Johnny Georges from Arcadia, Florida, had a dream. He wanted to build the business he started with his father, to help farmers lower the costs associated with tree irrigation.
Together, the pair came up with a device called the Tree T-Pee, designed to conserve water and help farmers manage their irrigation costs and time. Georges's product uses just 800 gallons of water per tree per year, instead of the typical 25,000--and does a better job, with a 30 percent increase in growth and nutrients, he explained. The irrigated water is contained around each tree, and irrigation takes less than an hour, instead of 10 to 12 hours.
The farmer gets a return on his money "a whole lot faster," Georges told the Sharks, as he asked for $150,000 in exchange for 20 percent of his company.
Georges shared the story of how he conceptualized the Tree T-Pee alongside his father, a man he calls an innovator and the person who taught him everything he knows. Like so many brilliant innovations, their big idea was born out of their need to find a better way to complete a task. Georges tired of shoveling mounds of dirt into place to protect the delicate root systems of their trees and decided to try something different. His father built the first small tree tepee, and Georges went to work improving the function and design.
"When good people come together..." Georges choked up at this point, clearly emotional about his business idea. He continued, "When good people come together with a noble cause, great things happen."
Georges faced an uphill battle with the Sharks, though. Grilled about costs, distribution, and revenue, he had to admit he was selling only in a five-county area in his home state of Florida.
"Haven't any distributors come to you and said, we want to sell this, we want to distribute this for you, and we want to take it way outside of Florida?" Mark Cuban fired at him. Georges stood stunned while Cuban continued, "Have you not called on any of them?"
"I haven't called on any of them," he admitted. At this point, both Cuban and Daymond John visibly appeared annoyed with Georges. Shark Lori Greiner jumped in to ask Georges if he even knew what his market was.
This may sound very familiar if you have pitched your business to angels, VCs, or other types of funders.
Cuban continued, "And those are the only people you've sold to? Just the people you've done irrigation with."
"Yes, sir," Georges replied. "Just the people I know."
"Wow," Cuban said, slouching back in his chair as though in disbelief. At this point, it really seemed as though Georges was out of luck. He was being dismissed.
What he did next might have saved the deal, though. Charismatic Georges launched into a story about his being caught trespassing on private property, installing his product in a grove of trees in an effort to win a new client. He was contacted by the property owner later when the person realized that the trees on which Georges had installed his product were the only ones thriving. That move earned him a sale of 4,995 units to that property owner.
Even so, the Sharks were less than impressed with his profit margin. He only cleared $1.55 on each $4 unit sold, he said, because his customers were farmers and he wanted to "do right" by them.
Kevin O'Leary was particularly vocal in expressing his desire for a larger profit margin and the need for a higher sale price, of up to $12 per unit: "There's only one of you! I need like 2,000 Johnnys calling on farmers all across the land. Now who's going to pay them, Johnny? Who's gonna pay them?"
What would you have done in this position? Georges saw the deal slipping away, but his sense of integrity would not allow him to agree to a sale price he felt unfair to his target market.
O'Leary declared, "I'm out."
Georges's integrity cost him the deal.
This could have been it for Georges. Panel pitches are tough--if you lose one, it's more difficult for the others to justify taking the risk.
As so often happens, though, a better opportunity sprouted from his sticking to his guns.
John Paul DeJoria was clearly touched by Georges's concern for his customers and stepped in with an offer: Everything the entrepreneur was asking for, he would receive.
"What you're doing is right, and you deserve a chance to make it big and do a lot of good. I'd like to be your partner, Johnny," DeJoria said, noting that farmers probably can't afford to pay $12 for the product, but may pay $6 or $7.
With the deal made, the Sharks softened and heaped praise upon Georges for sticking to his guns.
Georges's story not only resonated with the Sharks, but with people across America as well. Within 24 hours of his appearance on Shark Tank, he had received more than 56,000 emails. He sold thousands of Tree T-Pees that night.
Not all rejected pitches have a happy ending so immediate and public, but don't get discouraged if you get shot down. There just might be a better opportunity around the corner, if you stay true to your vision and values. After all, being a good person in business and a good person in life are not mutually exclusive.
Here's the full clip from Shark Tank: