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How did Raleigh dog treat company Zookies Cookies fare on ‘Shark Tank’?

First into the Tank on the March 3 episode of “Shark Tank” are entrepreneurs from Raleigh who introduce their bake-at-home, all-natural dog treats. Justin Miller, left, and Tom Simon of Zookies Cookies.
First into the Tank on the March 3 episode of “Shark Tank” are entrepreneurs from Raleigh who introduce their bake-at-home, all-natural dog treats. Justin Miller, left, and Tom Simon of Zookies Cookies. ABC

Sunday night’s “Shark Tank” appearance paid off big time for Justin Miller and Tom Simon, the co-founders of the Raleigh dog treat company Zookies Cookies.

Simon and Miller pitched the bake-at-home dog cookie mix to regular panelists Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec and Lori Greiner and to new shark Alli Webb, asking for $50,000 for 20 percent equity in the company.

The Raleigh duo started out by tricking Herjavec and Webb into tasting the cookies before revealing that they’re for dogs. The treats are made with human-grade ingredients like peanut butter, apples and coconut, but Herjavec still spit his cookie out into his hand and Webb grimaced after her bite.

That’s when Miller and Simon brought out their target audience: three adorable little dogs who scarfed down some treats.

To stave off any initial doubts about the seriousness of their product, Miller told the sharks that Zookies has more than $40,000 in sales in just over 9 months, all from online sales through direct targeting on Facebook, Instagram and Google. The mix costs just under $2 per jar to produce.

“It’s a very giftable product,” Miller told them. “Over half of our sales are gifts.”

The sharks do battle

Miller said Zookies wanted a strategic partner more than the capital investment. “We feel that there’s a big opportunity with what we’ve created,” Miller said. “What we want to look at are opportunities with big box and opportunities to expand out on those social channels.”

Greiner said she saw Zookies Cookies as a novelty product that people might buy a few times a year, but not regularly. She was out.

Herjavec said he didn’t think people would bake for their dogs. He was out.

Cuban said, “I heard the word ‘bake’ and I didn’t understand the rest of it.” He was out.

That left Webb and O’Leary.

“I think the pet space is on fire,” Webb said. “People are obsessed with their dogs, and they will buy something like this, 100 percent. It needs work, and I think as long as you guys are open to going back to the drawing board a little bit on a couple of things, I think I can bring value in helping you get into certain retailers with gifting.”

Webb offered them $50,000 for 30 percent of their company.

O’Leary, who pointed out he has a lot of gifting companies that he can put the cookie mix into, offered Miller and Simon $50,000 for one third of the company, saying that would make him “an equal dog partner.”

“I don’t even think you like dogs,” Webb said.

“I love dogs,” O’Leary responded.

Greiner interjected, “He likes money.”

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First into the Tank on the March 3 episode of “Shark Tank” are entrepreneurs from Raleigh who introduce their bake-at-home, all-natural dog treats. Justin Miller, left, and Tom Simon of Zookies Cookies are far right. Eric McCandless ABC

Webb and O’Leary battled a little more about who likes dogs the most, and then O’Leary turned back to the humans and showed why he has the nickname Mr. Wonderful: “I just like you guys. I think the idea is really dumb, but I like you guys.”

Webb pounced. “I don’t think the idea is dumb, I think there’s some real value,” she said.

From the perspective of viewers in living rooms across the country, the decision from Miller and Simon seemed a no-brainer: “We very much appreciate both of your offers,” Miller said. “Alli.”

After the deal, Simon told the cameras how excited they were to be working with Alli Webb, who is the founder of DryBar.

“Having Alli as part of us now could be great because her products are already well-branded,” he said. “We’ve been talking about new packaging and new styles and new things, so having her as a partner just feels fantastic.”

With Miller and Simon out of the room, O’Leary addressed Webb. “I’m very proud of you,” O’Leary told her. “You were a savage there — 30 percent!”

Cuban chimed in: “I know, that is savagery.”

“That’s so greedy,” said O’Leary.

Greiner defended Webb’s savagery: “They know she’s going to help them.”

Savage like a fox

Miller, a former IBMer who has made a name for himself with his previous companies — which include photo-sharing apps WedPics and DejaMi, and a mobile taco cart called El Taco Cartel — said in an interview on Monday that he didn’t think the deal was “savage” at all.

“I thought the deal was totally good,” he said. “We had been thinking of giving away more equity and dropped it just before walking in, so we felt great about it. It was in line with what we had in our minds.”

Miller also wasn’t put off by O’Leary calling the Zookies Cookies product “dumb.” Miller said he and Simon could tell during their one-hour pitch (edited down to about eight minutes for airing) that O’Leary liked them and believes they are talented.

“He wasn’t mean, he was having a good time with us,” Miller said. But it was clear to both men that Webb believed in their product more.

“In listening to the two of them going back and forth, Alli was more passionate about the idea,” Miller said. Webb is already an investor in Healthy Spot, a chain of health food stores for pets. For that reason, going with Webb made a lot of sense, Miller said.

“There’s always going to be opportunities to take money, but you want to take smart money,” Miller said. “You want to take money from someone who wants to roll their sleeves up and work with you.”

Miller said he and Simon, the co-founder of Source3, a tech company sold to Facebook in 2017, finalized the deal with Webb at the end of 2018, but they have been limited in how much they could do until after the show aired.

Even without the deal, Miller and Simon could call the trip to Los Angeles a big success. Getting a spot in front of the sharks on national television is what Miller calls a “Super Bowl moment for an entrepreneur.”

Their “Shark Tank” bump is already clear.

“The show aired at 10 last night and in the first 12 hours, over 1,000 orders came in,” Miller said.

About Zookies Cookies

Zookies mix comes in two flavors — Peanut Barker and Cocomutt — and each jar includes a bone-shaped cookie cutter. An 8-ounce jar sells for $10.99, a two-pack (one jar of each flavor) costs $18.99 and a three-pack costs $24.99. In honor of their “Shark Tank” appearance, the coupon code treatright will get you 10 percent off your order, which ships free from zookiescookies.com.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.
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