The No. 1 problem with drinking too much before going to bed is getting up to visit the porcelain throne. The No. 2 problem is turning on the bathroom light, which blinds your eyes, and the bathroom fan sounds a like a helicopter hovering above compared to your quiet, dark slumber. When whiz Matt Alexander encountered this wee problem one night, a light bulb went off in this head: create a night light that sets the john aglow when you enter the washroom. Alexander studied entrepreneurship at Brigham Young University and was always on the lookout for great ideas.
He and his brother in law, Michael Kannely, tinkered with the idea for a few months and pushed out the IllumiBowl. The motion-sensor night light attaches to the side of the commode and illuminates a rainbow of colors. Shark Tank producers’ thought it was such a bright idea after seeing the IllumiBowl Kickstarter campaign, they invited Alexander and Kannely onto the ABC hit business reality show.
Alexander and Kannely plunged into the Shark Tank in May 2016, asking for $100,000 in exchange for 15% of their business. They valued IllumiBowl at $666,666 based on raising $95,000 from 3,300 supporters in just 40 days on Kickstarter. It eclipsed their $20,000 goal nearly five times during funding period between October and November 2014.
Alexander and his partners spent the ensuing eight months developing the product. They started filling pre began fulfilling our pre-orders in July of 2015. They worked on the Provo, Utah business for 12 to 18 hours a day their first year of business, doing multiple jobs each to keep operating costs low.
The patent-pending gizmo costs $3.98 produce, package and assemble. Alexander and Kannely said they hope to eventually make lights that project images into the toilet. Kevin O’Leary’s mugshot suddenly illuminated in green onto the toilet display as the tank burst into laughter.
Fashion mogul Daymond John was the first to poo poo the pitch.
“You don’t need us to take affordable next steps,” John said. “I’m out.”
Educational software tycoon Kevin O’Leary offered $100,000 for a 25% bite of the business.
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban dumped the offer, contending it was a product and not a business.
Computer security king Robert Herjavec said he couldn’t offer a better deal than what Mr. Wonderful had offered.
“You need to brand this. You need a face that people associate with toilet paper,” Herjavec said. “When you think of flushing away stuff, Kevin is your guy. I’m out.”
Alexander asked O’Leary if he would be willing to meet in the middle, given his belief the product could scale.
“No. This is a light for toilet bowls,” O’Leary replied. “Let’s be realistic.”
QVC queen Lori Greiner passed because of her investment in Squatty Potty, a toilet stool that helps users sit on the pot in a squatting position. She didn’t want to get involved with a competing toilet-related product.
Alexander and Kannely discussed briefly and said: “You’ve got a deal Kevin.”
“I’m going to light America’s toilets up,” O’Leary said, pumping a fist.
More than 1.3 million orders have flooded into IllumiBowl’s website shortly after the appearance.
Alexander and Kannely, ages 25 and 30 at the time, partnered with Bed Bath and Beyond, which introduced the product in stores the same day the Shark Tank episode aired Friday.
Alexander drops a bomb about going on Shark Tank, squeezing out a million-dollar business and getting a crap load of sales.
Ky Trang Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance? What made it a success?
Matt Alexander: While going through the application process we sat down and watched every single Shark Tank episode from season one to present and really got comfortable with the ins and outs of our own business.
Shark Tank was very supportive during the application process in encouraging. They really care about the success of their applicants and want them to be prepared as they can when they come to pitch.
Ho: What about being in the Tank (or whatever happened before or after) surprised you the most?
Alexander: I was surprised by how crazy it was to be there in person talking to them all at once. Everyone wears mics. So on TV, it seems calmer but in real life, they are all talking at once and you really have to manage five super smart people questioning you all simultaneously.
That said I was also surprised at how friendly and supportive the Sharks were at the same time. I really believe they are there to support young entrepreneurs and make a difference.
Ho: If you could do the show over, what would you do differently?
Alexander: I would probably have waited until we had fulfilled our Kickstarter campaign. We have had an amazing track record. But we could have come out with and even stronger valuation had we waited even a few more months to film.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Alexander: I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Shark Tank is that people believe that getting on Shark Tank means that “you’ve arrived” and that all of your hard work is over.
Getting on Shark Tank does not mean that all of your hard work is over, it means that you’re hard work is just beginning. Shark Tank is a springboard, not a destination. If you’re not out to work your hardest and fight to grow your business every day, getting on Shark Tank is worthless. But, if you are willing couple the power of Shark Tank with your own hard work and grit, then that is a powerful combination and can lead to massive success.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience?
Alexander: I think the most important take away is that you shouldn’t wait for anyone. Before launching IllumiBowl, I had wanted to start a business for some time. I would dabble in business ideas and always try to get into something. But it was never my number one priority.
