In September 2013, Jamie Siminoff had an opportunity that many American entrepreneurs dream about. He pitched DoorBot, a doorbell system that allows you to remotely see and talk to the person at your door via your smartphone, in front of millions of viewers on Shark Tank.
Only the appearance wasn't a dream come true for DoorBot (now known as Ring)--or at least it wasn't at the time. Siminoff decided not to make a deal with shark Kevin O'Leary, who offered a $700,000 loan, if Siminoff agreed to pay it back by giving 10 percent of all sales. Then O'Leary also wanted to take a 7 percent royalty on all future sales, plus a 5 percent stake. Siminoff found the deal too restrictive.
"That would have been a longer road to death, versus dying because we ran out of money," Siminoff says.
But there was an upshot: The Shark Tank exposure gave Siminoff's company a lift in sales, at least enough to keep the business growing. And that's when things got interesting.
In November 2014, Siminoff received an email in November 2014 connecting him to billionaire Richard Branson. A Ring customer who was vacationing on Branson's Caribbean island had shown Branson how he was able to use Ring to sign for a UPS delivery while on vacation.
"I get this email from this customer, who said, 'Richard, copied here, wants to give some of these doorbells to his friends as gifts for Christmas'--and it's freaking Richard Branson," Siminoff says with a laugh.
Sir Richard spent the next two hours asking Siminoff questions about Ring via email. In August 2015, Ring closed a $28 million Series B round, led by Branson. Siminoff, who says he used to receive laughs at cocktail parties when he said he "made doorbells," started receiving more and more interest from investors.
Now, Ring just raised another $61.2 million Series C, led by prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with add-on from Branson. They are in the process of launching a new product--the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, which will be able to connect to Wifi. But the new funding doesn't make Siminoff feel any more at ease about his business.
"In our culture deck, which I like to show to a new team member coming in...one of the main things we talk about is not celebrating," says Siminoff. "I see these startups celebrating every new funding round, and the reality is that there are always bad things that are going to happen to your business."
Siminoff says that while Ring might hit a huge milestone posting a few million dollars in sales, there are billion-dollar companies who make Ring's accomplishments look puny. Even though his company's story could be described as surreal, "I think it's really important to keep the team realistic," he says.
To stay focused, Siminoff says it's helpful to have an investor like Branson on board, who assists Ring in determining "how we can make an impact 10-15 years down the round."
"He's one of the few investors who I talk to the most about the really long-term ideas about the business," Siminoff says. "We've talked a lot about going international...and that's something he's really done well through the Virgin Brand."