ZuGo Pet: Buckle Up and Bark Away
Juls Bindi and Carolyn Shewfelt entered the tank seeking a $100k investment in exchange for 10% equity stake for their pet restraint company, Zugo Pet. With their pooches Bentley and ZuGo in hand, the duo of entrepreneurs began their presentation confidently, by showing footage of failed automobile-crash-simulations for the products currently offered on the market for keeping pets safe in the car. The video demonstrated their competitors’ inability to keep a small pet securely fastened at the impact of an accident. The Sharks nodded in acknowledgement as they watched crash dummy dogs flail dangerously and uncontrollably from their car-seats. Watching the sheer horror, Bindi rightfully said, “Thank goodness those are fake dogs.”
Nonetheless, when the duo of entrepreneurs revealed footage of their own product in action, all of the seriousness escaped the room, and laughter began to spread like wildfire amongst the Sharks. The duo’s product, The Rocketeer Pack, is made up of various straps that elevate the dog above the car seat and form a cross to separate both its front and hind legs. The resulting image of a dog hung in the air with their legs stretched awkwardly straightforward had the Sharks as Lori put it, laughing like “hyenas.”
It was a very rocky turn for a product with an important purpose, but Bindi and Shewfelt stood tall and kept smiles on their faces. Then, the laughter continued when the entrepreneurs’ demonstrated the product in-person with the help of their little partner Bentley. O’Leary mockingly said, “You’re velcroing the dog to the seat!”
Shewfelt’s difficult time fastening the dog into The Rocketeer Pack, along with Bentley’s visible shaking once he was secured in place continued the downward spiral of ZuGo Pet’s presentation. However, they were able to show footage of their product succeeding with perfect scores in the same automobile-crash-simulations that their competing products were shown failing at the beginning of their pitch. Therefore, the duo’s presentation was certainly well planned but the Sharks’ initial reaction to the product could not have gone worse.
Bindi and Shewfelt started to attract the Sharks’ attention when they demonstrated another application for The Rocketeer Pack. Not only could it be used as a car-seat, but also as a backpack to conveniently hold your pet while walking, similar to a baby-carrier.
O’Leary challenged, “There must be other products that do this, right?”
Bindi responded, revealing they had received a patent for The Rocketeer Pack. O’Leary, still not convinced, said, “I’ve seen people strapping on dogs on their bikes.”
Shewfelt shot back, “Oh, yeah, they do, but they’re not crash-tested, and they’re not safety-approved.”
From there, conversation began to go into numbers and the Sharks wanted to know the cost and selling price for the product. ZuGo Pet makes the product for $36 and sells it on the market for $160, which had Lori impressed with their margin but other Sharks were skeptical of its affordability.
The Sharks wanted to know some background information about Bindi and Shewfelt as the team behind ZuGo Pet. Shewfelt originally developed the product and retrieved the utility patent. She came up with the idea after her dog had sustained injuries that made him a safety-risk to travel with in the car. Bindi had gotten involved later on, investing an eye-opening $200k into ZuGo Pet because she believed in Shewfelt’s vision. Bindi’s funding was used to conduct the automobile-crash-tests and build inventory.
Suddenly, Cuban asked a pivotal question, “Do you know what the data is in terms of number of dogs killed per year in car accidents?”
Shewfelt said she didn’t know if that statistic existed but she knew citizens in the United Kingdom who get in an accident with their dog unsecured in the vehicle have their auto insurance voided. Therefore, there was a very practical reason for buying The Rocketeer Pack in that foreign market because of the potential legal risk. Bindi and Shewfelt told the Sharks they had taken advantage of the opportunity and are selling in 40 different countries, including the U.K. O’Leary struck again, saying, “You must sell one in each country. Like, you haven’t sold that much.”
Bindi boldly responded, “That’s cute,” with a flair of attitude and the Sharks loved it. It was a positive sign that she’d gotten a few laughs on ZuGo Pet’s side for once, just before the Sharks were ready to reveal if they were in or out.
Herjavec was the first Shark to go out because of the complicated process of strapping the dog in with the current model. As he put it, “I’m all about saving time.” O’Leary was the next to go out because he did not agree with their $1M evaluation, as they were seeking $100K for 10%. Greiner went out and agreed with Herjavec on how the current model looked complicated. She suggested they go back to the drawing board with a focus on making it simpler to use. Cuban went out on account of their marketing. He wanted a statistic for how many dogs die per year in car accidents in order to drive the necessity of the product to consumers and shared brilliant advice, “You’re selling cute when you should be selling against fear.”
John also went out, unfortunately leaving ZuGo Pet without a deal. However, he left them on a positive note as he said, “Carolyn and Juls, I love fighting for animals and protecting them, and I didn’t even think about the danger that I put my pets in when they’re in the car. So that’s what I love about 10 years of this show. I learn the most from people like you who are educating myself and the public about what’s going on.”
ZuGo Pet certainly had an important mission but they hadn’t defined a tangible problem clearly enough in their marketing strategy. The Sharks were also skeptical of the product’s complicated design but as Bindi said, they have $200k worth of inventory for their current design so changing the model will be a difficult and expensive process. Sometimes even the most valuable ideas are not enough without solid execution in product development and marketing.