David Cox wants to change the way people learn about their computers, or should I say how they learn to use their computers. The Key West, Florida resident and Mac Guru will be bringing his business, PC Classes Online, into the Shark Tank on Friday. He has a little help from a friend, too. In yet another, perhaps more subtle, Academy Awards promotion by ABC, David Cox will be joined by friend and comedy writer, Bruce Vilanch. Vilanch has been writing jokes for the Academy Awards since the 1980's; he and Cox are friends and Vilanch's mother is a PC Classes Online student.
I caught up with David on the phone today to get a sneak peek at his upcoming appearance this weekend. He shared a lot of insights (at least what he could without breaking confidentiality) on the show, his company vision, his friendship with Vilanch, and what he is doing to prepare for his upcoming fifteen minutes of Shark Tank fame.
David Cox: Teacher first, businessman second
First and foremost, David Cox is a “Mac.” He first got the idea for his business while using the moniker “the Mac Guru.” He was teaching classes at a local Apple Dealer to standing room only crowds when he realized he had something. He morphed his classroom business into what became PC Classes Online. “A lot of ‘techies' know their stuff, but they can't teach,” said David, “I'm a people person that also happens to be a techie. Both my parents are social workers, so that's probably where I get it from. The classic testimonial for me was when a student told me they learned more in five minutes on PC Classes Online than they did in a whole class they took at the Apple Store.”
“Teaching at an Apple Dealership is not the best environment, it's very chaotic. PC Classes online offers live classes online [kind of like a podcast] with some time for questions afterward. We have an applet that pops on the screen that allows me to turn on one student's microphone at a time.” Some of his lessons are long, in depth tutorials on topics like “Intro to Windows 8,” but David has taken many questions from his live classes and created mini video tutorials around them. “We even have a video about ‘what to do with all those cables.'”
One thing David Cox realized almost immediately is his target market tends to be 50 years old and up. “I have found that lots of younger people are getting the courses for their parents, they just don't want to spend an hour on the phone teaching mom or dad how to set up a printer. I think it has potential to be a great gift item. Another interesting thing I've noticed is when people sign up for classes, they generally take three or four live classes then continue on with the video tutorials once they're comfortable with the learning platform.” PC Classes Online are being scaled to handle up to 10,000 students at once. That's a lot of students – heaven forbid you'd be asked to bring gum for the entire class!
David is working on having PC Classes Online as a “boxed item” in computer stores. “An Apple Dealer only makes about eighty bucks on a $1,200 computer sale. They make their money on warranties, service, and accessories. If a computer salesperson could offer our product, it would be a great value add for the customer and a new revenue stream for the dealer.”
David takes teaching as seriously as he takes his business. “I have an idea to create a curriculum for high school students. If every high school student could learn Quickbooks, iWork, Microsoft Office, Final Cut Pro, and basic website creation, they could go out and get a job tomorrow.” With the rapid expansion of online learning, David Cox and PC Classes Online may be on the leading edge of a very lucrative trend.
Celebrity Guest and Personal Friend Bruce Vilanch helps David Cox Pitch Sharks
Season four of Shark Tank is the season of the celebrity pitch, and David Cox continues the trend when friend and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch assists him. “Bruce is a very funny guy. He thinks on his feet. We first met in Boston about ten years ago when I was doing radio. My mentor, David Brudnoy, called me up and said ‘[author] Dennis Lehane is going to be on the show tomorrow, you have to go see Mystic River!' It was opening night, so there was a line, and who was in front of me but Bruce. We started talking and ended up sitting together. At one point in the movie, Sean Penn sees his daughter, who's just been brutally beaten to death. Just before Penn lets out an anguished cry, Bruce leans over and whispers in my ear, ‘this is where it turns into a musical.' I laughed out loud and the entire theater turned and looked at me. We've been friends ever since!”
In a funny coincidence, David also introduced Bruce to Family Guy. Vilanch was starring as the mother in the musical Hairspray in Boston and invited David backstage for one of the shows. While having dinner together, David mentioned Family Guy; Bruce had never heard of it. “We ended up watching 4 episodes on my laptop. He loved it.” Vilanch will soon be writing jokes for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane is hosting the next Academy Awards, and Vilanch writes the bulk of the jokes for the broadcast. “I like to think I introduced Bruce to Seth. Bruce actually told him the story.”
