Amber Before Shark Tank
Bill Shuey met his business partner, Kyle Bird, an Industrial design student, at James Madison University in Virginia where Shuey was studying political science. Discovering a mutual interest in start up businesses they thought they had discovered an under serviced market in phone charging stations. They envisaged selling or renting charging systems to large scale venues such as stadiums and theaters. They were in development of the prototype of their product, which they called Amber, the first material used to conduct a charge, when they received an E-Mail from Shark Tank producers.
Thinking initially that someone was playing a prank on them, the pair were surprised to learn that someone from the show had found an online portfolio for Amber. Bill had created it during the initial stages of the concept and the producers wanted to see them pitch their product to the sharks. After negotiations they agreed to appear on the show in September 2014.
Amber on Shark Tank
When the pair appeared in front of the sharks they announced they were seeking $200,000 in exchange for 20% of their business.
Kyle began the pitch by asking the sharks how many times they had been stuck in an airport or some other public place and found that their phone was about to run out of charge. He asserted that it was a common problem that effected everyone in the modern World and they had developed a solution.
Bill continued the pitch and introduced the sharks to Amber, a mobile phone charging system that was completely free to use for the phone owner. He described the process as Kyle demonstrated it. The phone owner would simply register their fingerprint using a biometric fingerprint scanner, select one of the seven available compartments to put their phone in and connect it to a charger. When the phone was charged or they had charged it to their satisfaction, they could come back, use their fingerprint to open the compartment and have their newly charged phone returned to them.
Kyle explained that the product could drive additional revenue for venues by increasing the customer experience. It would encourage patrons to stay at the business longer and the pair believed that there was large untapped market for Amber in bars, restaurants, arenas, gyms and movie theaters. In Short they saw a potential market in any public place where many customers would be gathered together.
Bill had also developed an app that could allow people searching for an Amber charging station to find the nearest one, this would also have the additional benefit of sending new customers to any business that had the Amber station installed.
Bill finished off by informing the sharks that with the required investment they could begin to push the product into locations across the country, he concluded by asking ‘Who wants to secure a deal with Amber?’. There wasn’t a rush of sharks leaping up to shake his hand.
Mark Cuban asked if the product was ready for sale. Bill described Amber as being ‘Pre-Revenue’. Kyle revealed that they had only graduated from University a few weeks earlier.
Robert Herjavec asked Bill how much Amber would cost a typical bar owner. Bill revealed that the cost to buy a unit outright was $2,000 but they planned to rent units to businesses for $150 per month.
Lori Greiner suggested it was only a convenience item for bars to have on the premises, but it wasn’t a necessity. Kyle explained that asking a bartender to charge your phone could be a liability. The employee may go home and forget about your phone, there were a host of potential problems with giving your phone to someone else, and Amber eliminated them.
Daymond John asked about the locking compartments and pointed out that the demonstration unit Bill and Kyle had brought into the Shark Tank didn’t having lockable doors. Kyle explained that the Amber unit that they had brought in was not fully complete as yet. The pair were currently sourcing a locking system from Masterlock and they would have a lockable version soon.
Robert Herjavec asked if the fingerprint scanner locking system had been tested, Bill confirmed that they had tested it thoroughly.
Robert detailed his own experience with fingerprint scanners. He believed that only very high end biometric systems worked efficiently and consistently. In his own company headquarters he had installed such a system and it had cost in excess of $50,000. For a price point of $2,000 the Amber system would never achieve reliable results in his opinion, he suggested that the system might fail to work for customers entirely. In particular, he had doubts that patrons of a bar, who might sometimes have overindulged, would have the necessary patience and delicate touch required to operate the scanner consistently.
‘And then they’ll pull it off the wall’ laughed Mark Cuban, who clearly saw eye to eye with Robert that the fingerprint scanner was the weakest point of Amber.
Mark asked how much Bill and Kyle had invested in their prototype product, Bill confirmed they had invested about $11,000 so far. Mark then asked what the cost of each unit was.
Kyle revealed that the current cost of a unit was one thousand dollars’.
Mark Cuban grimaced at that and Kevin O’Leary interjected with ‘A thousand dollars? This is going to end so badly!’, and as usual, he was right.
Daymond wondered why a bar would pay for Amber when there were free charging services available in many locations, any bar could attract a similar service without any cost to themselves.
Lori Greiner couldn’t see any demand for Amber either. She was working on a similar project herself that she described as ‘Light years ahead’ of Bill and Kyle’s concept. She wasted no more time and dropped out of negotiations.
Mark told the entrepreneurial duo that the cost of the unit was ‘Horrible’, it needed to be under $100 for the business to have any chance to succeed. Kyle conceded that he was correct, he confirmed that they were actively trying to reduce the cost of production but Mark interrupted him, pointing out how far away they were from a $100 cost.
