Be humble: As optimistic as you may feel, do not walk in the tank exuding a level of confidence that makes the sharks feel as if you are doing them a favor by being there. They are fully aware that you need them more than they need you so to come off as combative and all-knowing seems like it would be counterproductive and a complete turn off with regards to their interest in partnering with you. Listen to their feedback and if you disagree, do so with a level of respect and understanding. There are many instances where they will wind up putting more emphasis in the value of the entrepreneur(s) as opposed to the value of the idea.
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons, I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Kinas.
Jonathan Kinas is the co-founder and managing partner of AquaVault, a company known for inventing the Portable Travel Safe and successfully closing a deal with Daymond John on Season 6 of ABC’s hit show Shark Tank. Kinas has a background in finance but is also an inventor and serial entrepreneur.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jonathan! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
Growing up, I had big dreams like most children. I always knew I wanted to invent something but never executed on any of the ideas. Being that I had a few inventors in the family, this sense of curiosity and desire to innovate has surrounded me since I was a child. Over the years, I’ve come up with countless ideas but never had the conviction that any of them were good enough to pursue. I consistently found the flaws in them which was partially attributed to an inherent fear of failure along the way. It wasn’t until later on in life that I realized failure is part of the process and it’s nearly impossible to create something great without taking risks and embracing the unknown. It took getting robbed while going for a swim to realize that this would be the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey that I have waited so long to pursue. They say that opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
The catalyst for inventing the AquaVault was very simple. My friends and I were staying at one of the hotels in South Beach for a wedding and the very first day that we went down for a swim, I returned to my lounge chair to discover that all of my valuables were stolen. Even though I inconspicuously placed everything in my shoes which I hid underneath a towel and then tucked under my lounge chair, that was not enough to stop the thief from stealing everything. This all happened in a matter of minutes which led me to believe it was targeted rather than randomized. After security comes over to discuss the matter, a group of girls introduce themselves and share that they too were robbed the day before while stationed at the exact same lounge chairs. At that moment, I started to think of what could have prevented this from happening and that’s how the idea for the AquaVault was born. After thinking deeper into the situation, I found it astounding that so many people around the world simply accepted the vulnerability of having all of their valuables stolen while going for a swim. It was mind-boggling that nobody had come up with a viable solution. Being that we stumbled upon the answer, we decided this was an opportunity that was too valuable to let go of. That day, my two friends and I decided to put pen to paper and embrace the challenges of inventing a Portable Safe that attaches to lounge chairs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The first day we launched the AquaVault we organized a test with one of the hotels in South Beach. The objective here was to test the market feedback and determine if this product was going to be a success or a failure. I was stationed at the towel hut on the beach behind the hotel, giving out the AquaVault to all the guests as a courtesy. All that I asked for in return was to provide me their critical feedback on the product. Almost everyone accepted the AquaVault with open arms but there was one particular couple that rejected it. I vividly remember the girlfriend asking her boyfriend why he was reluctant and he simply responded with, “We don’t need that.” Fast forward a few hours and I see two people in the corner of my eye talking to a police officer and as it turns out, it appeared that they had their valuables stolen. At that moment I thought to myself, there is undoubtedly a one hundred percent need for this product.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The very first trade show we attended was with the intention of finally introducing our invention to the market. We arrived with one single prototype for the AquaVault. We had no signage or displays so to say our booth was unprepared would be a compliment. Before the show even started, we somehow dropped the prototype on the floor and of course, it chips and cracks. This was the first sign that our test for durability was far below where it needed to be. Although far from what we felt comfortable presenting, we had no choice but to continue on with the show. You can imagine how embarrassing it was handing over this prototype to everyone that walked over to our booth. Needless to say, we had a lot of people laugh but ultimately, a majority of the people were able to look past the embarrassing prototype and provide immense support for the concept we had created. Overall, the positive feedback was exactly what we were hoping for but we’ll never forget how poorly prepared and comical our presentation must have appeared.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on several new products but the latest one we can discuss was just launched a couple of weeks ago. It is a biometric “fingerprint” lock with interchangeable cables. This is a product that has so many uses because you are able to change the cables depending on how long or short you need it to be. For example, if you are locking up your bicycle you will need a much longer cable than if you were locking up your backpack or your kitchen cabinets. We are excited about the potential of this product and will continue developing new products as we aim to continuously magnify our footprint in the travel security space.
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted? What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
Going on Shark Tank was something we really never considered but after having a few conversations on the potential benefits, we decided to give it a shot and test our luck. I believe our season received roughly 45,000 applicants and only accepted around 100 companies so as you can see, being a little lucky was certainly part of the equation. After submitting our application, we quickly received an email back requesting additional information including a follow-up interview. We moved through the process fairly quickly as the deadline was quickly approaching. The submission process was multi-tiered, very involved and forces the applicants to thoroughly understand the intricacies and minutiae of their entire business. After completing all stages, we finally received the call to fly out to LA and pitch the sharks. Although somewhat nerve-wracking, we were beyond excited for the opportunity to show millions of people who we are and what we’ve invented. The appearance on that show along with making a deal that actually worked out has proven to be an invaluable milestone for our company. Our relationship with Daymond has only gotten stronger over the years as we all continue to work together growing this company.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve-wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show? We prepared for our pitch for weeks in advance and covered virtually every question imaginable. We watched many of the past episodes to familiarize ourselves with what kind of questions we could expect. We figured there weren’t too many curveballs that they can throw at us which we wouldn’t be equipped to answer. As you’re going through the process, you reach a certain level of confidence and believe that you are as prepared as you can be. We reached that moment well in advance of the airing but as you can imagine, as soon as those doors open, that confidence begins to dissipate as you come to realize this is no longer practice. You’re live and there are no second takes.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch? Were you pleased with the outcome?
We walked into the tank looking to make a deal and we walked out successfully doing sol. We accomplished our mission and we’re thrilled to be able to do it with a shark who has turned out to be a tremendous partner. We were originally concerned that if we were to make a deal, there is the chance that we would not deal with the shark directly but be forced to deal with their team. Fortunately for us, Daymond has always been very involved and has delivered beyond what we originally anticipated.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Know your numbers: If you do not know your numbers in and out, you are setting yourself up for failure. The sharks are going to dig into the details and if you cannot articulate with accuracy, what your business has done and where it’s projected to go, their conviction in your ability to successfully scale the business will most certainly be minimized.
- Practice your pitch: As you may have seen with a few companies when an entrepreneur freezes up or botches their pitch, it can throw them off balance for the rest of the segment. You must make sure that you are overly prepared so you can walk in with the highest level of confidence and successfully deliver on all of your focal points. If you nail your pitch and feel good about the delivery, that confidence can carry through the rest of your interaction with the sharks. It’s important to remember that you don’t have a second chance at making a first impression.
- Be flexible with your valuation: Your valuation is not set in stone and should not be presented in that fashion. This is a figure that can fluctuate based on a whole series of variables so to walk in the tank being non-negotiable will only position you as somewhat unreasonable and probably challenging to work with.
- Be humble: As optimistic as you may feel, do not walk in the tank exuding a level of confidence that makes the sharks feel as if you are doing them a favor by being there. They are fully aware that you need them more than they need you so to come off as combative and all-knowing seems like it would be counterproductive and a complete turn off with regards to their interest in partnering with you. Listen to their feedback and if you disagree, do so with a level of respect and understanding. There are many instances where they will wind up putting more emphasis in the value of the entrepreneur(s) as opposed to the value of the idea.
- It’s what you do after the airing: Going on Shark Tank is an amazing experience but only lasts a finite period of time. It’s how you capitalize on that opportunity which can help determine the trajectory of the business going forward. It is a misconception to believe that every company that gets on Shark Tank is guaranteed to be a success. In actuality, after the segment is over is when the real hard work begins. As the business grows, so do the complexities and challenges.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Entrepreneurs know that the wheels never stop spinning and there is no such thing as clocking out. The pressure is constantly on because time is of the essence and competition is inevitable. Make sure your expectations are reasonable in that it will not take months but it will take years for you to create a business that is even remotely successful. There is no such thing as instant gratification when it comes to entrepreneurship. With that said, make sure your partners/employees are carefully selected because these are the people you will be spending the majority of your waking hours with. Not only should they be specialists in their area, but they should share the same vision and contribute to an overall healthy corporate culture. If you burn the candlestick at both ends, burnout is only a matter of time so you need to make sure that you allocate time to break the monotony of the perpetual grind. I’m a big proponent of doing something active seven days a week as this has a multitude of positive effects on both your mind and your body. Lastly, make sure you take time to celebrate your milestones because these are the things that you are working so hard to achieve.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
They say most great ideas are taken to the grave and I truly believe this is because so many people fear failure and convince themselves that they are not capable of pursuing their dream. Although there are many unknowns and it can feel extremely overwhelming to embark on the journey of being an entrepreneur, I believe it is always more painful to regret never doing it or even worse, watch someone else execute on turning your dreams into a reality. This was actually the biggest factor in pushing me to pursue this idea. I never wanted to walk down the beach or go to a pool and see that someone else created a Portable Safe that attaches to lounge chairs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great” is a John D. Rockefeller quote that really resonates. In life, I believe you have to take chances and dream big. Many of the greatest entrepreneurs will agree that you must be able to take risks and embrace failure because the journey to creating any successful company is an ultimate challenge filled with countless variables and an abundance of unknowns. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. One of the most difficult decisions I had to make in my professional career was to leave a comfortable position in Finance in order to take a long shot at inventing a product and building a startup. I knew that the odds were exponentially stacked against us but at the end of the day, I couldn’t let go of an idea that I believed could benefit countless people around the world. In this particular instance, the potential opportunity was just too big to discount.
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Phil Knight has created an unbelievable legacy with a truly inspiring story.