Three years on from Shark Tank

Richard Branson sitting down in armchair
Image from ABC Shark Tank
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 26 October 2020
It has been three years since I was a guest judge on Shark Tank.

I really enjoyed the experience – it was brilliant sitting next to some of the quickest minds in the business and listening to all the innovative pitches.

The new series started this month and they filmed it all in Las Vegas with a new set to keep the judges 20ft apart - I would have had to throw that glass of water a very long way to reach Mark Cuban! It’s great to see that entrepreneurs are still out there creating solutions that will improve people’s lives.

I made three offers on the show to three fantastic businesses: Locker Board, Sierra Madre Research and Grypmat.

Three years on, I thought it would be great to share where they are all at now.

1. Grypmat

Tom Burden is the founder of Grypmat – a product he created to solve an annoying problem when he was working as a mechanic in the US Air Force. He found that tools kept slipping off the aircraft he was working on and thought this must happen to people in other industries too. He set out to solve this problem with his product Grypmat.

Tom Burden
Tom Burden

Three years on from Shark Tank, he has seen his sales increase tenfold. Many Virgin companies have loved Tom’s products and we have had Grypmats being used everywhere from electric race teams, all the way to our Virgin space programmes.

Tom Burden
Tom Burden

Tom has also been on the cover of TIME magazine; was on the Forbes 30 under 30 list; and Grypmat also won the gold Thomas Edison Award – brilliant achievements.

Six months before the pandemic, he switched Grypmat to focus on selling directly to the consumer and to make sure everything was online – a smart move! He said there have been many bumps in the road during the pandemic but the team has been able to pivot to keep going and Grypmat will continue to grow in 2020, which I’m very happy to hear.

2. Locker Board

Another idea I invested in is Locker Board. The founder, Carson Kropfl, was just 11-years-old when he pitched his business designing and producing upcycled skateboards that fit into backpacks and lockers.

Carson Kropfl
Carson Kropfl

I loved seeing the spark in such a young entrepreneur to want to solve a problem and make that into a business. I saw a lot of myself in Carson – I began dabbling in business from a very young age – although I have to say I think his idea is much more solid than my childhood plans to breed budgies and grow Christmas trees.

After Shark Tank aired, Locker Board grew over 300% and thousands of skateboards have been sold across the United States and Canada. The unique design and story of Locker Board attracted the eye of major toy company, Wham-O, and in February of 2020 they landed a licensing deal with the iconic brand.

Wham-O has also licensed the rights to Carson’s other product, Streetubez, a kid-friendly version of tarp surfing where riders get to experience surfing and getting tubed in their own gardens. Streetubez will be sold in major retailers across the United States in Fall/Winter of 2021.

If you want to hear more from Carson and his journey you can listen to his TEDx Talk. A huge well done to Carson (and his Chief Mom Officer Carrie)!

3. Sierra Madre Research

Last, but definitely not least, I invested in Sierra Madre, who make high-end comfortable camping equipment for the great outdoors. I love being out in nature and have spent many nights hiking around mountains for the Strive Challenge, so this one seemed like a no brainer to me.

Sierra Madre Research
Sierra Madre Research

In the three years since Shark Tank, the founders Richard and Juli have seen great success with their AirCamp systems and have brought three new products to the market – the Ninox (a large flatlay hammock with a bug net attached), and two innovative products (aptly named the Hot Pocket and the Ember) that use solar energy to create heat when the evening chill sets in.

Sierra Madre Research
Sierra Madre Research

These products hit their goal within the first few hours on Kickstarter and generated over $2million in pre-sales alone, which is a really outstanding achievement. The team are striving to keep exceeding the limits on comfort, protection, and innovation in the outdoor market and have successfully secured several patents on these brilliant new products.

Like all entrepreneurs, they have faced some challenges this year due to the pandemic, but they have transitioned to a fully remote team and have worked out some snags around production and shipping setbacks.

It’s also brilliant to see how Richard and Juli are looking at ways they can give back: they have helped develop two new water systems in remote villages in Central America bringing clean water to the villages there.