Out-Innovating Billion Dollar Companies on a Shoestring Budget

Out-Innovating Billion Dollar Companies on a Shoestring Budget

bedjet shopify masters

Big corporations might have the money and resources, but they often move slower, spend more, and take longer to bring an idea to market. That's when an entrepreneur's speed and scrappiness are a huge advantage.   

Mark Aramli is the inventor and founder of BedJet: a Cooling, heating, and climate control system made just for your bed that lets you find your perfect sleep temperature.

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn how he capitalized on all the advantages at his disposal to go up against billion dollar companies while self-funding his business.

“You don’t want to fight those big companies on a level playing field because you’ll lose. If the playing field is even, they’ll beat you every time.”

          Tune in to learn

          • Prototyping tips from a NASA engineer.
          • How to tilt the playing field in your favor when competing against billion dollar companies.
          • What kind of products to bring to market when you are not technical.

          Listen to Shopify Masters below…

          Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!


          Show Notes


          Felix: Today, I’m joined by Mark Aramli from BedJet. BedJet sells a cooling, heating, and climate control system made just for your bed, so you can find your perfect sleep temperature. It was started in 2013 and based out of Newport, Rhode Island. Welcome, Mark.

          Mark: Thank you, Felix. Glad to be with you.

          Felix: Yeah, so tell us a little bit more about the product. What is the BedJet exactly?

          Mark: Sure. The BedJet is a world’s first. It is the first super fast cooling, heating, climate control for your bed. It’s a machine that goes under your bed or next to your bed. For anyone who’s ever woken up too hot or too cold or sweaty, you can just press a button on a remote control and have your bed feel exactly the way you need for good sleep. The product gets incredible reviews. We’ve actually become the highest customer rated product in the entire mattress category on all of Amazon. That’s in big part because the machine doesn’t just make you more comfortable in bed, but people are getting better sleep, and when you get better sleep, better nights turbo charges better days and very, very impactful on people, so we’ve been very, very fortunate that in its first product release the machine and the products have been very successful in the marketplace.

          Felix: Very cool. So, I’ve actually saw this product on Shark Tank. I do remember seeing it – we’ll get into your Shark Tank experience in a bit – but it’s certainly a unique product that I haven’t seen before. How did you come up with the idea behind this?

          Mark: I’m an engineer by training, and I used work on the spacesuit program with NASA right out of school. I worked on some of the climate comfort systems of the suit back then, and I’ve always had personal sleeping problems myself, particularly sleeping hot and waking up at 3 AM having to throw the sheets off ’cause I’m too hot – two hours later, being too cold and pulling them back on. One day, I just woke up and I said, “How is it we can keep astronauts perfectly comfortable in space and yet here we have a bed where we’re all spending 30% of our lives and we’re still challenged by it?” So, it really started out as a tinker hobby project. I designed and built the first BedJet Frankenstein prototype on my kitchen table just to see if I could. Once the prototype was testable, I tried it out and I had other folks try it out and the universal feedback was, “You know, Mark, this thing feels pretty good,” and so we decided to turn it into a business and commercialize it.

          Felix: Yeah, so this idea of first creating a prototype yourself is certainly, I think, one of the best ways to get started – create something that you can actually get into market to test with people that could be potentially your customer. Talk to us about this process of prototyping. What was the timeframe involved? How many iterations did you go through?

          Mark: Right, right. So, every new product idea you’ve got to build something to test it, and to have other people test it. I’ve been around the block long enough to know that you don’t create a business just off passion, you don’t create a business and invest your life savings or take out loans just because you personally are a believer. Really the only opinions that matter in the world of new products are paying customers and people who take money out of their wallet to buy it, try it, and either decide to keep it or return it. So, having a prototype before getting too invested is incredibly important. You’ve got to be able to get field experience and feedback from real life people on your concept. So, for us, the tinkering phase, the proof of concept, just to see, “Will this thing work?” Was probably about four or five months, and the first Frankenstein prototype, Felix, was the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. I mean, it was built with a motor from a broken hand dryer and junkyard parts, and they’re all cobbled together, and wires everywhere, and in a steel box.

