What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? My mom got me a box that said this about a year before I started Sharkbanz, and I put it on my desk. Again, it was somewhat of a cliché, but I took it seriously because she embodied that mantra. I think of her struggles and successes often and I reminds me that I can succeed as well. Sharkbanz IS my story of attempting something imagining that I could not fail.
I had the pleasure to interview Nathan Garrison. Nathan is a lifelong surfer, diver and the Co-Founder of Sharkbanz, the world’s first shark deterrent band for anyone who spends time in the ocean. Nathan believes that through education and common sense risk reduction measures, humans and sharks can share the ocean in harmony. “Ocean conservation is a big part of our mission, and we donate 3% of profits to organizations that work to prevent new offshore drilling, reduce plastic pollution, and establish new marine conservation areas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path.
My close friend was attacked by a bull shark when we were teenagers growing up in Charleston, SC. The injury was serious and if it weren’t for the teeth missing a few critical ligaments, he may never have surfed or walked properly again. Before this attack, I was never scared of sharks, and the possibility of being attacked didn’t seem real. Afterwards, I struggled with my own fear of them. That catalyzed a sequence of events that would lead to my father and I creating Sharkbanz in 2014.
To understand how I was able to create Sharkbanz, it’s important to understand a bit about my background. I majored in Multimedia Journalism at the University of Miami and started my career in the footwear industry with Teva as the project coordinator and content manager in the creative department, later moving to managing video content production. My experience at Teva was like going to business school. By communicating with every department, from development to sales, I was able to learn the steps required to take a product from concept to the shelf at retail. This proved crucial in doing the same for Sharkbanz, and I can say without this experience, we never would have achieved that success.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Bringing any product to market is difficult with everything that’s required — capital, time, team members, learning new skills, making the right connections — it’s an endless list. Developing and launching Sharkbanz adds another layer of difficulty because you actually need sharks. This requires traveling to an area where you can find them, hoping they show up, and then have them stick around long enough to actually test your prototypes and film the results. Your prototype has to work…and…we had to get in the water with the sharks and test it ourselves.
We licensed the patent for Sharkbanz magnetic technology from a group of scientists (SharkDefense) that had researched and developed repellents for a decade. After investing a considerable amount in R&D and design work, we received our first rough prototypes and had to test it out in hopes of raising more capital to make it to the launch stage. This required a trip to the Bahamas with Dr. Patrick Rice (Dean of Florida Keys Community College Marine Science Program) to test it out. Stakes were high. If the test failed, we were back to the drawing board and out of money.
We landed in Bimini, Bahamas, where Shark Defense has their research permits and prepped everything for the big day. Dr Rice assured us that it would work, and that there would be sharks at the testing grounds, but the nerves remained. A picture perfect day greeted us the next morning, and we headed out. After hours of chumming, no sharks arrived. The locals said it was the first time they’d ever had zero sharks. We returned home in defeat and prepared to go back out the next morning. Another day of beautiful weather greeted us, and we boarded the boat and began the cruise to the site. Within minutes, the boat motor lurched to a halt, and we were stuck. This was our last chance, and we were stranded. Out of nowhere, a small boat rounded the island and offered to tow us in. Reaching the dock, I begged everyone with a boat to take us out and save the day. A kind man with a much better boat offered to go as he “didn’t have anything better to do” and hopes were high once again.
Within minutes, a shark arrived. Then 2, 3 more. I would be filming the testing underwater on Scuba gear while my dad was my safety diver. Dr. Rice would wear the Sharkbanz prototype and observe the sharks reactions to the band on his ankle. Before flipping over the side to enter a feeding frenzy of 5 sharks, my dad and I looked at each other and said “was this really a good idea?” then laughed and fell backwards into the blue.
We watched in amazement as the sharks were repelled by the Sharkbanz on Dr. Rice’s foot. We surfaced, cheering, then conducted more tests off the back of the boat that were also successful. My dad and I had captured enough footage to stir up some excitement, and the media caught on quick. Within 2 months of the testing, we were Live on World News and had gone globally viral.
This overnight success meant we had raised enough money to start manufacturing. Now we just had to do it, which proved to be the biggest challenge of all.
Anyone who’s ever manufactured product overseas knows the process is fraught with challenges and pitfalls, and we experienced many that nearly shut us down. (I’m happy to detail these further — they’re quite extensive)
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I had hit rock bottom with my previous business and wasn’t going to fail again. Through my father’s faith in me, and knowing I wasn’t alone, we pushed through and achieved success. We also had so much support and encouragement from the early adopters of the product. Their enthusiasm propelled us when we were down.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
The initial Grit allowed us to launch the product and get it in people’s hands so they could start protecting themselves from sharks while enjoying their favorite ocean activities. Things really turned around when we started getting real results. People were writing in to us telling amazing stories of how they deterred aggressive sharks in the wild and potentially prevented an attack. This momentum snowballed and we really started getting attention, landing a spot on the show “CBS’s Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation”. That same trip to film the show, we landed our first retailer, Diver’s Direct, Florida’s biggest Dive Shop Chain. We’ve continued to receive compelling testimonials from our users, and conducted hundreds of hrs of testing since then. That’s resulted in licensing deals, news stories, and new products hitting shelves. We’re distributed on 6 continents, and have about 100 retailers in the USA.
