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How to Go from Idea to Sales and Shark Tank in a Few Weeks—The Story of EyeBloc


Mike Chan

Photo Credit: EyeBloc

CJ Isakow, a fellow DC-based entrepreneur and friend, appeared on the January 10, 2014 episode of Shark Tank to pitch his webcam blocker EyeBloc. And while he put on an energetic and passionate presentation, he didn’t score a deal and pretty much got eaten alive by the sharks.


 
No matter, though—the promotion he received from the television appearance was invaluable. He’s gained plenty of press and sales have more than tripled since the episode aired.
 
That itself is such a cool story. But just as interesting to startup nerds like me is the techniques and tools CJ used to conceptualize, validate and build his business. I sat down with CJ to hear his story. Let’s see how he went from idea to Shark Tank (and real revenue) in a matter of just a few weeks.
 
Leveraged a Trend and Solved a Problem
 
First, Edward Snowden disclosed the NSA’s surveillance tactics in June 2013, causing the public to fear the ability of hackers to tap into everyone’s computers and phones. Then CJ recalled how a Philadelphia school district was sued for spying on their students through their webcams. At this point, he jumped at the chance to build a product that would assuage a fear many people have everyday. Then Miss Teen USA’s webcam got hacked, adding more fuel to the fire.
 
CJ’s timing couldn’t have been better, as he’s riding a wave of public distrust and selling a product that addresses a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away.
 
Used Lean Startup Principles to Validate and Prototype
 
The Lean Startup is a method for building businesses that aims to minimize market and product risk by focusing on your customers, validating ideas, experimenting, iterating and learning quickly. CJ applied these concepts really well as he built EyeBloc.
 
Idea Validation
 
While the concept of EyeBloc was solid in theory, CJ still had to validate that people actually needed the product before dedicating large amounts of time and money into building the business.
 
To start, CJ built a simple landing page for EyeBloc. Using a website design tool called Weebly, CJ created a one-page website that simply said, “You are being watched, Buy EyeBloc!”
 
To drive people to the landing page, CJ then purchased ad space on a few conservative blogs. When he received over 200 hits on his landing page on the very first day of running ads, he knew he had an opportunity that he should pursue.
 
“When I told my friends about EyeBloc, they all just laughed at me and said I was crazy,” CJ stated with a smile. “But now I actually had numbers that proved people wanted this product.”
 
Prototyping with 3D printers
 
After validating that there was demand for EyeBloc, CJ worked with a design firm to develop a few concepts. He then used 3D printers at the Digital Commons section of the MLK Public Library in Washignton, D.C. to build physical prototypes and the product that he pitched to Shark Tank. He literally designed and prototyped a physical product within days.
 
It used to be really hard and take a very long time to develop physical products, but 3D printing has changed all of that. “3D printing has absolutely revolutionized the way we do product development. I was able to create a physical product in days instead of months,” said CJ. He continues to use 3D printers to quickly fabricate and test new designs and products.
 
Utilized Startup Technology for His Startup
 
With the technology and tools available today, it’s easier than ever to get over the initial hurdles of starting a business. CJ leveraged startup products to get his company off the ground.
 
By the time CJ was taped for his Shark Tank episode, he was manufacturing EyeBloc with New York-based 3D-printing startup Shapeways.com. And in addition to selling his product on Amazon, he also sells on the EyeBloc website, which was built with Shopify, software developed by a Canadian startup that lets anyone easily and quickly create an online store. Finally, CJ is using crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to obtain funding for the next version of EyeBloc (support his campaign here).
 
While the Shark Tank appearance gets all the headlines, the work CJ did to get there is really interesting as well. Whether you’re working on a software product or a physical gadget, there are valuable lessons to be learned from how EyeBloc came to fruition.

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