Kevin and Brian Fleming owe their newest careers to Kevin’s dog, Beckett, a Tasmanian devil mix. That’s only a slight exaggeration. The Fleming brothers’ brush with fame — an appearance on ABC’s unscripted entrepreneurial show Shark Tank with their invention BagBowl — came about because Beckett couldn’t drink water from a Ziploc bag.
“I was just trying to think of a way for my dog to drink water at the dog park,” Kevin explains during an interview with The Pitch at a Crossroads coffee shop. This is the latest leg of a mini, local publicity tour since the show’s October 5 airing. To quench Beckett’s thirst, Kevin made a ring out of gaffer tape and popsicle sticks. BagBowl was born.
A few curious, latte-sipping customers sneak a peek as Kevin demonstrates BagBowl. He places a pink, flexible, plastic cylinder on a table, drops a Ziploc bag filled with uncooked beans in the middle, and rolls the top of the bag over the edges of the ring to create a bowl.
The Flemings believe that their idea — giving structure to flimsy bags — can take off like other almost unfathomably simple ideas, like Post-it Notes.
“It should have been out there already,” Kevin says of his latest invention. A couple of years ago, Beckett was the inspiration for another of Kevin’s creations: a tool to clean mud from dogs’ paws. After licensing that product for retail, Kevin turned to his next creation.
“I’m like, do I just want to be a one-hit wonder here or shake the Flock of Seagulls curse?” Kevin says.
The Flemings’ second hit stands to be much bigger than the first.
“It’s like winning the lottery to make it on the show,” Brian says.
Shark Lori Greiner, an inventor with more than 100 patents who is a longtime staple of home-shopping channel QVC, bought a 33 percent share of the BagBowl company for $40,000.
“She’s been absolutely a treat to talk to,” Brian says. “She’s a mentor right now.”
The deal followed a trade-show success. In 2011, the Flemings took BagBowl (originally called Instabol) to the 2011 International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, an annual convention of companies and inventors showing off their whisks and lamps and storage boxes.
“We road-tripped up, set up a little 10-by-10-foot booth and said, 'What does the universe think of this?’ ” Kevin says.
The universe — or, anyway, the housewares galaxy — fell for the BagBowl. The product took home a “Design Defined” award for its look and functionality. The Fleming brothers signed a deal with an infomercial producer to make a two-minute spot, but the product didn’t test well with viewers.
While working in event marketing, Kevin came up with a strategy for BagBowl: Hook consumers within three seconds. “It’s got to be a haiku or a short song,” he says.
So the brothers began selling the product on a website and looked for another chance to hit it big. Sales were slow. When they got the call from ABC in May, they were hopeful that might change.
“We got a call from a screening producer, and, obviously, you always get the call when the kids are screaming in the background,” Kevin says. “I run outside real quick and turn on my charm and the ham.”
The Flemings’ charm and ham won over Shark Tank’s show runners. The screening producer invited them to Los Angeles in early July for an American Idol—style audition that they had to pass to get a shot at the sharks. The producers liked their elevator pitch and greenlighted them to present to the panel.
Their on-air product pitch was a faultless, scripted lampoon of the worst late-night infomercials, with exaggerated oohs and ahs, high-fives and a cabinet overflowing with Tupperware lids that they promised would become obsolete, thanks to the BagBowl. The sharks laughed but seemed unimpressed with the initial pitch. Then they started with biting questions.
“You go in there with this wide-eyed optimism,” Brian says. “Within the first 10 minutes, you’re a turtle on your back getting punched in the face.”
“When one person would flounder, the other person would jump in and help him out,” Kevin says of their strategy.
The Flemings stayed punchy and charismatic during the 45-minute grilling. (It was edited down to about eight minutes for TV.)
“We were really drunk,” Kevin jokes.
“No, we weren’t drunk,” Brian corrects. “We felt drunk, but we weren’t.”
Brian got a little too cute with Cuban, a billionaire known for his occasional bouts of public rage.
“Cubes, let me jump in there,” he said, hoping to win him over. The line was used in promos for the episode.
“Just for calling me Cubes, I’m out,” Cuban replied.
“My heart stopped beating during that period,” Kevin says. Two other sharks followed Cuban’s lead.
Greiner told the brothers that she didn’t think the product was patentable (they have one pending), but she outbid fellow shark Robert Herjavec for a stake in the company. Greiner also agreed to give the Flemings $40,000 — the investment they were asking for, which is a rarity on the show.
“I think it’s possible that we could do some really big numbers with this product,” Greiner told the Flemings on the show.
Kevin hopped on Brian’s back for a victory piggyback ride as they walked away from the sharks. After the taping, the pair thought that they might have overdone their goofball act.
“We were worried we came off as buffoons,” Brian says. “Yeah, the camera adds 10 pounds and 10 decibels of energy,” Kevin adds.
While the brothers figure out how to begin their partnership with Greiner, the TV exposure (more than 6 million people watched) has caused a surge of interest and orders through buybagbowl.com.
“We’ve depleted our inventory and [are] restocking that now,” Brian says. “The response has been overwhelming.”
Now they’re focused on getting BagBowl into stores and brokering licensing agreements with manufacturers of foods that can be eaten out of the package, like snacks and microwave-rice pouches.
“Imagine your bag of chips having these ribs built into it,” Brian says.
They also wonder if international aid orga-nizations could benefit from BagBowl in food distribution. In fact, as the Flemings play with their invention and discuss it at a coffee shop, it seems that there’s no limit to BagBowl’s potential uses.
“Maybe we could build little stilts for kids out of BagBowls,” Kevin jokes, noting the strength of the ring.
“Stilts for kids in developing countries that don’t have stilts,” Brian deadpans.
The Flemings pack up their plastic rings. Kevin is off to another product show, this time to promote a children’s cup that he invented. It’s weighted on one side to reduce spilling when knocked over. Before going, he says they targeted Greiner with their pitch because of her career inventing things that make life easier.
“She’s a model for me,” he says. “I’d like to be helping people in 20 years to keep this good-product karma going.”