Indian American entrepreneur Gauri Nanda said that after she and Audry Hill were approached by producers of ABC’s “Shark Tank” to be on the show shortly after they launched their company Toymail in 2013, they declined.
“We did not want to be taken down on national TV,” Nanda wrote in a blog post on the Toymail website, www.toymail.co.
Toymail is a safe, screen-free way for kids to voice chat with friends and family – and it works through toys. With just a push of a button, kids can connect to their parents, other family members and friends at any time, from anywhere.
Parents use the Toymail app to send messages and approve contacts.
Fast forward several years later and Nanda had the opportunity to pitch the not-so-fledgling company to the shark investors on a Feb. 17 episode. Prior to appearing on “Shark Tank,” the company had already raised $1.5 million from Amazon, Verizon and Y Combinator as it pressed forward to add cloud-based content.
“After our time in YCombinator, we had perfected our product and learned the craft of the pitch, making the likelihood of being taken down considerably less than it was before,” co-founder Nanda wrote in the blog.
The result of their patience landed them a $600,000 co-investment from sharks Lori Greiner and Chris Sacca in exchange for a 5 percent stake in the company.
Nanda, who pitched the product alone as Hill could not make it to the West Coast from their New York-based operations.
After Nanda said she practiced for 72 hours, “breaking only to power nap,” Hill directed her to stop memorizing her lines and stop watching back-episodes of the show.
After the pitch, in which Nanda said she was seeking $250,000 for 2.5 percent equity, the sharks weighed in.
Robert Herjavec believed there was not enough equity and bowed out quickly. Kevin O’Leary found the product impressive but, like Herjavec, was unwilling to invest for such a low equity and went out as well.
Sacca, a guest shark, believed Nanda was more than qualified but didn't like the equity either, though made an initial offer of $400,000 for 5 percent equity.
Mark Cuban then interjected and offered $500,000 for 5 percent equity.
Greiner said she wanted Nanda to negotiate with her and she suggested joining Cuban’s offer when Sacca jumped in and offered $600,000 for 5 percent equity and the option for Greiner to join him, which Nanda accepted.
“The time I spent in the tank is a blur. It's like being given anesthesia,” Nanda wrote. “I recall a small collection of moments — like how the toys wouldn't stop talking the first 10 minutes because all I had to demo was a preproduction unit.
“I remember looking over at my buddy Ellie, a Toymail superfan and ‘Shank Tank’ junkie who volunteered to help demo the product for the taping, and thinking, ‘If I get this right we can reach hundreds of thousands of kids just like her,’” she added.
“I remember my face hurt because I hadn't trained myself to smile for that long. I remember feeling like the sharks were not at all into me for a minute. And then, I remember experiencing this complete and abrupt emotional shift, when actual hope began to creep in,” she said.
Nanda is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to founding Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Toymail in April 2013, Nanda worked at Apple in design and engineering and as a researcher at the MIT Media Lab. The Indian American entrepreneur is also the founder and chief executive of Nanda Home, a collection of items for the home, founded in 2004.