Business Lead Story West Edition

‘Shark Tank’ creator hears entrepreneurs pitch products

LOS ANGELES — A “shark” was spotted near downtown Los Angeles Aug. 10, listening to business owners with dreams of striking it rich.

Billionaire investor and FUBU clothing line creator Daymond John heard live pitches from entrepreneurs just like he does on the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” which features John and several other ultra-wealthy investors. It’s part of a multi-city promotional and networking event sponsored by MillerCoors.

“Helping entrepreneurs is hot. White hot,” John says. “There’s a lot of companies talking about doing things. This is the fourth year straight that Miller Light is actually doing things with the ‘Tap the Future Live Pitch.’”

John was part of the judges panel featuring previous Live Pitch winners like Su Sanni and Ben Lamson who pitched their “We Did It” Fundraising software during the first Miller-sponsored event four years ago. Their “We Did It” company was eventually bought for $27 million.

The L.A. Live Pitch event at the Conga Room featured entrepreneurs from literally all walks of life, with three of the five businesses pitching various styles of shoes. The other two companies included a water filtration product called Aqus, which provides clean drinking water for developing countries.

Ultimately, a too costly price point in a saturated market would do them in. The other non-shoe business was the L.A.-based Crafty Cube.

The two African-American sisters shared their worries about parabens and other synthetic preservatives and chemicals that remain in their customers’ bodies and cause illness. Crafty Cube’s do-it-yourself style was their ultimate undoing when the shark asked if clients would prefer the all-natural beauty products already made for them.

That left it to the shoes. Akila Wearable Tech’s heels-to-flats transformational shoe creators boasted that their customers could be the last women standing after a long day at work or night partying.

But their prototype went limp during the demonstration, and while the Blondine salsa shoes owner touted that the difference between other dancing shoe companies and hers, was well, her, it wasn’t enough to sway the judges.

Kevin Rutledge was the winner of the $20,000 top prize for his five-loop-toed flip flops. He now competes against five other regional winners for the grand prize of $200,000. (Photo by Tami DeVine)
Kevin Rutledge was the winner of the $20,000 top prize for his five-loop-toed flip flops. He now competes against five other regional winners for the grand prize of $200,000.
(Photo by Tami DeVine)

The $20,000 prize went to Hermosa Beach-based Tip Flops. Owner Kevin Rutledge’s quirky sense of humor came through in his video and presentation, winning the judges over with the understanding that he had already sold thousands of units of the re-useable, stretchable, five-loop-toed flip flops perfect for pedicures, and which could be sold through beauty salons for about $15.

The crowd of mostly women cheered loudly when they learned Tip Flops could help them dry their toe nail polish on the go.

“Pitching to Daymond was a huge inspiration, so I’m happy I made it to this,” Rutledge said later. “I’ve applied to ‘Shark Tank’ two years in a row. This is the furthest I’ve ever gotten.”

At the end of the evening, Revolt Network host Kevin Burns, who added comedy throughout the event often acting as “the voice of God” during pitches to keep the business owners calm, brought four more entrepreneurs from the audience onto the stage to pitch the judges.

Winner Darryl Boyd scored $500 after extolling the advantages of his pet-pickup and pet birthday party businesses. For Boyd, pitching to a “shark” was no sweat.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “That’s coming from Detroit I think. But the crowd was into me, and I was happy.”

John also dispensed business advice to audience members curious about how to hire that first employee, and how he “balances life and hustle.” He acknowledged the difficulty of making time for everything, and concluded that while he didn’t like reducing family to a line item, he felt it was necessary to put his kids, including a new little 5-month-old, on his daily schedule.

Kevin Rutledge takes Tip Flops to Chicago in September going head to head with semifinalists from other 2016 Live Pitch events in Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The winner walks away with a cool $200,000 grand prize for their business.

John says the money comes with no strings attached.

“That doesn’t exist in my line of work,” he said. “That’s why I’m here because Miller Lite and the Tap the Future concept is really original, like the company itself and it’s investing in communities.

“And these people are going to go on and build their companies, grow their companies, create jobs, inspire other people, hire other people.”