
“We did more in one night in direct-to-consumer than we did in a year,” she said.
RollinGreens is a natural foods, plant-based meat products company.
“We went into Shark Tank with a frozen line. Now, everything has taken off,” Cunningham said. “Robert [Herjavec] offered $500,000 for 20% of the business,” she said. The owners didn’t accept that, but did negotiate a different deal — which she wouldn’t disclose — after the show.
Cunningham said that RollinGreens receives “an added boost” from reruns of the show that appear on CNBC. It also receives tips and advice from other Shark Tank participants.
“Everyone is very open and willing to share. I do the same thing,” she said.
As a result of the investment, Cunningham said that the company was able to fund its growth and hire key people to help scale up. It allowed the company to expand its retail presence nationally in stores such as Walmart and Kroger, she said.
Dustin Finkel, former CEO of successor company Awakened Foods LLC — a combination of Finkel’s company Ka Pop! and Bubba’s Fine Foods — took Ka Pop! and its snack foods to Shark Tank in 2020. Finkel, who was in Qatar this week for the World Cup, said that “in the nine days after our first airing, we sold more than the entire previous year. We are one of the top re-airing episodes, and each time, we see a significant boost in sales. Beyond immediate sales, it has driven considerable momentum with consumers and retailers alike. Prior to Shark Tank we measured our store count in the hundreds; now, we are in more than 7,000 retail locations.”
Finkel, who had sought an investment of $350,000 and offered 5% of his company, was not selected for investment because the sharks were concerned about the number of other investors in the company. However, “relationships from Shark Tank have continued to this day. While you don’t get to interact with the sharks after the show (unless you strike a deal), I did maintain strong relationships with many of the other brands that filmed during my production dates. Additionally, the entire Shark Tank alumni is a tight community. One of my favorite stories is that I recently re-pitched’ to Rohan [Oza], one of my guest sharks, using all the positive feedback he shared with me during my filming,” Finkel said.
Company after company tells similar stories. On Beermkr’s website, BrewJacket LLC of Boulder wrote that the company, which turned down an investment from the sharks, was able to leverage the exposure on the show into accelerated growth.
“When we filmed our SharkTank segment in September 2020 … [home brewing gear manufacturer] Beermkr was in a completely different stage of its life. On the day of filming, Beermkr was the culmination of years of R&D, but we were just starting to ship products to our KickStarter backers. We walked into the Shark Tank knowing full well that the valuation we were asking was going to provoke some wide eyes and guffaws from the sharks. But it’s a valuation we stand behind to this day. … Since filming our Shark Tank segment, Beermkr has exploded onto the scene. In less than a year, we’ve sold and shipped thousands of Beermkr units.”
To see John and Joan Creed and their HummViewer presentation to the sharks, see:
Editor’s note: This report was updated Dec. 5 with additional information from Dustin Finkel.