BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 34: From NO Business Experience to $40M in Sales and Shark Tank Success with Jamie and Brian Ratner of CertifiKID

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Are you concerned that your lack of business experience is going to hinder your ability to start and grow a company? Do you think that being a marketing expert is a prerequisite to getting your first customers? Well, that’s not the case… and our guests today are here to prove it!

Jamie and Brian Ratner—co-founders of CertifiKID, a multi-million dollar family-focused deal site—are here to tell you about how they started their company without business degrees, without a big team, and without a big marketing budget. And on this episode, they teach us how you can bootstrap your business and how building a team that buys into your vision can propel you to success.

Jamie tells us how she stood on the street corner handing out flyers, trying to find that first customer. And Brian tells us how—10 years later—they were able to put themselves in front of some of the most influential investors on the planet. Brian also tells his story about how he went toe-to-toe with Kevin O’Leary (from Shark Tank), negotiating a deal that would bring them a big six-figure investment and a realization of one of their big business goals.

And if you’ve ever dreamed of being on Shark Tank, make sure you listen for Jamie’s tip on how to bypass the cattle-call auditions and get straight to the decision makers!

Check them out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J: So let’s welcome Jamie and Brian to the show. How you guys doing today?

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Jamie: Good! Thanks so much for having us.

Brian: Thank you.

Carol: Thank you so much for coming on board with us today. We are so excited to dig into your journey, and we’ve been following you for quite some time. We know you’ve had some recent really big successes, and some really big milestones, and we’re going to talk all about that. We’re going to talk about your journey along the way, and dig back into your backstory. But first, to set the stage for all of our listeners, Jamie and Brian, can you tell us what CertifiKID is now? And can you please also share some relevant metrics about your business?

Jamie: Can I go ahead?

Brian: As usual, Jamie will go first with the story, and then I’ll come in with the metrics.

Carol: Perfect strategy! That works.

Jamie: CertifiKID is a decade old. It’s ten years old. It is a website that offers everything a family wants and needs at a discount. We think of ourselves as resource, but we also have great deals. The story is that I was a big follower of Groupon when it first started, but I was a new mom. I had two kids under the age of two, and I thought that Groupon had some great deals for restaurants and spas, but I really wasn’t going to restaurants and spas with my babies.

Jamie: So I was telling Brian on a car ride … We were going for Christmas to Pittsburgh … and I mentioned about this new site I loved, but that it just didn’t really work for me as a new mom. So what would be great would be if it had offers specifically geared to what families want and need. And the rest is history!

Brian: All right. I think it’s fair to say that Jamie’s always been someone that has had an entrepreneurial spirit. She always has business ideas. Let’s just say that a lot of ideas would go in one ear and out the other for me. I’d be like, “Oh, that’s not so great.” Or, “Oh.” Or sometimes I’d just smile. But for some reason, this idea connected. Maybe it was because we were trying to be distracted from our kids in the backseat or something, but I really kind of … I didn’t really know anything about Groupon at that point. I was totally clueless. But that really connected with me, and I just was asking lots of questions, and immediately thought that that was an amazing idea.

Brian: By the end of that car ride, we had our initial business plan. We’re off to the races. We had the name of the company, and spent the whole weekend, instead of relaxing and hanging out and taking a breath, basically putting together the pieces that would ultimately become CertifiKID.

Carol: Very cool.

J: That’s awesome. For those in our listening audience, I’m sure most of them know CertifiKID and/or Groupon, but for those that don’t, basically it’s kind of a deal site. Every day, you mail out deals that you provide from various vendors, either locally or nationally, to your mailing list, and they can get great deals on specific products or services. Groupon just wasn’t providing the family related, or the family niche services and products, and so you saw kind of an opening there. You saw a niche there that you could kind of jump in and fulfill yourselves.

Jamie: Correct. It’s camps, and birthday parties, and festivals. You know, events for families. Totally different types of offers that are specific to parents.

Carol: Awesome. And so I want to dig more into your backstory of how you got there, before that journey to Pittsburgh, where this whole business plan launched. Tell us where the business is today. You started what year? How many users do you have? How many of those deals have you sold? What do your sales look like right now?

Brian: Okay. We started the business in, basically on the other side of that trip. We started the company in January of 2010. We launched our first deal at the end of May in 2010. We were profitable after three months. We earned our first million dollars in sales within 18 months of that start date. We are now doing about five million dollars per year in sales. We’ve got, probably since inception, 40 million dollars in sales. Obviously, last year was the first external investment that we entered into with Kevin O’Leary through the Shark Tank experience.

Carol: Awesome. That’s really exciting stuff. Thanks for sharing that. So, Jamie-

Brian: Hold on. And I want to interrupt you, Carol. But so we had … Our reach is probably over a million, but every day we’re sending to about 500,000 subscribers.

Carol: Every day. That’s a huge subscription base.

Brian: Every day with our offers.

Carol: Very nice. I love it. So for our listeners who don’t know, if you haven’t put it together yet, Jamie and Brian are a husband and wife team. Jamie is the CEO of the company. Jamie, what were you doing before CertifiKID? What is your backstory? How did you have the knowledge and experience to launch CertifiKID?

