Shark Tank Episode 728: Sean Knecht and Steven Blustein from Austin, Texas design and customize accessories for the most important member of the family: your one-of-a-kind pet. Tune in Friday, April 8, 8p.m. on ABC. Photo from ABC’s Beth Dubber.
Imagine the pressure of presenting your life’s work before some of the world’s most influential investors. This is the feeling Steven Blustein, b’09, g’11, felt when he and his co-founders pitched their product, PrideBites, on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank last June. Nine months later, Shark Tank will feature PrideBites during its April 8 show.
PrideBites offers customized dog toys and essential pet products: beds, blankets, collars, leashes, hoodies and more. Blustein and his co-founders, fellow University of Kansas students Sam Lampe, c’12, and Daniel Lium, g’11, and Sean Knecht created the product nearly six years ago.
Many advised Blustein and his co-founders that the pet industry would be nearly impossible to get into, yet they quickly found their place with customization and quality products. Within a month of its debut in 2012, PrideBites was awarded “Best Dog Toy of the Year” by Pet Business Magazine.
We checked in with Blustein to learn more about his company and his experience with the show:
How did PrideBites come to be?
We linked up with some of our other friends to develop it [PrideBites] and start the company from scratch. I think KU is pretty influential in what we are doing and how we connected in terms of the beginning and how the environment could appeal to as many people as possible on campus, and to come together to create something fun.
What were some of the challenges you and your partners faced?
Some obstacles we faced were how we were going to find out how to manufacture the product. It was really difficult to start up with a new product, and we were really lucky to be linked up through KU with Ting Liu, an international student at the time, to identify the right factories to work with, and learning how to tell what channels the product should be in.”
What are some of your dog’s favorite things to do?
I got my dog, Mona, when I was a student at Kansas. She’s the first person to greet you at the door. Her favorite activity is sunbathing around the office. She is a part of the many other dog personalities at the office. They help make the day to day activities be less stressful.
Blustein and Mona.
What did you do when you first find out PrideBites was selected to be on the show?
I was sitting in line at SXSW and it was an 18 month journey plus nine months after filming our application. It was like ‘hey you’re going to be going on.’ I was with my girlfriend, and gave her a big hug, and called my partners because it’s been something we’ve been working on forever.
So, what’s it like to stand in front of the ‘Sharks?’
So the filming was back in June. We planned for so much and had a really good pitch, walked in and I remembered those days in college when I presented to my accounting professors. You’re really in awe of the moment when standing in front of celebrity investors. You have one chance to pitch your story to the best people of the field
Did you have any sort of game plan before coming onto the show?
We practiced more than two hundred times. We were religious about going over every single episode to see what kind of questions they ask. Three or four times a day, we would hop online to practice our pitch and go over spreadsheets. This practice is derived from KU. My old professor, Dr. Allen Ford, helped me craft my discipline. Going into Shark Tank, no one could be better prepared than my company.
What are some of your biggest takeaways from your time at KU?
Definitely my friends. I also think the experience and the type of culture that Kansas has. You’ll never be a stranger at Kansas. My degree, the accounting track and the people who helped me along my way. KU has professors who identify your talent and skills and let them come to fruition.
Do you have any advice for recent grads looking to pursue similar success?
You have a great opportunity at Kansas — stick to the resources at KU, learn from the culture there and don’t be afraid to go out and take advantage of your college time. Reach out to as many people as possible, and get connected. You only have one experience, and for my sake, it was to develop an idea, and follow my dream.
The Founders (from left to right): Daniel Lium, Sean Knecht, Steven Blustein and Sam Lampe
Watch co-founders Steven Blustein and Sean Knecht pitch PrideBites to the ‘Sharks’ on April 8 at 8 p.m. CT, and read more about Blustein and his company in a 2015 story from the KU School of Business.
In anticipation of Halloween, we searched for some (super?) alumni who love to dress up and really get into the holiday. Perhaps none so convincingly as Jim Sauer, d’80. “My family has said I have taken this too far,” he admits, “but they get a kick out of it.”
But besides pulling off the Batman look, Sauer simply enjoys the looks he receives when kids see him in costume.
