Investors did him a favour when they rejected his business idea in front of millions on national television. Five years later, Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff sold his company to Amazon for $1bn- just don't ask him for advice on how he did it
“I was literally in tears.” Jamie Siminoff recalls the night his business pitch was rejected on national television as millions of Americans tuned in to watch the latest episode of reality show Shark Tank.
The series gives aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to present their business ideas to a panel of five investors – or ‘sharks’ – including billionaire Mark Cuban, who then decide whether or not to invest in the companies.
Siminoff was seeking a $700,000 investment for a 10 percent stake in then-floundering start-up ‘Doorbot’.
The idea was novel: caller ID for the front door. In other words, a motion-sensor powered video doorbell that allows users to monitor their indoor and outdoor residential surroundings directly through their phones.
“One of the most ubiquitous technologies, the doorbell, has not changed since it was invented in 1880 – until now,” Siminoff explained to the panel of puzzled looking sharks on November 15, 2013.
His appearance didn’t go as planned.
One of the most ubiquitous technologies, the doorbell, has not changed since it was invented in 1880 – until now
“I just don’t see the progression,” Cuban said at the end of the pitch.
“For that reason, I’m out.”
Of the five judges, only one, Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary, made an offer for a loan of the money Siminoff was seeking, plus a royalty deal and a small amount of equity. Siminoff rejected the offer.
“I was in a tough position when I went on Shark Tank. We just didn’t have money,” Siminoff says as we meet in a hotel lounge in Dubai.
“I went on thinking Cuban was going to invest and we’d get some money. I thought it was our big break. When we didn’t raise any money, I just left there dazed and confused.”
But Siminoff got the last laugh. In February last year, Amazon bought the company – now known as Ring – for over $1bn. Since then, the founder has been back on Shark Tank, this time as a shark.
“It’s totally surreal,” he says. “There was definitely massive satisfaction to now sitting as an equal to them. Having them not invest made it ten times sweeter. I did it without them.”
For a man who just sold a company for over ten figures to one of the biggest brand’s in the world, Siminoff is surprisingly down to earth, sporting casual jeans, a blazer and a laid-back attitude befitting his southern California home.
The 42-year-old entrepreneur is in Dubai to visit Ring’s new office in the emirate, one of several around the world. Travelling with him is his young son Oliver.
“If I don’t merge business and family together, then there’s no family,” Siminoff says as he hands Oliver an iPad. “Or no business, I don’t know. It’s good to have them both together. It’s fun.”
So how did he come up with the idea that ultimately reinvented the doorbell? In the garage of a two-bedroom house in LA.
“I just went back there and started working on different ideas that I had. There was a gardening thing, a conference call thing, a charging thing for cell phones. But in the garage, you couldn’t hear the doorbell. I tried one of those wireless things and it didn’t reach. So then I thought, why wouldn’t it just go to my phone?”
But the doorbell wasn’t Siminoff’s main business idea, having built it while working on other concepts. In fact, it was friends and family who seemed to like the idea.
“I didn’t think it would be a huge idea. I’d get kind of angry. I’d be trying to show the gardening or conference call thing, and [they would] be talking about the doorbell. But I thought it was so obvious and not an invention,” he explains. “But my wife said she felt safer at home with it and really liked it, as did people coming over. It slowly became the product… it was right in front of me.”
Siminoff built the first prototypes in 2011, with pre-sales starting by the end of 2012. Unexpectedly, his Shark Tank flop led to a sales boost when the firm began shipping to customers in December 2013.
“Before Shark Tank, I had used the money from pre-sales to try and make the product, but it was way underfunded. I was all in on my savings and used all the pre-sale money to get the product made, but I didn’t actually have any money to buy the inventory I’d already ordered. I was in a tough position,” Siminoff says of the company’s early days.
“We didn’t raise any money, but the sales that came in from being on the show immediately gave me the cash to pay the factory and get the stuff air shipped over to customers. Looking back, it’s scary how close the timing was.”
While Shark Tank investors passed on Siminoff’s idea, others, including Virgin Group founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson, jumped at the opportunity. After hearing about the concept from a guest staying at his British Virgin Islands resort, Branson took part in a $28m funding round in 2015, which brought the company’s valuation to $60m. He invested again in 2017 in a funding round that led to the company being valued at a whopping $460m.
Once Branson backed the business, it was high-profile investor after high-profile investor, including NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neil, who partnered with Ring after discovering its products following a spat with a security firm that attempted to overcharge him for their services. The partnership – and Shaq’s appearance in Ring’s humorous ads – introduced the company to millions of Americans.
“People looked at us as being a gadget, or a toy. Richard [Branson] helped drive the message that this is something important, valuable and making an impact. He came from a position of authority that a guy in a garage just doesn’t have,” Siminoff recalls. “Shaquille also brought in a whole new market for us. It brought in a whole new thing.”
While celebrity endorsements helped boost Ring’s profile, Siminoff warns against heavy reliance on outside support.
“Small start-ups will contact me and ask whether they should hire XYZ celebrity because they want it to be the answer,” he explains. “All those are little things. It is thousands of things that made a company work. That’s the hard answer: businesses only survive because of a lot of luck and thousands of things that we executed on to actually make it work.”
With Ring now formally part of Amazon, Siminoff has his sights set on new markets far from the company’s American birthplace, including the Middle East, where safety is often a concern.
“I hear people say all the time that their home is their most valuable, expensive asset. It’s really not. It’s like another child. It is not an asset. You don’t worry about your home from a financial standpoint. Most homes are insured. You worry about your home because it’s like an extension of your family,” he says, referring to Ring’s unofficial motto: always home.
“It attaches to your home in a way that makes you feel connected to your home and that feeling is universal across everywhere. What we have to do in places like the Middle East is – rather than going to the acute problem – is to say that even if you feel safe, there’s other things that are great to be connected to your home for. Including watching your kids come home from school. The joy of that is worth the price of the product,” he says.
Given Ring’s evolution from a garage idea to a billion-dollar company, Siminoff admits he’s become a magnet for young, aspiring entrepreneurs eager to know his secrets to success. But don’t expect him to give you any advice.
“[It’s a] terrible thing,” he says of advice.
There is no “silver bullet” to success, he explains.
“When you give advice, you’re giving it from a position of what you’ve seen and the experiences you’ve had, and every situation is different. I never give advice. I tell people to stop asking for advice. Get in your garage and build something,” Siminoff says.
But there is one wisdom he is willing to part with: “If you’re trying to make money on a product that you don’t really care about and it fails, then you’re a failure.”
Even if he were to go back in time, American investor Mark Cuban is convinced he would not invest in Doorbot.
“While Jamie did an amazing job turning Doorbot into Ring, I have a fundamental aversion to companies that require raising hundreds of millions of dollars to do less in revenues,” he told Arabian Business.
“That’s not a knock on Ring. He was on a mission and he is achieving it. He earned every dollar. It wasn’t easy for him. This is about what I look for, and Doorbot didn’t fit.”For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.