SignalVault Before Shark Tank
It seems like modern media is entirely based on fear. Whether it’s reports of terrorist violence, constant updates on murder sprees, or apocalyptic predictions about the stock market, fear drives TV remotes and mouse clicks. However, Chris Gilpin, the inventor of SignalVault, may have uncovered a more subtle danger for the average person. With modern technology, identity thieves can steal credit or debit card information with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) scanners. In recent years, these scanners have become advanced enough to work from remote distances of up to twenty-five feet. Before you know it, you could have your balance wiped out, with little recourse. At the very least, identity theft is a headache. But just like a headache, it has a remedy.
Gilpin saw SignalVault as the solution. The device is unassuming, appearing to be an ordinary credit card. Of course, things aren’t always as they seem. The SignalVault blocks RFID scanners by broadcasting a higher radio frequency than credit and debit cards. Using the product is as simple as stashing it in your wallet or purse. It represents a combination of simplicity and security that could be attractive to investors. Gilpin needs capital to invest in continued research and development. An investment would also go toward marketing to establish trustworthiness for his brand. We’ll see if the sharks buy into his innovative idea.
SignalVault During Shark Tank
Gilpin opened negotiations at twelve-and-a-half percent equity for two hundred thousand dollars. He brought up an issue that almost everyone can relate to: waking up in the middle of the night to calls from the bank about “suspicious activity” on a credit or debit card. This issue was set to become more commonplace as identity thieves developed cheaper and more effective ways to steal personal information. RFID scanners could be used to steal all the relevant details, including a card number, its expiration date, and the security code. He drove home this danger by referencing a strip of red tape encircling the tank. If Gilpin were a hacker, he could steal personal information from anyone within this zone, including the sharks.
He pulled out an ordinary wallet to illustrate the point. With a standard RFID scanner, inexpensive online, he could see the card information inside the wallet. In this case, he’d loaded the credit card with fake information for Mark Cuban, which he was able to access in seconds. However, with the SignalVault, it wasn’t so simple. When in close proximity to the same credit card, the SignalVault’s eField technology blocked the information. Gilpin’s product had a few advantages over other devices on the market. It didn’t need charging or batteries, and it was portable. When in range of an RFID scanner, the scanner would power a chip inside the Signalvault, which allowed it to emit a radio frequency. It was a completely automatic process with no set-up required.
At this point, the sharks understood how the card worked and wanted to talk about numbers. From forty-five thousand units sold, SignalVault had over three hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Clearly he had experimented with the price point, as this averaged to about six dollars per card. At the time of Gilpin’s pitch, SignalVault sold for fifteen dollars each. Costs of production were extremely low, at only seventy-five cents per unit. Ashton Kutcher, a guest shark during this episode, yelled “My man!” upon hearing such a high profit margin. When asked about his own investment, Gilpin had a story prepared. He recalled telling his fiancée that he would need about eight thousand dollars to create a prototype. As luck would have it, in July of 2013, a lottery ticket he purchased matched five of the six winning numbers. For his one dollar “investment” in the lottery ticket, he made the eight thousand dollars he needed.
Gilpin had given the sharks a good idea of how prolific credit card theft through RFID scanners could be, but Ashton wanted to quantify the crime. As of 2015, annual losses in the United States numbered around eight billion dollars. The United States comprised half of the world’s total credit and debit card fraud. It seemed like Gilpin had discovered a large and ripe market, but was it competitive? ID Stronghold was the largest player, producing wallets embedded with RFID chips. With about eighty percent market share, it would be a tough business to overcome, but perhaps SignalFault had a unique enough model to make a dent.
Kevin felt like he was a natural fit for SignalVault. As a player in the financial services industry, trustworthiness, transparency, and security were major concerns. However, he thought the valuation was off. Kevin would invest in SignalVault if Gilpin was willing to bump the equity from twelve-and-a-half percent to twenty. Kevin would endorse the product and promote it among his clients. Lori was also interested, but she decided to take a different angle. Rather than aligning herself with the financial services or security industry, she pushed sales figures. The SignalVault could be advertised as a consumer item and marketed on QVC. She made a slightly better offer of two hundred thousand dollars for eighteen percent.
