Stephan Aarstol is ready for his second “Shark Tank” TV close-up, airing at 8 p.m. this Friday on ABC. This time, however, it’s not going to require him to make a plea for investment help. The talk this go-around will focus on the USD MBA graduate’s business, Tower Paddle Boards, and its success.
Aarstol, who appeared on a March 2012 episode of the reality show, was eager to pitch his business to a panel of angel investors when it was filmed in Summer 2011. What aired, though, included footage of him freezing up and forgetting part of his sales pitch. It resulted in an awkward pause and some brief drama in his quest for funding.
Thankfully, Aarstol rallied. He convinced billionaire Mark Cuban, best known as owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and a champion investor in more than 40 businesses, to join him. Cuban agreed to invest $150,000 into the Pacific Beach-based manufacturer-direct company, which at the time of the filming was less than a year old. In exchange, Cuban received 30-percent ownership of the company and first refusal rights on future Aarstol business ventures.
“It’s been a bit of a surreal experience,” said Aarstol, referring to a whirlwind of activity connected to Tower’s brisk business sales, rapid growth and a slew of favorable mainstream media attention.
Having Cuban’s backing — he was quoted in a Forbes.com article naming Tower Paddle Boards as one of his best “Shark Tank” investments — and having 24/7 access to Cuban and his business mindset via email and being on the popular TV show, currently in its fourth season, is a winning business plan.
“He’s got wicked instincts,” Aarstol said of Cuban. “He’ll email and there’ll be some things I agree with and some I don’t, but what I don’t agree with, I’ll go back sometimes and rethink what I’m doing.”
So far, though, so good for this 70-30 ownership arrangement.
Tower Paddle Boards announced this month that sales of its stand up paddleboards and other products have increased more than 800 percent since the “Shark Tank” episode aired. When he pitched his idea to the “Shark Tank” investors nine months prior to its airing, lifetime sales were $100,000. Tower’s sales in 2012 are now above $1 million and on pace to pass $1.5 million by year’s end. He said website traffic has tripled and he is now one of four employees.
“I’ve always been an independent business guy, but this has really been something new for me to hire employees,” he said. “I’ve been able to hire some really good, really smart people.”
Aarstol’s own business education, first at Western Washington for an undergraduate degree in finance and marketing and then the USD MBA with an emphasis in new venture management, gave him a solid foundation.
“Having a business education background, one that gives you a real holistic view of business, is very important,” he said. “A lot of people get into business because they are good in one path and good only at that. But to really operate at a very high level, you have to have this wide-lens view of everything.”
Post-MBA, Aarstol applied his education in different entrepreneurial ventures, specifically businesses and their online presence. Each company, each experience, sharpened his now in-demand skills set required in today’s e-commerce business world.
“The reason I think Mark invested and one of the main reasons why the stand up paddle board business was interesting to “Shark Tank” was because of search engine optimization (SEO),” Aarstol said. “(Mark) only invests in people who really understand their business.”
Tower Paddle Boards’ website, thanks to Aarstol’s SEO skills, was the No. 1 web search entry when the TV show sought to find a business match. Two years later, thanks to a combination of Aarstol’s business sense, exposure from “Shark Tank” and the Cuban connection, Tower hasn’t budged from the top spot.
It bodes well, too, for Aarstol working with Cuban on future business projects because of their “Shark Tank” deal arrangement.
So on Friday night when the show runs the updated feature, which was filmed in June, Aarstol and his stand up paddleboard business will surely be standing tall.
— Ryan T. Blystone