Jamie: My educational experience is in security management and criminal justice.

Carol: Huh.

Jamie: Yeah. That was the type … I actually have a Master’s Degree in that. I was working for a large law firm, in charge of their security when I started CertifiKID. I, on the side, was running a blog for deals on all my favorite finds. It was called Little Miss Fun Finds. It was just a side project that I really loved, but I was committed to it, and I grew a following with it. Had no business background, but just a passion for, and thinking that one day I really wanted to have a business.

Jamie: And I did. I was putting money away for that idea that one day I would have a business, but Brian had always said, “Just wait until after you have kids, after the kids have grown. Then do it.” So that was sort of the plan. And I had about $3,000 that was saved, but I thought it would be years and years that I would be working and adding to that to start the business. But when you have an opportunity, you’ve got to take it.

Carol: That’s really cool. With your background, it sounds like, as you said, you didn’t have business experience, but you did have this awesome idea, and opportunity was the right time. You had a few thousand dollars. Was that the initial money that you invested was $3,000? Or was there a little bit more? You said you were thinking about more along the way. How did that all work out in the beginning?

Brian: I think it ended up being like we had, like, $5,000 in the savings account that was a savings account for Jamie, and that ended up becoming the seed money for the business, with the first investment of course was to build a website, because we are a website based business. So it was hiring a web developer to put the website together in a very short period of time, so we could launch that first deal. The rest was sweat equity, basically, at the early phase.

Brian: We probably ended up spending between five and ten thousand dollars, just on everything in that first-

Jamie: Year.

Brian: Yeah. I would say that first, well, that first six month period. But, again, after three months, we were already in the black. So then we were just reinvesting into the business as we grew it up.

J: That’s awesome. Anybody that’s familiar with a business like this understands that one of the hardest things to do to get started is this concept of what we call network effects. You need not only all the buyers to go out and want to buy the deals that are being sold, but you need the sellers to kind of have offers to provide to those buyers. And if you only have one side or the other, you don’t gain that momentum. You have to have both sides.

J: What were you focused on, early on, in order to both get the buyers and to get the sellers? What was the process like? Did you start with finding vendors, or did you start with building your mailing list? Did you do the two simultaneously? What did that process look like?

Jamie: I gave myself a goal for the launch to have one deal a day for a month, signed on, and then have a thousand subscribers signed up to receive the deals. That was what I gave myself. I found it, over the decade, to be much easier on the side of getting businesses signed up, because from our standpoint, there’s no up front fee for them. It’s free advertising if they don’t sell anything. So from that standpoint, that has always been easy.

Jamie: Getting subscribers signed up has been more challenging, even though it’s free to sign up. But I did it by literally standing out on the corner and finding every mom who walked by with a stroller and handing her a flyer that I’d made, and telling her about it. So it was very grass roots and it worked.

Carol: That’s some serious hustle, right there. Just like, right. Talk about bootstrapping it? You’re literally, like you said. You’re on the corner, finding the moms walking their kids, and you’re like, “I’ve got exactly the thing that you need.”

Jamie: Right.

Carol: you went no holds barred.

J: And I think that’s a great … It’s something that our listeners really need to listen to, because I know there are so many wannabe or aspiring entrepreneurs out there who think, okay, with my marketing, I can do billboards, or I can do pay per click, or internet marketing. I can spend a lot of money, and I can hit millions of people at one time, and my business is just going to blow up in two weeks.

J: But the reality is, good entrepreneurs are pounding the pavement. They’re standing out there, and they’re handing out flyers. They’re talking to people individually. It’s not like we read in books, necessarily, or see in movies where you put an add out and your business is making ten million dollars the next day. It takes work. And a lot of times that work involves actually talking to individual people.

J: Your goal was to get to a thousand people, and you now have millions of subscribers, but you started, literally, by talking one-on-one to each of your potential customers. I think that’s just great. I love that.

Brian: You have to remember, we were selling an idea in that early phase, right? We were trying to get people to sign up to get our deals, once we offered them. We had to get them to buy in to the concept. I think, luckily, everyone kind of knew what Groupon was, and it was pretty easy to talk to a mom and be like, “Yeah, I haven’t been to the spa lately.” But understand and think, “Wow! That would be so amazing if I could get a great value on this music class that I really wanted to attend, or this birthday party, or this amazing event that I really can’t afford. Or, you know, I’ve got four kids. I don’t want to spend a hundred dollars per ticket on that. It’s just way over my budget.”

Brian: So I think to then, to go through that process in that five month period, kind of all those things … The question was kind of, what order? It was really everything in parallel. So while Jamie’s calling every business in the phone book and putting the flyers on every car in the park, and joining every Facebook group that she can think of, and then I’m basically doing all of the structural stuff to kind of put the business infrastructure in place. Jamie’s father, who is our CFO to this day, is helping us with the financial aspect of just getting things in place. You’re just trying to do all of that.