          I’d put it together so quickly that the on/off switch was … I had to reach it by sticking a pen through a hole in the box and pressing it. But that was enough to find out, “Hey, this thing actually works,” and to start placing it in folk’s homes to try out for themselves to give me the feedback, so getting that feedback is vitally important. You want to spend as little money as you can for the most basic proof of concepts you can put together. I would say setting aside my time and not accounting for my personal time, I probably spent less than $10,000 on that prototype, but again very crude. I’m an engineer, so I was able to do a lot of things myself in terms of building it and designing it.

          But the next stage really was to say, “Okay, lets get something more representative of what this thing might look like in a consumer’s bedroom versus this Frankenstein machine with wires, and motors, and all sorts of things sticking out of it.” That we also focused on really spending the least amount of money we could, and I can’t speak more favorably and strongly about the most important part of our prototyping and market research, which was holding a Kickstarter. It’s the ultimate test, market test, for a product that’s as new and radical and innovative – you’re inventing a new product category essentially that people haven’t seen with the beds yet. There’s nothing more powerful to give you market feedback than a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, crowdfunding campaign. That helps fund your business if you’re successful. If you put the product out there and nobody wants it, that’s a pretty good demonstration that maybe your idea isn’t as great as you thought it was.

          If you have overwhelming success, and you can generate a tremendous amount of pre-orders, that’s some great market validation, that this prototype concept has some legs, that people are willing to pay for it, but more importantly those folks then help fund you creating the production ready product. That was exactly the process we went through. Once we had that massive validation on Kickstarter and we … One of our Kickstarters wound up being the top ten technology Kickstarters of 2015. We pre-sold over a million dollars worth of BedJets in just 40 days. After seeing that kind of response, it was clear to me this is a business, this is a product, there’s a latent demand here, and that was the point where I did the crazy entrepreneur thing and doubled down, and drained my life savings, and mortgaged my house, and mortgaged my mother’s house.

          I literally grabbed every penny I could beg, borrow, and steal to get this thing into production. But doing that and taking that kind of financial risk, I never recommend doing that just off personal passion and personal belief in the product. You got to have that outside market validation and not from a handful of people, but from a lot of folks.

          Felix: Right. So, that validation is the key to all of this, which goes back to testing, and you did this in different stages, different phases, where you first tested starting with people that you knew and then eventually on Kickstarter, which we’ll also get into, with random strangers online to see if they would buy it. Now, when you were prototyping, I think other listeners out there are going through this process of wanting to bring a new product to market, and they’re creating their prototype. You mentioned that as your Frankenstein product that you created initially and it wasn’t pretty, how do you know when a product is ready enough for testing because you could build something … maybe spend too much time on it, or maybe you could spend too little time on it? How do you find that perfect sweet spot to know, “Okay, this is good enough to go out and test,”?

          Mark: Right. So, first let’s talk about the basic product development, and I think it’s important to cover this. I’m not a wealthy guy – I’ve done okay in life, but I self-funded all of this early development. We went to Shark Tank and they hated me, and they hated my product, and they told me no one would ever want a BedJet, and there was no help there. Of course, we got the last laugh on that because we did get into production and we’re number on ein the country now for what we do. We’re the highest customer rated product in the mattress category on Amazon and the company’s doing fantastic. But along that way, I really look at it as how much money do you spend? How much money do you want to put into product development before you reach those various checkpoints? It’s very important to know – I did this on a shoestring budget – there are two ways of engineering new products.

          There’s the full ticket, full retail price – the way big, large consumer appliance where billion dollar tech companies do things, right? They have massive engineering departments. They spend literally years creating new products. If I had dropped BedJet into lets say a billion dollar mattress company, like a Tempur-Pedic or a Sleep Number or one of those people, literally they would have taken two to three years or longer to get a product into the market and spent on exactly what I did easily multi-million dollar budget – 2, 3, 4 million dollars. That’s just how those folks work. They pay full price. If you’re smart about things, and you utilize what I call the “distributed economy of global resources” – freelancers and engineering consultants and hiring a ten-dollar-an-hour engineer in a foreign country to help you with thing – you can do things on the cheap. If you’re smart about it, you can spend a fifth to a quarter of what the big guys would spend to develop something that is maybe 80% or 90% as good as what they would have spent.

