Posted on Apr 6, 2016 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News
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.
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.
— Cole Anneberg