Brian: And we felt we were in a race, because this whole space was exploding at the time. We thought this niche was really not out there, and we wanted to get a first mover advantage. At the same time, we were local. We weren’t trying to do more than we could handle. We were trying to just, all right, let’s just try to get as much as we can out of the D.C. market and see what we can do in the initial phase. That was the thinking behind it.

Carol: That’s great. I have some more follow up questions on that, but I also have to comment. You mentioned something in there that’s so fascinating, right? You’re talking about this whole first to market advantage, and being competitive, and positioning yourself in that manner. I’m thinking back, and I’m remembering, because our kids are now eight and nine, and I’m thinking back to when they were itty bitty, there were so many. Like you said, they were starting to emerge. And, that said, there aren’t any more. There’s just you. There’s just CertifiKID. So the way you approached it clearly worked, and was clearly impactful and effective, because they all went away. So kudos to you for figuring out that secret sauce on something that was going to work and stick.

Carol: Anyway, as I segue there back into a follow up on what I was going to say, which was about that you were simultaneously grass roots, getting your first vendors, your first 1,000 customers. What was your very first deal? And how many of those did you sell? And how did you get that very first deal?

Jamie: It’s funny. I always talk about it like the phone book. I really think I was using some kind of book. I don’t think … This was 2010?

Brian: I think there was a phone book.

Jamie: Yeah. I think I was using- [crosstalk 00:14:37]

Carol: You may have had a hard copy at one point.

Brian: There was a phone book, actually, yeah.

Jamie: But my first-

Brian: Other things, too, but- [crosstalk 00:14:42]

Jamie: The first deal was The Great Zucchini, who is a children’s magician, and I just called him up, and he said yes. I think that really gave me confidence that, you know, and I was just so excited to get that first deal. It was a really good deal. It was half price, and he did weekday only, and I think we sold … I don’t know. Six? Five or six of them, and it was one day. You know?

Carol: Awesome!

Jamie: The email goes out and you watch the sales, and we were …

Brian: Well, back then also, it was, like Jamie said, the whole … You’re kind of a sheep at the beginning. You think this really has worked for Groupon and others and to do it in a certain way, which was, at that time, to drive people to your site for a limited time in which to buy the deal. So you have 24 hours. That deal comes on and cycles off. And then we’ve got to have something else to replace it with.

Brian: Now, everything’s changed where so many of our deals right now, we have three or four hundred deals on our site, and they’re on for a much longer period of time. But then, it was all about bringing that excitement and energy and urgency. And with Eric, The Great Zucchini, all right, so his deal was $375, still an expensive-

Jamie: That was the-

Brian: That was the price of his event.

Jamie: It was half that price.

Brian: So it’s 50% off that. That’s still a pretty expensive purchase.

Jamie: Right, for someone to make. You know, that morning, they get an email- [crosstalk 00:16:19]

Brian: In four hours. And, by the way, to be [crosstalk 00:16:20]I mean, you know, I’m laughing. We, as parents, we don’t make decisions in 24 hours with that kind of money for a birthday party. No, we procrastinate and we take weeks. We talk to our kids. So I think, in the end, having more time … You can look back and you think to yourself, we kick ourselves. We would have made a lot more money if we’d probably have had these deals on longer.

Brian: But we wouldn’t have made as many business relationships, because you have to just recycle the deals. It was this … Jamie had this objective of needing to meet that she was filling the calendar weeks ahead, because you always were recycling the deals off. And so there was that aha! moment when The Great Zucchini deal goes out for us, and it sells five or six, and you can kind of do the math. And we we get a cut of the business.

Brian: And he had never done a deal like that before, but the reason he did that deal was because he liked Jamie. And he believed in what she was doing. It was authentic and we were real people. And we were just like any family that would hire him to do a party. We weren’t some big operation. He wasn’t getting some sales call from a 19 year old in some New York back office. He’s basically down the street in Bethesda, and I think that was a bit of the secret sauce that we figured out pretty quickly.

J: Cool.

Carol: That’s an awesome pro tip, is to just go out there, do it, see what’s working for others and modify it as necessary as you go along. But the biggest point is, just go out there and just do it, right? I mean, you said it built up your confidence so much once he said yes, and once you got those first five or six sales. So that’s an awesome pro tip.

J: Yeah. So you now have your proof of concept. You’ve sold some deals. At this point, you’re still basically a family business. It’s Jamie is the CEO. Brian, you’re kind of managing the structure of the business. Your dad is doing the CFO role.

J: But at some point, to scale this, you had to start bringing in employees, I presume. Who was your first employee, or first employees? What was their role? And how did that scale from there?

Brian: Right. You’re right. I kind of was doing the high level business strategic, and I was doing the legal, the financial oversight, structure as you say. At that time, and pretty much for the first, I would say two years, I was actually editing every deal before it would go live. So I had a day job, and I still do, and would come home. So Jamie’d be chasing me all day to do the final editing on those deals.

Brian: So at a certain point, we realized, because Jamie was so successful at getting businesses to sign up with us, and we were doing a deal a day, and we were trying to add more and more deals all the time, we needed a deal writer and a creative deal writer that could maybe also help us with the marketing. So we hired someone that was … Was she a mom blogger, Laura? Is that how you would describe her? She was another mom blogger?