          That was the process we took because not being an independently wealthy guy and having to fund this thing myself, every penny counted. Every penny was looked at, “How can we save money to get to A to B here?” And so keeping that dollar amount low in those first few prototypes before you get to these market validation checkpoints is incredibly important, and folks just need realize there’s the high price road that traditional companies take, and then there’s those scrappy entrepreneurs who find the low cost resources, find ways to do things at a lower price, and you can compete against those big guys. We went up against literally the folks I talked about – Sleep Number and Tempur-Pedic – who have tens of millions of dollars to spend on development and marketing.

          On a shoestring budget, me and my little raggedy band of engineers have run circles around those guys. We’ve actually, in this particular niche, taken the market lead away from them, and we’re competing quite well against them in the marketplace. Folks shouldn’t think that going up against massive billion dollar encumbrance with products and product development that you need their massive budgets. You just need to be a little smarter, a little more efficient, and a little more nimble with your dollars and your engineering projects.

          Felix: What do you find that people, whether it be a large company or an entrepreneur that’s creating a product, what do you find that they do maybe waste too much money on or maybe waste too much time on during this initial phase of designing and prototyping a product?

          Mark: I think the problem … many folks make the mistake of thinking you need a finished product in order to do some validation, and they think that they’ve got to get 90% of the way done before they can do market validation. Like I said, with BedJet, it was an ugly prototype that had only the most basic functions that our current product has – maybe 10%. It cooled and it heated – you could barely adjust it. It had a basic app to turn it on and off. In the current product, you have regulated control by degree, you have programmable settings by hour, you have acoustic damping, you have silky, quiet custom digital DC motor – all those things weren’t there in the first prototype. You’ve got to distill the value of what you’re creating down to a few fundamentals and just make those fundamentals work. It doesn’t have to look pretty, and I think folks think you got to have something that’s closer to the finish line before you start your market validation, and then that’s where you can spend a lot of money.

          Felix: Got it. Now, when you were going through these tests, what were some things that you learned about the product or the market as you were testing?

          Mark: One of the things that surprised me when the BedJet was first being developed, I thought this is gonna be a comfort item. This is just a little bit of luxury. I don’t like getting into a cold bed in the winter, I don’t like being hot in the summer – it’s a luxury item. It’s purely for comfort. What we didn’t know and what I had no idea is that when we released the product, there were these massive communities of folks out there who have all sorts of medical problems relating to sleep and temperature – menopausal women who have hormonal changes and they get hot flashes and night sweat. Cancer and chemotherapy patients who have medically induced … They’re waking up literally drenched in sweat. The product solved those problems for those folks, and the list goes on and on. It was MS patients, Raynaud’s disease, elderly people with poor circulation – we just had no idea of this whole other market out there that wasn’t interested in comfort but pain relief and solving a very challenging problem with not being able to sleep.

          They found us, and the lesson learned on that is you got to get your product out into the market. Don’t overthink, don’t spend six months or a year trying to develop the perfect marketing plan – just get it out there. Get it out there and what you’re gonna find is that some of your best customers and your Best demographics are actually gonna find you, but you’ve got to be open to knowing that. Once we realized that these people were coming to us and getting something out of the machine so much more than regular people, because it was solving a painful problem in their life – you got to adjust your marketing and you got to adjust your strategy in how to find those people. I think that was for us probably the biggest surprise on the journey is releasing a product for one category of people – the gadget people who just love technology – and finding out that there’s all these other folks that we should have marketed to but never even thought of.

          Felix: That’s something I heard recently, too, from another entrepreneur that they pivoted their company, but it wasn’t so much changing the product but just changing the demographic that got the most use out of the product, that were the most passionate, that found the most value out of the product. I was gonna ask you, how does that change your messaging and change your marketing once you did find out that these were people that are in pain and needed a good product? Do you just kind of pivot away from your initial, I guess, target market and then focus on them? But how do you manage this new demographic that opened up?