Before countering Lori’s offer, Gilpin wanted to hear from Ashton. While admiring the business idea, he saw it as a race. SignalVault’s primary competitor, ID Stronghold, had a stranglehold on the market. He couldn’t see Gilpin overcoming this large of a player, especially when starting with less capital. He bowed out. At this point, Kevin tried to bring the attention back to his practical experience, but Lori won Gilpin’s attention by discounting her offer to fifteen percent. At this point, Kevin had reached his limit. He refused to have a race to the bottom with Lori and simply stated that his expertise was worth a premium.
Robert was the owner of the largest privately held enterprise security firm in the world, and he saw potential in SignalVault. It could become an entire security brand one day. He matched Lori’s deal but suggested a two-pronged strategy. While he didn’t have her relationships with QVC, he did have connections with the Home Shopping Network. He could also get the SignalVault into data centers around the world, offering Gilpin both consumers and corporate clients. Kevin, Lori, and Robert were in a stalemate, each offering the same amount of money for similar equity and bringing something unique to the table. Ashton gave all three a few moments to shout over each other before refocusing the negotiations. He recapped each of their offers and put the spotlight on Mark.
Mark didn’t see the same merit in SignalVault as the other sharks. He thought that Gilpin had developed a consumer product, and it was a mistake to market it to businesses and corporate clients. This would complicate his business and offer greater hurdles than could be anticipated. For this reason, he was out. With only Kevin, Lori, and Robert remaining, Gilpin would have to confront the competing offers. Lori made one final pitch, pledging to hit all markets. She thought TV marketing, retail in big box stores, online sales, insurance companies, and other models were all fertile ground for such a simple and effective product.
It was the moment of truth for Chris Gilpin and SignalVault. Evidently favoring Lori and Robert over the stalwart Kevin, Gilpin asked if they would be willing to work together. After some consideration, they considered it, but there would be a price for their cooperation. Lori asked him to consider what premium he could offer for the privilege of harnessing the talent of both. It’s unclear if this was an accounting error on Gilpin’s part, but his counter-offer of eighteen percent equity for two hundred fifty thousand dollars was actually a worse deal than Lori’s most recent offer.
He had made a mistake in low-balling the sharks. They had been enthusiastic about his business, offering their full support and coming close to his initial valuation. By asking for more with his counter-offer, what incentive would they have to extend that good will? Perhaps either realizing that his plan had failed or noticing a costly error in his math, Gilpin wavered. He adjusted his counter-offer to twenty-five percent equity for two hundred thousand dollars. Robert and Lori smiled, knowing they had won. For the privilege of working with two sharks, and for the sin of being greedy, Gilpin would have to give up twice as much equity as he had hoped.
Despite this dramatic turn of events, this was no time for mourning. Chris Gilpin had made a deal on Shark Tank, although not for the equity he had expected. Still, two hundred thousand dollars in investment would allow more effective marketing for SignalVault. Robert and Lori’s business connections were also in his back pocket. Despite a few missteps, this deal set up SignalVault for rapid growth.
SignalVault Now in 2018 – After Shark Tank Update
Judging by Chris Gilpin’s mood in the season seven follow-up on SignalVault, he now feels much better about his deal. Soon after the initial episode’s air date, Lori took Gilpin on QVC, where the first order of nearly five thousand SignalVault cards sold out in under ten minutes. In the first four months of business following his partnership, the company grew from three hundred thousand to over two million dollars in sales. With high profit margins, high sales figures mean a lot of money for everyone involved. His success has led the business to take on twelve employees. Signalvault finally became too large for Gilpin’s living room, so the team moved into its own private office.
The relationships with Lori and Robert are more valuable than he could have hoped. Lori has used her consumer product expertise to redesign Signalvault’s packaging. She’s flexed her name recognition in the business world to land its products in retail stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and Staples. Robert has helped out on the marketing end with a Good Morning America appearance. He also brought SignalVault’s web presence into the year 2015. He leveraged his own Internet businesses to update SignalVault’s website design, optimize it for search engines, and increase its traffic capacity.
With the potential stress of a new baby on the way, Chris Gilpin is glad to have the security of a successful business, as well as the help of Robert and Lori. His experience on Shark Tank has given him confidence in life, both as a father and as a business owner. He calls it the hardest thing he’s ever done but is grateful for the opportunities it has provided. Here’s hoping that SignalVault continues to expand and can provide the same sense of security to millions of consumers around the world.