#SharkTank, the Emmy-winning reality show for ambitious entrepreneurs, kicked off season nine with an offer that will revamp classrooms and corporations.
On October 1, 2017, Shane Cox dove into the tank to swim with the sharks with a revolutionary invention to keep him above water. Qball, the “throwable wireless microphone,” left the tycoons and viewers astounded, and Shane Cox, founder and CEO of PEEQ, took home $300,000 for 30% equity from sharks Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban and Rohan Oza. “Designed with the classroom in mind,” Qball currently helps more than 40,000 students speak-up and find their voice, bringing life and energy to the classroom.
Because the initial seed money for Qball came through crowdfunding, UHelp, (the totally free crowdfunding platform) interviewed Shane about the journey of creating Qball and founding PEEQ:
1. Does PEEQ stand for anything in particular?
I named the company PEEQ (pronounced like pique) because at the core of our company is the belief that one of the best ways to encourage true learning is when you can pique a student’s natural curiosity.
2. What exactly is Qball and how does it relate to PEEQ's mission?
Qball is a wireless microphone you can throw. At its core, it is a tool that helps teachers encourage their students to participate in classroom discussions while ensuring that every child can be both heard and understood. Many times, the most valuable part of a lesson is the questions and answers that piques curiosity.
3. How did you come up with the idea for Qball?
I worked with a lot of schools trying to integrate technology effectively. I became a big proponent of classroom audio systems, where each classroom has some sort of speakers and the teacher wears a microphone all day. They can have tremendous benefits across the board, not only for teachers by reducing the amount of days they miss for things like vocal strain, but also for students who are better able to hear and understand their teachers.
The problem was that the existing technology really didn’t help when it comes to inter-student communication. I observed many teachers using some sort of object, like a Koosh ball, to manage classroom discussions. Whomever had the object, had the floor. So, I had the idea to see what would happen if we put the two together.
4. What marketing techniques did you find most effective in gaining such a big following for PEEQ and Qball?
Our most effective marketing technique has been to focus on the teachers. The Qball is a great solution for one of the biggest challenges in teaching, not only by keeping students engaged, but also by getting them to participate in classroom activities.
We really focused on the “techie” teachers who are on the forefront of technology in the classroom. They immediately saw the value and then put the wheels in motion to get one for themselves, whether it was through writing a grant, doing a Donors Choose project or, if need be, paying out of their own pocket. They become our biggest ambassadors sharing the value of our product with their peers.
5. How did you become a Shark Tank contestant and how did you prepare for your televised presentation?
I was able to get on Shark Tank through an open casting call held in Charlotte, NC. To prepare for the show, I over-prepared! I re-watched every episode of the show, wrote down all of the common questions and practiced my answers. I researched each of the Sharks, their backgrounds and investments and scoured the internet for every article and interview that I could find related to the show. On top of it all, I made sure to choose the most appropriate wardrobe I could find.
6. What obstacles arose during the creation of PEEQ and Qball and how did you overcome them?
Creating a piece of hardware is incredibly challenging. It is much harder to iterate and change on the fly than software and requires a lot of capital to both develop and mass produce. The other challenge is the difficulty of finding investors that are interested in hardware or education. To find somebody willing to invest in both is nearly impossible. The only way to overcome it was to try to do it on my own.
So, I sold everything… my home, my business, my car… I mean everything. I won some money in a pitch competition and, through a combination of crowdfunding, friends and family, I was able to scrounge up enough to make it happen.
7. Raising $46,895 on Indiegogo is a huge accomplishment! What marketing techniques did you use and what advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to raise money through crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a tough cookie. Statistically speaking, a whole lot more campaigns fail than reach their goal. A big chunk of it is market fit. There are certain types of products or inventions that can do really well on crowdfunding, tap into that existing audience of crowdfunders and obtain this viral growth. Ours was not one of those.
It took a lot of effort on our part, because it was somewhat of a niche product. We had zero luck attracting any type of media attention or press, so it all came down to us. I spent days just plugging out emails to everyone and anyone who might listen or be interested. In the end, a vast majority of our backers were first-time crowdfunders. That, in and of itself, made it worthwhile—the validation that they not only liked my product, but were willing to try out something completely new to them, like crowdfunding, to get their hands on one.
8. Did Indiegogo receive a percentage of the funding and/or offer campaign assistance? What made you select Indiegogo as a host for Qball?
Both Indiegogo and Kickstarter take a percentage of your earnings for their platform. In the end, we chose Indiegogo because they were the most hands on as far as feedback, tools they offered and advice for making my campaign successful.
Note: UHelp.com, the newest crowdfunding website, does not take any percentage. The money you raise is the money you keep.
9. What advice would you give to businesses and nonprofits just starting out?
The best thing for me was to spend as much time as possible with my potential customers. They not only helped to validate the idea, but also gave me the encouragement to keep pushing through when challenges and obstacles arose. The excitement that they had about the product helped me to know that I was on the right path.
10. How can GrantWatch work together with PEEQ to make classrooms and workplaces even more interactive and fun?
Grants are such an integral and vital piece of education, especially for new and innovative products like the Qball. Schools don’t really have in their annual budgets a set-aside for throwable wireless microphones, so the ability to find grants that are available for schools and business to buy our product is invaluable.
Thank you, Shane, for this brilliant invention geared to bring learning techniques into the future. GrantWatch and UHelp wish you the best of luck in managing PEEQ and advancing education in the coming years.
Teachers: It is important to note that, when writing a grant, you apply for funds to improve (for instance) verbal communication skills, the study of a subject, conflict resolution techniques, etc. To apply for a grant to purchase a Qball, demonstrate that the equipment is necessary for a program or activity that will meet the objectives and goals of the funding source awarding the grant. You could also create a crowdfunding campaign for money to purchase the Qball.
Grants for Education Technology on GrantWatch.com
Grants to USA K-12 Teachers for Technology Supplies and Equipment to Enhance Student Learning
Grants of $500 and grants of $1,000 to USA K-12 teachers to purchase technology supplies and equipment for the classroom that will help students stay up-to-date with high-tech advances.
Deadline: 12/09/17 11:59 PM ET
Grants to Montana Public School Educators for School Supplies, Technology, and Innovative Materials
Grants of up to $500 to Montana public school educators for financial assistance to purchase classroom supplies, technology, or innovative materials that benefit children's education.
Deadline: 12/02/17 Receipt
Grants to Ohio PreK-12 Teachers and Administrators to Promote In-Depth Learning for Students
Grants of up to $3,000 to Ohio Pre-K through twelfth-grade teachers and administrators working in secular primary or secondary schools for programs that promote in-depth learning.
About the Author: Kayli Tomasheski is the Copy Editor for GrantWatch.com