Extreme business

Conway native takes his new business into the ‘Shark Tank’

Rob Dickens, left, and Brad Scudder, co-founders of Rugged Maniac, appeared on the April 25 episode of Shark Tank.  
submitted photo

Rob Dickens, left, and Brad Scudder, co-founders of Rugged Maniac, appeared on the April 25 episode of Shark Tank. submitted photo Purchase photo reprints »

CONWAY — Brad Scudder’s knees were shaking the night he and his business partner Rob Dickens walked onto the set of ABC-TV’s hugely popular Friday night reality show “Shark Tank” and pitched their “Rugged Maniac” business plan to five self-made multimillionaires.

“It was extremely nerve racking,” said the 32-year-old Scudder, who was born and raised in Conway, attended Frontier Regional School and captained the baseball and football teams. “I’d been a little arrogant never watching the show until the night before, and I went out there and my knees starting knocking. I started swaying back and forth so I wouldn’t pass out.”

The show was taped last September but wasn’t broadcast until April 25. They signed nondisclosure forms pledging silence until after the show aired.

Being on national television asking Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for a million-dollar business investment wasn’t what Scudder envisioned 10 years ago. He’d studied law, passed the bar exam and hung out his attorney’s shingle in downtown Springfield. Then came the epiphany: “I didn’t like lawyering. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the paperwork or dealing with peoples’ problems.”

He left his law practice and teamed up with his law school chum Dickens, who’d been working on Wall Street and was caught in the vortex of the Great Recession. They founded a five-kilometer mud-and-obstacle race called Rugged Maniac that debuted five years ago this summer in Southwick. It made enough money to bankroll another, and then another.

This year’s schedule is composed of 20 Rugged Maniacs up and down the Eastern Seaboard, in the Midwest and on the Pacific Coast.

Last August at a quarter-mile speed track south of Richmond they unveiled the Great Bull Run for thrill-seekers willing to be chased by bulls. The experience, said Scudder, is a one-minute adrenaline rush. “People walk out of there high as a kite.”

Similar to the Running of the Bulls in Spain, the event grossed $280,000 and drew the interest of ESPN and other national media outlets. This year there will be 10 Great Bull Runs in 10 locales nationwide.

Now they were on prime time pushing their adventure-seeking brand to five ultra-wealthy panelists: Cuban, whose net worth according to Forbes Magazine is $2.6 billion; Robert Herjavec, a Canadian businessman who grew his tech company from three to 150 employees; Barbara Cocoran, a New York City Realtor, author and TV personality; venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary; and up-from-the-streets investor Daymond John, who got his start selling hand-sewn wool hats outside the New York Coliseum with his next door neighbor Jay-Z.

Each year upwards of 40,000 entrepreneurs apply to be on Shark Tank, which premiered in 2009. “An insane amount,” said Scudder, “but the producers reached out to us. They wanted events like ours because obstacle races are a growing trend.”

The opportunity to appear in front of eight million television viewers was beyond belief, but there were risks to consider. “We were really hesitant. I figured we’d get on and they’d make us look like jackasses because that’s part of it, to stir up drama.”

No matter what happened, Rugged Maniac and the Great Bull Run would be getting national exposure. “Even if we didn’t make a deal, it was too big to pass up.”

And so the show was on, and Friday’s episode began with Scudder and Dickens striding with their backs to the camera through a door and into the Shark Tank. Both were dressed in blue jeans and wore form-fitting dark gray Rugged Maniac T-shirts. They stood on a large oriental rug, Scudder with his hands folded in front, Dickens with hands folded behind. With confident smiles belying their stage fright, Scudder looked at the five and said, “Greetings Sharks, my name is Brad Scudder.”

“And I’m Rob Dickens.”

“Our company is Rugged Races and we’re seeking one million dollars for 10 percent of our company.”

They took turns making their pitch, Scudder emphasizing the daunting challenge of confronting “25 epic obstacles” including tunnels of mud and 100-foot water slides and Dickens, gesticulating with both hands, finishing it off: “In short, Rugged Maniac strikes the perfect balance between fun and physicality ...”

The camera panned to Cuban who was blinking, shaking his head and appearing to be agitated.

“What about alcohol?” one of them asked.

“We sell alcohol,” said Dickens. “It’s a fun event.”

“Oh yeah!” smiled Cuban. “Pump! Pound! Puke!”

The panelists asked about sales and profit margins, and when Dickens clicked on the remote showing clips of the heretofore unmentioned Great Bull Run, Cuban exclaimed, “Oh you guys are doing this? It’s soooo stupid!”

Daymond John and Corcoran both said they felt betrayed that the Great Bull Run hadn’t been factored in earlier.

“My gut instinct is no matter what, I’d be screwed working with you. I wouldn’t trust you. I’m out.”

Corcoran concurred: “I came out here thinking, boy, good looking guys, they look the part, what a great deal.’ But then the surprise of the bulls ... for some reason you lost my trust.”

After the show Scudder commented, “That was ridiculous. That was just for drama I think.”

The negotiations bounced between Herjavec and O’Leary, who agreed to partner on a one-third stake in both businesses combined for $1.5 million.

Cuban offered a better deal: $1.5 million for 25 percent of both businesses.

Scudder and Dickens retreated to the hallway to consider Cuban’s offer.

“Rob said it’s an ego game for these guys and if we go out there and ask for two million they’re gonna call us greedy pigs. As we headed out I told Rob I’m asking for $1.75 million. I think it was the right play. I don’t know if (Cuban) would’ve walked at $2 million.”

Scudder explained they wanted $2 million but would meet halfway with Cuban, who hemmed and hawed and said, “Deal!”

Cuban shook hands and bear hugged the two men and promised, “We’ll make some money,” he promised them.

The only investor that made sense was Cuban, a high-profile NBA owner with a knack for making headlines like being fined $100,000 for going on the basketball court and confronting the refs after a two-point loss in January.

“We didn’t want anyone else. We only wanted the exposure of being business partners with Mark Cuban. The doors he can open, the exposure and marketing and business connections fit with our needs. We’re going to try and get him to run a Rugged Maniac. We think he’s gonna bring us to the next level.”

The time-consuming piece of the deal was helping Cuban’s investment team do its due diligence. “A lot of (Shark Tank) deals don’t close,” said Scudder. “The numbers aren’t what people said they were.

“They gave us hundreds of questions we had to answer, all the contracts of all the venues, the tax returns and pdf files we had to send ... It took us a while. We’re super busy and they thought we were trying to kill the deal, that we just wanted the exposure; so we had to turn our 80-hour weeks into 100-hour weeks.”

The deal was finalized one week before the show aired. Scudder said Cuban’s investment money will be used to build a new interactive website, hire more workers, develop the bull run into “a staple of American extreme sports” and purchase state-of-the-art obstacles for the Rugged Maniac. “We’ll use them in a nationwide marketing campaign,” said Scudder, “and when people see them, signing up for Rugged Maniac will be a no-brainer.”

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