Alex Furmansky is the founder of Budsies, a successful company featured on Shark Tank that creates custom stuffed animals from children’s drawings. What started as a “complete side project” ended up becoming an unexpected success.
Alex says he completely underestimated the number of parents and kids that would want to turn their drawings into plush toys, and the amount of growth the company has experienced over the past few years is incredible.
From pitching Budsies on Shark Tank to launching new sister company Petsies, Alex Furmansky knows all about the pursuit of success. He shares his unique insight with us in this exclusive interview.
Alex Furmansky, Founder of Budsies and Shark Tank Contestant
Budsies are plush toys custom-made to bring children’s drawings to life. When you started the company in 2013, did you think it would be such a success?
Absolutely not. When I first started Budsies, it was a complete side project. I figured a couple hundred families would want their kids’ drawings turned into stuffed animals. But the magic of the service brought so much joy that parents and mommy bloggers continued to post about it all over Facebook and the story began to spread. To date, we’ve brought around 50,000 characters to life for families in 70 countries. We’ve expanded offices three times in three years. What a journey!
You’re accustomed to the life of an entrepreneur, with several companies under your belt. Do you think your experience in entrepreneurial pursuits made you better suited to go on Shark Tank?
I’d had plenty of practice pitching in front of investors. However, I was shocked at how five investors in the same room act differently from five investors in separate meetings. There were definitely some odd dynamics of group-think happening in the tank.
Can you tell us about the preparations you made before appearing on the show? Was it a long process from the time you were selected until you actually taped the episode?
As soon as I was given the green light for flying to LA, I took the three weeks to binge watch 3 seasons of the show. I took notes on the common questions they asked and what caught their attention. I also made sure I had all my metrics (and reasons behind each metric) down pact.
More than anything, I also worked hand in hand with my producer to ensure the episode was lively. Unlike a regular investor meeting, a Shark Tank pitch has two audiences: the investors and the show’s executive producer.
The Sharks’ responses to Budsies were varied. Both Kevin O’Leary and Daymond John expressed interest in investing in Budsies, but each wanted a lot more equity than you were prepared to part with. Was it tough to walk out on those deals?
Not at all. Those deals completely undervalued the company. A month after the taping, we closed a round of venture capital funding with a VC in SF for significantly better terms.
Although you didn’t exit the Tank with an investment from the Sharks, you gained a lot of exposure just by appearing on the show. Did you experience the Shark Tank Effect afterward?
We experienced a hit of 100,000 visitors to our site the weekend that the show aired. It was momentous and we had dozens of servers taking on the load. That said, too many people believe that Shark Tank can single-handedly make your company. To me, Shark Tank is just icing on the cake. A TV show certainly provides a boost, but a lasting business is built upon a spectacular team that innovates and iterates products.
What are your sales like today? What’s next for Budsies? Since appearing on the show, you’ve also launched Petsies, where users can create custom stuffed versions of their pets or a favorite animal. What’s next for Petsies?
We spent the last 3 years in hyper-growth. In the past year alone, we launched the Budsies Market, Specialty Commissions, Petsies (both Huggables and Forevers), and Petsies Stars (over 200 Instagram famous pets under one roof). We now have an inspirational core product set that brings joy to people worldwide. It’s time to pause product innovation and focus on optimizing our existing brands.
Finally, if a fellow entrepreneur asked for your advice on whether or not to audition for Shark Tank, what would your response be?
Shark Tank is an incredible platform for consumer-facing businesses serving a broad audience, particularly those with tangible products. If you’d do well on Kickstarter, you’ll probably fare well with the Shark Tank experience as well.
Did you enjoy seeing Budsies on Shark Tank? Check out more interviews with Shark Tank contestants and winners on our Shark Tank Cooler Talk page. Interviews with some of the show’s most memorable contestants, like Tracey Noonan of Wicked Good Cupcakes and Shaan Patel of Prep Expert!