At the beginning of my junior year at University of Kansas, I was surprised and delighted to learn that Steven Blustein would be guest speaking in one of my business classes.
The only words I remember from my professor while introducing Steven Blustein were: “Shark Tank.” Shark Tank, the popular TV show that all entrepreneurs love, is always full of exciting people and ideas. Personally, Shark Tank has always been one of my favorite shows.
And so, the story goes, Steven Blustein was invited to pitch his startup on Shark Tank, struck a deal with the sharks, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec, and the rest is history.
But that’s actually not the story we are here to share. Steven Blustein’s real story lies in the hardships, the challenges, and the setbacks he had to overcome to launch his startup and passion project, PrideBites.
How Steven Blustein Ideated PrideBites
Steven Bluestein attended undergraduate, as well as business school at the University of Kansas. He earned his BBA in Accounting and later earned his MBA in Tax Accounting.
For Blustein, it all started during graduate school, Steven Blustein thought of the idea of developing a next-level dog toy. He wanted to develop fully customizable pet-products.
Alongside some college friends, Steven Blustein developed the idea and began testing some prototypes. PrideBites grew so fast that the team had to hire manufacturing teams directly from China, Bangladesh, Israel and other countries around the world to meet demand in the United States alone.
Intrigued by his success story, I reached out to get his insight and better understand his business and what led him to becoming such a successful entrepreneur.
Why did you guys get into the custom toy business?
“One of our retailers we pitched our idea to said to us: ‘Hey, this is pretty cool, can we make one of our own?’ From there we started to realize that we could put any image on it, and we could cut the foam and layer it in any shape or form. We didn’t want to be like a commercial product company where we just slapped a generic image on a product. We wanted to make our customer’s logo or design was THE product. That’s how we kind of entered and differentiated ourselves in the market.”
What was the process of getting PrideBites into Shark Tank like?
“The application process was very long. Every time we applied it was such a weird period for the company. There was so much going on and everyone was so busy. We worked really hard on the application, and it was super daunting. The application had some pretty invasive questions. You need to be prepared to answer questions in the most compelling way possible. If you don’t, you are considered a standard start up that is not really thinking about bootstrapping on the way.”
How big of a company was PrideBites when you applied?
“We were doing under half a million in revenue per year. In terms of our growth rate, we had been doubling our revenue every year since our inception. The application process, prior to our acceptance took about 18 months.”
Can you take us back to the night your episode aired on Shark Tank?
“Yes, it was so surreal. Our website traffic was crazy, we had over 10,000 concurrent users at any given time during the show, which was an immediate spike. Revenue into the weekend was 20x the previous year’s revenue. I mean, we just started blowing numbers out of the water. We started to see multiple orders come in per second, I’d never seen anything like that before, especially with a custom funnel like ours, which take time to design. Our typical conversion cycles take about eighteen days, it was simply amazing.”
Did you raise money before or after Shark Tank from investors?
“Both. We raised money before and after Shark Tank. In order to sustain what we’d built, we needed to make sure that we weren’t burning cash too quickly. At our initial round, we raised $300,000 to launch and test a custom platform to see if pet parents everywhere will catch on to this whole notion of designing their own products. When we learned of pet-parents’ interest in what we offered, we then moved to raise another round on a convertible note which was just under a million dollars.”
How did PrideBites scale up?
“The power of social media really helped us propel in that direction. Customers were sharing their customized toy with a unique hashtag making the post viral and at the same time making our company grow organically. In our first couple of years, we have never paid for an image of our products, it was always user-submitted. We’ve had over 10,000 users submit images on Instagram, which made for great shareable content which was key for the extension of the business.”
Is PrideBites relying exclusively on Social Media Marketing?
“We really leverage a lot of customer conversion cycles from our social platforms. We plan to continue to leverage our social platforms and begin to enhance our content much more. We are also increasing our product line for customers to come back and find again what they are looking to create.”
What’s the single best piece of advice that any investor has given you?
“Emotional strength to grind through the process. You will get a lot of opinions and feedback along the way, but you really need to stay true to your initial vison. Continue to do what you think is best for your company.”
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into Shark Tank?
“To be as personable as you can. Letting your personality shine through is really important to the sharks. Also, there is no pause or stop once you are in the tank, so you better be prepared for all sort of questions and immediately and effectively.”