Two young entrepreneurs give a shining performance on ABC’s Shark Tank. What happens next?
Everyone’s getting the bright idea: hikers in Yosemite, backpackers in Whistler, and emergency workers in Nepal alike use LuminAID to light their way. Even the reality investment show ABC’s Shark Tank -- the US version of Dragon’s Den -- found the LuminAID vision irresistible, and invited Anna and Andrea on the show for a chance to premiere their product on primetime. The Season 6 Week 19 episode that featured the LuminAID team aired on February 20th, and was seen by 8 million viewers. All 5 sharks wanted in on the company, but in the end, Mark Cuban, billionaire investor and businessman, offered $200K for 15% equity...along with leading the next round of financing with $300K. They took the deal.
Let’s set the stage: tell us about the story of LuminAID before the Shark Tank deal.
Andrea: We filmed the show in June of 2014. At that time, we had been selling the first version of the LuminAID light for two years, which was great because we went into filming with some sales data and a track record behind us. We had yet to take on any investors and it happened to be just about the right time to raise some money as well. At that time, we were a team of three. By the time our episode aired eight months after we filmed, LuminAID had grown in sales and to a team of four.
How did the producers behind ABC’s Shark Tank find out about LuminAID?
Anna: A lot of people ask, “How did you guys get on the show? Did you know someone?” We actually just applied through the website at abc.com. At the time, I don’t think either of us thought that anyone would actually read our application. But lucky for us, someone did and was very interested in our idea. We first spoke to producers about filming for Season 5, but at some point in the process, they decided to instead feature us in Season 6.
You made a one-hour pitch that was shortened into a 10-minute segment -- so what did we miss?
Andrea: Some of the questions from the Sharks that were edited in the final cut were about our company story…our growth in Chicago while Andrea attends University of Chicago’s Booth Business School, and how we had just hired our first employee.
There were also more detailed questions about how we work with NGOs and aid organizations that did not make the final cut.
Anna: Overall, I thought the edited segment was pretty reflective of the tone of the how the entire segment went down. So, even though Shark Tank is a television show, the questions and answers are all real (as is the money!).
All the Sharks made impressive offers (a rare feat on the show). What convinced all five of the Sharks that they should invest?
Andrea: We honestly had no idea what the Shark’s reaction would be to LuminAID lights! Receiving five offers was a genuine surprise and one that still has not completely registered. I think each Shark (minus maybe Mr. Wonderful…) saw the potential both in LuminAID lights and in Anna and myself, which was unexpected but also very validating. Hearing Lori Greiner say things like, “This product can change the world....I believe in you guys. I think you are amazing and brilliant...I like you and believe in you” was surreal. We hadn’t heard the part where Daymond John said “Smart girls...I’m gonna go apply for a job!” at the time since it was after we had walked off the set. But, it was also very flattering considering the number of successful businesses that have pitched in front of the Sharks over the last six seasons. Daymond, in case you are reading this, we are hiring!
Anna: Andrea and I were both very excited that the Sharks all saw the impact this solar technology is having and can have on disaster relief and emergency aid. We didn’t know going into it whether they would be interested in this application of our solar lights, or whether they would encourage us to double down on another sales channel. Showcasing our efforts in the disaster relief aid market was a big factor in convincing the Sharks to make an offer. We understand the work we are doing, and they were excited about that.
In the end you chose Mark Cuban’s offer. How did you know Mark’s offer was the best one for LuminAID?
Anna: Mark Cuban saw the potential for LuminAID light technology and this really resonated with us. He encouraged us to push the boundary with innovations in design and to think about “what’s next” for disaster relief aid. This is a great mindset for us to have as a company, and we keep this at our core.
Andrea: As much as we try to plan ahead for the future of LuminAID, we likely have many “pivot points” ahead of us. Mark Cuban seemed comfortable in both investing in our current technology, as well as letting us continue to experiment to bring new and useful solar technologies to life -- which is what we are truly passionate about as inventors and social entrepreneurs.
On the show, you and Cuban talk about the innovative future of the company. Are there any new products up your sleeve?
Anna: We recently launched the LuminAID Pack Line of solar lights. The Pack Line consists of the PackLite 16 (an updated version of our original light), the PackLite 12, and the PackLite Spectra. The PackLite 16 is our highest performing solar light and it produces over 65 Lumens and lasts over 30 hours. It is our go-to product to offer disaster relief aid organizations. The PackLite 12 & Spectra are inflatable solar lights that twist flat and inflate. They are similar in shape to your conventional lantern, but more lightweight and easy to store. The LuminAID PackLite 12 & Spectra lights are perfect for when the power goes out. The color-changing spectra is a lot of fun for camping. We have a few other products in the works. As a company, we want to continue to think about creative ways to design with solar and invent well-designed portable energy products.
How has the successful Shark Tank episode transformed the future of LuminAID?
Andrea: Our Shark Tank segment was the best possible “commercial” for LuminAID we could have hoped for. Much of this was due to the fact that the Sharks asked very thoughtful questions about all aspects of our business and backstory. Being able to share our experience as student inventors with other students and Shark Tank fans has been particularly rewarding as well.
Anna: We are also extremely happy to have sealed a deal with Mark Cuban and to be working with his team now. Mark Cuban Companies has been a great resource and partner for LuminAID. We are excited about where this partnership can take LuminAID in the future!
When life gives you lumens...Get LuminAID!
Missed the show? Catch the re-run on July 3rd at 8 PM EST on ABC.
“It’s brilliantly designed. I’m super impressed by you” -- Lori Greiner
“This product can change the world. I love products that actually help make the world a better place, and help people that are in hard situations...I believe in you guys. I think you are amazing and brilliant...I like you and believe in you.” -- Lori Greiner
“I want you to know you have a foundation to grow from.” - Mark Cuban
“Smart girls...I’m gonna go apply for a job!” -- Daymond John