Dangerous waters

They prepared for five sharks. They needed just one to bite.

By Joni Moths Mueller

Uncharted Supply Co., co-founded by Eric Janowak, Law ’05, was the first startup to walk down the iconic dark hallway and into the bright light to pitch a new business on this year’s season opener of Shark Tank. The pitch for a $100,000 investment in return for a 5 percent equity stake hooked shark Robert Herjavec — then he upped the ante and gave Uncharted Supply Co. three seconds to lock the deal.

That’s three seconds added to a whirlwind year spent developing the Seventy2, a backpack survival system of 35 tools organized in pockets with user-friendly instructions printed on each pocket, including these words: “The first five things to do when …”

It was Janowak’s friend and Uncharted founder, Christian Schauf, who spotted weaknesses in standard preparedness kits consumers believe equip them for emergencies. Schauf considered them poorly designed, filled with useless components and difficult to use. “We knew people buy these bags for peace of mind and then throw them in a closet and forget about them,” Janowak says. “But in an emergency, we also knew many don’t know how to access and use the equipment.”

They started researching emergency preparedness items and bought every survival kit they could find to analyze and break down. “We took them apart, poured over them to see the good and the bad, how they’re organized. Many were stuffed to the gills with useless stuff like sling-shots and fishing kits,” Janowak says.

Then they went to the experts — first responders, survivalists and military specialists — for advice on core items to include and how to fit them together in a top-notch survival system that could be used on the go. After several months of research, they had their product, the Seventy2.

In November 2016 Schauf and Janowak started a campaign to pre-sell the Seventy2 on Indiegogo, a crowd-funding site. Within four weeks they sold their inventory of 1,000 kits and raised more than $350,000. Sales kept mounting, and within the next two weeks, they sold more than $450,000. Then they started the long process of assembling 1,000 kits in Schauf’s apartment to ship to customers around the world in time for Christmas. “That was the most stressful time. I never want to do that again,” Janowak says.

But the experience convinced Janowak to quit his day job at a hedge fund and commit full time to Uncharted Supply Co. as CFO. It also convinced them to apply to pitch their survival system on Shark Tank. “We knew what appearing on that show can do for small companies,” he says.

They made it through several rounds of the applicant-selection process, beating out 30,000 other companies for approximately 50 spots. They decided early in the application process that Schauf would appear on the show, but they both spent countless hours getting ready. They watched eight seasons of episodes, studied the sharks, anticipated thousands of potential questions. They committed a thousand answers to memory during practice session after practice session.

They prepared a 45-second sales pitch describing how the Seventy2 “reinvents” the personal preparedness space:

“Sharks, our world is changing. Situations like earthquakes and natural disasters are on the rise. … The Seventy2 helps you survive and thrive through the first often-deadly 72 hours in literally hundreds of situations.”

On the day of the taping the Sharks began to churn in what Janowak describes as a “free for all” 45 minutes. Only a small portion of the debate was televised, he says.

Ultimately Herjavec’s bid drowned out the competition: “I think you need more money,” he said, before offering $200,000 for 10 percent equity and setting the stingy clock for a decision in three seconds.

On the day of the taping Janowak waited near the phone in case Schauf wanted to consult on an offer. Instead he got the good news of a deal done. “We were thrilled,” he says, “Robert is a really good fit for us. He ticked all the right boxes and will help us pivot to a broader audience.”

Uncharted Supply Co.’s sales rocketed to more than $1,000,000 in the week after the show aired and haven’t stopped. “I was hoping for a breather,” Janowak says, “but it’s been full-on since the show aired. We love it. This is what we signed up for. We have some new items in development and can’t wait to bring them to market. Shark Tank has been an amazing experience.”

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