I recently spoke with Jonathan Boos to get a Wurkin Stiffs update. Jonathan is an “old school” Shark Tank entrepreneur – Wurkin Stiffs was the first pitch of season two's first broadcast episode, which also happened to be Mark Cuban's first appearance as a “guest Shark” (Cuban went full-time in season three). While the episode lives on in syndication, it's been nearly five years since the episode first aired. Boos did a deal with Barbara and Daymond for $100K for 40% of the company.
“We closed the deal on the air,” says Boos, “but we never closed it after the show. What it came down to is Daymond wanted to do licensing and I wasn't ready at the time. I haven't had any real contact with Barbara since we taped, but I continue to work with Daymond. We have a business relationship – he calls from time to time to see how we're doing and we do some custom work for him. We made the cuff-links he wore in his season seven debut!”
“We're a lot different than the businesses that appear on the show today,” Jonathan continues.”We're five years removed and have a different perspective on the show. Our expectations were we genuinely wanted a partner. We did our valuation based on Shark valuations – we didn't have the luxury of seeing a lot of episodes and having that preparation that comes from a lot of history. For instance, Daymond stayed quiet throughout most of the pitch. Seeing it now, I know when Daymond likes something, he keeps quiet. I didn't know that then because there wasn't a lot of shows to observe the Sharks' behavior. We were looking to do a deal with Daymond. Wurkin Stiffs was already in Nordstrom and I wanted to align myself with someone who had a solid back office.”
“I was the first person in front of Mark Cuban on air – it was awesome to have him there. He was great on the set; he was coaching me and helping me mellow out. If I was in the same position where I was five years ago and I was going on the show now, I might have kept my mouth shut more. We certainly could have capitalized on the viewership more today, but there was still buzz. Today, I'd hire a PR firm and now that the show has such a proven track record, I could have done more preparation.”
“We had good traction in Nordstrom after the show, our online business wasn't as important to me – we're more retail driven sales-wise. Nordstrom called after it aired and they definitely saw demand. We still see traction when the episode re-airs on CNBC. They used to tell us when we were re-airing, now we know because we see a spike online and in the stores.”
Wurkin Stiffs Update – Life After Shark Tank
“When I went on Shark Tank, we had maybe 20 SKU's. We have 150 SKU's now and we're in over 1000 stores in the USA, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, building the company. Since the show, we've quadrupled our sales and gone from 4 employees to 12. As we've grown, we're mining new products guys like. A lot of times product ideas hit me on a plane or in the middle of the night. We have a new product coming out – a micro fiber pocket square. It took ten months of development. People think its silk, but it isn't. Others do similar products, but we pride ourselves on our quality. It looks and acts like a real silk pocket square.”
“Wurkin Stiffs is also introducing Stiff-nStay, a rigid plastic version of our original, metal collar stays. They have a lower price-point, but they are a top quality product. I think it's a product that will bring us more of a mass market audience.”
“Our second biggest selling category is small leather goods. We started that three and a half years ago. We work on quality there, too. Every year that category grows significantly. We recently introduced an RFID blocking wallet. A l of other companies sell RFID blocking wallets too, but we did it first and we are an established brand. Ours is just a regular looking wallet – you don't have to think about it. When Signal Vault aired in the season seven premier, I can't say we saw a boost in sales. We're not in the same mass market position as them.”
When Jonathan appeared, Daymond said “I want you to make your wife the company president so I won't have to talk to you.” I asked Jonathan what really went down with that comment.
“Well,” he laughs, “I said what I said and Daymond said what he said, but it wasn't necessarily in context. I thought the representation was fair, but I keep telling people: it's reality TV. I still watch the show, but I have an ‘insider's' perspective. I think the entrepreneurs who appear today are a lot more educated about how it all works than I was.”
“If I had advice for people wanting to build a business, I'd say don't take no for an answer. People said no to us, but we kept going. People would say our product is simple and stupid, but when you get the ‘yesses,' you keep going. A lot of ‘NO'S' come from big box stores, because they are more cautious. We don't take the status quo as an answer. Things take time to develop. Looking back, its that kind of hurdle-jumping you look back on as a learning process.”
I had one more question for Jonathon. He answers it on The Hot Dog Truck.