          Mark: Well, you’ve got to make your decisions on data, right? Not gut feel, not anecdotal stories, you’ve really got to have data and we studied our data very hard, and what we found is 50% of our business was our original target market, but this whole other 50% was out there that we didn’t know about or think about, and once that sunk in we absolutely did pivot. We started spending advertising more targeted towards those folks, creating marketing materials more oriented towards, for example, menopausal women, creating custom content on the website and blogs specific to those folks. But you’ve got to make those decisions based off data. Google Analytics give you wonderful information on demographics and age groups. Our customer service group was able to log every conversation we have, and we always ask folks, “Where’d you hear about us? What brought you to the machine?” That data driven approach is really critically important towards pivoting your company, and those stories are endless, Felix, of folks who come to the market with a product or service and five years later their greatest success either comes from a completely different market they didn’t expect or some derivative product that they evolved into.

          Felix: Right. Yeah, I think that’s an important point about how you don’t want to swim against the current as well because a lot of times entrepreneurs will come in with this idea of who is their ideal customer, who’s their target customer, and they just can’t make it work and they’re so focused on trying to make what they think is the target customer work rather than seeing this new opportunity based on the data, based on seeing how people are searching you out already. You might as well use that momentum and discover that there is a more desperate need for your product elsewhere and focus your energy there instead of just trying to force something that isn’t working already.

          I think that’s a big part of entrepreneurship is being able to recognize where the momentum is at and putting your energy and your dollars and your time behind it. Now, you mentioned that you are competing these billion dollar mattress companies – how do you make a brand, or a product, a company defensible in the long term against a company that has, will probably always have more money than you that they could just kind of throw around without a blink of an eye? How do you prepare to essentially I guess go to battle against these larger companies?

          Mark: Right, right. You don’t even try unless you’ve got the better weaponry in your arsenal, right? So, if we were coming to the market with a me-too product that was just like what they have, a little bit different, maybe a little bit lower priced – you wouldn’t be successful. You don’t want to fight those big companies on a level playing field ’cause you’ll lose. If the playing field is even, they will beat you every time. Those companies have literally one thousand times the marketing budget we have, and so the secret sauce of how we’ve been able to compete with these guys and literally run circles around them is a sample formula. You tilt the playing field in your favor. You don’t make it a level playing field by coming to market with a couple key elements. One, we created a product that was more powerful, more features, more effective, better technology, higher customer rated than anything that’s ever come out before or since.

          So, the technology itself was just better, right? We came out with something that was a massively better mousetrap, and when I say better … an order of magnitude better, right? Not something that’s just a little improved. You start there and you couple that with … those guys have high overheads – they’re big companies. They spend huge amounts of money on branding and marketing and being public companies, so the second part of that equation is we’re half the price. So, you couple having a better machine, better technology, customer satisfaction that is stellar next to what they’ve been trying to offer with a product that’s literally 50% of what they’re offering – no amount of marketing and no amount of marketing dollars they spend is gonna beat us.

          In fact, I’m licking my chops at the prospect of them ramping up their marketing because we are in a category that has no awareness, you know? Nobody’s out there googling climate control beds. Millions of people are googling for mattresses and that’s great, and it’s easy for folks to dip into that demand, but we’ve got to create the demand and create the awareness. So, I’m fortunate that I’ve created a product that’s now taken the lead in every category you can judge yourself – technology, performance, power, speed, features, price – and so when those guys spend money on advertising to create brand awareness on this product category – climate control beds – people start googling and they start looking and then they come across us. It’s been uncanny.

          Every time we’ve seen a marketing surge from one of these competitors, our sales go up because people do do the research and they come to find, “Wow, BedJet’s got 90% 5 star reviews and Sleep Number’s got 2.6 stars on their product and it’s twice the cost, and look at all of these features,” and it become a no brainer. You can’t compete against those guys on a level playing field. My company would never release a new product that didn’t stick to that magic formula of massively better product, more features, more power combined with an order of magnitude price difference from those billion dollar encumbrance.

          Felix: Yeah, and speaking of their budgets, they obviously have huge marketing budgets, but also what about their R&D budgets? Wouldn’t they also have a lot of money to put behind a product that could be better than a company that has a smaller budget?

          Mark: You’d think it works that way, but it doesn’t. I’ve actually consulted for some of these folks and I can tell you that they spend millions, millions … in our category, they’ve spent millions of dollars and what’s come out the other end has been inferior technology to what my scrappy little engineering team has been able to do. Being able to do that comes back to me as an engineer and as an inventor and the superstars that I have on my team, but I can tell you that a compact, three to five man engineering team that has real superstars on it and really brilliant people can out-engineer on a few hundred thousand dollar R&D budget or half a million dollar R&D budget can out-engineer and bring to market a product faster than a 20 or 30 man team who has three million dollars at their disposal.

