Facing investors on Shark Tank is no mean feat. But when one of them is your personal hero, the stakes are even higher. Tom Burden, founder of Grypmat, shares his experience of coming face to face with Richard Branson...
Innovation is my passion. I always wanted to be an inventor. Ever since I was a kid, it was my dream. So when I graduated high school, I wanted to pursue an engineering degree to help me build new and innovative technologies. In order to pay for college, I joined the military and became an aircraft mechanic.
My most frustrating challenge as an aircraft mechanic may seem trivial – my tools kept sliding off the jet. However, it soon became obvious to me through conversations with other mechanics that this was a widespread problem. Efficiency is the key to a successful mechanic. I was determined to solve this problem, and the Grypmat was born.
It didn’t happen overnight, though. With the support of my family and friends I immediately began prototyping; it took three years of working on the idea out of my basement to create something that resembled today’s Grypmat. I was lucky enough to benefit from the mentorship of Rick Lederman, a successful software developer, early in the process, and I remember one time when he introduced me to a friend as “Tom, the inventor.” At the time, I didn’t feel as if I deserved the title. Here I was, getting the introduction I’d been hoping for, but I couldn’t accept it yet. I hadn’t successfully developed a product or started a business.
So I renewed my efforts and attended the EAA Oshkosh trade show in Wisconsin. The product sold so well, I began to believe I could actually do this. So I sold my house to buy new inventory and lived out of my car until it began to sell.
As Grypmat gained notoriety at other trade shows and started to take off, I thought back to the time I was called an inventor, and questioned what it would take for me to feel it was true. It was then that I reflected on time spent with my 86-year-old neighbor, Molly, and the times we made dinner and watched Shark Tank together. Molly was always incredibly supportive of me and the Grypmat when I first started prototyping it, and as we watched the show, we dreamed that one day it would be me on the screen.
I decided to go for it. When my application was accepted, I was ecstatic to finally have the chance to be on stage with Richard Branson, a personal hero of mine. And I even found out we have the same birthday! I’ve listened to Richard’s audiobooks, and really look up to his leadership style of keeping calm and collected during stressful times. I was excited about the opportunity to get an audience with him on the show, but I was also extremely nervous. For years, I spent ten minutes meditating every morning, envisioning myself on stage with the sharks. Every day closer to filming, my vision became more and more detailed, and my confidence grew.
My goal was always to get the support of Richard, Lori, and Mark. Richard, especially, because he really strengthens my brand in the space, aviation and automobile industry. Richard, Lori, and Mark have complementary strengths that make them an ideal team of investors. I had expected to compromise in my pursuit of three sharks, but I was thrilled to have the whole thing work out exactly as I’d hoped.
Getting a deal on Shark Tank finally made me feel as if I am the inventor I always wanted to be. It gave me the validation I’d been searching for, along with increased confidence in myself and in the Grypmat. In addition, the capital invested by the Sharks is coming at a critical time for Grypmat to expand its inventory and scale our team and operations. Appearing on Shark Tank was a truly unforgettable experience, and I’m excited to see where it takes Grypmat.
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