Alumni secure corporate funding on ‘Shark Tank’
J.P. Gschwind | Monday, November 2, 2015
The opportunity to appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank” is offered to a select number of entrepreneurs, but even fewer are able to close a deal with a shark and secure funding for their company.
Notre Dame alumni Mike Doyle and Drew Mitchell were able to do both on an episode of “Shark Tank” when they pitched their business, Rent Like a Champion, and landed a deal with Mark Cuban and Chris Sacca.
Rent Like a Champion is a housing rental company that targets fans traveling to college towns for games and other major events. Doyle and Mitchell initially asked the sharks for an investment of $200,000 for a 10 percent equity stake, and eventually, Mark Cuban and Chris Sacca matched their terms.
“The whole ‘Shark Tank’ experience was surreal,” Doyle said.
Although the episode aired on Oct. 30, Doyle said it was filmed in June. The deal with Cuban and Sacca was signed in late August after the due diligence process.
Doyle said he became involved with the business by managing student apartment rentals as an intern during his time as undergraduate at Notre Dame.
“We realized there’s a huge market for people who want to rent homes on game weekends,” Doyle said.
Doyle said Rent Like a Champion began in South Bend, but expanded to other college towns when he realized the scalability of the business model.
“We can do this not just at Notre Dame, but we should be doing this at Penn State, at Michigan, at Florida State, all of these college towns around the country where this service makes sense,” he said.
This approach led to rapid growth, Doyle said, with an average growth rate of 80 percent over the last three years and a projected revenue of $4.1 million for 2015.
“It’s gone from me knocking on doors at Penn State to a team of seven employees,” Doyle said.
Although Rent Like a Champion was already quite successful, Doyle said “Shark Tank” represented a chance to rapidly accelerate their expansion from their current 21 towns to around 40.
“We see ‘Shark Tank’ as this opportunity to take things to the next level,” he said. “We’ve gotten to this point with a nice business that’s working really well, but the sharks are the most incredibly smart and accomplished business people you could possibly meet and they know how to bump businesses up a notch or two.”
Cuban and Sacca actively help Rent Like a Champion, Doyle said, by providing advice and support.
“They’re super plugged-in and very involved in the business,” Doyle said.
In explaining his plans for the future of Rent Like a Champion, Doyle said it is important to note that opportunities for the big event rental paradigm exist beyond college sports.
“There’s definitely a model for this outside of just college sports towns, so any big time events that happen with regularity in smaller towns like NASCAR races, PGA tour events, concerts, and even Democratic and Republican National Conventions make sense with our model,” Doyle said.
Despite Rent Like a Champion’s track record of success and its plans to expand, an investor on “Shark Tank” episode expressed concern about competition from Airbnb and other companies.
However, Doyle said Rent Like a Champion has a unique business model that differentiates it from Airbnb.
“We’re really event-focused, they’re really destination-focused,” he said.
Notre Dame senior David O’Connor interned at Rent Like a Champion for the past two years and worked to help establish its identity in a market that Airbnb does not serve.
O’Connor said this process involved focusing on what their customers wanted and using this information to attract them.
“The first summer I was there it was a lot of figuring what works and what doesn’t work,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said a vital priority for the company was making potential renters in college towns comfortable with their online business model.
“The demographic tends to be older people with no kids, as opposed to [the typical customers of] Airbnb, 34-year-old young professionals looking to make another $200 a month. We’re trying to get [our customers] accustomed to this digital sharing economy,” O’Connor said.
Ultimately, O’Connor said the hard work behind Rent Like a Champion has paid off with its robust growth.
Doyle also said the “Shark Tank” experience was a validation of the effort he and his co-founders put into Rent Like a Champion. However, he said they did not plan on being chosen for … “Shark Tank” because the competition for spots on the show was so rigorous.
“We didn’t want to put all of our eggs in that basket because we didn’t know if we were one of ten companies vying for spot or one of 1,000 vying for spot,” he said. “There was definitely some ambiguity about how likely this actually was to happen.”
Despite the odds, Rent Like a Champion made it onto “Shark Tank,” and Doyle said the final result was exactly what he and Mitchell hoped for.
“In a dream situation, if we could have any we wanted, we would do a deal with Mark and Chris together.” Doyle said. “So the fact that Chris pulled Mark into a deal meant it really couldn’t have worked out any better for us.”