David Cox and Bruce Vilanch on Shark Tank
“I came to apply for Shark Tank in a strange way. I had a podcast show and I was talking about my work on PC Classes Online. A fan, who is a retired PR and marketing genius, called in and said ‘do you realize what you have here?' He said we had to take the business on Shark Tank. I was having flashbacks to getting beaten up in high school, I wasn't sure if I could handle it. The guy told me not to worry about it because The Shark Tank is a great platform. He said we could deafen our competition just by appearing.”
David Cox was sufficiently inspired by the conversation, so he sent an email to Shark Tank casting. “I got a call back two days later. I had a hint things might go my way when the producer asked me for information about the classes for his mom. That's when I saw the chance it could become something.”
“One of the problems I had to overcome was how to present the business. I knew I couldn't go in and teach a class to the Sharks, so I had a problem. The producers told me to make it visual. They asked me if I knew anyone in LA that could help me out. Bruce is the only person I could think of and it turns out he's a big fan; he watches every week with his [90 year-old] mother. I had to show him what it is I do, so I taught his mom.”
Bruce's quick wit and willingness to be used as a visual aid for David Cox's pitch promises to make for a memorable Shark Tank segment. “Bruce came up with most of the material, the one thing I contributed was the ‘Token Old Guy' tee shirt he'll be wearing. That was mine.” A video preview of silly Shark Tank moments has been circling about online for over a month. Vilanch is shown saying “come on, let's go get Sushi” as the Sharks laugh. Look for #LetsGoGetSushi to be trending on Twitter Friday night! David promises there will be more hilarity, “he has another great line during the pitch too.”
David met some other Shark Tank “contestants” while taping. “I met the Fat Ass Fudge lady (she's appearing next week and is also featured in the comedy video with Bruce Vilanch). I have never met someone who doesn't need caffeine as much as her. She was a real trip. I also met Tania Patruno and Brandon Jacobs, they were on my bus. I went up to Jacobs and said ‘hi token NFL guy, I'm the token gay guy!'” David ‘comes out' on the show. “I'm gay and I'm open about it. I'm not making speeches or anything, but I never want to look at myself in the mirror and say this is not who I genuinely am.” While that revelation may be shocking to some Shark Tank fans, David Cox has another bomb to drop on the show. “We get into a discussion about something that will really have people talking. I've already written a piece for The Huffington Post about what people will witness; I hope it starts a discussion.” David gave me a hint about the subject, but my lips are sealed.
“I haven't seen the final cut yet, so I don't know what they will be including, but I am a teacher. I'm nice and I come across that way. My suspicion is we'll look good on national TV and I'll accomplish what I set out to do. We hired a publicist too, which is unusual for Shark Tank entrepreneurs.” Because of the non-disclosure agreement he signed, David is restricted from discussing what happens on the show until after it airs, so he couldn't say too much more. He has had a few social media interactions with some of the Sharks on Twitter, but that was all he could say about them. In another Shark Tank related note, Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder whom Scott Jordan called in his infamous segment, dropped David a good luck message on his Facebook page.
David Cox Parting thoughts
David Cox started PC Classes online for less than $7,000. He said I nailed it in my preview when I surmised the business was built on sweat equity. “We're have sales, but we've been re-tooling the website. The site you see today has been completely re-done. We sent an email blast out to our members letting them know about the site re-structuring. He has been approached by some investors, but he turned them down.
David is a big fan of the show. He's sampled Painted Pretzels and Back 9 dips. “The pretzels were amazing, the dip was good to, but a bit spicy for my tastes. David Cox also reached out to fellow Floridian David Mealey (of Back 9 Dips) to share a little pre-show angst. “I'm also planning on treating myself to a Villy Custom bike soon. I love them.”
As for life after the Shark Tank, I'll be following up with David Cox again on Monday to get his post show take on things. David's a good guy and wants to leverage his appearance on Shark Tank for the better. “I have been studying the 15 minutes of fame thing. I have the privilege of knowing some very wealthy people, and the happiest ones are those that use it to help other people. I am going to be given this pedestal and I want to use my fifteen minutes and the gift of Shark Tank to help others.” David said he wants to do something for his summer hometown of Provincetown. “I want to do something to lift up the town, I don't know what it is yet, but I'd like to help as many people as possible.”
Whether David Cox gets a deal or not on Friday, he sure talks like a winner.