The fashion cell phone holder, PartiePoche (pronounced Party Posh), was the episode 409 “Holiday Train Wreck Pitch.” A good train wreck in the Shark Tank is great for ratings and, while it doesn't always leave entrepreneurs' public character intact, it's often good for sales too. What was witnessed by Shark Tank fans when Connor Pastoor and girlfriend Jillian Jaccard pitched their PartiePoche cell phone holder is just the tip of the iceberg in an entrepreneurial story that didn't end with their unsuccessful pitch. In fact, the PartiePoche story is just beginning and Shark Tank fans will likely have a much different view of Connor, Jillian, their former cell phone holder business, and the product itself as it moves forward.
Train Wreck compounded by “Egregious” Web Strategy
Most Shark Tank fans take what appears on air as the complete story. SharkTankBlog readers know there is always much more to any entrepreneur's story going on behind the scenes. One thing I have found is a good train wreck can actually be very good for business. A train wreck, more often than not, results in increased search engine traffic and, conversely, increased sales. Not true for PartiePoche.
When Connor and Jillian were poised at the edge of the canyon in the locomotive that was their pitch, viewers anticipating the ensuing train wreck went looking for their website. What they found was a crappy WIX site with a headline that said “SOLD OUT” and an email address. Not a very good call to action, especially when you're appearing on national TV in front of 6+ million viewers! People were interested in the cell phone holder product, whether the young entrepreneurs were successful in the tank or not. Many went to the PartiePoche Facebook page, which shot from 51 likes pre-show to nearly 3,000 likes in just a few days. Entrepreneurs would gladly trade that kind of train wreck for those kind of numbers!
Rival Cell Phone Holder Company Benefits from PartiePoche Train Wreck
Kendra Kroll, creator of Porta Pocket, a cell phone holder product similar to PartiePoche, was “spitting nails” when PartiePoche was teetering on the cliff. “I actually applied for season three,” said Kendra. “I had a conversation with a producer and went as far as sending in a video. This was before the ‘Bling' version of my product was introduced. I heard back that we didn't make it, so I tried again to audition for season four. I went to the casting call in Chicago, and by the time I got to see someone, they weren't taping anymore. It was like you could hear crickets chirping, the girl at the desk was using toothpicks to keep her eyes open!”
“I still pitched them and gave them our product, but I'm not confident our message got across. After not hearing back, I came to the conclusion that I didn't make it. When I saw PartiePoche was on the show, I was beside myself. When I saw they had no website, I couldn't believe it. They dropped the ball and kicked it into the river!”
As the train wreck unfolded on-screen, Kendra noticed something else was going on. Porta Pocket was getting a lot of search traffic and Kendra was making sales! PartiePoche's bad web strategy was directly benefiting the bottom line for Porta Pocket. “We made a lot of sales. Not like when I appeared on the Today Show three years ago, but we made sales.”
There are a lot of players in the broadly defined cell phone holder marketplace. A product similar to Porta Pocket called Jambeadore was funded on Shark Tank's Canadian cousin, Dragon's Den, in their season seven. There is a cell phone holder product aimed at horse lovers, a cell phone holder for runners, dozens of “generic” cell phone holder products, Kendra's Porta Pocket, and, of course, PartiePoche.
“ParitePoche is aimed at the fashion crowd, Porta Pocket is a more multidimensional product since it can go around your leg, your arm, your waist, and you can switch out the pockets. It's more than ‘just' a cell phone holder,” said Kendra. “You can go from marathon to ballroom by switching out the pockets. The fact there are many other similar products speaks to the need.” Kendra was glad the PartiePoche train wreck extended to their website, but that may be changing.
Audacis enters cell phone holder space by acquiring PartiePoche
Part of the reason for PartiePoche not having a website on the original air date is Connor and Jillian just sold the business to a company called Audacis, owned by entrepreneurs Ryan Linares and Kyle Amicucci. The University of Tampa students were the “college kids” with a stake in the company Mr. Wonderful referred to during the PartiePoche pitch. I caught up with Ryan on the phone and immediately chastised him for his failure to capitalize on “the Shark Tank effect.”
He sheepishly chuckled at being called out on his “egregious” website execution, but he had an explanation. “We weren't going to move forward with our plans until we had full control,” he said, “the deal was just finalized a few weeks ago. We'll have a fully functioning, easy to navigate, e-commerce site up by Friday's re-run.” Ryan and Kyle plan to sell PartiePoche direct while they make contacts with big box retailers and other retail channels.