          Felix: Is it because there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, too much bureaucracy? What is it that you find that is the issue?

          Mark: It’s the big company mentality, it’s exactly that – too many cooks in the kitchen, bloated engineering groups. My experience with engineers … honestly three out of four aren’t worth a dime. They are average guys that are good at I would say non-creative design, you know? Solving a problem that’s a known problem. But when it comes to new prod development and inventing something completely new, there’s very few engineers out there that have their creative side of their brain functioning as well as their mathematical and CAD and sort of logic driven side. When you can find those people … I’m fortunate I happen to be one of those people that’s where this company was born. But if you can find and recognize those people, a couple of them together can run circles around these billion dollar companies and their bloated engineering teams and their huge budgets.

          You see it in the software world, where small startup companies develop very innovative softwares, or apps, or things that IBM couldn’t figure out and Microsoft couldn’t figure out and Oracle and all these massive companies with their literally thousands of engineers – why did the innovation come from three guys in a basement? That’s many times where it starts. What’s happening now is that the IT world and the software tech world, that’s been the norm for a long time, and what’s happening now is technology is evolving to the point where now hardware companies and companies that are making physical products can also follow that same path of very low cost innovation of physical products faster, better, cheaper than these big traditional companies can.

          Felix: So, I think the lesson here is that being a small company, being agile and lean has huge advantages over a larger company, and then if you can use that to your advantage to get ahead to the top of the category once the larger companies get to that point to where they are investing in the marketing behind it, they’re gonna push the entire category into the market for you, and now you’re essentially rising with their marketing budgets without you having to put a dollar into it because you’ve made it to the front of the pack already. I think that’s a great insight that I haven’t considered before, but it makes a lot of sense now that you’ve explained it. Now, for folks out there that are looking to innovate, to build products, but they don’t have the skillset that you have, the experience that you have, and they are likely looking for engineers to work with, what tips do you have for essentially non-engineers looking to hire one or maybe eventually a team of engineers to help them innovate or build a product?

          Mark: Right. If you’re a non-technical type, I only recommend folks trying to create and invent and bring new products if the products are very simple. When I say simple, like a couple of small plastic parts. Our product has microprocessor, and powdered electronics and custom digital motor, and ceramic stone thermal … I mean everything is highly engineered. When trying to bring a non-technical person into that level of complexity, you can spend so much money and get nowhere. So, for folks that are thinking about new products that are not technical and don’t have that background, it’s an exciting place to be, but I’d only recommend entering it if your product … is something that’s very easy to get your arms around, not complicated, doesn’t have sophisticated electronics, or lithium batteries, or all this stuff because then there’s resources out there that you can hire. There’s engineering consultants, you can go to all the freelancer boards out there and find folks who are contract by the hour, product designers and engineers.

          Half of those folks will waste your time and money, but the other half are good. You’ve got to sift your way through and make sure that if you didn’t get a good one that you just move onto the next. We’ve used a lot of engineering consultants along the way for product development – folks that we couldn’t afford to hire as a full time employee, but we could rent them for a month to get us where we needed to be. I certainly don’t want to discourage anybody who feels they have a great idea, but the simpler the idea is the more likely you’re to be successful if you’re non-technical.

          Felix: So, just based on your experience you really cannot buy the talent or the experience if you don’t already have some of that yourself to begin with?

          Mark: I don’t want to say that. I think that everyone is capable of growing into new areas and growing into areas where they don’t have expertise. I think with new product development, there’s so many pitfalls between an idea and a warehouse full of product. The chasm between that concept and a warehouse full of product that you can ship and sell is so much bigger than most folks know and there’s so many pitfalls that can just shut you down completely along the way. It’s not for the faint of heart. The simpler your idea is and the simpler the manifestation of this product that you have an idea for is the more likely you are to succeed.