Jamie: Yeah. Yeah.

Brian: That Jamie knew. She really liked us. She was buying our deals, and Jamie had a relationship with her. At a certain point, Jamie was like, “Can you freelance and come also, independent contractor, and spend X number of hours a week helping us write deals?” To this day, she’s one of the most creative writers we’ve ever confronted. So she would be writing the deals, helping with some of the creative. I would be editing.

Brian: So she was the first hire. And then, later in that year, the second hire for us of a sales person, Leslie Silverman, who is still with us to this day, and now is our Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and is really the strategic partner, the day to day partner that has been alongside Jamie since inception and is, to this day, the greatest sales person that we’ve ever confronted. She, with Jamie, together, helped us take it to a whole other level.

Carol: Awesome. So- [crosstalk 00:21:54]

J: That’s a good testimonial for your business when the second person you hired is still with you a decade later. That’s- [crosstalk 00:22:01]

Brian: And we were just saying the other day that we were … Like so many people, we have … Our team now is 20 people. So many people on our business now have been with us for five years or more, which is really hard to believe, when we think about it.

J: I know you started locally, and you were focused on the D.C./Baltimore market, so kind of Maryland area.

Jamie: Right.

J: At some point, you decided it’s time to expand. We’re going to move outside of D.C. and Baltimore. Maybe we’re going to move to another state, or other parts of the country. What did that look like? How did you decide now’s the right time, and then how did you physically go about finding vendors, subscribers, in other geographic areas?

Jamie: Early on, we had acquired two companies that were similar to us in different locations, so that really helped us jump start LA, Chicago, and Atlanta, because we got the relationships with the businesses from that, and then the subscriber base. So that was a big key for us. But getting people on the ground in those locations.

Brian: Yeah. And I think as we talked about earlier, the space was exploding, so you had competitors in a lot of the other major markets, and these companies were shaped completely different than us. They were venture backed companies. They were … In one case, there was a New York company that opened with a partnership with Diapers.com, which was a huge competitive advantage. They had a huge subscriber base on which to draw. They tried to acquire us. They wanted us to be their D.C. opportunity.

Brian: And, tip … Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t do. We struggled really hard with that decision, and it was a pretty early phase. And we decided not to do that deal, and to keep going on our own. Jamie didn’t want to work for somebody else, and wanted to maintain control of the business. But that also gave us a lot of insights about how we wanted to approach growth differently than some of these other companies.

Brian: That’s why these acquisitions that we made that were strategic acquisitions in some core markets, and then we … Just ever since, we’ve done a lot of different testing. We have had people on the ground in some of these cities. Some of those things worked. Some of those things didn’t work, so there was a lot of trial and error. We had some amazing national deals that were with national brands that helped us get a foothold in some cities, and then we would kind of grow on the back of that. We were shocked, for example, at an early phase that let’s say-

Jamie: Minnesota.

Brian: Minnesota, Minneapolis, was a lot. My goodness. We did this party, and it sold 500 in Minneapolis. We’re like, whoa! So you just have to learn and test things, and be prepared to fail, and be prepared to accept if something’s not working and try something else.

Carol: Very cool. So it sounds like the two of you have, over the years, really managed to work all these different markets, really play off of each other’s strengths, to explore and grow and stay abreast of the trends and just keep trying new things and doing what worked, and say no at the right times. I’d love to know more about how you are working together as a husband and wife team to make those decisions, and to continue growing the company. We have so many entrepreneurs who love the idea of working together with their spouse or a partner. I would love to know how that works for you, and if you have any recommendations you can share for others who want to go down that journey. I see a smile on Brian’s face right now. I’m so curious what that means.

Brian: I’m waiting to see what Jamie says.

Jamie: I think that our situation is unique, because Brian is still working full time at his other job. So there is still space. I work all day, and then I do send him emails throughout the day, but a lot of times I don’t get to talk to him about it until the evening and the weekends. So we spend a lot of our time, our discussions … Our kids play sports, so we’re in the car a lot going to games. So that’s really our office.

Jamie: But I love working with him, and it’s just something fun to … We definitely argue at times over different topics, and we have different … We work very differently and have different strengths and weaknesses. But it really works well together.

J: Yeah. I think you hit on something that’s really important. I think a lot of people think that when they go into business with their spouse that it’s 50/50, that you’re co-CEOs, you’re co-making decisions. I know Carol and I have done a bunch of businesses over the years together, and we’ve fallen into that trap.

J: It sounds like with you guys, what’s actually worked really well is it’s not co-CEOs. Jamie, this is your business. You’re the CEO. And Brian is more, I don’t want to call him the COO, but he’s kind of the, he’s there to support your business. He’s more like an employee, or a number two to you in your business. And I think that’s really important that people realize when you go into business, even with a spouse, while a marriage might be 50/50, a business you generally need somebody who is in charge and can ultimately make that decision, and you need to agree on who that person’s going to be. It sounds like that may have contributed somewhat to your success.