I would always have an excuse. It was only after deciding that I was going to be all in and start a business no matter what that I thought of and developed the IllumiBowl. The experiences and connections I have made since then have been incredible.
You just have to decide to go all in and not half way it. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in just a year and a half if you do.
New Products Coming Down the Pipe
Other investors have tried to get into the action with IllumiBowl. But Alexander and Kannely prefer to keep as much control of the company as possible. IllumiBowl has “exciting new products” in development. But Alexander is keeping a lid on the details.
Ho: What are you doing now to move your business forward and expand?
Alexander: We have a lot of exciting thing in the works for IllumiBowl. We have had massive success online and now we have partnered with Bed Bath and Beyond to roll out nationwide as we speak.
We have a lot of fun market campaigns in the works. Since we deal directly with toilets, we basically have creative license over all things potty humor related and can really have a lot of fun in our business marketing and development, while still staying classy of course.
Ho: What are your goals for your business over the next year and five years?
Alexander: Our goals over the next few years are to become a household name both nationally and internationally. The average American uses the bathroom two to three times every night so there is a massive market that we can help while having fun along the way.
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy?
Alexander: Our media and marketing strategy has been to provide the best customer service possible so that people know they can buy with confidence. Then we seek to have a lot of fun. Fun videos, fun photos, and creative and useful articles that can actually help people solve relevant problems in their day-to-day lives.
For some people, the IllumiBowl is a lifesaver that helps them to sleep better and navigate more safely. For others, it is just a fun way to decorate their home. We really try to generate content for each one of our customer segments.
We never take ourselves too seriously. Life is too short for grumpy employees and conventional straight-laced business practices.
Doing Your Business With a Whole New Light
Ho: How much did you personally invest in your business? How did you get the money to start your business initially?
Alexander: At the time, we did not have any extra money so we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. We had no money to make the video so we made it on our own. We had no money for ads so we put in a lot of elbow grease to raise awareness for our campaign.
We raised (almost) $100,000 in just over a month without spending a penny on marketing. Now we were in business and had the money we needed to go from an idea to an actual product and business.
Ho: Would you please elaborate on how you got so many backers and pledges to your Kickstarter campaign without spending any money on marketing?
Alexander: Lots of elbow grease. We were just broke college students so we didn’t have any money to spend on marketing or ads. So we spent a couple of weeks studying every successful Kickstarter we could find to see what they all had in common and implemented that into our video and campaign.
Then we would spend hours every day blasting out every newspaper, blogger, magazine and thought leader we could find and let them know that we had launched an exciting new product on Kickstarter. Earned media is really what got us exposure at the end of the day.
Soon all of our countless hours sending emails day after day paid off and outlets starting covering us. It started to explode from there.
Mentally Draining Learning Curve
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Alexander: To make the first prototype, I found used pieces for different items I could find: an LED here, a motion sensor there. I bought what I could find that contained the pieces I needed, ripped them apart, and glued them all together to give us our first prototypes to start testing our idea.
As we prototyped, we began to source out costs based on wholesale prices of each necessary part on websites like Alibaba.com to figure out what it was going to cost us to make and find a manufacturer.
Ho: Where is your product made?
Alexander: We manufacture the IllumiBowl in China. There are a lot of expert manufacturers in this industry over there that have been dealing with motion-activated devices and LED lighting for decades. So it was a natural fit to produce something both high quality and affordable.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Alexander: We had to learn a lot of things fast. There were so many components to developing a reliable product and running a successful business that we were not aware of. From language barriers and quality control with manufacturing in China, to teaching ourselves how to set up a website in the U.S. to filing all of the necessary legal forms.
We began to read several books a week on business and sought out many local mentors who were invaluable in helping us learn how to launch a success company.
Bearing Down on the Best Business Books and Tools
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Alexander: My three favorite books on business for those who are just starting would have to be:
- by Dale Carnegie because you will always have to deal with people. And it pays to be nice.
- by Stephen Covey because it teaches anyone what they can do to prioritize their life so that they can be happy and successful and always make sure they are doing the things that matter most when so much in our daily life cries for our time.
- by Robert Kiyosaki because it teaches you to question misconceptions most people grew up with about money. It really opens your eyes to the fact that anyone can be successful in life and financially free no matter what their background.
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Alexander: The internet is an incredible tool. It has never been easier to start a business. With websites like Forbes, Google and Kickstarter, it has never been easier to learn all you need to know about business and obtain the resources necessary to get off the ground. It’s less complicated than most people think.
It has been incredibly useful to leverage these websites, books and the resources of my local university to connect with local mentors and business resources my city provides. There has never been a better or easier time to go into business for yourself, solve problems for others and really make a difference in the world.
I went from a college student to the CEO of a million dollar business in a year’s time. I know it’s cliché but if I can do it, anyone can do it.