          Felix: So, maybe perhaps not for the very first company or first product you bring to market, but once you get that experience of launching smaller products, you can add the complexity and bring more and more technical products in the future, but to start it might be a better idea to start with something simpler. That makes sense. Now, I want to talk about your experience on Kickstarter. So, I looked up I guess the profile on Kickstarter, and I noticed that you had two campaigns that ran. You have the BedJet – I’m going to say the version one of BedJet – and then BedJet V2. BedJet V1 raised almost $60,000 eclipsing the goal of $38,000, and BedJet V2 was much, much more successful raising over 1.3 million dollars from over 4,000 backers. What was the difference between those two campaigns? Did you … Obviously one was way more successful than the other, what was the difference between the two?

          Mark: The first one was when we had really just the Frankenstein prototype. We could have been considered a high risk Kickstarter campaign. We weren’t very far along. We were pitching very basic features – just pretty much, “Hey, be cool, be warm on demand.” It was a very simplistic machine. The Kickstarter community has a good gauge on a perceived level of risk, and I think that first campaign was clear that this is a company nobody ever heard of. This is a weird device nobody’s ever seen, and to be honest we weren’t sophisticated at all as a team in marketing it. Literally, it was just me and a couple of engineers working out of the house. The video was shot by myself, the Kickstarter was created by me. It was the most basic, crude crowdfunding campaign you could put up. But we got great validation off it.

          The second one we held not too long after was after we already had some basic product in the market and we wanted to evolve it into something better. We had a more mature marketing function in the company, so we were better able to promote it. We had a more professional video – we had money to spend on that. The product itself had been in the market for some time, so there were reviews on it, and going back to that validation of people saying, “Oh, hey, this thing’s real. People love it. There’s a couple hundred positive reviews on Amazon.” It brings people’s perceived risk on a Kickstarter that their contribution is actually gonna be fulfilled with a physical product arriving at their door some months in the future. Kickstarter and Indiegogo – they have very high failure rates.

          I mean, it’s like the Wild West casino when you put your money in on a product, particularly some of the bigger ones – the ones that reach a million dollars or more – so many of them just never deliver. I attribute a lot of that success of the second one really just to those three factors. We were perceived lower risk; it was an evolution of a product that already had some customer feedback and public feedback on it, and we were just a more sophisticated company able to better market and present the crowdfunding campaign.

          Felix: Got it. It’s interesting that you point out that there was a lot of validation, not just by you improving the Kickstarter campaign page, but because of all of the trust and validation from the community outside of your Kickstarter page, whether that be on Amazon or other review sites that are talking about the product. I think that’s important. I think a lot of folks will focus on just the Kickstarter page, but people will do the research, right? They’re not just going to look on Kickstarter, they’re gonna Google your product and your company to see if it’s something that’s safe for them to invest in or to pre-order. Now, you mentioned that you learned a bunch of things during this Kickstarter campaign – I guess both of them. What were some things that maybe surprised you during let’s say the second campaign that you didn’t realize prior to launching the campaign?

          Mark: Well, we had no idea it was gonna be that big. After the first day, we had this massive response and it kept going and going. I had my phone set to have an automatic text message chime every time we had a backer, and the thing just started going, “Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing.” We’re sitting around saying, “Oh my god.” What we had always hoped for in terms of a break through moment where people get it and they want it. It’s happening, it’s happening now. But what I think the best bit of learning I took away from that Kickstarter campaign is we were intimately involved with our backers. We gave them such regular updates. We told them everything that was going on. We told them all the problems we had along the way. We’re honest about setbacks. We really established a relationship with those folks, and I’ll tell you to this day, two years later, those 4,000 people in that Kickstarter campaign, they’re still, two years later, my best brand ambassadors.

          They love the company, they love the product, but more importantly, they’re loyal. They feel like they were part of something because they were, right? They helped commercialize our company and bring us to the next level of a product that is a hit in the marketplace now. We love them for that. We never stop letting them know how much we love them for that. I just … I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had having these thousands of people just feel like they’re part of our team, they’re an extension of our team and they want to help us. They want to spread the word, and tell their friends, and post about us. I haven’t seen that on a lot of other Kickstarter projects and I truly think it’s because we maintain such close communication with them to never make them feel like they didn’t know what was going on.

