scorecardA startup that makes high-tech notebooks crashed and burned on 'Shark Tank,' but business is booming
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A startup that makes high-tech notebooks crashed and burned on 'Shark Tank,' but business is booming

A startup that makes high-tech notebooks crashed and burned on 'Shark Tank,' but business is booming
Finance4 min read

  • Like the "smart" thermostat and doorbell before it, the paper-and-pen notebook has now been upgraded for the 21st century.
  • Rocketbook makes notebooks that let users access their notes on the web.
  • In 2016, the Rocketbook founders pitched the "Shark Tank" judges on investing in the startup - and were rejected by every investor.

Rocketbook, a startup that makes and sells "smart" paper-and-pen notebooks that let users access their notes on the internet, crashed and burned in an episode of "Shark Tank."

In 2016, Jake Epstein and Joe LeMay tried to raise $400,000 at a $4 million valuation, and left without a single offer from the show's judges. Now, the founders say it's the sharks' loss.

Since the "Shark Tank" episode aired in May 2017, business has been booming.

Rocketbook has launched four products and sold over one million notebooks since its founding in 2015. The Rocketbook Everlast, a notebook that wipes clean with water, is Amazon's best-selling wirebound notebook. According to the founders, the company has pulled $10 million in revenue to date.

"We've run a wrecking ball through the notebook industry by creating something that's a thousand times more useful than the existing product in that industry," Epstein told Business Insider.

Rocketbook's notebooks look like regular binders of paper, and writing in them isn't any more magical. But when you're done taking notes, you draw a check over one of seven icons - such as a star, horseshoe, or diamond - at the bottom of the page and take a photo of the page with the Rocketbook smartphone app.

The app edits the photo for brightness and clarity and sends your notes to whatever cloud-based service you choose. You might want notes marked with a four-leaf clover to go straight to your Google Drive, while notes designated with a diamond arrive in your spouse's inbox.

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Some of Rocketbook's products are even reusable. When you write in the Rocketbook Everlast ($34) using any pen from the Pilot Frixion line, the ink erases with a damp cloth. That's because the notebook's pages are made from a polyester composite rather than wood.

The Rocketbook Wave ($27) zaps notes away when you heat it in the microwave, though it can only be nuked up to five times. Both notebooks use patent-pending technologies that the founders would not reveal - not even to the sharks.

How to swim with the sharks and not get eaten

According to Epstein, the "Shark Tank" producers found Rocketbook on their own. They invited the founders to apply to be on the show and flew them from Boston to Los Angeles.

Epstein said he and LeMay prepared for the show's taping by watching episodes of "Shark Tank." They wrote on index cards every type of question asked, and scribbled responses on the backs. When they arrived in Los Angeles, they walked with their heads buried in the index cards.

"We had a stack of index cards - I kid you not - five inches deep," Epstein said.

During the taping, the sharks peppered the founders with questions for about an hour. They talked over each other and interrupted the founders. In a word, it was "chaos," Epstein said.

Mark Cuban said the idea was crazy. Barbara Corcoran called it a gimmick.

Kevin O'Leary, another "Shark Tank" investor, suggested the founders were out of their minds to make a product that claims to be reusable. He asked how they intended to make money.

"The only reason I'm microwaving this book is to erase it, so I don't have to buy a new one. What's the matter with you guys?" O'Leary asked. "Don't you want to sell a second book?"

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By then, Rocketbook had already shipped 75,000 notebooks to crowdfunding backers and other customers. The founders told O'Leary that customers buy more notebooks because they like the Rocketbook system - that it sorts and preserves their notes where they can access them remotely.

Epstein actually got the idea for Rocketbook after leaving behind some important notes. He was working as a sales executive at Salesforce at the time and was pitching another executive at a mid-sized company to buy Salesforce's products. Epstein prepared extensive notes for the meeting.

"I reached into my bag to grab my notebook, where I had prepared pages and pages of notes to add value to this meeting. I pulled it out," he said, "and I had the wrong notebook."

He wasn't broken up about walking away from "Shark Tank" empty-handed. One month before the episode aired, Rocketbook raised over $2.5 million in a crowdfunding campaign for the Rocketbook Everlast, making it the most funded office supply product in Kickstarter history.