STARTUPS

PopUp Play lands $250,000 after ‘Shark Tank’ pitch

Money from investor will allow the Austin startup to expand sales and marketing.

Posted January 29th, 2017

Austin startup PopUp Play dove into the “Shark Tank” on Friday night and swam away with $250,000.

Husband and wife team Amelia Cosgrove and Bryan Thomas started PopUp Play in 2014 with an iPad app that lets kids design a castle, gingerbread house or rocket of their dreams. 

For a flat fee of $99, their design is created using fiberboard and arrives in a flat box within days. The 4-foot-by-4-foot designs are made to be easily assembled by kids themselves

Over the past year, the company has expanded its business model into a service that lets other companies incorporate PopUp Play products into their own retail strategy. For example, a toy company could use the app to let customers design toy airplanes or doll houses and furniture.

Targeting industries such as retail, packaged goods, travel and automotive gives the company a much wider reach, Thomas said.

“We are a software service company and our platform enables anybody to design and deliver products in less than a week,” he said, adding that the company still sells directly to consumers on its website.

PopUp Play initially targeted consumers, and now it’s expanding to partnerships in industries including toy retailers, travel, automotive and packaged goods.

While many companies apply multiple times before getting a call from “Shark Tank” producers, PopUp Play got accepted on its first try.

On the show, representatives from startups -- including a number from Central Texas over the years -- pitch their products and services to a team of “sharks,” including Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban, in hopes of landing some much-needed cash.

“We found out they wanted us to come out and pitch a couple weeks beforehand,” Thomas said. “It’s like any investor pitch, but this one happens to be filmed. We came out and talked abut the business and about the PopUp Play platform.”

Thomas said the investors “asked good, thoughtful questions. It was an opportunity to pitch to some very smart, savvy investors.”

In the end, tech investor and billionaire Chris Sacca liked what he saw and agreed to invest $250,000 in a convertible note.

“It was great, and we are extremely excited to have  Chris on board as an investor,” Thomas said. “Of course any investor, when they back you it’s a validation of you and the team and the concept.”

Eight-person PopUp Play has previously raised an undisclosed amount from investors including Capital Factory, Techstars, Silverton Partners and Floodgate. 

“Shark Tank” isn’t the first time the company has won exposure: PopUp Play won its category at the 2016 SXSW Accelerator Pitch competition last March.

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