Brian: Definitely. As Jamie said, I think we complement each other really well. And, yeah. This is a woman-led, mom-led business, and Jamie’s the brains, the heart, the soul of this business. My title’s President, and I’ve done more over the years because it’s been required. The problem is that I’m basically a partner at a law firm that was founded one year before we started this business, and I feel very proprietary about that firm, as well, and Jamie knows and understands that.

Brian: Frankly, it’s been a way for us to have a sense of security. I think Jamie … Number one, she’s actually quite risk adverse and conservative. So I think she’s needed me to push her along the way in this business, because she doesn’t like spending money. No offense, but she’s cheap. We are a deal site. So in the course of this business, I think that the fact that … I think she always wanted the confidence that if for some reason we would fail tomorrow, that we would be okay. It’s not all on her shoulders. I think that really helped us at the early phases, too, when she didn’t really want to spend much money or risk, and we were … It was easier to reinvest into the business. She was always hesitant to take money out of the business, and so grow the business. I think that aspect of our situation helped us. It was a benefit.

J: Okay. So let’s jump ahead to around 2018. I know you guys had an amazing opportunity. You decided to go looking for investment outside for the first time. You ended up- [crosstalk 00:36:53]

Brian: That’s giving us too much credit, Jason. Jamie can tell you the actual way that that happened.

J: Okay. I want to hear the actual story, then. But I’m going to jump to the punchline. You guys got on to Shark Tank. This aired back in … what was it? Spring of-

Jamie: April.

J: April of 2019?

Jamie: ’19.

J: So just this year. Tell us about your journey of getting to Shark Tank, and then I want to hear how that went.

Jamie: We had always joked about it, and I think even like the people on our team always joke, “Let’s do Shark Tank! Let’s do Shark Tank!” But we … Brian was very apprehensive about ever doing it.

Brian: She really wanted to do it.

Jamie: But my mom saw that they were coming to D.C., and you go down and wait in line, and I knew-

Brian: This was an open call at the Capital One Center. You know? It was like 15,000 people. And Jamie’s mom calls her up and is like, “There’s an open call for Shark Tank! You got to go down to the Capital One,” and Jamie called me. She’s like, “We’ve got to go to the Capital One Center.” And I said, “Not on your life am I going to that.” So, as usual, she found another way.

Jamie: So I went, and found a producer, which I recommend is a good way in. You find a producer and emailed them. We bypassed that stage of the going, because mostly, actually a lot of the entrepreneurs we did end up meeting on Shark Tank, they all did do the casting.

Carol: Wow.

Jamie: So the next phase was a huge phase, though, because you had to make a video and you had to fill out hundreds of pages of paperwork. If we were going in, we had to go really in and do it. And we did it. It was time consuming, and a lot of work.

Brian: Basically, it was our 2018 summer.

Carol: Wow.

Brian: Our kids went to camp, and basically we were dealing with this application process and it did almost kill me. Jamie would be more of the mind of, “Let’s just get it in,” and not over … But when I do something, I’m all in with it usually. So I don’t like to do something in kind of a half assed kind of way. I would rather, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to commit to it, if we’re going to try to do this, then we’re going to try to get this, and we’re going to win! You know?

Carol: So I- [crosstalk 00:39:15]

Brian: That was kind of our mindset. Jamie’s like, “Who cares if we don’t get it?” And I’m like, “I’m not wasting all this time-“

Carol: No!

Brian: Are we doing it or not?

Carol: So were you wanting to do it as just a fun thing to do at this point, to celebrate the success you had so far? Or did you see it as a strategic marketing opportunity?

J: Or did you want the money?

Carol: Oh, yeah. Or that other possibility. I forgot about that.

J: It’s funny. Nobody assumes that anybody goes on Shark Tank for actually getting money anymore.

Brian: I know. That’s true. I’ll see if she agrees with this. I think Jamie always wanted to do it because she thought the exposure would be so amazing for our business. We still are centralized very much in the greater Washington area and a couple of other core markets, and the space has gotten much better for us over the years. As you noted at the beginning, where so many of our competitors are now out of the market. So we really feel like this is exactly the right time for us to try to finally scale the business in a very significant way, and have a national profile that is deeper and stronger all across the country. And grow our subscriber base. We think we can be so much more than we are, and that if we didn’t try to do something like this, really bold, now, we never would and we would regret it.

Brian: So it was the opportunity to say, all right. If we can go and take advantage of this and somehow get picked because we’re told that it’s easier to get into Harvard than it is to get on Shark Tank, because there’s 30,000 applications, and they only put 100 on, they only tape 100, and then like 50 get aired. So we thought that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the business, and that if we have the chance to do it, we should go for it and do it. And we did.

J: Awesome.

Jamie: I think I personally needed it. I was at the point where I just needed some kind of spark or something. I’d been in the grind for a long time, and things were going great, but I just needed something exciting to focus on.

J: Awesome. So you went on Shark Tank. How much money did you ask for? What percentage of your company were you willing to give up? And did you end up doing a deal? I think we may have done a spoiler on that earlier, but who did you end up doing a deal with, and what did that deal look like?

