RALEIGH — It’s been a crazy few days for Zookies Cookies’ founders Justin Miller and Tom Simon, who appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Sunday night. After the show aired confirming that the duo landed a $50,000 deal with shark and Drybar founder, Alli Webb, their phone has been ringing off the hook for their healthy, ready-to-bake pet treats.
“We are up to our eyeballs in orders,” Miller said. There are even inquiries from shoppers in Canada, which they do not ship to yet.
Thankfully, the Raleigh locals managed to find some time to chat with WRAL TechWire to give us the lowdown on what it was like to be on the show, and where they go from here.
Congrats on landing a Shark Tank deal. Talk us through the experience. How did you end up on the show? Were you nervous?
Justin: We went through a long grueling application process with layers upon layers of asks. But in the end we made it, we got on, and we got a deal. Can’t get much better than that. Nervous, kind of. More excited than anything. Shark Tank is like the Super Bowl of pitches. Win or lose, it’s an amazing experience, once in a lifetime. So we kept reminding ourselves that’s all that mattered.
Tom: Actually, almost nothing was staged. Of course our initial pitch was rehearsed, but we had no clue how the sharks would interact with us, how the dogs would behave, how the sharks would react to being fed dog treats! Nearly everything that happened was on the fly.
I understand that you went in hoping to get $50,000 at a 20 percent stake. In the end, you got $50,000 at a 30 percent stake. How do you feel about the deal that you cut?
Justin: We are super excited about it and even more excited about having someone in our camp that has ample skin in the game. Companies pitch all the time asking for $X in exchange for 5 percent. Most folks don’t get out of bed for 5 percent.
Tom: We know our numbers. We know our sales. We felt the deal we took was totally fair, and gives the shark accountability along side of us as we build this venture.
Justin, this isn’t your first Shark Tank experience, per se. You applied to get on the show with your first startup, WedPics. Tell us a little about it.
Justin: We made it to the final round before actually being sent to LA. So the semi finals? We went through the whole process, though short of the on-set audition.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you come up with the idea for Zookies Cookies? And how did you end up working together?
Tom: We launched in mid December, 2017. Both of us were post prior company sales, and wanted to jump into the next thing. The idea was originally born around repurposing spent grains from brewing beer in the kitchen, and turning those grains into dog treats. It evolved out of the spent grains and into a simpler solution — using dry ingredients that just required you to add water and bake. Think “Bisquick”, but using only healthy, delicious ingredients. We also thought, let’s include a dog bone cookie cutter in every jar because that would be oh so rad!
Justin: We started out giving what would eventually become Zookies to our neighbors as testers and we continued to get the same response: “WOAH! These are like Critter Crack!” It was game on from that point forward!
What has it taken to get to this point? How much have you raised? Where are you based? How many employees?
Tom: We haven’t raised anything to date. We’ve self funded this endeavor and coupled it with a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to grow. We’re based in downtown Raleigh, NC and we manufacture our jars at Bobbees Bottling in Louisburg North Carolina.
Justin: Right now, we have two human employees, Tom and I, and three dogs, Bennie, Josie, and Dexter. Occasionally our Chief Swinenance Officer, Theodore Pig Newton, does an overview of our books in exchange for some fresh Zookies.
What’s next in terms of fundraising? Where do you plan to go from here?
Tom: We’re not focused on fundraising now; we’re focused on sales. The beauty of Shark Tank is the “Shark Tank Effect.” We just got eight minutes of exposure to millions of eyeballs. Now it’s time to get this amazing product in as many hands as we can – because once people (nay… dogs) try it, they want more!
Justin: Our plan is to scale our direct to consumer channel (our website) along with some brick and mortar opportunities. Last week, we launched Zookies in HealthySpot Natural Pet Store — in 15 locations across Southern California.
Both of you have had startups before: Justin founded WedPics, while Tom got his start with Source3, which he eventually sold to Facebook. What will you do differently this time around as you grow this new venture?
Justin: Have more fun, and try to stress less. It’s dog treats. How can this not be a good time?
Tom: In all seriousness, though, selling a product is infinitely different from selling software/app. And the pet community is a wild place. It’s been an incredibly exciting year, and we’ve just scratched the surface here. We’re approaching this with the skillsets, from marketing tactics to fulfillment to data analytics, that we built in our former lives. It’s certainly paying off.
You’re not the first local startup to appear on Shark Tank and do well. What does it say about the startup ecosystem here in the Triangle?
Justin: That we have an affinity for the large fish in the sea!
Note: Readers wanting to check out Zookies can save 10 percent by using the code SHARKTANK.