Ryan found PartiePoche when he went up against Jillian at the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition at the University of Texas, an annual Shark Tank-like competition among collegiate entrepreneurs. Ryan, who goes to the University of Tampa, was impressed with Jillian and PartiePoche. “She was amazing. She had a great pitch and a great product. She kicked my ass! I knew in 90 seconds I wanted to work with her.”
Ryan says the Audacis business model is to find companies with products in development, acquire them, and take them to the next level. “We go to these competitions,” he explains, “and seek out young talent. We make sure their products get off the ground. We're kind of like product headhunters.” I prefer to call them “rogue sharks.”
He told me both Connor and Jillian “walked away happy” from the deal.
Connor and Jillian Speak Out
As with any train wreck on Shark Tank, there is a lot of “creative editing” that occurs once the entrepreneurs leave the tank. I caught up with Connor and Jillian, who took a few moments out of studying for final exams to speak to me. Connor, who confessed that he and Jillian are dating, is a second year MBA student. Jillian is a graduating senior with a double major in accounting and finance and an accomplished track athlete. The young entrepreneurial couple met on the Loyola Marymount Cross Country Team and hit it off both socially and romantically.
Connor spoke of their business and romantic partnership. “I can see how ‘mom and pop' businesses get going. When one person in a relationship starts a business, it's hard for the other person to NOT get involved. That's how it happened with Jillian and I. Her ‘AHA moment' came after one of her friends lost her phone again, she said ‘I'm just going to staple my next phone to my body.' ” The concept of a fashionable cell phone holder developed from there.
Like most Shark Tank train wreck victims, there were edits involved and things left out. “They didn't mention Jillian winning entrepreneurial contests. They didn't mention her 3.9 GPA. They didn't include the discussion about WACC (weighted average cost of capital). They didn't mention the business plan. The questions from the Sharks overlap, the sense of chaos created doesn't lend itself to articulate answers. We understood that going in – so there's no hard feelings.”
“We're definitely happy about our deal with Audacis. I wish we were there to help facilitate the website, but I have to assume it was difficult to throw resources at it when they only had a couple of weeks to do it. I'm just glad we're passing on PartiePoche to young, spirited entrepreneurs like ourselves.”
Jillian came in the room while I was talking to Connor and he passed the phone over to her. She spoke about her time in the tank and how she was portrayed. “When I realized what was going on, it created a sense of calm. I am a very competitive person, whether it's track or classes, so that is going to come out. The editing they do is just…amazing. They played it to be more dramatic than it was. There were a lot of nice things said to us too, but I just took it with a grain of salt.”
Mark Cuban came to Jillian's “rescue” at one point in the pitch, but even Cuban couldn't stop the public backlash. “Mark Cuban's remarks were out of context, but he just wants to be cool and kind, and he was. The thing that shocked me most were the comments from people on Twitter. They react like what happened on air was real! I mean, come on, it's TV. Do people think The Bachelor is real?”
“My basic life philosophy is I believe that if you have a positive outlook and do the right things, good things will happen.” While Jillian may not have been portrayed in the best light by the Shark Tank's editors, she's moving on. “I'm fully recovered,” she joked, “I'm confident in myself and my abilities, but we won't be watching the re-run. Connor has a business school party that night, so we'll be distracted.”
Jillian is a resilient and talented young entrepreneur. She credits the entrepreneurial contests she entered with getting her fashionable cell phone holder off the ground. “I had the idea, and when I applied to the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition, I was honored just to be picked. There were over 260 applicants and only 40 selected. Winning the elevator pitch competition was amazing. That's when I decided to get serious. Ryan and Kyle (from Audacis) were with us along the way. Connor and I decided when we were at a certain point in the business, we would pass the reigns to them.”
Jillian is taking a job with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, one of the “Big 4” accounting firms. She'll be specializing in valuing intangible assets, a concept lost on the Sharks in the Tank. “I love finance, I love numbers. It's important to understand the numbers in any business. I'll be working and learning what makes companies profitable. It will only help me with any other entrepreneurial ventures in the future.”
Parting Shots from PartiePoche
For now Jillian is content to finish her senior year, happy in the knowledge she invented a new twist on the cell phone holder, built a company and a brand, had an exit strategy, and cashed in; all before graduating college and embarking on the next stage of her career. “It's kind of funny, people all think we're crashing and burning when we're really living the dream.”
Connor left me with this thought for aspiring entrepreneurs: “For me, the biggest thing isn't the business plan. It isn't the strategy or the supply chain or any of that. It's finding out how you want to make an impact and pursuing it full-bore. That's what entrepreneurship is all about.”
I had one more question for Connor and Jillian, they answer that one over at the Hot Dog Truck.