Brian: To answer the last question you asked first, we did not do this for the money. We didn’t need the money. We were doing it for a strategic partnership, and to help us grow the business and scale nationally. We asked for $600,000 for 8% of the business. This is our first external investment. I did so much work with the accountants and the lawyers and the analysis. I almost killed my father-in-law, trying to figure out our valuation for purposes of that offer.

Brian: Of course, you go in there and none of that matters. They hear some things, and then they want … They kind of decide what they want to offer you, and, you know, this is Shark Tank premium, and everything else. So that was what we went in. That was our ask.

J: That’s pretty big. That’s seven and a half million dollar valuation which, on Shark Tank, typically you’re looking in the $500,000 to a million dollar valuation. So you were asking for a pretty big valuation.

Brian: A pretty big valuation, and there were not a lot of … More so lately, I think they’ve been scaling it up a little, but, no. $600,000 was a very … It’s definitely on the high end, in terms of basically investment asks on that show. So that was … Clearly you have to …

Brian: But we are, unlike a lot of other businesses that have been on that show. We had been in business for nine years. We had tens of millions of dollars in sales. We were highly profitable. Those aren’t usually the ingredients for a business that goes on Shark Tank. So in that sense, that was the difference that we had, a differentiator, and we had to obviously get that across to the sharks and explain why we wanted that partnership at this phase of the business.

J: Cool. And so you did a deal. Who was that deal with?

Jamie: Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

J: Ah! So anybody that watches Shark Tank knows that Mr. Wonderful is, at least on the show, seems pretty difficult to work with. Was there a reason why you decided to go with him? I’ll give another spoiler alert. We’ll try and get some clips up in the show notes on the episode, but you guys actually got multiple offers.

Brian: Right.

J: And you decided to go with Kevin O’Leary’s- [crosstalk 00:43:50]

Brian: Right.

J: … which I know a lot of people would probably say, “Why go with Kevin O’Leary if you have a choice?”

Brian: Yeah.

J: What was your thought process there?

Brian: Yeah. We were really fortunate to get … We got an offer from Daymond and we got an offer from Barbara Corcoran. And then we got an offer from Kevin. We had done a lot of research and analysis on the sharks. We were open to a deal from any of them. But Mark Cuban and Kevin, in particular, because of the nature of our business, and Kevin has done a lot of other deals with mom-led businesses, and some other businesses like ours. I think he really actually understands our business model quite well. So we thought just a lot of synergies with him. And he loves a profitable business.

J: Yeah.

Brian: So we thought that those ingredients, again, would be attractive to him, so we were excited to get the offer with him. The dynamic of being in there, and everything going down, it’s super difficult to figure out what to do under those lights. They’re like, “If you really want to talk to each other about it, you just go in the back room.” So of course we asked to do that. They’re like, “Oh, no. You don’t need to do that. Just talk now between us.” Of course, it’s like the least private moment you could have on the planet. And we’re like, “What should we do?” So we were trying to figure that out in real time, and make the best decision that you could. And we obviously had done a lot of planning, and I had done a lot of planning and thinking.

Brian: So zeroing back in on him, and as you noted, he’s a very tough nut to crack. But his reputation in the show does not translate into real life, as we now have experienced. That was some of the intelligence that we had going in, as well, which we can talk about. But, yes. I think that we were focused, first and foremost, on his profile and the types of businesses he has invested in, and how we thought that we could be a fit for that.

J: Okay. I have one more question about Shark Tank before we move past Shark Tank. But anybody that watches the clip, or watches the episode … And, again, I’ll try and get that in the show notes … will note that you took a very hard tact against Mr. Wonderful. You basically … Most people don’t want to go toe to toe with him when it comes to negotiating, but you basically gave him your take it or leave it, and you just kept going back and pushing for more, and pushing for more. And watching the episode, I kept waiting for the sharks to just say, “Nope! We’re done with you. Get out.” But you kept pushing and pushing and pushing. And you ultimately got what you wanted. It was probably the best … And, again, a lot of it, I’m sure, was TV. But it was the best and hardest negotiation I think I’ve seen for any Shark Tank deal. What led you to decide that you’re going to go in with that hard nosed approach, and really try and put the screws to him?

Brian: Jamie would probably tell you that she was worried they were going to kick me out, too.

Jamie: Yeah.

Brian: A couple things. One, you know, I think I do have the benefit of … I mean, I’m a lawyer and a lot of what I do in my other world is negotiate. So I think that I have experience doing that. Also, I think that in that environment … Jamie, I think, made me watch every other episode ever on Shark Tank to kind of see how these things go. And it always kind of drived me nuts that it doesn’t seem to me like you fight enough, you fight hard enough. They always say, “Well, you know, what are you going to do? You’re going to walk out of here for two or three percent?” And I always think to myself, I’m like, “Well, are you going to let me walk out of here for one or two percent? Are you really interested in our business, or not?”

