Some dogs swim with the sharks. Well, some dog-product small-business owners swim with the sharks. They enter the “tank” and attempt to convince the sharks they are worthy of an investment of substantial proportions to take their business to the next level. Sound familiar?
Shark Tank is a television show that was recently renewed for his fourth season on ABC. In fact, Forbes recently wrote that Shark Tank might be the American Idol of venture capital. On Friday, September 14, the sharks return with billionaire Mark Cuban, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, technology guru Robert Herjavec, fashion and branding mogul Daymond John, and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary, aka “Mr. Wonderful.”
If you’re not familiar with the show, the five “sharks” are pitched by an array of business owners touting their inventions, hoping for a cash investment in exchange for a percentage of their company’s equity.
Pet-product inventor Kristin Elliott recently swam with the sharks through auditions as she attempted to garner a spot, and investment, for her growing business, Doodie Pack.
Doodie Pack is a lightweight, durable, saddlebag-style backpack for dogs to carry organized essentials while you’re out on a walk. When Fido does his “duty,” he can carry his poop bag in the pack until his owners get to a can. Available in three sizes and eight colors, Doodie Pack fits dogs from 8 to 180 pounds. Each pack features reflective safety tape and can be customized with a monogram or logo. They are American made.
As founder Kristin Elliott tells it, “Doodie Pack was an idea that sat in my head for several months, but as I kept noticing others in the same dogwalking situation, carrying the nasty poop bag, I felt more and more passionate that a solution needed to be found. As I listen to the owners whose dogs use Doodie Pack, they share with me that it is their solution of a ‘duty’ or utility pack, where they can stow their keys, cellphone, wallet, bottled water, and treats. It is really a multipurpose pack now, and it is being dubbed the new ‘doggie diaper bag.'”
With the pack in tow, Elliott headed for shark-infested waters. The pet product dynamo auditioned for two seasons of Shark Tank.
“’Oh my goodness, that is me,’ is all I kept saying to myself when I first saw the show,” Elliott says. Her first casting call, in Dallas, was in 2011. Reporting at 10 a.m. as the 200th person in line, she was eventually called into a huge casting room. Standing with a group of five before the casting director, Elliott pitched her product.
The other members of her pack followed in turn and were promptly excused. “I was the only product that made it beyond the idea stage,” she recalls.
Though she did not make the cut, Elliott was enthusiastic. She tried out again in Orlando this summer. She met with casting one-on-one this time and walked in with a “Got Doodie?” T-shirt calling out her purpose. As she launched into her pitch, the casting director cut her off. The entrepreneur remembers, “She cut me off straightaway with an excitement in her voice, and told me to submit a video for the producers in Los Angeles. This, according to others, was a very good sign. Essentially we were onto round two.”
With feet wet and sharks circling, Elliott immersed herself in the arduous process of waiting. “My feeling is that the producers are looking for innovative solutions to everyday problems,” she recalls. “The few pet products I have seen have dealt with pet ‘care’ [needs] rather than pet ‘fancy.’ It was one of the reasons we felt Doodie Pack was a perfect fit, since it solved several problems at once.”
The call never came, so Doodie Pack did not make the cut. Elliott reports not seeing any other pet products at the auditions. She is surprised that the sharks were not more receptive to tapping into the billion-dollar pet industry.
Though she never met the actual sharks, Elliott believes her presentation was stronger in Orlando, as the producer remembered her from the previous year and moved her to the next round. “Sharks don’t meet any of the entrepreneurs until the actual taping in Los Angeles,” she says. “I have had the opportunity, however, to tweet with several of them, particularly Barbara Corcoran.” (This writer’s favorite shark, incidentally).
Would she try out again? With the competition so fierce, Elliott says that’s tough to answer. More than 20,000 applicants vied for approximately 150 spots, so the waters are getting rougher and certainly more stocked. Only time will tell if she swims toward the fins again.
Elliott is currently in discussion with an agricultural and pet supply center for a trial of Doodie Packs in 25 of its 1,200 stores. She gives back and works with shelters and rescue groups, and is a recognized business leader. She also made the cover of Rochester Woman magazine.
Advice for would-be shark material is a piece of cake — er, bait — for this mother of three and science teacher by day: More than anything, don’t let the outcome define you. Swim on, Kristin!