Entrepreneurs who launched their $50 million company in a dorm room say the biggest benefits of going on ‘Shark Tank’ had nothing to do with money

The founders of Kitu Life, Jake, Jordan, and Jim DeCicco, pictured, say they became more prepared to pitch their business after appearing on ‘Shark Tank.’ Courtesy of Kitu Life
  • The founders of Kitu Life appeared on “Shark Tank” pitching Super Coffee in February 2018.
  • They didn’t land an offer, but they say going on the show helped them prepare for future business meetings.
  • They also discovered new types of customers they hadn’t anticipated.

Three years ago, the DeCicco brothers came up with the idea for Kitu Life in a college dorm room.

Jordan DeCicco was a basketball player at Philadelphia University looking for a more nutritious alternative to the energy drinks he saw on the shelves of grocery stores. He and his brothers, Jim and Jake, who had also been college athletes, devised a bottled coffee drink made with Colombian coffee, lactose-free protein, and MCT oil from coconuts.

Today, the company is valued at about $US50 million and Kitu Life products – which include Super Coffee and Super Creamer – are sold in Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Fairway. Jordan has since dropped out of school, while Jim has ditched his Wall Street gig to go all in on the business.

In November, the DeCiccos were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of innovators in the food and drink space.

Much of Kitu Life’s success has hinged on their appearance on “Shark Tank” in February 2018 (the company was then called Sunniva Super Coffee). The founders went on the show asking for $US500,000 for a 4.5% stake in their company and walked away without a deal – but Jim told Business Insider that the show was still a major boon for their entrepreneurial careers.

“The best outcome of ‘Shark Tank,’ despite the publicity, was how prepared we became for our business,” he said.

In the month leading up to their appearance, the founders dedicated every spare second to preparing for anything and everything that could happen in the tank. They divided the 90-second pitch into three parts – one for each brother – and practiced it constantly: in the gym, in the car, in elevators.

“People would look at us like we were crazy, because we were walking down the street in here in New York City, just talking to ourselves doing this pitch,” Jim said. “That’s how we memorized it.”

(Interestingly, the founders of Cousins Maine Lobster also said they practiced their pitch in different types of situations in order to get more comfortable with it.)

The Kitu Life founders called on investors, advisers, and even former professors to help them stage mock pitches. And once the founders had given their official “Shark Tank” pitch and gone through the Sharks’ interrogation, they felt like they could handle anything.

The Kitu Life founders discovered new types of customers they hadn’t anticipated

Another benefit of their “Shark Tank” experience was that it expanded their customer base: People who they’d never imagined using Super Coffee or Super Creamer were sharing their thoughts (some positive, some negative) on the products.

They’d initially marketed the product to college athletes, but Jim said they learned that “millennial mums with money” – i.e. relatively wealthy parents of young kids – had also taken a liking to Super Coffee and Super Creamer.

The Kitu Life founders aren’t the only entrepreneurs to look beyond money when they think about the benefits of appearing on “Shark Tank.”

Read more:

People think startup founders go on ‘Shark Tank’ for big-name investors and a pile of cash, but entrepreneurs who have done it say that’s not really the point

Randy Goldberg, cofounder of sock company Bombas, previously told Business Insider that, even though Bombas landed a $US200,000 deal, preparing for the questions he might be asked was useful for future meetings.

Similarly, Jack Mann, founder of earplugs company Vibes, previously told Business Insider that even though he turned down a $US100,000 offer, he discovered new uses for the earplugs. Initially, he was focused on using the product at concerts – but he learned that people were excited to use it at fitness classes and sporting events, and even on motorcycle rides.

As for the founders of Kitu Life, Jim said, “The fact that we did it on that [‘Shark Tank’] stage made every other business meeting a piece of cake, or much more comfortable than it otherwise would have been.”