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Ten Questions: Aaron Krause
Meet the inventor who wowed the “Shark Tank” judges
By Terri Akman

It’s cute. It’s yellow. It has a smiley face. And if inventor Aaron Krause has his way, the Scrub Daddy sponge will soon appear in every kitchen sink in the country – maybe even the world. Buoyed by a successful showing on ABC TV’s “Shark Tank” that resulted in a $200,000 investment, the Voorhees resident has begun marketing his latest invention.

 

What is a Scrub Daddy?

It’s the only sponge in the world that changes its texture based on the temperature of the water. You can adjust the entire sponge to be a scrubber or a sponge just by adjusting the temperature of the water. The greatest feature – what’s so cute about it – is it’s in the shape of a smiley face. It’s much nicer to look at than gross, moldy sponges. All the features of the smile are fully functional. You put your fingers into the eyeholes and the sponge stays on your hand instead of you holding onto the sponge. That gives you unprecedented access to all kinds of cleaning jobs, like getting into the bottom of cups, mugs, and coffee pots, because when you’re holding a sponge from the outside, you only have the bottom surface to use. But when you have it on your fingers, you have the entire surface of the sponge to use, and you don’t even have to hold it. The mouth cleans spoons, knives, forks and spatulas on both sides at the same time.

 

Why is it so unique?

The material is rough and coarse. It’s been lab tested on all kinds of surfaces, including glass, ceramics, plastic, stainless steel, non-stick cookware, all your appliances and countertops, and it won’t scratch any surfaces. The material also rinses completely clean. When you use it and get all kinds of debris, like pasta sauce that’s totally red, or you scrub some black stuff off the bottom of the pan, you just rinse it under warm water and everything rinses out of it. It’s also dishwasher- and machine-washer safe. It always comes back bright yellow and clean. It’s been lab tested for two months and showed no odors and no aesthetic changes to the product. That’s probably the biggest pet peeve everybody has about sponges – they literally stink after a couple weeks of use.

 

Why did you decide to go on the television program “Shark Tank”?

I’m an avid watcher of the show. I’m also an inventor with ten patents. I’ve been inventing as far back as I can remember. Even as a little kid, I invented things in my room. I hooked up a little pulley system to turn the lights on and off before they had the Clapper. The show highlights people with inventions who are going through a process that I’ve gone through many times – having an idea and figuring out how to fund it and bring it to market. The program shows you the process in a fun and entertaining way, but it also gets people’s creative juices flowing. What better way to show the entire country in one media outlet your product and make it where it’s not a commercial, but something people want to watch. The sharks are rock stars in the investment world. These are the kind of people who make one phone call and open up the doors to major retail outlets.

 

Was it a difficult process to get on the show?

They are scrutinizing somewhere between 35,000 to 50,000 people who apply for the show each season. It’s not difficult to apply. You just go to the website and fill out the application. They scrutinize every application to see if the product has mass-market appeal and some entertainment value. A happy face sponge qualifies for that. I got a phone call about three months after I submitted my application. It was a very preliminary call to see if I had some personality. The second and third calls were about an hour each. Then I had to fill out a 10-page application, which turned into a 15-page contract, which turned into more discussions, which turned into about a 50-page contract. Then you start doing calls once or twice a week with producers trying to coach you about how you would present the product if you went on the show. It was difficult to prove myself to the producers. I had to do a video answering 20 questions within three minutes while being very animated with full passion and enthusiasm, but also getting my point across.

 

You asked for a $100,000 investment for 10 percent of your company. What did you end up getting, and what will you do with that cash?

I ended up getting $200,000 for 20 percent, which is the same valuation, but I got more money. Initially our team was going to build out our own manufacturing facility with robotic equipment, but we actually found a subcontractor who’s cutting the material for us at such a great price and is doing such a great job, that it currently doesn’t make sense for us to invest in the equipment. Because we are doing so well through the “Shark Tank” show, QVC and ShopRite, we actually need the money for the inventory.

 

How did you come up with the idea for Scrub Daddy?

It originally came up as a way to scrub my dirty hands. I owned a factory where we manufactured buffing pads for cars, boats, planes and marble. My hands were always getting dirty building robotic equipment and machines to make the pads. When I would come back to the office and play president – typing out emails – I couldn’t do that with dirty hands. I didn’t like the types of soaps they had, which felt like lotion with rocks in it. I wanted to use regular soap, but I needed something to scrub harder.

We were making our buffing pads out of different types of urethane foam, some of which are coarser than others. I could see that the concept would work, but I didn’t have the right material. I started working with different materials and came up with the perfect one in a shape that was easy to scrub with and had two eye holes where you could actually stick your fingers through to clean them. Just at the time we were to start marketing it, 3M offered to buy my business, but they didn’t buy that sponge.

So I started another business called Innovative Accessory Products that has all the products that 3M didn’t want from the acquisition. I took some Scrub Daddy sponges home to wash my deck furniture and left one in the sink. At home, my wife cooks, and I do the dishes. I used the Scrub Daddy to wash the dishes, and the skies opened up. I realized I missed the boat. This thing had nothing to do with scrubbing your hands. It was the greatest kitchen sponge I ever used.

 

You have been successful through a very difficult economy. What is the trick to that?

The economic situation is what you make of it. These were opportunities. The Sharks were still investing. You just have to have the drive and initiative to push forward. Find the right people who you can make a really compelling presentation to and show that you have something unique that’s profitable. A lot of people have ideas, but they never follow through with them. People say I’m so lucky, but luck is what you make of it.

 

What advice do you have for other would-be inventors?

If you come up with an idea, you need to follow it through. Go on Google search first to see if anyone else has come up with it. Follow that with a search on the United States Patent Trademark Office’s website (uspto.gov). If you can’t find it there, it might be time to call a patent lawyer. I wouldn’t use the invention submissions services. Have a patent lawyer do a search – it’s about $600 – to see what they come back with. If it looks like it’s something you can get protection on, you should pursue it.

 

Lori Greiner from “Shark Tank” is now your partner. How much say will she have in your business?

She’ll have a lot of say, because I want her to. We talk a couple times a day whether it’s through texts, phone calls or emails. I want her advice because she’s an absolute expert in the field, but her position in the company is not enough to override anything I say. She shares my vision. Our goal is to have this in every supermarket, drug store chain and major retailer in the country and in the world. I’ve already been contacted by probably 20 countries since “Shark Tank” aired. They want to be distributers of the product. I respect how busy Lori is, so I try to pick and choose when things are really important.

 

What success do you anticipate with Scrub Daddy?

There are about 114 million households in the United States, and they all use sponges. Each one uses up a sponge about every two weeks. On the long side, you probably shouldn’t be using your sponge for more than a month before it’s disgusting. That’s 1.4 billion sponges that are sold each year in the United States. If we account for 1 percent of that market share, that would be about $14 million dollars a year in sales. I think the sky is the limit with this product, that it will be a household brand name. The company is going to be worth tens of millions of dollars, I just don’t know when.

 

December 2012
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