How An Outdoor Entrepreneur Survived A Shark Attack?

I’ve been a fan of ABC’s “Shark Tank” since the beginning of the series.  So many great ideas and inventions have come through the doors of the “tank”, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to interview one of these inventors.  This past October, Bear Bowls made it’s debut on “Shark Tank” with Cory Santiago and his wife, Heidi, making the pitch to the Sharks.  Cory and Heidi struck a deal with a Shark, and they are now trying to keep up with the demand. 

Today, I’m happy to share with you the second half of my interview with Cory.  We talk about their appearance on Shark Tank more, how he became an entrepreneur, what it REALLY takes to be an entrepreneur and more.  Cory reveals some inside secrets from their time on Shark Tank, so let’s dive in!

Outdoor Entrepreneur Survived A Shark Attack

Is this your first time being an entrepreneur or have you done it before?

Cory: My wife and I tried to do a business back in 2008/9, it was a totally different thing. It was her idea and I helped with the concept and some of the creative. It was a potty training system and we came out with that. We learned some hard lessons with partnerships and that kind of thing. It nearly destroyed us financially, but that was something that resonated with all of the sharks [on Shark Tank]. A lot of people would come [on Shark Tank] and try to make it sound like they had this great idea and put it together, we’re making money and now we want to make more money. It’s never that easy and it’s not realistic. They all appreciated that we came from someplace that wasn’t a success, we learned some lessons in the process and we didn’t let it beat us. We may go back and revitalize that concept, but right now it’s important to focus on Bear Minimum right now.

Why did you choose to start with an outdoor product?

Cory: It’s where my passion is. Outdoor gear, if I had unlimited funds, then I would just set up a tent at REI or Cabella’s and buy everything there. (laughs) Partly for functionality but partly the ingenuity that goes into it to make it smaller, faster, better. Years ago I worked for an optometrist who had an invention years and years ago who told me that if I go into business for myself, to invent something for soccer kids. The soccer parents will spend a hundred dollars on shoes that can only be used on the field, but they will gripe and kick and scream about having to buy glasses. So go where they are wanting to spend their money. People will spend good money on outdoor gear, so that’s the other reason why.

How was business going before you appeared on Shark Tank?

Cory: Things were going good, it wasn’t replacing full-time income or anything like that. It was a good thing, and most businesses you can’t make money the first few years, so you have to decide if this will be a hobby or will this be a business and get funding for it. At the time, we were doing it as a hybrid. I was doing it like my main business even though it wasn’t generating any money. I was driving for Lyft, my wife had several part-time jobs, and we were doing it like that. Not wanting it to be a hobby because that would take 5 years over 1 year or 2 years. We were really working it full-time with other jobs alongside of it. If it were easy, everyone would do it. (laughs) It takes a certain kind of idiot to become an entrepreneur. (laughs) You won’t work any harder for less money than being an entrepreneur. The idea is to have the vision for the payoff, which also segues to that there is typically no one payoff event. You don’t get on Shark Tank and your ticket is written, it’s a great step, but it’s just another step in the process, and that’s what it’s been for us. There’s a ton of work between “they were on Shark Tank” and “now it’s amazing!”.

TTL: Everyone only sees these “Shark Tank Moments” where people are raging successes, but the other half of that, which gets missed, is the 8 or 10 years of super-hard work that they put in.

Cory: That’s the problem with the “Where Are They Now?”. They see where they are now, but they overlook where they were 3 years ago. Even Jamie Siminoff (founder of Ring doorbells) didn’t get a deal on Shark Tank, kept plugging away, got the attention of Richard Branson who came in and helped with some capital and some exposure, and built it to where it is now and just earlier in 2018 sold it to Amazon for $1 billion. And people are like “Wow! He went on Shark Tank, didn’t make a deal and sold it for $1 billion!” Yeah, 4 or 5 years later! There’s a lot of things that went on during those years.

How was business going before you appeared on Shark Tank

Why did you decide to apply to be on Shark Tank?

Cory: Because we love Shark Tank and we thought it would be that panacea event. Honestly, we thought that going into it. When one of the executive producers of the show calls you and tells you that you should be on the show, you still think in the back of your mind, yeah it’s a level playing field, but they already like us. (laughs) I mean, they asked us, right?

It’s a 40-page application. And when you get past that, it’s a 40-page background check for each individual person that goes through it, so the wife did hers and I did mine. It feels like you’re buying a house that you’ve never seen before. Anyone can do it, you can download the application kit and start there by filling it out and submitting it. As you get further and further in the process, they become more and more invested. You’re teamed up with some producers, and they help you with your pitch, how you’ll present it, what you want to bring, and everything that you bring on set has to pass through legal. Our funny story now is that we couldn’t bring a plain Nalgene bottle with us because it was too recognizeable, and it was a generic Nalgene bottle with no markings. So we had to use sports bottles as part of our display. My wife had a bracelet that was a necklace but it was wrapped around her wrist, and it had a cross on it, and they had to double-check even a half-hour before we went on set if she could keep that on.

