A Clear Vision Led to Big Business for Invisiplug

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

Mike Barzman (pictured) and Bryan O'Connell have been in the entertainment industry for a long time. They’ve spent a lot of time in music studios and share an eye for detail. Invisiplug is the product of their observations. “We would see surge protectors and power strips on the floors, just sticking out like sore thumbs,” Barzman says.

But no more. They now make a line of surge protectors designed to blend into the décor, complementing the natural wood of floors, walls and furniture.

Invisiplug hit it big on Shark Tank, and can now be found in major retail stores — including Staples. We talked with Invisiplug’s founders about their path to success.

Where did you initially seek funding for your project?

Bryan: Friends and family. We went out to a lot of people that we knew, a lot of people we’d worked with, and we pitched them. We felt like we did it in the right way. We got some excitement going.

Mike: So many people are like, “Oh, my God. I don’t want to put it out there yet.” My thought is, be the one leading the race.

Bryan: Even if we didn’t have the clearest understanding of where we were at a certain point, we would just do our best. I find that if you put in someone’s hand a piece of paper that indicates you have a fundamental understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, that gives them more faith. You then work from there.

We then tried to show off our work a little bit, and show some good press. And, obviously, getting accepted onto Shark Tank — that was a big deal for us.

Tell us about that experience.

Bryan: The Shark Tank experience was completely surreal. We went from a budding company to a full-fledged business. Between the exposure we had and Lori Greiner’s support, we are now either selling to or in front of every one of the major retailers we dreamed of doing business with.

Getting into stores like Staples was something we’d been dreaming about our whole lives. Mike and I have been shopping at Staples forever.

You sell online, but retail’s really gone well for you.

Bryan: Yes. We really focus on our in-store retail programs and our merchandising programs — what kind of attention they get, what kind of displays there are in the stores to actually get the customers’ eyes — because our product really is kind of like you don’t know you need it until you see it. You get our product in your hands, and you’re like, “Wow. That’s amazing.”

You mentioned that you got some great early press. That included O, The Oprah Magazine. How did you make that happen?

Mike: Bryan and I knew a few people who had some connections in PR. We reached out to them. They liked the product and gave us a list of some really good magazines, and we put together a product package and sent it to them. We sent them to O, Time, People, all the fashion magazines. And we got O, Time...we got a lot of responses.

We were obviously super proud about O. That got us a lot of great attention.

I tell people, in your initial inventory, set aside 200 to 500 products and send those out. You’ve really got to get some sort of a wheel turning.

A lot of small businesses have cash flow issues. How do you manage yours?

Mike: Basically, all the money goes back into the company. It’s not like there are huge dividends being taken out. We’re very lean operationally. We just reinvest, reinvest, reinvest, and are growing our equity stake that way.

Our competitors are Belkin, GE — I mean, we’re going up against these billion-dollar companies, saying, “Hey, look. We’re trying to take 0.08 percent of your bottom line at the end of the year if we’re lucky.” Then maybe they’ll come knocking on our door and say, “Hey, we’ll give you $20 or $30 million for your company.”

Are there things that in retrospect you wish you’d done differently?

Mike: We don’t really look back too much. I mean, there have been a few moments where Bryan and I went to each other and said, “You know what? We should’ve gone about this situation a different way.” But my advice for entrepreneurs is, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just try your best and be yourself with it all. Be as confident as you can. I mean, love your product. But if things go wrong, which they’re going to a thousand times throughout the process, don’t look back on any of those. Just keep going forward, keeping pushing it, keep selling your product.

Bryan: People get so overwhelmed with the idea of the big picture and how they’re going to get to the finish line, and how they’re going to do that and this. But for us, it was more about, “What’s the next right thing? What’s the next right action that we can take?” Just believe in what you’re doing.

Mike: And when you get more experienced partners on board, be open to what they have to say.

Bryan: Remain teachable.

Watch Shark Tank Fridays 9|8c on ABC.

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