The founder of NERDiT NOW, a Wilmington tech startup, got his star turn on ABC’s Shark Tank last night. And while he says the pitch went off “exactly how we had planned it,” unfortunately, the billionaire investor audience he was trying to lure didn’t take his bait.
Markevis Gideon and his partners, University of Delaware grads Jake Voorhees and Jonathan Hoxter, opened up their appearance with a cute, fast-paced, skit asking for a $150,000 investment for a 20 percent stake in their computer, phone and tablet repair and resale business.
The huge crowd who gathered at The Mill Space last night to watch the episode with Gideon and his partners were more than pleased with their performance. “We were animated, theatrical, and we had a good time up there, and you can see it. A lot of people were saying this was one of the best pitches they’ve ever seen on Shark Tank – even producers out in California said it ranks as one of the best,” said Gideon.
As they wrapped up their 90-second pitch, Gideon snatches a rubber baseball bat out of his backpack, tosses an iPhone in the air and then pretends to shatter the glass.
Gideon, Voorhees and Hoxter rehearsed the skit dozens of times, with an eye toward keeping up their energy and communicating the value of their product. “We had several late nights – some nights we were up until 6 in the morning,” said Gideon.
The three had traveled to California in late June to pitch their business to the sharks, after successfully auditioning in front of the hit show’s producers in March.
Gideon explained that he started the business “in my two-bedroom apartment” and that the team had gone to great lengths to succeed.
“We’re doing everything to make this work – I even took my wife and 4-month-old baby and moved in with my in-laws – typical millennial, right?” he joked. Voorhees explained he left an engineering career behind and Hoxter said he put $20,000 in charges on his credit card to get the business off the ground, a debt Gideon said had already been paid off.
A key focus of the NERDiT NOW pitch was “The Motherboard,” a mobile device repair “ambulance,” and the company’s guarantee to offer a free diagnostic, fix a device quickly – in no more than six hours – and do so in front of customers in convenient locations thanks to their “same day kiosks.”
The NERDiT NOW trio said the price of their services was also a competitive advantage: they can fix a broken mobile phone screen for $40 less than the current average cost of repair at a typical mall store.
“When you get hurt you call 911, when your device gets hurt you call us,” the team quipped.
Gideon, Voorhees and Hoxter said they needed the funds to expand mobile service into Philadelphia and Baltimore, complete the development of the kiosk software and build 10 new kiosks. They expect to have $250,000 in sales this year.
The sharks were all impressed by the Delaware entrepreneurs, but they shared questions about the “scalable” nature of their business.
Tech billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was the first to drop out of the bidding, saying it was a “tough” business to grow quickly to the size that would attract his investment.
“[The business is] Driven by proximity and your time – you have to have someone physically doing the work – it isn’t investible,” Cuban advised. “For those reasons, I’m out.”
Gideon and Voorhees say they were impressed by how quickly the sharks analyzed their business. “We were surprised at how much they knew about our business and how spot on their questions were. The one thing we noticed was that the depot trying to pivot to the ambulance rather than the kiosk.”
Lori Greiner recommended the NERDiT NOW team consider getting into Kinkos and Fed Ex locations where they could “be in people’s faces. To me the marketing angle is, we will fix your phone screen in twenty minutes … if you could be in enough places of course I’d use you.”
“You’re brilliant, so you’ll go far,” Greiner said, “but I’m out.”
Shark Kevin O’Leary said the business was “too early stage… I wanted to see a big roll out strategy with the trucks … it’s not yet investable.”
Daymond John advised Gideon and his partners not to take any outside investment, but instead to focus on growing the business organically.
The Delaware men took the financial rejection in stride, with Gideon – who spent five years in China and even opened a bar there – avowing with a Chinese phrase that they would “keep going.”
Four months after the taping of their episode, NERDiT NOW partners are following Daymond’s advice. “We are not disappointed at all. We offered a lot of equity for a low valuation, and so we’re actually excited about the outcome.”
They’re applying for a $50,000 small business EDGE grant to develop several copies of their prototype and they are looking for host locations for their ambulance. They’re also exploring the possibility of crowd funding opportunities.