The April 7 “Shark Tank” episode of Severna Park High School alumnus Teddy Giard, Broadneck High School alumnus Austin Maxwell and their Clemson University (CU) classmate Logan LeMance ended with a $100,000 deal from Shark investor Mark Cuban. The show aired only two years after the Kase Mate product first came to mind.
In spring 2017, an entrepreneurship class at CU became an arena for the student team to resolve their frustration of hauling tailgate coolers by leveraging the convenience of individual can insulators. A prototype was made, the class ended, and by May that same year, the company Kanga LLC was founded with its first product, Kase Mate, described as “the iceless cooler designed to fit around an entire case.” The team refined its business plan, branding strategy and product development before launching a Kickstarter campaign in March 2018. Up to this point, LeMance, Giard and Maxwell had no ambition to pitch their product on “Shark Tank.” However, watching “Shark Tank” in high school did have an impact on Maxwell.
“I didn’t really have a ton of opportunity to learn about business or entrepreneurship,” Maxwell explained, “and I always wanted to learn more about how to start a company and how to take something really small and make it really big.”
Halfway through his engineering studies at CU, Maxwell realized not investing in his true passion for entrepreneurship was taking its toll — and he was miserable. He worked double-time with multiple entrepreneurial projects while he finished his engineering degree. Upon graduation, however, he pursued entrepreneurship instead.
“I couldn’t just talk about it,” Maxwell said. “I had to go out and prove that it’s possible.”
One month after the Kickstarter campaign opened in March 2018, LeMance, Giard and Maxwell learned that “Shark Tank” auditions were coming to nearby Atlanta in two days. The team could not ignore the remarkable timing and jumped on the opportunity. There was no news from “Shark Tank” for months, but Kanga was thriving with $120,000 in sales through e-commerce and its 100-plus business-to-business (b2b) clients. In September 2018, they learned they were selected, flew to California, and recorded their “Shark Tank” pitch in a Los Angeles studio. They had strong support fine-tuning their presentations skills, but nothing could prepare them for what Giard describes as feelings of extreme excitement and nervousness.
“We felt really, really prepared,” Giard said, “but you know, you’re about to meet five extremely successful business men and women, people we’ve looked up to for a really long time, so we really wanted to make a good first impression.”
After they finished the pitch, the mood synthesized into a blur of astonishment, something Giard said is known as the “Shark Tank effect”.
“We all looked at each other and we were like, ‘What just happened?’” Giard remembered. “[It was] the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve ever felt in my life.”
The result of the September 2018 recording was kept quiet until the show was aired in April. LeMance, Giard and Maxwell “shook on a deal in the tank” of $100,000 with Cuban, and the successful outcome is currently being integrated into Kanga’s business plan.
“Once the show aired,” Giard said, “it definitely just catapulted the business to like another level that we’re still trying to comprehend right now.”
Partnering with LeMance (founder/CEO), Giard (branding) and Maxwell (sales) are Kyle Self (marketing) and Ryan Frazier (finance/operations). Many people supported the college entrepreneurs. CU’s Spiro Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership provided the formal mentorship needed to support the journey. The team currently has new ideas for products coming down the pike, but the friends also believe success includes inspiring people. Maxwell and Giard plan to continue to share their story with the hope others, too, find their passion.
“We’re building a product,” Maxwell shared, “and finally we’re turning it into a company and we hope to have success with it, but there’s just a much larger picture here.”
To learn more about Kanga’s products and story, visit www.buykanga.com.
“We are super humbled to be in the position that we’re in,” Giard said, “and we’ve had a lot of people tell us that what we’ve done is inspiring, which is really cool to hear.”