ZinePak co-founders Kim Kaupe (left) and Brittany Hodak secured a $725,000 investment on Shark Tank.

Swimming with sharks

Kim Kaupe ran the gamut of emotions over the past few weeks in anticipation of her appearance on ABC’s hit television show Shark Tank. Excitement, anxiety and curiosity were just a few of the feelings she experienced before her network television debut.

After the episode aired on April 24, Kaupe’s feeling was singular: Exhilaration. Kaupe (BSBA ’08) and fellow ZinePak co-founder Brittany Hodak secured a $725,000 investment for 17.5 percent of the company from Sharks Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec. The attention they and the company have received in recent weeks has been astounding.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails,” Kaupe said. “It’s been amazing to see the response.”

ZinePak’s segment was only about eight minutes, but it represented months of hard work.

Shark Tank producers approached Kaupe and Hodak last year about appearing on the show. Kaupe said the producers learned of ZinePak’s success through the pair’s inclusion on lists such as Forbes’ 2014 30 Under 30: Music, and Inc.’s 35 Under 35.

Kaupe and Hodak filmed their segment in September in Los Angeles. Kaupe said their pitch lasted about an hour, which was a good sign. Had the Sharks not been interested, their time with them would have been much shorter.

“The longest pitch we heard about was over two hours,” Kaupe said. “Some people have really complicated business plans where regulation and patents are involved, and the sharks will have a lot of questions.”

Kaupe’s experience as a Shark Tank contestant gives her a unique perspective on the finished product everyone else sees on television.

“Once those doors open and you walk by those fish tanks on the wall, everything is just one take,” Kaupe said. “There are no breaks. If you mess up, the producers tell you ‘Don’t look at us.’ They keep rolling until you leave the tank.”

Also, while it appears the sharks are asking questions one at a time, Kaupe said the sharks are constantly talking over each other which can make attempting to answer their questions difficult.

Despite ZinePak’s incredible success—the company posted $3 million in sales this past year, and $30 million in retail sales since it began in 2011—Kaupe said the timing was right for the company to expand. While the company has made its mark in music, Kaupe said ZinePak could flourish in other industries like film, sports and video games. An infusion of capital was necessary for that expansion, and the Sharks’ fame could help open some doors to those industries.

“For first-time entrepreneurs, I think we’ve done a great job up,” Kaupe said. “But, at this point, I think we need another set of eyes to look at our process. I think that outside perspective will be beneficial to us.”

Although the company needed additional capital to expand, Kaupe said she and Hodak were prepared to walk away from an offer that wrested too much of the company’s stake. Their initial offer was a 10 percent stake of ZinePak for $725,000.

“We knew what we were willing to go up to, and what we would walk away from,” Kaupe said. “For us and our staff, we put so much time, energy and love into ZinePak. It was important for us to maintain control.”