Two eco-friendly camping entrepreneurs have admitted "cracking under the pressure" during a brutal grilling on Shark Tank after they were unable to answer the most important question about their business.
Married couple Charity Turner and Phoebe Colbrelli-Cox entered Tuesday night's episode seeking a A$200,000 ($220,000) investment for a 30 per cent stake in their "earth-conscious" camping supplies business The Seek Society, which specialises in "high-grade canvas tents".
"We bonded over our love of the outdoors and adventure," Turner said.
"We were actually really perplexed at the amount of people utilising substandard camping and outdoor-wears."
The Seek Society launched in September 2016 and turned a profit within the first eight months.
"By all indicators the sustainable camping market is on the verge of a boom," Colbrelli-Cox said.
"People want to get back to nature and escape the daily grind. And what better way to do that than in comfort and style?"
Their flagship tent costs A$350, retails for A$899 and wholesales for A$599. Turner said in the first nine months the company's sales were A$50,000. Tech entrepreneur Steve Baxter dismissed it as a "hipster camping company" — and things just went south from there.
"Not a lot of sales yet," Greencross founder Glen Richards said. Investor Andrew Banks added, "The numbers aren't that big. What do you think you're going to do next year?"
"So next year … This year?" Turner asked.
"The next 12 months, however you want to calculate it," Andrew said.
"I'm cracking under the pressure," Turner said. "Um, basically, we've got a bit of a strategy involving scaling the business with the canvas rooftop tents."
"I'd like to think you've got a bit of a strategy," Andrew said.
Glen was concerned that the couple were spreading themselves too thin with too many products — camp rugs, a bottle range, canvas bags, tents and apparel.
"You've got to work out your number one thing," he said. "At the moment you've gone so wide that the rest of it's going to be noise that gets in the way of you actually winning this."
But it was Boost Juice founder Janine Allis who really got stuck in, resulting in this incredibly awkward exchange:
Janine: "There's hundreds of tents out there, yes there's plastic ones but there's also material ones as well, so why is yours different?"
Charity: "It isn't just any tent. It's a canvas tent."
Janine: "But there's canvas tents out there."
Charity: "There are, but not ones that basically look as beautiful and are as comfy and spacious."
Janine: "Okay, tell me exactly how it's different then."
Charity: "We've refined the design for Australian outdoor conditions."
Janine: "Okay, but so far it's not different. There's products out there that do all of those things. So why is yours different?"
Charity: "Um. Can you help me out, Phoebs?"
Phoebe: "I don't know. We do other things too …"
Steve: "Can I touch on something you said bef— "
Janine: "Can we, sorry, I want them to answer this. So think about your product, right? Why would as a consumer, you've gone into a store, why would you buy yours?"
Charity: "Okay, so what we've seen is a massive uptake of our tent from people that love to take photos of their adventures whilst they're travellers. So obviously they are super beneficial when your love of photography and the outdoors is kind of front and centre as well."
[Sharks look bemused]
Steve: "Is is warmer, or cooler, or …? I notice there's a little chimney thing on top, is that what it is?"
Phoebe: "Yes, there's little air vents at the top so when the hot air rises it does come out."
Steve: "Why don't you talk about that? Because that's an actual feature you can put your finger on, not that people like to post it on Instagram."
Charity: "We've got a patent that I'm working on at the moment for a first-to-market product in the camping and outdoor space …"
Steve: "You are going to add another product to this company despite the fact you've got no real traction with your first product. You've got to stick to something that works. If your solution to make your company work is to add more products, then that's bad. I really just think you are hipster for camping. I don't know what other value you bring because you haven't sold me on the value of this tent."
Despite liking the tent itself, all of the Sharks pulled out, saying the pair's sales were too low and they hadn't been able to properly communicate their message.
RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson said she "would have like to hear the difference it's making to the planet". Janine said they had their social media and branding nailed, they didn't convince her about the "uniqueness of the product or the uniqueness of the business".
"I think the nerves just really got the better of me to a certain extent," Turner said afterwards. "They are a little bit intimidating."