At his day job, attorney Michael Robb seeks reparations for those wounded by asbestos exposure. At all other times, the president and CEO of Pittsburgh, Penn.-based Cold Can Innovations rectifies the injustice of drinking warm beer. His Beer Blizzard invention cools warm beer via a dome-shaped plastic disk that fits perfectly underneath a can.]
Robb and his partner Tom “Ozzy” Osborne — the company’s “chief red neck in charge” — dived into the Shark Tank Friday night (Season 7, Episode 25) seeking $100,00 for 20% of their company.
The launched on Kickstarter in May 2014. It costs $12.99 for a “Six Pack,” which includes the Beer Blizzard discs and one koozie, and $19.99 for a 12 pack. Before appearing on Shark Tank, Robb and Osborne amassed $43,500 in pre-orders from Kickstarter.
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban offered them $100,000 for 25% for the business while QVC queen Lori Greiner offered them exactly what they were asking for. They took Cuban’s offer because of Robb’s “serious man crush on Cuban” because they’re both from Pittsburgh, Penn.
With plenty to cheer outside the tank, Robb and Osbourne exclaimed “America, you’re welcome.”
Robb explains how he invented the and blew it all the way to Shark Tank.
Weathering the Shark Tank
Shark Tank typically gives contestants only about two weeks notice before their appearance airs. Contestants must prepare for a sudden flood of orders and phone calls. That’s particularly challenging for a company with only two people.
Ho: What was that time in between when you first auditioned for Shark Tank and when your episode aired?
Robb: It was very terrible. You sit and watch week after week hoping to catch a glimpse of you on the show. What makes it so difficult is that you are constantly told that your episode is never guaranteed to air. So you wait and wait and wait. Then one day you get the call and suddenly you go from being frustrated to terrified. Is our website going to crash? Can our server company handle the millions of hits. Do we have enough inventory? The worry is beyond words.
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance?
Robb: I purchased every episode of Shark Tank and took diligent notes. From there I made a note of the most common questions and the best and worst answers to each. I also learned from studying every episode that they only use about eight minutes of tape.
So, I made sure that the questions that are most commonly asked that I had a long, slow and great answer for each. I assumed those questions and answers would make the final edit or at the very least would chew up the majority of our eight-minute segment.
Ho: What about being in the Tank (or whatever happened before or after) surprised you the most?
Robb: I think I was most surprised about how little information you are provided after the show. Before going on, there seems to be constant contact with the producers. After you film your segment, you do not hear from anyone, which makes this such a hard pill to swallow.
Ho: If you could do the show over, what would you do differently?
Robb: I think I’d try to enjoy the ride more. I was so caught up in preparing that I didn’t look around and take it all in. It’s a wonderful opportunity and experience. But I was miserable the entire time. I’m the kind of guy that hates to lose. I was there to win and nothing else. I wish I could go back in time, take a deep breath and just enjoyed it moment by moment but that’s just not my personality.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Robb: I think most people don’t realize that you stand there for over an hour getting hammered with questions. The Sharks don’t take turns. They yell over each other trying to get you to answer their questions and not the other Sharks questions.
It’s quite overwhelming just being there and seeing these celebrity million and billionaires. Then have five of them yelling questions at you at the same time. It’s horrifying.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience?
Robb: The most important thing you must remember is that Shark Tank is a television show. You must make your application and your video submission be memorable. Be funny, be silly, be crazy and not just on your video submissions. You must let your personality shine in your application answers.
Remember, they receive over 40,000+ submissions and have around six months or less to review them all. If you want to get on the show, you absolutely must stand out somehow. Otherwise your incredible product/service etc. will never see the light of day because you were too boring on video and paper.
Taking the Beer Industry By Storm
is solely a two-man operation. Aside from their website, www.BeerBlizzard.com, Robb and Osborne sell the at Dunham’s sporting goods, Dr. Leonard’s catalogs and a handful of beer stores, gas stations, convenience stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Ho: What are you doing now to move your business forward and expand?
Robb: We are currently working with a team to get into nine NASCAR tracks. We are also working with a different team to get our product placed in Walmart (WMT).
Ho: What are your goals for your business over the next year and five years?
Robb: Our goals are simple and they involve three targets: Walmart (WMT), NASCAR and a Brewery. We are getting close to closing deals with both Walmart and NASCAR. The brewery connection has yet to materialize. But we are hopeful that our appearance on Shark Tank will catch the eye of a major brewery soon.
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy? How do you acquire new customers and what are your customer acquisition costs?
Robb: Right now our most effective marketing strategy are simple Facebook (FB) blasts that read “IF YOU LOVE ICE COLD BEER, CLICK HERE!” The orders seem to vary far and wide. And we are still trying to calculate an honest customer acquisition cost but have been having trouble doing that since a lot of people buy from our Facebook (FB) ads.
Those customers share/Tweet/ tell their friends about the product. Then we land them as customers. It’s a good problem to have but makes calculating a customer acquisition cost almost impossible.