Brian: So a couple of those kind of ideas I had. Also, I had a sense that he respects the sparring, because remember, this is a television show, after all. So my sense was he respected people that would negotiate hard. And I started to go down that track, and also because I thought he had proposed some contingency, some weird term like he always does as part of his offer to us, which was just a weird thing. And so much of my time was just spent getting him to get rid of that ridiculous thing. And so in that process, I think I just got a sense from him that he was enjoying it, and he was inviting it, and he wasn’t rejecting it. And then I remember at some point, he turned to Barbara and he says, “I’m really starting to like this guy.” I think then I knew, okay, I can push a little bit further.

Brian: Now, you look at it, and you think, we did the deal for $600,000 for 19%, and it looked like I was getting blood out of a stone at the end. You know, I’ve never fought so hard for so little. But it showed, I think, that we believed in our business and what we were doing, and that … I think he even said at some point, well, he Tweeted afterwards, like, “You want someone … I was showing him what we would be like in a boardroom, trying to negotiate a deal for the benefit of our business,” and that, I think, he embraced, and it’s been a very good relationship since. But, yeah. Luckily, he didn’t throw us out, and he let me keep going.

Carol: You are so right. He bought into it, and he was loving that toe to toe fight. He’s like, come on. Give me more! Give me more! I triple dog dare you!

Brian: Yeah. I don’t know what I really got out of it. I’m glad you think I got something out of it. But-

Carol: So, Jamie, how would you say that overall that experience has impacted your business?

Jamie: I think it’s been great on a multitude of levels, from getting new businesses, to getting subscribers, to PR opportunities. We got to be on The View the next week, which was really huge for our business. Partnerships, it’s just been, overall, lots of opportunities.

Carol: So it was well, well, well worth your efforts, right? That’s so cool. And so, what’s next for CertifiKID? What’s coming up?

Jamie: We actually this month are moving towards making our site national. So no matter where somebody lives when they go on now, it will pull the deals that are closest to them. So no longer will we have markets. We think this is going to be a game changer for the business.

Carol: It’s huge.

Jamie: Yeah. We’re excited.

Carol: Exciting 2020. That’s so cool.

J: Okay. So in a minute, I want to jump to the last segment of the show, the Four More segment. But before I do that, I would love to hear what tips do you guys have for any aspiring entrepreneurs out there, business owners out there, that are looking to start their own business. What have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known earlier on that you can pass on?

Jamie: I would say to get yourself organized. I feel like I wasn’t … I never expected the business to last, to go on as long as it was, and I wasn’t organized at all. I look back and I think, “God. If I had just really had myself together back then, and was more organized, we’d be in a different place today.” So looking back, that.

Jamie: And the other thing I would say, just working with business owners, is no matter what your business is, make sure you present well to the world through a website, through social, through everything you’re presenting. People who don’t know you are making judgments very quickly, and if your website … If you don’t even have a website, I mean, no matter what your business is, have something. Have just a page. I don’t care. But we, CertifiKID won’t even work with a business at this point unless they have a website. So that would be my advice.

J: Awesome. Brian, anything to add to that?

Brian: Sure. Two things. One, I think that while I said Jamie’s the heart and soul and everything else of the business, we built an amazing team around her that’s kind of enable me to do what I do. That’s been an ongoing process, a work in progress, but we’ve got a really great and loyal team, and basically your business is your team. It’s your people. So that’s got to be the number one priority for any business that you think is going to be sustainable.

Brian: And also, I think that kind of going to my earlier point about being an entrepreneur, and starting a business, you have to realize, you actually can’t have it all. You need to make sacrifices, what’s important to you, what’s not important to you. It was very important to us that we maintain control of the business and its direction, and that it fit our lifestyle. But at the same time, it was an enormous amount of work. Nothing, nothing, replaces hard work, right? So it’s Jamie pounding the pavement and working every day, and being up at 12 o’clock at night every night, and all those date nights that turned into working sessions, and car rides, and everything else that makes it work. So you can’t replace the hard work.

J: Love that.

Carol: Great.

J: Fantastic. Okay. Now I want to jump into the final segment of the show that we call the Four More, where we’re going to ask you four questions that we ask all of our guests, and after that, we’re going to jump into the More question, which is tell us more about where our listeners can find and connect with you. So are you ready?

Jamie: Sure.

J: Okay. [crosstalk 00:53:33]I’m going to go with the first question. Either or both of you can respond, whichever you like. What was your first or your worst job, and what lessons did you learn that have helped you in your own business now?

Jamie: My first job was I was a soccer referee. I made really good money. It definitely got me excited for working. I would say what I learned from it was that it made me build a thick skin, because it was tough. You got all these parents yelling at you, and you have to make decisions quickly, so it was a great life lesson.

J: Awesome.

Brian: I think I would say my worst job was when I was a waiter at a Thai restaurant with the menu that had 100 items on it, and I was the only non-Thai waiter, which was a real competitive disadvantage. On the other hand, this was not in a Thai dominated area, so all of the customers would come in, they all really liked me, and anyway, so I probably did pretty well on the tips. But not a great experience.

