Three Wharton Startups Enter the Shark Tank

No matter what happens to Jordan Lloyd Bookey, WG’07, and husband Felix Brandon Lloyd on Friday night on Shark Tank, they can at least have the consolation that they didn’t have to wait in endless lines to audition for ABC’s hit TV reality show. Although they nearly did.

Felix, a former teacher and entrepreneur, had been a fan of ABC’s hit TV reality show Shark Tank since its first season. So when he heard that its producers were holding auditions in Philadelphia last summer, he wanted to make the trek northbound from Washington, D.C.

In May, the pair launched their education technology company, Zoobean. They have positioned the startup as “Pandora for children’s apps and books.” It can curate education content for kids based on their age, reading level and interests, as well as provide parents tools, suggestions and guides.

So the timing seemed right. Logistics, perhaps not so much.

“He wanted us to go to Philly with our kids and wait in line,” recalls Bookey, a former teacher who until July of last year still headed Google’s K-12 division while launching the company.

The couple ultimately decided against it.

Yet less than a week later, as if someone were reading their minds, they received an email through the Zoobean website—about Shark Tank.

Must be a prank or a tasteless variety spam, the couple thought.

It turned out to be a Shark Tank producer, who had discovered Zoobean because of their first place finish in website startup accelerator NewME’s PopUp competition. The producer invited Bookey and Felix to submit a pitch video, which they put together the following weekend. They were then invited to Los Angeles.

Jordan Lloyd Bookey, husband Felix Brandon Lloyd, and kids Cassius (4) and Florence (2).

Jordan Lloyd Bookey, husband Felix Brandon Lloyd, and kids Cassius (4) and Florence (2).

The trip to LA was intriguing, and nerve-wracking. Like CIA agents, Bookey and Lloyd couldn’t tell anyone—even Bookey’s parents who were babysitting the kids—why they were headed to LA. They vaguely claimed to be on a business trip, one that would last four to five days, while the couple sat in a hotel room awaiting their turn to pitch the Sharks. Yet there was no guarantee they would ever surface before the Sharks, and even if they did, that there presentation would make the cut in an episode—whether they got funding or not.

How did they bide their time? Preparation.

“We watched several seasons several times over,” Bookey recalls.

They created a spreadsheet of every question the Sharks had ever asked over four seasons.

Eventually, they made it before a panel of producers, who provided feedback on the practice pitch.

Cue the “Jaws” theme. They made it before the Sharks—the likes of Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary.

“The first time you see the Sharks is the first time you see the Sharks,” Bookey recalls. “So it’s nerve- wracking.”

It was only a couple of weeks ago that they finally found out that they would appear on the show. “For a new business like Zoobean, to be handed such an amazing one-of-a-kind marketing opportunity, it was difficult to wait and have so much ambiguity about when and if it would air, says Bookey.

Now, though, it is time for Zoobean to take advantage of an opportunity that two other Wharton alumni entrepreneurial teams have faced. Craig Isakow, WG’08 and his product Eyebloc appeared in January on the show. And last year, the team at VerbalizeIt had a strong showing against the Sharks.

Not only have fellow Wharton alums been on the show; they have provided priceless assistance to Zoobean since its inception. Bookey gives particular shoutouts to David Kreiger, C’99, WG’07, who responded to her request with hours of advice and encouragement, and Prof. David Reibstein for helping them hone their marketing strategy.

“Wharton was very significant for me in making this happen,” Bookey says of her startup and her classmate’s and former teacher’s proclivity for networking and sharing knowledge.

Now as for the rest of the Wharton community, the least we can do is watch them take on the Sharks! The episode airs Friday, April 18 at 9:00 p.m. EDT on ABC.

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