The Precipation of An Idea
Robb and his partner, Tom “Ozzy” Osborne, each invested $5,000.00 from their savings in the business. They are currently developing similar products to discs that will be used for canteens for the military, wine bottles and first aid such as treating bee stings,
Ho: How did you come up with the idea for ?
Robb: I was on a camping trip in the mountains of West Virginia in the summer of 2013. We call it our annual Redneck Reunion. The trip involves fishing, drinking beer and shooting guns. Typically there are anywhere from 10 to 15 guys on the trip. All of us seem to drink different brands of beer (Bud, Coors, Miller, etc.). One morning I noticed that all aluminum beer cans have the exact dome-shaped bottom. Later that day it was almost 100 degrees and we were roasting outside.
The beers were warming up way too fast, so I started putting an ice cube in the dome-shaped bottom of my beer cans. The ice cube was held in place by a can koozie. I noticed right away that by the time I got to the bottom of the can my beer was still cold. That night I started kicking around some ideas on how to make a tiny, plastic ice cube to fit in my beer koozie. It had to be something that would freeze fast and last long.
A few months had passed and it was now late Fall 2013. I had been out bow hunting on an abnormally cold morning. The night before I had accidentally left my hunting boots on my deck. When I went to put them on, I noticed that my gel insoles had frozen solid. I knew right then and there that I could make a tiny gel insole for a beer can.
Ho: What problem were you seeking to solve?
Robb: Warm beer sucks. is the cure for warm beer. Most beers, when taken out of a refrigerator, are around 34 to 37 degrees in temperature. Beer tastes great at those temperatures. The problem with beer is when the temperature rises above 38 degrees. Anything above this temperature we call the “warm beer sucks zone.”
Our product helps keep your beer colder, longer. In fact, we have scientific testing that proves that we can keep your product at temperatures lower than 38 degrees for up to 21 minutes. That gives you plenty of time to drink your beer and it will not get warm on you.
Ho: What is the market for your service or product?
Robb: Our market is massive. Beer is consumed in practically every part of the world. The exciting part is that regardless if you are drinking a can of beer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or somewhere in the middle of Brazil, the can in your hand has the same dome-shaped bottom. We have sales to all 50 states and 45+ countries around the globe. There is an international hatred for warm beer. Our market knows no bounds!
I knew our company would be successful because our product solves a problem and would appeal to a very large demographic.
Pouring Out a Final Product
The are currently made in a factory in the Guandong Province of China. The products are delivered to an Ohio warehouse, where Robb and Osborne ship them directly to customers worldwide. They are considering working with fulfillment centers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, and Kansas to take over the order fulfillment.
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Robb: Our prototype molds were easy to develop. We simply took the joint compound and smeared it into the bottom of an aluminum beer can. Once the joint compound had hardened, we popped it out and sent it via FedEx to a gel insole manufacturer in China, which is the thermoplastic polyurethane capital of the world.
After about four months we had a very good-looking prototype and had our manufacturer make 100 discs. We received the discs and immediately started “testing” them. Many hangovers later we were convinced that our product was the right size, shape and worked very, very well.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Robb: Initially, we had a lot of problems getting the design just right. The first prototypes that we received from our manufacturer were football shaped. That was a problem because you need to be able to set your beer down and it does not topple over. The problem existed because ice expands as water freezes. So, the disc expanded upward and downward, which caused the football shape.
After many meetings, we found that by using a thicker material at the base it would cause the ice to expand upward and stay flat at that base. It seems like a simple solution but we had to source multiple thermoplastic polyurethane manufacturers that could develop the exact gauge (thickness) that we needed. Then we had to re-cut all our aluminum molds at our factory in China. That adds up to a lot of expenses, delays and an incredible amount of headaches.
Ho: How many hours did you work on your startup per day?
Robb: I think a fair estimate would be around four to five hours per night. Remember, Ozzy and I have day jobs so we really couldn’t do any work on our project until we got home at night.
This turned out to be a blessing because our product is manufactured overseas in China and they are exactly 12 hours behind us. So needless to say we had many 2, 3, 4 and 5 a.m. conference calls with our manufacturer.
What It Takes to Brew a Business
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Robb: None. Business is a series of amazing moments both good and bad and no business book can prepare you for any of it. All you need is common sense, a good idea and be willing to grind it out and bust your ass. No books are necessary.
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Robb: My favorite site I visit for daily motivation is www.MurrayNewlands.com. I also follow Murray Newlands on Twitter at @MurrayNewlands. I enjoy many of his tweets and his website has a lot of good information on it for startups and entrepreneurs. He tweets a lot of motivational pics/slogans that help re-energize me.
I hope to meet Mr. Newlands someday and shake his hand. I’d love to look him in the eye and express my thanks because he has helped me stay motivated even when I have experienced setback after setback. I was close to giving up one night and I saw a tweet from him. I can’t remember exactly what it said but the gist was this: business is a grind, shut the hell up and grind harder. I did and here I am, interview for Forbes Magazine.
Ho: Is there anything else I should have asked?
Robb: Yes, I drink real beer (Budweiser, Coors & Miller). I don’t like that craft beer sh*t that tastes like a liquid meatloaf.
This story was originally published in Forbes.com in March 2016.