I spoke with Matthew Harris, co-owner of EVP (Extreme Vehicle Protection) prior to his appearance on Shark Tank in episode 722 on May 13, 2016. He had a lot to say about the Sharks, building his business and the Genesis of the idea for his product. Of course he couldn't talk about the outcome – that has to come after the show due to strict confidentiality guidelines – but he gave a candid appraisal of the situation and had some good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The product is like a fire extinguisher: you hope you don't have to use it. Basically, the EVP is not a car cover, but a patented, full encapsulation system for cars (or anything else you can fit into it). Because it encapsulates a vehicle, it protects against flood damage. EVP claims it's good for second vehicles that might be at a beach house or for collector's cars that are irreplaceable. People with higher insurance deductibles can benefit too, since flooded cars are totaled cars.
A Little History on EVP
“The company came to be in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy,” Harris begins. “My dad had moved to Florida and didn't witness the devastation firsthand. I was working at a graphics design shop – one of the things we did was vehicle wraps – and we had an industrial generator from Comcast, which was one of our clients. Our shop was an island of power. I'd travel through previously flooded streets with boats and debris in the road to get to work. My own house was without power for a month; the devastation was very real.”
“It was about 6 months after that time that my dad called me. He said he had a dream about an enclosure device for cars and he thought I should know about it. He's a retired business man and he's very religious, but I thought it was a bit strange because he'd never done anything like this before.”
“When I told my friend, Kenny Lerner, about the idea, his eyes lit up and we immediately began working on solutions. With my 2005 Hyundai Tiberon as the ‘test dummy,' we began working on prototypes. After a lot of different tries, we came up with a product that was able to protect a car in two feet of water. That's huge because only one foot of salt water will completely ruin a car.”
“Initially, we shopped the idea around to big companies – car manufacturers and dealers and insurance companies. Those companies got absolutely killed by Sandy. One car company we spoke to lost $200 million due to vehicles damaged by the storm. The same for insurance companies – Sandy killed them.”
“Everyone we showed it to loved the idea, but they were afraid to commit due to the newness of the company and the product. They also balked because we didn't have any sort of certifications. How do you certify a brand new product? Those were the kinds of roadblocks we hit.”
“Late in 2014, I relocated from New York, where I've lived all my life, to Wilmington, NC. I was sick of the snow in New York and I wanted out. When I finished relocating, I spoke to Kenny and said I was going to take a step back because I was working full-time while chasing this dream. We didn't speak for a few weeks, but when we next spoke, he had big news.”
Shark Tank Casting Revives Business
“You have to understand something about Kenny,” Matt continues, “he's the guy who gets things done. I am the guy who does most of the technical stuff, he's the guy who makes things happen and he pulled stuff off that just blows my mind. He actually connected us with manufacturers who were willing to produce the prototypes for nothing because they liked EVP so much and he was instrumental in getting feedback from the industries we were targeting.”
“When I spoke to him in early 2015, I was thinking about stepping back further when he told me he went to an open casting call for Shark Tank in Manhattan. He said he waited for almost nine hours, but they put us in the ‘under consideration pile.' At first, I didn't believe him, but about a week later he got a call back and everything kind of accelerated. I filled out the paperwork and before we knew it, we were in LA taping!”
“While I think our product is great, I credit Kenny and his personality for getting us our shot. He has that New York, Tony Soprano-like character and I think the producers thought Kenny would make for good TV. It's kind of ironic, because since day one after starting EVP, everyone we met said ‘you guys should be on Shark Tank.' Getting on the show is really the cap of a surreal series of events that's gone on the past few years. It's like my dad said, ‘if God wants it to happen, then that's what he wants.'”
EVP in the Tank
“The taping was kind of a blur. I was so focused on responding and doing the presentation right, I have no idea how long we were in there. Once you're there, you are in a zone and time melts away. I watch the show intermittently, Kenny watches it religiously. To actually be on the show was a trip. To prepare, we worked on our pitch and revised it several times, we went over it again and again and kept cutting it down. We tried to make sure our presentation materials were right, I just wished we brought my Hyundai! In the end, all you can hope for is you have all the answers.”
“I thought the Sharks were all awesome people. I think the show gives the impression that they're difficult and cutthroat, but at the end of the day, there is a lot of respect for the entrepreneurs on the show. I understand some people get hammered by the Sharks when they don't have all the answers, but there's a great humanity there in that they'll listen to what you have to say and they offer great feedback. It's a great tool, and to have that opportunity is something special. Once the tape was rolling, it was a natural progression; we didn't get the impression that they were going to be hostile.”
“For our air date, we did a total product relaunch. Previously, we were in talks for wholesale situations and weren't focused on retail. We want to leverage our air date as a big push to create public awareness. We are completely pre-revenue and we're literally starting our business on the show. I think it's about getting the audience reaction to EVP to get an idea if people are interested in the product.”
“We only relaunched our website site one month ago and just starting building the business back up. Our old site was built in 2103. I liked it, but it wasn't user-friendly. The design was also a little over the top and a bit confusing.
My dad owned an ad agency, so I had that “ad man” mentality when we redesigned it. We started from scratch and I knew we needed a strong server, so we went with Shopify. I use it at work, too, so I was comfortable with the platform.”
Advice for Entrepreneurs
Matthew is excited about the appearance, but before I let him go, he had this advice for would-be entrepreneurs:
“Keep at it. It's OK to start and stop as long as you keep going forward. For me, it was OK to take a step back. I was working full-time plus building the business. It was a labor of love. When you're an entrepreneur, you're starting something that you have no idea of the outcome and you need to stay true to it. Like Steve Jobs, when everyone else was telling him otherwise, he kept his vision. Elon Musk has been through the ringer too, he was on the ground. If you stay true and don't lose site of the end game, you can accomplish anything. Don't lose site of your vision and continue to pursue it because an idea is just an idea until you make it something tangible. You need to be OK with the failures so you can ultimately succeed.”
I asked Matthew one other question; he answers it over at The Hot Dog Truck.