Carol: That is an awesome story. I love both of those jobs. That’s great. Okay. I would like to know: What is the defining moment when you realized that you had the entrepreneurial itch?

Jamie: I remember, as a kid, it was a snow day and I filled up a box of stuff we had in the basement, and I went door to door selling products that I had. I think that was probably it.

J: Awesome. Brian, are you an entrepreneur?

Brian: I think I probably am an entrepreneur. My father was in business, and I think that … He was in the car business, and I always felt that he gave people in the car business a good name, because he was very loyal, and honest, and so I think I did learn a lot about them. We owned a car dealership. He sold the car dealership, so I never had the … I probably would have gone into the car business if that hadn’t happened. So I needed Jamie to get me back into the business world.

J: That’s awesome. I love that. Okay. Question number three. If either or both of you could go back in time, what’s the one big thing you would have done differently in your business with CertifiKID?

Jamie: The name!

J: Really?

Carol: Really?

J: I think the name’s awesome.

Carol: That’s fascinating.

Jamie: Yeah. So many people don’t pronounce it correctly. We get emails in that say, “I bought a certified kid.”

Brian: They spell it wrong.

Jamie: Yeah. My advice would be pick a business name with four letters, [crosstalk 00:56:27], easy, done.

Carol: That’s awesome! Okay. This is- [crosstalk 00:56:32]

Brian: I would probably say something slightly different. The point I made earlier … I think that we were … Because the space was shaped by some of these really leading players, we were a bit of a sheep at the beginning, following the herd on some of these things. I think if we had … And Jamie had a couple instincts. I think if we had trusted those instincts earlier, for example, kept our deals on longer, earlier, I think we would have been ahead of the curve on that, and made more money.

Carol: Excellent. Those are great insights. Thank you. Okay. The fourth question: What is something in either your personal or professional life, that you have splurged on? I know, Jamie, this is going to be hard for you, but what have you splurged on that was totally worth in in retrospect?

Jamie: Oh, totally worth it?

Carol: Yep. Totally worth it. Or not totally worth it. Any splurge is fun. We love hearing about splurges from entrepreneurs.

Jamie: I mean, this is totally simple, but to me this was a big deal, that in the early … Once the business was going well, I treated myself to Starbucks every single day, which is-

Carol: Whoa! That’s huge.

Jamie: I mean, I don’t do it anymore. But in those early days, and especially having little kids and … It was just such an indulgence for me, and I looked forward to it every day.

Carol: That’s really cool.

J: Brian?

Brian: By the way, she’s making it seem like that was easy for her. I forced her to get that Starbucks. It was a big deal. I think I would say that when we … Since the business … I think when we’ve traveled internationally, or on long flights, I have convinced … I [inaudible 00:58:19]my convincing … but I will force Jamie to fly business class.

J: Cool!

Brian: But almost always using miles, don’t worry. It’s a lot of miles.

J: Awesome. Cool. Now I want to jump into the final, the More part of the Four More. Where can our audience, where can our listeners either connect with you guys, learn more about CertifiKID, and can you spell CertifiKID for us, so that we can make absolutely certain that everybody finds the website?

Jamie: It’s CertifiKID.com. C-E-R-T-I-F-I-K-I-D.com. CertifiKID.

Brian: I’m just glad she spelled it right. I was actually questioning whether- [crosstalk 00:59:02]

Jamie: And also, my website is JamieRatner.com. J-A-M-I-E-R-A-T-N-E-R.com.

Brian: And you can … Obviously, we’ve got more than 300 deals on our site at any one time, covering all the various categories, as Jamie said. Please check our new format out, now that you can see immediately when you come on to our site deals that are available in your area. We think all of the most amazing things that families could want or need, you will find it on CertifiKID.

J: Awesome. And Carol and I have been users of CertifiKID for five or six years now, for a long time- [crosstalk 00:59:40]

Carol: More than that! I’m the one who buys this stuff, honey. Trust me.

J: That’s true. Okay- [crosstalk 00:59:44]

Carol: Like you have any idea. [crosstalk 00:59:46]

J: Well, for a long time, and absolutely love it. Guys, thank you so much for being here.

Carol: Thank you!

J: This was so awesome, and congratulations on all your success. We look forward to having you back in a year or two, to hear about all the great things that are coming down the pike in your business.

Jamie: Thank you so much.

Brian: Thank you so much. It’s been fun. Appreciate it.

Carol: Awesome. Thanks, you guys!

J: Thanks. Bye bye.

Jamie: Bye.

Brian: Bye bye.

Watch the Podcast Here

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Why it’s important to move quickly and be the first to market
  • How to hire employees by reaching out to customers
  • How they follow trends to never become boring to their customers
  • How they complement each other in their business
  • How they got into Shark Tank
  • How they plan for success and not failure
  • Why building a strong team is their #1 priority
  • Why you should make appropriate sacrifices
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t do.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Learn and test things and be prepared to fail.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Nothing replaces hard work.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Jamie and Brian

What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. F...
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    Adam Leitman Bailey Attorney from New York, NY
    Replied 9 months ago
    Very well done and great story!