Once you get to that level, they fly you down and put you up in a hotel. Then you go through the process which is a few days. But while you are there, they take good care of you, you’re their guest. They want you to do your best, they help set everything up, and they have a team of people working with the shark bait (contestants/applicants) to get them where they need to be. It’s a pretty phenomenal experience. The sharks know nothing about you, but the studio knows everything about you. You see about 10 minutes of the pitch, but it’s really like an hour that you’re there with the sharks.

How have things changed post-Shark Tank?

Cory: Post Shark Tank it’s been a flurry. The week before and the week after we had a lot of local news, papers and TV and such, wanting to talk to us. We were in a unique situation where we didn’t know if the product that we had ordered from our manufacturer would be here in time, so we were making more ourselves. We were making over a thousand of them ourselves, which takes some time and effort, so that whole craziness was going on while we were trying to get everything rolling. Since then it’s been more of, how do we keep this momentum going, how do we market, how do we get out there, talk to influencers, find new ones, and just keep the buzz going. It’s eye-opening to me how many people don’t know about one of my favorite companies – BioLite. A lot of people in the space have still not heard of them, and I think they are amazing. And that’s both encouraging and discouraging to me. They’ve done some amazing Kickstarters, they have a hundred Youtubers reviewing their stuff, and still I tell people about BioLite and they are like, um, don’t know. It’s a wood stove that generates electricity, it was one of their first products. Oh, that’s cool! Yes, it is, and it’s in all the big stores. So it’s encouraging and discouraging because they are huge, they’re big, they’ve already kind of “been there, done that”, and yet they still need to get the word out. We’re brand new, Shark Tank is a great experience, it’s not the end-all, it’s not earth-shattering, it’s just another step. Right now, it’s about how do we market this ourselves, who do we partner with, are there some strategic partnerships, what are the best ways to do this, etc.

What is one key lesson you learned from being on Shark Tank?

Cory: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is no one event that is going to make you. You really do think that going into it, that if I get on Shark Tank I’m going to sell thousands or hundreds of thousands or whatever. That’s typically not how it goes, but Scrub Daddy was a different scenario with a $3 item that literally everyone can use. But for most people it’s a great way to slingshot you into the marketplace, but it’s step by step to success. For any kind of big event, and we’ve been behind the 8-ball so far on all of these things, is to prepare for it. Black Friday is a great example, and we weren’t prepared for it. Our stuff is out there and we have a few ads here and there, but the people who are really killing it are prepared for Black Friday in September. Selling a thousand units sounds really cool, but can you actually do it?

What is one key lesson you learned from being on Shark Tank

What is one of your favorite things about being an entrepreneur?

Cory: For me it’s the creative part. I get to find a problem and solve it, and make that a real thing. For me, that’s creating cool gear. We’ve got a suite of products coming in the Bear Minimum line, some further than others, but that whole idea of “I wish there was something like this” and getting to make that, that’s really exciting for me. It’s really worth it. If we can make a living from this, then that would be the second best thing about it.

On a side note, because of our season right now (Christmas 2018) people keep coming back and leaving 5-star reviews with “I love this thing! I saw you all on Shark Tank, and I can’t tell you how this works yet because this is a gift for Christmas”. The first time someone said that, I knew it was going to happen, that these were going to be gifts, but it just – I had a moment there when the first person said “this is a Christmas gift, I’ll let you know after Christmas”, something that I thought of and created is going to be someone’s Christmas gift is so….honoring. I really love that.

Entrepreneurship. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m more of an inventor than an entrepreneur. The important thing, and I’m learning and I’ll continue learning, but the important thing is to surround yourself with people who are better than you in things you aren’t good at. This is so that you can focus on things that you are good at. It’s really easy for an entrepreneur to say that I created this company so that I can do this, and then they are doing all the things that they don’t like to do.

The job I had before this I was selling an app called Crossroads Career, it was designed for churches and non-profits to help people find their calling, to help people in job transitions. I forget but something like 70% of the workforce are dissatisfied with what they are doing, and they are basically just working to make money. The people who are the most successful are doing something that they want to do, that they like doing. The success is not just financial but it’s everything. There are people who are really good at their jobs that they hate, and that’s a different thing than being good at the job that you love.

Wrap Up

Cory is a down-to-earth guy who spent a lot more time in our conversation than I anticipated. His path to Shark Tank success is like most I’ve heard and read about: littered with challenges, setbacks, leaps forward and an exhausting amount of work. Entrepreneurship is not always sexy, but it is vital to bring us all great new products that we never knew could be possible. I love to hear the stories that entrepreneurs have because there are so many life lessons that are learned along the way, and Cory and Heidi’s story is no different. Bear Bowls make great gifts and are very affordable; I recommend ordering several so that you have one for yourself and several to give as gifts.

If you haven’t read my previous interviews, you can check out a conversation with newlyweds that went tent camping for their honeymoon, or read my 2-part interview with Tom Tash at Pocket Parks about their tent-only campgrounds that they are starting outside of national parks, or check out the 2-part interview I did with Skip Huber, host of Happy Camper Radio, who is also a fan of tent camping.

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