The customer comes first. TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! I can’t emphasize this enough. If you don’t get on the phone and talk to your customers, you won’t know what they think, what they like, etc. The company should be centered around them and, back to my last point, don’t let yourself believe you’re above talking to them.
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Max Feber. Max is a 20 year old Shark Tank entrepreneur who started his company, BRUW, while he was in High School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
Sure! I grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Since I can remember, I was always making things and experimenting around the house. One of the first things I remember making was a “drop-box” that, when you pushed a button, would drop candy from the ceiling. I used it for my little sister’s 6th birthday party and it was a hit!
Later on, in High School, I fell in love with coffee. I really did everything I could to learn about it. I watched a ton of YouTube videos and figured out how to roast my own coffee from scratch and how to use every different brewing method. I ended up learning about cold brew coffee and really wanted to try it.
Everything on the internet said to take a mason jar and add ground coffee and water to it, then let it steep in the fridge overnight. The next morning when I went to filter it, I used a cheesecloth and a colander like the internet recommended; it made a HUGE mess. As a 15 year old high school kid, my parents were mad and I knew there had to be a better way to make cold brew.
I tinkered around in my garage and ended up inventing the BRUW filter, a double sided mason jar lid with a filter in the center. It made making cold brew at home way easier.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
As soon as the coffee didn’t filter right I knew I was on to something. Cold Brew was a growing trend and every system for making cold brew that was for sale was crazy expensive. If so many people were using mason jars to make cold brew, I knew I couldn’t be the only person with the filtering problem. I didn’t set out to invent a new brewing method, I just wanted to make the time proven method of making cold brew in a mason jar better.
Once the BRUW made my experience easier, I knew that others would like it as well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are so many crazy experiences. The most interesting was what happened the day after Shark Tank. I woke up to an entirely different company. Sales were flooding in, my inbox was blowing up with customer questions, and I didn’t know what I needed to tackle first.
Our website automatically generates a list of customers that add products to their cart and don’t checkout. We had a pretty significant number of them that morning. I decided to sit down and start calling my customers one by one. It took me around 20 hours, but I got through the entire list. Almost everyone was shocked that I was calling them personally. A lot of customers told me that they only decided to purchase because I reached out directly. To this day, our customer service remains super personal and I give away my cell to every customer.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Our primary vendor for mason jars runs sales every month and where they try to liquidate a lot of their old inventory. One morning I got an email letting me know that they were selling mason jars for 90% off our normal price. The only caveat was that we needed to buy 10,000 of them. That’s a BIG deal, and would have saved us thousands of dollars. I got really excited, and ordered all 10,000 of them. Once they were delivered, I quickly realized that I didn’t read the email carefully enough because every single jar was bright blue instead of clear and had a price tag on it. I couldn’t sell any of them. To this day, I have 10,000 blue mason jars sitting in a warehouse. If anyone reading this wants them, I’ll give you a great deal.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I can’t give away any specifics, but we’re launching some new products in the near future that are aimed at making the entire coffee drinking experience better. Our primary mission is to make really good coffee accessible to everyone. It doesn’t need to be pretentious. Our future products will be a derivative of that, and will allow tons of people to enjoy delicious coffee with a low barrier to entry. Follow us on social to stay in the loop on these! @BRUWcoffee
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
The whole Shark Tank application process is crazy. I was nervous the whole way through. I applied through a written application and slowly made my way through a few rounds of vetting. On my season, about 40,000 people applied and less than 90 of us made it through all the way. I’m really proud that I made it. For me, the scariest part of the process was not knowing if my segment was going to air. Around half of the segments that film never make it to TV. So, after I had my deal with Mark I couldn’t tell anyone and had to patiently wait to find out if I was going to make it to TV. It was so scary, and finally being given air time was the biggest sigh of relief ever.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
Practice, practice, practice. I had my pitch memorized so that I could do it in my sleep. I knew everything I was going to say and what I was going to do for them. I took some deep breaths, and just did it! The majority of the time I was in there they were asking me questions about the business and I was answering. Everyone says you need to memorize your numbers. For me, that was the easiest part. I live and breathe this business and hardly had to review to be able to answer their questions. Personally, I do really well under pressure. I channeled my nerves into energy and was able to communicate really well with them.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
I got a deal with Mark Cuban! I’m more than happy, and he’s the best partner I could have asked for.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
These are in no particular order.
- Know your business. In the tank, and in general, you need to know every single caveat of your business. Where’s your money going, how much are you selling, what do your customers like, what do they want changed, what’s your acquisition cost, lifetime value, etc. This helps you talk about your business much more easily and makes a much better impression than having no idea what’s going on.
- Remember they’re just people. The sharks, casting team, and anyone else you meet in business are just people. Don’t get too nervous. Treat them with respect and ask honest questions. In my experience, being really aggressive in deal-making or kissing ass don’t get you very far. Just act natural, it goes a long way.
- Stay humble. Don’t be afraid to start working the line in the factory if you need to. At the end of the day, it falls on me as the CEO to make sure everything gets done. I’ve packed orders for customers personally plenty of times and still talk to my customers directly. Don’t let yourself believe that because a company is successful you’re above anyone else. Everything could change in a second and you could be back to square one.
- The customer comes first. TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! I can’t emphasize this enough. If you don’t get on the phone and talk to your customers, you won’t know what they think, what they like, etc. The company should be centered around them and, back to my last point, don’t let yourself believe you’re above talking to them.
- Nice works. In business and in the Shark Tank, be nice to everyone. I stole this one from Mark Cuban, but it could not be more true. When you’re nice to people, they immediately treat you with more respect, especially as a little guy. When I was looking for manufacturers, I was so small a lot of them didn’t want to touch me. I only got into a factory because I was nice and tried to work with them. The same thing applies to investors, customers, or anyone else. When you’re nice to people, they want to work with you more than if you treat people like crap.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is real. Power through it. There’s no secret to making every day a great one. In the world of entrepreneurship, some days will just suck. There’s no way around it. The way to differentiate yourself is being able to get back to work and pick yourself up the next morning. There isn’t a cookie cutter method to getting through burnout, everyone is different and you need to figure out what works for you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My dream is to create a program that gives seed funding to populations who traditionally don’t have access to business funding. I’d want everyone to have access to cash to start a business and find ways for their businesses to make positive change. When everyone works on what they’re passionate about, a lot can get done.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal”. — Winston Churchill. This could not be more true. In business, everything can change in a second. You could go from the biggest company in the world to nothing in hours, the same is true for the opposite. Stay grounded and don’t stop working. Shark Tank was a gift and helped us grow dramatically, but I kept working and know that it could all fail at any moment.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Sara Blakely and Kris Jenner are the first two that came to mind. Both are such impressive women and I think I could learn a lot from them. Mark Cuban, too, but I already have a deal with him :)