I like knowing that at the end of the day, if my task isn’t complete, that’s on me. That accountability creates pressure, but also a fantastic sense of reward. The best messages I receive are those from our customers around the world describing an experience where Sharkbanz successfully deterred an aggressive shark in the wild, or helped him/her return to the ocean for the first time after a shark attack. One of my biggest highlights was receiving a personal email from a former Navy SEAL and renowned big wave surfer who was incredibly grateful for our product after he used it to deter a large, aggressive Bull Shark while spear fishing in the Florida Keys. I revered this man for years before receiving the message, and knowing that I was able to help such an esteemed waterman gave me a sense of accomplishment and reinforced our mission early on.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
Today, we’re working on custom products for military operations around the world and focusing our efforts on research and development of new products, as well as continued testing. There are so many ways our technology can help humans and sharks co-exist while offering environmentally friendly solutions to the problem. We’ve got the best sports watch manufacturer in the world creating our products, and the quality is top notch. We’ve got a product and brand I’m truly proud of. When I set out to create Sharkbanz, all I ever wanted was a way to prevent people from having the horrible experience that my friend had and making a basic living. We’ve achieved so much more than I ever imagined.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
1. Figure out how to turn emotions of defeat, feeling overwhelmed, and criticism into fuel for increasing your drive and efforts. At my lowest point ever professionally, I found myself covered in blood with all my clothes shredded at the bottom of a ravine with $20,000 of torched camera gear. I had lost my livelihood and my job. I could have gone off and done the “safe” thing; taken a job at a corporation with a desk once again. It a cliché, but its true: I had to dig really deep and figure out how to turn those emotions into something useful.
2. Don’t do it by yourself. We’re creatures that require love and support. I couldn’t have made it through the challenges we faced without my closest friend Davis, who joined the company shortly after launch. His passion for my father and I’s project translated into late nights and shared successes and failures that developed a bond far beyond anything I had previously shared with someone. I remember when he left his other job to join full time, and then the next week, we had 1000 potentially defective units arrive from our old manufacturer. He picked them all up from a warehouse in Los Angeles, and stayed up for days in around until all of them had been quality control checked. This would have been a miserable experience for ANYONE. He didn’t flinch.
3. Always have humility and hold yourself accountable. I spent $10,000 on a video that ended up being completely useless to us as a brand. I had to admit that I totally blew it and change directions, conceding that to my teammates. You can’t let your ego get in the way. People can forgive those who have humility, sincerity and listen to others. Blind faith is hard to support.
4. Enjoy your successes! So many people forget to revel in the moment for a while. Having Grit means you can work hard and play hard. I’ve seen another entrepreneur rise to a level of relative success, but he forgot to enjoy it, always looking to the next thing. He didn’t reward his employees for what they’d built, and always moved right on to the next thing. The drive was to succeed was there, but it was empty success. Eventually, he got totally burned out, quit, and became an alcoholic. Some people are too hard on themselves and forget that we should enjoy life as well.
5. What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? My mom got me a box that said this about a year before I started Sharkbanz, and I put it on my desk. Again, it was somewhat of a cliché, but I took it seriously because she embodied that mantra. I think of her struggles and successes often and I reminds me that I can succeed as well. Sharkbanz IS my story of attempting something imagining that I could not fail.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
My Dad wins that award. Without my father’s faith in me (perhaps blindly 😉 as his son, no one else ever would have been crazy enough to give a broke 27 year old a solid portion of his life savings to make this dream a reality. I’m most grateful to him for that and his many other sacrifices throughout my life above all else.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The more products we sell, the more people we protect from a potentially life threatening injury (or worse). We know of around 40 people who have possibly prevented a shark attack using Sharkbanz. In addition, we donate 3% of profits to ocean conservation efforts to ban shark finning sale and trade, prevent new offshore drilling, and protect and restore ocean habitats. We’re currently collaborating with Shark Stewards, Coral Reef Alliance, and Barton Lynch’s Blast Off Event Series.
We’re also donating a portion of proceeds from our new color to Warrior Surf Foundation, one of CNN’s Heros. They hold 6 week surf therapy camps for veterans that have produced extraordinary results! WSF was founded by a veteran named Andy Manzi in our hometown of Charleston, SC. These guys are heroes!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on some fishing related products that will help people and sharks by reducing bycatch (stopping sharks from being needlessly killed) and saving fishermen from losing thousands of dollars of their catch to sharks each day.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
#5 from my list. Instill the value of “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Enable and empower your employees to feel like their creativity is valued. You NEVER know what someone is capable of until you really give them the confidence to try.
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. 🙂
I would inspire a movement to get people to vote for real 100% clean energy climate change legislation. It’s the biggest, most important issue facing the world right now. I wish we would just drop everything else and work together to fix it. The means are there; we just need the effort.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always do the hard thing. You’ll never regret it.” Thanks Mom, I’d never be hear without hearing that little voice of yours in the back of my head.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@sharkbanz on instagram/facebook