Looking back on the weekend, the biggest win wasn’t the one that came out of Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, but rather the one that took place on Friday night during ABC’s Shark Tank. The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers might have slugged it out to see who would take home the Lombardi trophy, but the real winner was small business and it was Combat Flip Flops that brought home the big “W”.
If you’re not familiar with Shark Tank, the concept of this “reality show” is simple. Entrepreneurs and small business owners get a chance to pitch their businesses or ideas to the Sharks, a group of five investors who have made their own businesses into lucrative empires. Contestants try to convince any one of the Sharks, or a group of them, to bite and invest money in their small business. The Sharks on Friday’s episode were Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John, Lori Grenier and Robert Herjavec. You can read more about their personal business successes on the show’s website.
Friday’s episode highlighted and featured veteran owned businesses. It was great learning about, and hearing the stories of, companies like R. Riveter, BearTek, and Major Mom. But I’ll be honest with you, I really wanted to see Combat Flip Flops get up in front of the Sharks and give their pitch. It wasn’t because I own Combat Flip Flops sandals and shemaghs. It also wasn’t because we partnered with them to make our own shemaghs or because I consider Griff a friend. It was because Combat Flip Flops isn’t just in the business of producing widgets, they’re in the business of making a difference in other people’s lives. To your traditional investors, that’s the last thing you’d ever want to bet your own money on.
Combat Flip Flop’s AK-47s, Floperators, and shemaghs aren’t just products or things, they’re much more than that. They are jobs and tangible goods being produced in countries devastated by war and conflict. They’re made in places where very few businesses thrive or can even overcome the insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of getting started. You see, Griff and Donald didn’t take the easy road, they took the hard one. After serving our country as Rangers and doing tours in Afghanistan, they wanted to leave it a better place than they found it. Against all odds, and with enough haters to fill a stadium stop on a rock and roll tour, they’re actually making it happen – one flip flop or shemagh at a time.
While all of it that is something good we can wrap our heads around and get behind, it’s a giant red flag to investors. Cause based businesses are most of the times iffy at best and they typically have no real path to growth and success. They start with an idea, get part way down the road, and usually run out of gas. While I wouldn’t lump Combat Flip Flops into that same group after spending time with Griff and getting to know him, it would be easy for an outsider to dismiss his company’s mission and objectives. This is why Friday night’s show was such a major win. Donald and Griff didn’t just get one Shark to bite, they got three! Mark Cuban, Daymond John, and Lori Grenier didn’t just see the value in what Combat Flip Flops was doing. They saw the potential for success and making money. Why else would they invest their own money and stick their necks out for it?
Here is why the Combat Flip Flops deal is a win for all of us. First, it reinforced the fact that in the current market environment, businesses and startups don’t have to play by the traditional rules. As an entrepreneur, you’re allowed to do things differently or color outside the lines – if you’re willing to risk it all and go for broke. The market doesn’t have to reward you or like it, but it will afford you the opportunity to take the chance. Second, cause based businesses can be successful and thrive. The Shark Tank deal shows that there is room in the market for these companies to grow and become sustainable. If this is true, then we all might be better off in the long run. Combat Flip Flops is actually making a difference through creating jobs, supporting other small businesses, providing education, and bucking the status quo. We should support more companies like them that do good for others, because at the end of the day, it’s a giant “W” for all of us.
If you missed the Shark Tank episode, check it out in it’s entirety here.