Learning How to Pivot Led to More Sales for Reviver

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

Brothers Ben and Eric Kusin have produced the world's first deodorant for clothes. The inspiration for Reviver, an odor-eliminating wipe that fits in the palm of your hand, arrived when Ben was standing in line at a convenience store and someone behind him offered the observation that he “smelled like an ashtray.” After a bit of research, Ben learned there was nothing on the market that could quickly freshen up clothing.

Thanks to the Kusin brothers, that product is now available. And a leg up on success was extended to the Dallas-based siblings by their successful appearance on Shark Tank: The duo received $150,000 in investment in exchange for a 5 percent share of their business.

Ben (pictured) and Eric recently shared some insights on launching a start-up.

Did you guys have much business experience? What are your backgrounds?

Ben: I was in interactive entertainment, making video games and marketing them before I got into this.

Eric: I was a buyer for Neiman Marcus, so I knew what it was like to be on the other side of the table.

Can you share some advice on initially marketing a new product?

Ben: Depending on the size of your company and what kind of budget you’re working with, it’s sometimes better to try to “boil a bathtub than boil an ocean.” Start regionally; start small. If you have a product, why not target a specific city? Spend a lot of money in that city — maybe on Facebook — targeting a demographic or a geographic area. Maybe put up a billboard, take out print ads in local newspapers, or try to get into local media. If you can motivate that small group and develop a success story, you can then scale it up.

What about using social media?

Ben: An example of a great online community is Reddit. Some people are familiar with Redditers. There are categories of people who you can talk to about your product, educate them about it, and then convince them to go out and buy it. We had a lot of success on Reddit doing a Q&A that talked about our experience with Shark Tank and what it’s been like starting up a business. When you talk to people in a very altruistic manner and in earnest, they listen and they want to try out your product. We’ve found a lot of fans that way.

Where did you initially sell Reviver?

Eric: First, like most products, online. Our first retail buyer was, weirdly enough, Petco. Petco saw the product, and they said, “This is great. We know this is intended for clothes, but we’re going to try it on pets.”

Ben: A very common concept in business is called a “pivot.” It’s when you have a product and then later in the business lifecycle you realize you can also put that product to use in other areas that you didn’t originally intend. We had a pivot moment early on. We invented a product for humans and we found a buyer that wanted it for pets. So we took a little minor, early detour, and found really good success with that.

We’re constantly finding new uses for our products. We've had multiple companies contact us and say, “Hey, have you thought about this or that?” First and foremost, we’re getting our product in the right channels, making sure it sells through the reorders. Then, once we feel fully comfortable with our product in market, we’ll look at various different verticals.

You always want to be safe and sound and not get too far in front of your own headlights when you’re starting a business.

What was it like being on Shark Tank?

Ben: Shark Tank was the most thrilling experience of my life. If you can survive an hour in there, you can do anything. Reviver is stronger than ever before because of it.

Eric: It’s rare to get the opportunity to talk with five proven entrepreneurs about your company. I just tried to filter out all the distractions and have a normal conversation as if they were potential customers. It definitely wasn’t easy; they’re obviously very good at making you uncomfortable in the Tank.

Is there something you think many would-be entrepreneurs overlook that they’d be wise to keep in mind?

Ben: You have to first consider how important the intellectual property is. Do I have a new mold? Am I doing something better? And is it something that a bigger company can knock off the second I launch it? If that’s the case, you need to spend some time and money up front developing your patents and other intellectual property.

What comes after that?

Ben: Once you have your concept shored up, work on getting a prototype. Get a sample. If you need money at that phase, use the prototype to convince someone, “Here’s how I’m going to make you money.”

When you have a small-scale production run, you can then go to retailers, convince them that you have the inventory and the means to create additional inventory, and that you’re going to be strategic about marketing, and try to get it tested in a small number of stores. You’d be surprised how many big retailers are willing to take in a product and try it in 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 stores, see if it sells, and then roll that out on a much bigger level. Don’t be afraid to knock on the big doors.

What other advice can you offer about funding a start-up project?

Eric: The one piece of advice that I would give to someone looking for money would be: Don’t jump at the first offer. And don’t accept someone’s value of your company if you don’t truly believe that the market is agreeing with that value.

Ben: And don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. There’s a quote from a movie, “I’m planning on winning the lottery, but first I have to save up money for a ticket.” Ask anyone. Don't be afraid.

Any overall advice for those new to running their own business?

Ben: I think it’s very important when you initially pitch your product to be open and honest. Don’t overstate the product’s capabilities. Don’t say that you’re sure of something if you’re not. It’s very important to be upfront when you make the pitch. When you do, you’ll get honest feedback. If you’re getting feedback based on a proposition that doesn’t exist, or may not potentially exist, it could set you off on the wrong course.

Watch Shark Tank Fridays 9|8c on ABC.

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