Mirmir Before Shark Tank
Mirmir founders, Ryan Glenn and Sean Spencer, were both running high-end photo booth companies when they met during a Super Bowl party in Dallas, Texas in 2011. Not only were they both in the same line of business but they discovered that they even shared some of the same corporate clients, and they both had the same problem, not enough assets to grow their businesses quickly. The pair decided to combine their companies to create Mirmir. Ryan moved his center of operations from Texas to join Sean in the event hot-spot of LA, and together they designed the World’s first studio-quality photo booth service.
Photo booths have been around for a long time, the first one was shown at the World Fair in Paris in 1889, and the first commercially successful photo booth company was the Photomaton Company, founded by a Russian Immigrant, Anatol Josepho, in 1923. The first modern style photo booth appeared in Broadway, in New York City, in 1925, and it was a huge success. Over 280,000 used the booth in the first six months and the idea made Joseph a rich man.
Since then, the standard coin-operated booth, with a curtain and a selection of six or eight photos, has become the main source of every badly-taken passport photo in the World. The entertainment industry has adopted the photo booth as a fun attraction at festivals, weddings, parties and other events, but fundamentally little else has changed. The digital age brought sharper images and the ability to accept or discard a photo before printing it, but even with that advantage, millions of people still ended up with photo booth photos that were anything but studio quality.
Ryan and Sean took the benefits of Snapchat filters and included it in their Mirmir system. They introduced an event package that included a couple of experts to help customers pick their perfect pose, included lots of lighting to improve the shot, and finally touched up the photo with a blemish removing the filter to clear up any imperfections, before applying a black-and-white filter for a timeless shot. The high-tech adaptation of the old photo booth was a big hit at some high-end events. Mirmir was a regular attraction at celebrity parties held by the likes of the Kardashians, Jay-Z, and Taylor Swift, and the company even became a regular fixture at award ceremonies such as the Oscars, but the duo required more investment to be able to buy more machines and expand their business further, and with that in mind they came to the Shark Tank.
Mirmir On Shark Tank
Ryan and Sean were looking for an investment of $350,000 in exchange for 10% of the Mirmir business when they came to the tank. They began the pitch by telling the sharks that the photo-booth was the World’s first selfie machine, but despite being around for years, a photo booth would always produce horrible photos.
That’s where Mirmir came in, the proprietary software used in the Mirmir machine would apply a skin smoothing filter to make everyone look beautiful. Mirmir had become the biggest name in providing photo-booth activities to some of the World’s biggest award shows and celebrity parties, and those ‘Tacky’ and ‘Cheap’ low-quality photos were a thing of the past. In addition users of Mirmir could share their studio-quality pictures online, something that the Kardashians and numerous other celebrities had already done several times before Mirmir appeared on the tank.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and Sean and Glenn kept the pitch short and sweet before inviting all the sharks to try out the Mirmir system for themselves. The sharks got up for a few group photos, during which Daymond John hogged the limelight while the other sharks jostled for position behind him, and within seconds they were admiring the Mirmir photos, which they all agreed were much better than they had expected. With all the sharks feeling beautiful the pitch ended on a positive note, and Robert Herjavec opened the questioning.
Robert had actually used the Mirmir service before, at his own wedding, and even though he hadn’t got around to using it himself, he had seen the photos and agreed that they were of excellent quality. But Robert wanted to know what exactly made the Mirmir service unique. Sean explained that one of Mirmir’s main methods was using flattering lighting, and he briefly explained the software filter that retouched the photo after it was taken.
Kevin O’Leary was quick to point out that there was already an app available that smoothed photos to remove imperfections, and Mark Cuban picked up on that point, asserting that there was nothing particularly special about Mirmir, there was no ‘Secret sauce’ that made the service unique. Mark did concede that Mirmir was the ‘Hot new brand’ in the photo booth industry at the moment with a prominent visibility at celebrity events, but he wanted to know what that popularity had produced in terms of sales and profitability.
Glen revealed that revenue in the first three years of business had been over $4 million, which was impressive news to the sharks. Lori Greiner asked how many Mirmir machines the company operated at the moment, and Glen confirmed there were nine of them. Robert inquired how the Mirmir business model operated, and Glen explained that one machine supplied for a few hours, with printing included, cost $2,750 in core markets such as Los Angeles and New York. He elaborated on the price of the service, revealing that the full package, with assistants thrown in and full social media applications included, cost $3,650.
The sharks understood the concept and seemed to agree that a market was there to make the business profitable, but they still looked doubtful. More questions followed, during which Glen revealed that the company couldn’t meet the demand for Mirmir machines at the moment. He also told the sharks that each machine cost $22,000. Robert Herjavec asked if there were other investors, and Glen told him that he and Sean were the only owners, having supplied all the funds to launch the business. But when he was quizzed about how much the pair had invested in the company, he replied that they had invested ‘About $250,000’, explaining that they had stopped counting after that.