“A kid came to my daughter’s house recently selling cub scout popcorn, and he asked after his popcorn speech if this was the house Batman comes to for Halloween. When my daughter said yes, he was very excited and said he was coming with all his friends to see Batman!”
“I love to make kids, moms and dads smile when they see me in my costume —everyone loves to get their pic taken!”
Sauer was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his not-so-secret identity.
1. How did you start appearing as “the bat man?”
Always been a dream of mine to get an authentic Batman suit, in fact my family laughed as they said “Dad you have been talking about this for years but you never do it,” so last year, at the urging of some friends who were putting on a superhero Halloween party, I decided it was time…plus I knew my two grandkids would love it and love to go trick-or-treating with Batman.
2. Where do you appear, and how often?
I love to suit up any time I get the chance, so this year I have done quite a few kid birthday parties for friends, appeared at a charity SuperHero run and will of course suit up for Halloween with the grandkids.
3. Your costume looks pretty authentic… is it??
I decided if I was going to do this, I would do it right! So I researched costumes on the net and found a costume designer in L.A. that makes very realistic Batman costumes. You basically buy the costume in parts, the facade, cowl, cape, gloves, gauntlets, under suit belt. I bought facade, belt, cowl, and cape from this designer and then purchased the other parts on eBay. The costume is very authentic and is one that is more for walking around and taking pictures.
4. What’s your most memorable moment appearing as the caped crusader?
At a recent Charity Superhero Run they had a Batmobile, and I stood by the Batmobile for over 2 hours posing for pictures with kids, adults, dogs…. you name it. I posed with everyone. I also volunteer at CASA, and I am a Guardian Ad-Litem for two kids.
5. Your favorite Batman actor?
The original, of course: Michael Keaton. He is still the best Batman, with Christian Bale second.
We think Sauer could give those actors a run for their money, especially if Batman ever needed to make a water rescue! Happy Halloween, Jayhawks!
Kevin Corbett, president of the KU Alumni Association, traveled to Austin last weekend for a dinner with alumni and the KU men’s basketball game. Last week’s post about his weekend in Southern California was popular, so he’s back this week to share a few things about Austin.
Thanks to the tireless work of former national board of directors member, Brad Korell, l’97, Austin has become a hotbed for KU activities. When the Jayhawk basketball team is in town the crowds are even larger!
The weekend began with a small dinner for Presidents Club members from the area as well as Fox 4 anchor John Holt, j’81, and his wife Susie. Lori Piening, b’92, a current member of the national board of directors was there with her husband, Mark; although he’s not an alumnus of KU, Mark serves on the marketing advisory board for the KU School of Business. Also in attendance was Jay Howard, b’71, former Association chair of the board, who is more commonly known as the chief volunteer in the creation of the Jayhawk Generations scholarship for out-of-state legacy students. Aaron Brinkman, j’98, came in from Dallas with his wife, Kerry. Jim Sauer, d’80, a former KU swimmer and Dell executive attended; his son, Kevin, is finishing his last year of law school at KU. (Jim is looking forward to free legal advice.)
Thanks to the able introduction of KU Endowment staff member, Amy Spikes, j’01, Andres Carvallo also joined the Presidents Club that evening. Andres, e’86,is the chief architect of the first successfully deployed smart grid in the United States!
Todd Reesing and Kevin Corbett
Some three hours before the game on Saturday, Jayhawks started arriving at the Alumni Association pregame event at Scholz Beer Garden–think the University of Texas’ version of The Wheel. Soon it was overrun with Jayhawks and the late-arriving Longhorn faithful couldn’t even get in! One famous Austin native and Jayhawk, Todd Reesing, b’10, arrived decked in his Jayhawk gear along with some friends. Todd is working for Dimensional Fund Advisors in Austin while studying for the GMAT and hopes to begin study for an MBA later this year.
The game itself was never in doubt, so said Mike Davis, d’84, g’91, senior vice president of the Alumni Association. Down by ten points in the second half, Mike said the ‘Hawks would win by six points. He was off one point.
This week? Salina and Hill City for a western Kansas swing of donor visits and watch party for the Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan. Rock Chalk!
Stay tuned for more stories from the road from Kevin!