          Felix: That makes sense. I think communication has always been the key to a lot of success with campaigns based on what I’ve heard from other entrepreneurs that have launched on crowdfunding platforms – keeping your early supporters in the loop. Now, I want to talk about your Shark Tank experience. Everywhere I read about your Shark Tank experience I think even the email you sent me, the story sounds much, much worse than I remember when I first watched it. Maybe I just have selective memory ’cause I actually liked the product when I saw it on Shark Tank. But tell us about your experience – what was it like being on the show?

          Mark: Right, right. So, when I arrived at Shark Tank, we weren’t in production yet. We had prototypes; we had no sales; we were still driving towards releasing the product. The prototypes were 100% functional, 100% representative of final production at that stage, but they, within minutes, hated my product. They hated me. They even managed to insult my mother although the editors cut that out. It was as bad a Shark Tank segment as you can imagine. If you’ve ever watched the show, when they all turn feral, and negative, and just dig into … Honestly, I think for the whole season six that I was part of, we probably had one of the toughest segments and controversial segments as well. Lori Greiner, QVC lady, had a moment there that she hasn’t had … I don’t think she’s ever had with anyone else, where she literally yelled, “I’m out,” because she was asking a question and I missed it. You don’t see it from the show, but the sharks are all talking over each other, they’re asking questions over each other. It’s like being the president at a press conference.

          It was very hard to keep track of – she asked the same question a few times and I just didn’t catch it because I was sort of overwhelmed with the shotgunned questions being thrown at me. Finally, she blew her top and I apologized. I said, “Lori, I’m so sorry. This was just an honest mistake. I just didn’t hear you.” She had texted after the show, “It was the first time I ever got angry at an entrepreneur.” Now, I think her reaction was overblown and nonprofessional, but you know it’s TV and they like the drama there. But really it went as badly as it could have gone for us. However, I was incredibly grateful to be there and the episode aired just as we reached production, right?

          So, after Shark Tank, I begged and borrowed and stole all the money I could. I drained my life savings, mortgaged my house, mortgaged my mother’s house – took all that money to squeak us into production, and literally the same month we started shipping product the episode aired. The thing with Shark Tank is if you can make it through your segment without becoming a very unlikable person and not making an ass out of yourself, even if the sharks hate you, even If they hate your product, as long as you have a product that resonates with people, where people say, “Yeah. Yeah, I get that. I think I want that.” As long as you can make it through the segment without making yourself personally unlikable, it’s incredible PR. It’s incredibly beneficial. Every time we had a Shark Tank rerun, we’d see a huge surge in sales.

          So, I’m grateful … regardless of how it turned out, I’m grateful for the experience. But more importantly, it helped us. It helped us tremendously in our first year. It continues to help us on the reruns, and at the end of the day I get the last laugh. They told me nobody would ever want my product, we were doomed to fail, and guess what? People do want our product. We have a multimillion dollar company right now. We’re growing. We’re number one in our field. It’s been a fantastic success by any entrepreneurial standard. And we got a deal with QVC on our own without their help. So, I definitely walked away from that experience with the last laugh on those folks. I do believe in the history of the show that BedJet is one of the top five most successful to go through Shark Tank with a fail in terms of follow on revenue success.

          Felix: Amazing. So, it certainly sounds like you did get the last laugh. Thank you so much for your time, Mark. Bedjet.com – B, E, D, J, E, T dot com. Where do you want to see the company go next? What do you have planned for the next year?

          Mark: We’ve been growing quickly. We’ve been in the market now two and a half years. In our second year, we grew 300%. This year, we’re on track to grow 200%. I think we’re gonna do another 200% next year, so we’re chasing trying to be a healthy mid-sized company. We’re gonna be releasing another product at the end of the year, which is just as innovative as the BedJet, just as disruptive in the sleep industry, and thumbs our nose at the billion dollar mattress companies in the same way. We’re gonna be releasing something that has more tech, more features, more power, more everything at half the price. That’s our focus. We are a sleep tech company and that’s where we’re gonna continue to expand over the coming years.

          Felix: Awesome. Thank you, again, so much for your time, Mark.

          Mark: Thank you, Felix. My pleasure.

          Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.

          Speaker 3: Traditionally speaking, a utility patent holds a little bit more weight and it’s a little bit more valuable. When we were going through the process, we were led to believe that utilities are a little bit stronger in the IP portfolio.

          Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to shopify.com/blog.


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          About the Author

          Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.


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