Mark Cuban agreed that Mirmir had achieved popularity with celebrity connections and lots of publicity because of it, but he still didn’t think there was anything unique about the idea. Mark saw Mirmir as just a filter, something that anyone could copy. Kevin O’Leary agreed that there was competition for the idea, and he wanted to know how Sean and Glen would use an investment to increase profitability during the next year. Glen explained that buying more machines would enable an instant growth in sales at parties and events, the business could not meet demand in that area at the moment with only nine machines, but he also revealed that Mirmir wanted to move into venues and locations, installing the machines in malls, stadiums and stations.
Kevin looked doubtful at that, he saw location-based photo booths as ‘A totally different business’, and Mark Cuban admitted that he would never pay for a Mirmir machine at the Dallas Mavericks’ stadium. Glen responded that Mirmir was in negotiations with several large retailers, but Mark Cuban was clearly unimpressed. Although Mark admired what Sean and Glen had achieved so far, he thought the whole system was expensive and complicated, and as there was nothing unique about the non-patented system, it could easily be undercut by competitors, and for that reason, he was out.
Daymond John loved the Mirmir product and told Glen and Sean that looking at the product from a consumer’s perspective, it was a great service. He revealed that he frequently bought new gadgets to improve his picture-taking, but the speed with new products came out, and the speed with which technology was changing the photo industry left him with doubts as to whether Mirmir would be able to keep up with changing consumer demands, and for that reason he was out too.
Lori Greiner wasn’t confident the Mirmir business would work in stadiums and venues. She thought parties and weddings were a perfect fit for the Mirmir model, but because Glen had revealed a strategy to break into venues and other locations, she didn’t like the direction the company was headed, and due to that Lori was dropping out too. Glen attempted to convince Lori that the strategy was to continue working in weddings and parties while the company expanded into the venue business steadily, but Lori wasn’t changing her mind.
With three sharks out, Kevin O’Leary was wondering how an investor would get their money back. Glen asserted that more machines would double the revenue within a year, but Kevin didn’t want to be a minority shareholder in Mirmir with no guarantees of getting his money back. He shared Daymond’s concerns about technology bringing quickly changing demands to the photo industry, but he did have an offer to make. Kevin believed Mirmir was a business that could support debt, so he would loan Mirmir the $350,000, at 18% interest, and when the loan was repaid he would take 5% equity in the business as a fee for the loan.
Robert Herjavec was quick to remark that it was ‘The Loan-shark tank again’, but Kevin wasn’t finished. He told the entrepreneurs that doubling the number of Mirmir machines, thereby doubling income, was the best way forward for the business. He advised them to ‘Run like hell’ with the weddings and parties, and to test out the venue idea with just one or two machines, to see if it was a profitable idea before they committed themselves to it fully. The Mirmir duo considered his ideas, but Robert Herjavec was also interested in a deal.
Robert loved the concept of the business, and he loved the product, but he wasn’t interested in a 10% equity deal. Glen, perhaps unwisely, asked him how much equity he wanted. Robert suggested a full partnership, 50% of the business, but when they heard that, Glen and Sean exchanged shocked looks, and Glen admitted that they would not be interested in giving away so much. Eventually, Robert asked how much they would be prepared to sell, and Glen replied that for the right amount of investment, 18-20% was the highest stake in Mirmir that they were prepared to give away.
Kevin O’Leary actually helped Mirmir and Robert strike a deal when he asked if 20% would be acceptable with the same valuation, in exchange for a $700,000 investment. Glen thought that would be fine and would just give him and Sean the opportunity to grow the business that much faster, and after a moments thought Robert agreed to the offer. ‘We’re going to kill it’ he infused as he got up to shake on the deal, and the new partners took another snap with Mirmir to celebrate the event.
Mirmir Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update
It’s been less than a year since Mirmir first appeared on Shark Tank, and since then there has been no concrete information about whether the deal with Robert Herjavec was completed. The company continues to enjoy a large amount of celebrity endorsement, and the ability to share photos instantly to social media has been used several times by the Kardashian clan, which have brought the advantages of Mirmir photos to millions of people.
There’s no doubt that Mirmir creates great pictures, the photos that the Kardashians, and numerous other celebrities, have shared online are indistinguishable from any other professionally produced snap. The popularity and prestige attached to the company by having such high-profile customers is priceless, but most of the sharks considered the business to be a smash-and-grab style opportunity. The long-term viability of the Mirmir business will ultimately be decided by the direction the shareholders decide to take it in, and so far millions of long-suffering people like me, who always end up with passport photos that make me look like I’ve just been booked for a DUI, will have to put up with those suspicious glances from customs officials for a while longer, that is until someone gets married or the holiday season comes along.
You can keep up to date with the latest company developments at the Mirmir website, or at the company Instagram page, where Ryan and Sean frequently share the latest celebrity snaps made using the Mirmir service, all of which, unlike my passport photo, look absolutely nothing like a mugshot.