'SoundBender' inventor swims with 'shark'

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2013 - 10:28 AM

Rabbi reeled in growth capital and connections for his iPad volume booster on popular ABC show.

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Moshe Weiss, a St. Paul rabbi and inventor of an iPad volume-boosting accessory dubbed SoundBender, has taken the plunge on a deal with “Shark Tank” investor Daymond John of reality TV fame.

Weiss performed swimmingly on an episode of the popular ABC series broadcast in February. He smoothly bantered with the so-called “sharks” before landing a $54,000 investment from John, a fashion and branding expert who founded the FUBU clothing line. John, in return, gets 40 percent of Weiss’ company, Simply Amazinc LLC.

Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, including the thousands who vie each season for a coveted “Shark Tank” spot, Weiss needed money to build on early sales of his product.

The SoundBender, a small, unpowered plastic accessory that retails for $12.99, clips onto the side of an iPad and reflects the sound coming from the tablet computer’s speaker toward the user. Weiss came up with the idea after he tired of cupping his hand under the speaker on his iPad so he could hear the sound better. Last year’s sales, largely through online distributors and direct channels, totaled $60,000.

“I was selling a few thousand but I didn’t see that that was going to make me a living,” Weiss said in a recent interview. “I knew that if it was going to be a real success that it needed to really expand. But I didn’t have that capital.”

Weiss has it now after deftly handling the sharks’ questions, and revealing that he had a SoundBender deal in the works with Walgreens. He turned down an offer identical to John’s from one shark, technology entrepreneur Robert Herjavec. He told Weiss: “You’re one of the best entrepreneurs we’ve had here.”

Where Herjavec was willing to take Weiss at his word about Walgreens, John insisted: “That Walgreens sale has to be the real deal.”

“I chose Daymond because he is a marketing genius,” Weiss told the cameras after making his pick. “He built his company from one product to millions of products sold. I have a lot of respect for him and I think he got that.”

A representative did not respond to a call seeking a comment from John. Weiss said the agreement allows him to continue direct sales and small business sales of SoundBender independently.

After everything Weiss had put into getting to this point — developing his product and launching his company and clearing many hurdles to get on “Shark Tank” (making an audition tape that got the show’s attention, honing his pitch in e-mails and weekly Skype sessions with production staffers, flying to California for a rehearsal pitch before finally taping the episode last September) — the deal with John is just the beginning of the next stage.

“It’s not winning the lottery,” Weiss said. “It’s working your tail off for the opportunity to work harder.”

That will include, in addition to ramping up production, working with John on licensing agreements, distribution, expanding his product line and forging additional partnerships to advance those efforts. Weiss returned to the airwaves for an appearance with John on “The View,” on Feb. 22, touting SoundBender and its sound-boosting benefits with his catchphrase: “Make your oy vey go away — big time!”

Mark Spriggs, associate professor and chairman of the entrepreneurship department at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said he regularly shows “Shark Tank” clips to his students. Weiss’ accomplishment in striking a deal with John is impressive, Spriggs said. “Now everybody knows who he is because he was on ‘Shark Tank’ and he’s got Daymond as a partner. It gives you credibility in the market,” he said.

Cheering on Weiss, in addition to his wife and their three children, are the folks at VistaTek, the Vadnais Heights manufacturer that makes the SoundBender and has worked with Weiss since he first began making prototypes.

“We’ve become his biggest cheerleaders,” said VistaTek managing director Dan Mishek.

The expert says: Dileep Rao, president of InterFinance Corp. in Golden Valley and clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Florida International University, said the “Shark Tank” deal is more about what Weiss’ company can do with John and what likely would have happened without him.

“Mr. Weiss has shown a high talent for launching a new product. If Mr. Weiss is looking for credibility, the Walgreens deal is a great credibility booster. ... Having worked with impressive entrepreneurs, I would have been willing to bet on Mr. Weiss even without Mr. John.”

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  • Rabbi Moshe Weiss of St. Paul invented the SoundBender, an unpowered sound reflector, which he says will “make your oy vey go away – big time!”

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