Surviving a Swim With the SharksJanuary 7th, 2020 by Tara Taffera
When Joe Altieri, inventor of FlexScreen, walked away with an investment deal for his flexible window screen, we knew there had to be some behind the scenes scoop. So I interviewed Altieri on Monday, fresh off the airing of his Sunday night segment on Shark Tank.
Before we started, I told him I was a big fan of the show and that our whole family used to watch it together. So Sunday night we all gathered while I sat there with my notebook and my 12-year old daughter asked me questions. He then told me a fun background story about him watching past episodes with his 17 year-old daughter.
“So we have to write a one-minute script opener that the network approves for our pitch when we go in front of the Sharks,” said Altieri. “So I did a Shark Tank marathon with my daughter to make sure I had the pitch right. When it was over she said, ‘Dad are you sure you want to do this?’”
The episode with Altieri was taped in June, but he had no idea when it would air.
“It’s a TV show so things could go wrong,” he said. If there were too many home improvement products they may have pushed mine to the next season. We had no idea.”
But once he got the word of the January 5 air date, he immediately started spreading the word, and even held a viewing party near his Pittsburgh home.
Altieri: It was amazing. We had around 250-330 people. It was at the Oaks Theater–an old theater in Oakmont, Pa. We had the Pittsburgh Steelline playing, which is the drumline for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We had an hour of fun before the show started.
Taffera: I know many people walk into the Shark Tank and have a perfect world scenario of a Shark they would love to work with. Did you have one in mind?
Altieri: Lori [the person he made the deal with] was the person we had picked. The deal we got was exactly what we wanted. I can show you the notes I had made. The separate entity [to sell FlexScreen to the consumer] and working with Lori was the perfect best case scenario of what we wanted.
Taffera: So when you were standing there and you realized you were going to get the exact deal you wanted what was going through your mind?
Altieri: First of all there was a lot more back and forth than what they put in the episode. That portion of it, when they are asking questions, it goes fast because you are just trying to keep up. You are trying to formulate answers to all these questions being asked all at the same time. Then when it moves to the offer it doesn’t even seem real. You think, “Oh my gosh we are there. That really happened.” Then when they started arguing back and forth among the sharks, that lasted a long time. That was humbling. I remember thinking I can’t believe three of these amazing entrepreneurs want to be part of FlexScreen.
Taffera: What was the atmosphere like during the viewing party?
Altieri: I didn’t hear the end of the show because everyone was yelling and clapping. I didn’t know how it would go. I knew people would be happy for me but I just didn’t know how they would react. There were window manufacturers, dealers and customers there, and the amount of support was incredible.
They gave a standing ovation at the end and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t cry at my grandchildren’s birth so I thought I can’t cry now. It was pretty overwhelming.
Taffera: Were you surprised by Kevin’s offer to go to the top window manufacturer and get that exclusive business and not worry about any other parts of the market?
Altieri: There was a lot that got edited out of that segment. That was a few minute conversation broken down into two sentences. He is all about less work, royalties. That’s in his wheelhouse so I wasn’t surprised. They don’t understand the window industry. They also didn’t show me saying I would not be willing to pull back on my other customers just to give someone an exclusive. That isn’t in our business plan.
Taffera: When do you start working with Lori?
Altieri: She called me last night. We are in talks with her and her team. There’s a show in March she wants us to be a part of. The plans had already started before the show aired. But until it airs there is only so much you can do. Now all of those things will start ramping up.
Anything we do from the retail side will help everyone. The rising tide will lift all ships. The demand will go up for our core business which is window manufacturers.
We are also having conversations with current customers so they know they can be serviced.
Taffera: Have you been flooded with calls since the airing last night?
Altieri: It has been absolutely insane. I went to bed with over 100 unread emails and 150 LinkedIn direct messages even though I had been trying to keep up with them. Social media has just blown up. We were also in USA Today this morning so we are now getting some national press attention as up to this point it has been local. I am also doing interviews this week locally. It is all humbling for sure.
The window industry hasn’t seen anything like this as there aren’t that many brand names. So the fact that a component would become a consumer brand is something that has never happened before. People are blown away that our product could have this type of impact.