11 years ago, he failed on 'Shark Tank' – now, he has a $300,000 investment offer from Daymond John
It takes perseverance to get a shot on ABC's "Shark Tank." Les Cookson, CEO of LucidArt, knows that lesson twice-over.
On Friday's episode, Cookson proved it, landing a $300,000 investment offer from Daymond John for his California-based art company. It was a sort of redemption: In 2011, Cookson pitched the Sharks a bib for carsick children, and left without a deal.
Over the 11 years between appearances, Cookson told the Sharks on Friday's episode, he relentlessly studied successful pitches on the show, breaking down lessons he could apply himself.
"Every time I saw an entrepreneur coming in with these awesome numbers, they said social media was what was driving it," he said. "So, I sat down and actually spent hours watching [episodes] and learned how to do it."
He also spent four years developing the Lucy Drawing Tool, LucidArt's most popular product. The tool — modeled after the camera lucida, a device used by some artists since roughly 1806 — can help "make anyone an artist and any artist a master," Cookson said.
The product clips onto the side of a table, and reflects an image of an object on that table onto a surface in front of the artist, who can then trace over that image. Cookson said he'd sold $2.3 million worth of the drawing tool in the 12 months prior to the episode's taping, and that his company had brought in $10 million in total sales since launching in 2009.
Cookson asked the Sharks for $300,000, in exchange for 10% of LucidArt. The Sharks expressed confusion, wondering why a company with millions in annual sales needed their help — until Cookson said he was spending $70,000 per month on advertising to new customers. Despite bringing in $3.7 million in sales the year prior, Cookson said, he'd only made $2.3 million in profit.
"You're giving up half your profit to acquire the customer," Kevin O'Leary observed. "So now, I understand your problem... Every dollar you can get [from reducing] your customer acquisition goes straight to your pocket. This is really about driving sales through customer acquisition."
O'Leary, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec all declined to make Cookson an offer, saying the market was "too niche" or the company didn't fit within their investing portfolios. But John said he was intrigued, and "blown away" by LucidArt's sales.
John asked Cookman why he felt a Shark could help lower those acquisition costs. Cookson's answer: He wanted help creating a new line of business — drawing courses — that could turn some of his 70,000 previous customers into repeat buyers, lessening the need for spending on new customers.
The market size excited John, who offered $300,000 for 20%. After some back and forth, the pair agreed to 15% of LucidArt for $300,000. "We're currently working through the details of our deal, and Daymond and his team are confident that we'll find a way to work together," Cookson told CNBC Make It in an April 11 email.
On the show, Cookson expressed optimism — and appreciation for second chances.
"Last time I left [Shark Tank], I was determined not to give up," he said. "If you have an idea that doesn't work out, take it behind the barn and shoot it because you are more than the ideas you have. You can create something bigger, something better and start over. And that's what America is about."
Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."
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