Editor's Note: In its nine seasons, ABC's Shark Tank has left its mark on countless businesses and industries. In honor of wedding season, here are the businesses that made the sharks also want to say "I do."
James Ambler had been a paparazzo for years, but when he proposed to his wife-to-be, he didn't snap any photos. This upset her family. It also gave him the idea for his New York City-based Paparazzi Proposals, which combines his skill at stealth with the growing demand to document and share, well, everything. "It's the devil I know," sighs Ambler.
For $495, a customer can consult on proposal plans and receive 80 to 125 photos three days after the event. Roses and musicians are extra, as are fancier approaches, like horse-and-carriage rides in New York City and private helicopter tours over Los Angeles. Revenue is in the six figures, Ambler says, and has grown 2,900 percent since the business launched in 2013. (A key cameo on Shark Tank in 2013 surely helped.)
It's wedding season now, but Ambler's also busy in March, when bonuses hit and big-city bookings surge; in winter, when northerners descend upon warm-weather locales for getaways; and between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the peak season. And, since you asked: As of presstime, no paparazzo'd askee has turned a suitor down. "We've never had 'I can't. I've been sleeping with your brother or sister,' " Ambler says. Though there has been one repeat customer--his first engagement went south.
For customers who want something a little less instant--and cheaper--Ambler created the RokShok, a phone case that hides an engagement ring. The case resembles ones packed with extra battery power, so not to rouse any suspicion, and allows users to record, snap, or stream a proposal.
What's more, an arm inside the case holds the ring and extends into the camera's point of view, so the person popping the question will have a shot of the ring and his or her significant other's reaction. "That's how we are constantly trying to change the dynamics of the business," Ambler says. "It will suit the side of the market that doesn't want to spend a lot of money but still wants to have it recorded."
Ambler is still working on the details of the product launch, but hopes to start selling the RokShok by the end of the year. He expects the case will cost $39.95 and will be made for both iPhone and Samsung phones.
Ambler's company isn't the only Shark Tank startup trying to disrupt the wedding industry. Once the question has been asked--and answered with a "yes"--it's time to plan a ceremony. Lovepop, a 3-D greeting-card business that appeared on Shark Tank in 2015, began selling wedding invitations this spring that clients can customize. Co-founder Wombi Rose says the company has worked with several hundred couples so far and is aiming for a national launch in the fourth quarter of this year.
"When people are thinking about their wedding nowadays, they are really trying to tell their own story and in every element of the wedding," Rose says. "All of our development has been driven by the thought: How can we let our couples tell their own unique story?"
In 2015, Kevin O'Leary offered Rose and his co-founder, John Wise, $300,000 in exchange for 15 percent of the company, noting the possibility of taking the business in the wedding direction. Through Lovepop's website, couples can create an invitation design that reflects their relationship or any themes, colors, or details that may appear in the wedding.
Once the big day arrives, the next hurdle for some brides may be navigating the difficulties of using the toilet while wearing a large dress. Bridal Buddy, a slip that allows the wearer to easily bunch up a gown so she can use the bathroom, aims to solve that headache.
Heather Stenlake created Bridal Buddy, in 2015 and appeared on Shark Tank two years later. She agreed to give Lori Greiner and O'Leary 30 percent equity in exchange for $75,000, but says the deal didn't come to fruition after the episode aired. However, Stenlake's appearance on the show helped her reach $250,000 in gross sales last year.
Following her Shark Tank debut, several people reached out asking her to create a Bridal Buddy specifically for mermaid-cut dresses (read: a style that is tighter in the waist and flares near the hemline), since the original model was too bulky for the fitted gown. Stenlake made about 250 mermaid-cut versions of her product for the summer wedding season and has sold about 70 so far on preorder. But she's also working on creating a Bridal Buddy for younger women, including flower girls or pageant queens.