… in many cases you just want to keep crawling ahead as you never know when your big break may come. Think Tortoise and the Hare. In addition, perhaps all you will have done is build a nice lifestyle business — sometime that could be way better than having the pressure and headache of a million dollar business with all the associated headaches and hassles. Think virtual lean and mean business!
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On Shark Tank’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rob Yonover. Dr. Yonover received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry/Volcanology from the University of Hawaii with a Research Fellowship at NASA -Johnson Space Center and laboratory work at MIT. He invented the SeeRescue®Streamer survival technology, LIFE/FLOAT™ Rescue Board, Pocket Floatation Device, Pocket DeSalinator,, the Video Search and Rescue (vSAR) technology, and Fin-propelled Water Bike. The SeeRescue®Streamer technology is now in use by all branches of the U.S. military. SeeRescue®Streamers are credited with 4 lives saved to date. Dr. Yonover’s books include “Hardcore Inventing”, Hardcore Health, Caregiver’s Survival Guide, and Brainstorm Islands (kids). Dr. Rob has appeared on ABC Shark Tank, CBS Innovation Nation, CNN, PBS, and the Discovery Channel.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
My ancestors kept moving me from better water to better water — Black Sea in Russia to Lake Michigan off Chicago to Atlantic Ocean off Miami. I took the initiative and took the final step to the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii where I got my Ph.D. working on volcanoes. I grew up in a creative family with entrepreneurial blood flowing in our veins.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
My friend was flying us in a rented Cessna small aircraft between Oahu and Kauai and it started to sputter — I looked down and saw a massive body of blue water. I knew that they would never see us if we crashed and the plane went down. We had flares, smoke signals, and sea dye marker on the plane as well as an electronic locating device (ELT/EPIRB), but I knew those would be gone in seconds. The plane made it to Kauai, but I fixated on that problem. A few weeks later I flew to Miami to viait my parents and the artist Christo has wrapped islands in Miami with pink plastic. That was it — if I could only figure out how to make a long pink plastic tail people could be seen when they are lost at sea (or on land). It took me years to figure out, but I finally did when I imitated nature and placed struts/spreader bars on the plastic film to replicate a centipede (so the plastic streamer did not curl or twist up)!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was able to meet some military personnel that candidly told me that my streamer had saved their lives as they used it to signal helicopters to quickly get air-lifted out of enemy territory. That felt so good to know that I helped saved a human life. It made all the struggles worth it!
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting?
The initial streamer material was pink colored and when I showed it to a macho military person, he said it was a great idea, but lose the pink (too dainty)! I switched to International Orange and the rest is history.
Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I always take input from people from all walks of life. You never know who will give you a nugget of information. We all get stuck looking at a problem from a particular point of view, however sometime the best input comes from fresh eyes. (Note that many major scientific discoveries are made by people OUTSIDE their field of study!)
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am making a covert streamer for the military that is invisible except to our guys, in case they end up in enemy territory. A bit amusing as I am trying to make a streamer that you CANNOT see! I also just got the patent for a water bicycle propelled by a reciprocating fin (once again mimicking nature) — the bike will have a fish or whale tail as it propels through the water. One benefit is it will get more people on the water and into better physical shape.
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?
I auditioned at a cattle call in Honolulu. I woke up at 4 am to get in line to avoid being 400th in the cue! I pitched and had some good visual aids (Before/After pictures of the streamer in the water) and I unfurled a streamer right there on the spot. I also cited my patents, military approvals, and consideragle sales to date — all great ammunition for the producers. I even shaved.
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?
I am not that comfortable speaking in public social settings, but I am very comfortable speaking professionally about things I know — and no one knows the streamer better than me. That gave me confidence and I practiced over and over until I had my pitch down — especially the first few sentences as those are the ones that make you the most nervous — especially staring down Mark Cuban and the crew!
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
The good news was that all the Sharks loved the technology and thought it was great. The bad news is that they all declined to invest. They thought it was too much of a military play and that adding the consumer component would be too much work (and risk) for them. Although I was extremely disappointed at the time, I grew to see it as a good result as the Sharks showed me great respect and it seemed that Mark Cuban even had a man-crush on me — ha!
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Practice your pitch until you can do it in your sleep. Memorize a few lines, but be comfortable changing up the words on the fly. You don’t want to sound like you memorized it! Use visual cues in case you get stuck, e.g., look at the props you bring and have a few bullet points that you need to say about each. If you get stuck, look at one of the props and remember the point you wanted to get across from that object.
- Relax, smile, and be yourself. Sales are all about relationships and even though that was a hostile environment, you want to connect personally with the sharks so they can see you as the person you are. Investors invest in people as much if not more than the product itself!
- Be polite, respectful, but be confident. Remember that no one knows your product like you do. You are the expert so make sure that comes across. Review all aspects of your product and business before you go in there so you can show them (and the world) that you have done your homework and you live and breathe your product.
- Be proud and take defeat graciously. You may or may not get a deal, but show your manners and thank them for their input. It’s all a learning process afterall and your journey does not end only because you didn’t get funded on national TV.
- Don’t be completely defensive relative to their comments. Instead of fighting or objecting to their comments, it can be useful to agree with them and also express that feeling that you look to their expertise to help guide them to the next level. Everyone wants to be appreciated and wanted — even the sharks!
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s not only about getting investment money, but in many cases you just want to keep crawling ahead as you never know when your big break may come. Think Tortoise and the Hare. In addition, perhaps all you will have done is build a nice lifestyle business — sometime that could be way better than having the pressure and headache of a million dollar business with all the associated headaches and hassles. Think virtual lean and mean business!
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. 🙂
My movement would be to get rid of “smart” phones or at least severely limit their use — especially among young people. (I know — not a popular idea and they would probably stone me to death!) We are becoming a country/world of followers with limited original ideas as we slide deeper into the abysss of becoming clones instead of leaders. New business startups have actually gone down with the advent of the smart phone (and even Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use them). It’s really sad when the great leaders of tomorrow are too busy checking their social media feed to see what someone is wearing or eating, instead of thinking unique thoughts and actually creatiing something from scratch!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You gotta be Hardcore” A fellow surfer once shamed me about complaining about having to get up early and surfing in cold weather. The overall takeaway is that you have to charge ahead and not be comfortable all the time. When you charge ahead under the most severe conditions, that is when you are most rewarded — personally and externally!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Joe Rogan. I would like to connect with him as I have aspirations of becoming the Joe Rogan of Technology (I enjoyed his interviews with David Goggins and pride myself on being hard chargers like both of them!)