Kyle spoke about the interest they had received in Amber from Festival organizers, convention centers and other large-scale venues.
Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, was the shark with the most experience of actually operating stadiums and large scale venues. He shared some of that experience with the young entrepreneurs now. He told them that in locations where large crowds were present, the last thing organizers wanted was a large number of customers congregating in one place. Such congestion points caused aggravation as well as more lines, but of biggest concern was the fact that a jam of people could cause serious safety issues in the event of an emergency.
In addition to all of those concerns, Mark asserted that people at festivals got grimy, their hands got dirty and the fingerprint scanner would get equally grubby, it would became unreliable in such an environment very quickly. Having made it perfectly clear why he didn’t like the Amber concept, he announced he was dropping out. Kyle smiled bravely while Bill bit his lip, but Mark Cuban had been the shark best suited to the Amber concept due to his business interests. After such a comprehensive and well-reasoned rejection, negotiations with the other sharks were unlikely to be electrifying.
Kevin was equally as disinterested in striking a deal. With his usual direct style he told the pair ‘I have to hire you both so I can fire you. This is horrible, the worst idea I’ve ever seen.’. They were strong words, even for the forthright Kevin O’Leary. He dropped out of negotiations too.
Daymond John wasted little time in also dropping out, he announced he had ‘absolutely no interest in the business’ and with that, he was out too, although he wished the pair good luck.
With nothing left to lose Lyle made one last conciliatory gesture towards Robert Herjavec, the only remaining shark. He started by conceding that he was aware Amber had competition but he didn’t get much further. Mark Cuban interjected with his agreement that there were indeed ‘lots’ of competitors and Robert followed it up with ‘The competition is free’. Kyle gave it up, concluding correctly that Amber wasn’t going to be striking a deal in the shark tank.
Robert explained that the young entrepreneurs had developed an ‘Elegant solution to free’ and he dropped out too, already having made perfectly clear his doubts about the security of the system.
Before leaving the tank, Kyle smiled and thanked the sharks for their time, Bill didn’t smile or speak.
After the pair left, the sharks made their real feelings about the concept crystal clear. Bill and Kyle may have thought the sharks had been brutal to them, but if they could have heard what the sharks really thought about Amber, they would have understood that the sharks had actually softened their criticism of the product to an extent.
Lori observed that the Amber pitch had been the shortest one the sharks had ever seen. ‘It was the worst pitch, that’s why’ Kevin replied.
‘It was horrible’ concluded Daymond.
After the show Kyle was calmly reflective about the experience, conceding that the cost of the system was an issue, as well as some concerns about its security.
Bill was less understanding. He asserted that they had tested the system a million times and concluded by admitting that he felt like punching Robert Herjavec in the teeth.
Amber Now In 2023 – The After Shark Tank Update
Bill and Kyle might not have landed a deal on the show but that didn’t discourage them from continuing to grow the business. In fact, they received a lot of interest from different distributors and manufacturers after the segment aired. Unfortunately, however, there weren’t a lot of direct buyers.
Taking the sharks’ advice to heart, they eventually dropped the price of the self-locking smartphone charging station to $75 a month. Not only that but they also added a consumer payment option. But that wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat. Within a few months, Kyle had left.
Shortly after leaving the company, he posted about the whole experience on his blog. More specifically, he criticized the editing techniques that were used on the show, explaining that many of the sharks actually had positive feedback about the product but that they were all cut from the final segment, as were their defenses about the self-locking station.
He also disagreed with Robert’s expertise on the subject of biometric scanner technology, stating once again that the Amber had been tested and was fully working prior to filming (it was a point that he emphasized as it was Robert’s comments that had effectively killed their prospects with the other sharks).
In the end, the company went out of business sometime in 2015. As far as we can tell, they never actually sold any units as the product never got to the manufacturing stage. Needless to say, this probably contributed to their closure. The fact that it had a poorly portrayed pitch probably didn’t help either. If anything, it left many potential customers questioning the product.
As of 2023, the name Amber has pretty much vanished from the web. Not only is their website gone but their Facebook and Twitter pages have also been deleted. It’s almost as if they never existed at all.
What are Bill and Kyle up to nowadays? According to LinkedIn, Bill currently works in sales at Long Home Products, a roofing company based in Savage, Maryland. Prior to that, he worked at Brown’s Car Stores from 2015 to 2016.
As for Kyle, he’s been a Limited Partner at Adventure Fund since 2021. Prior to that, he was a Senior Product Manager at the software company Atlassian from April 2019 to September 2022; he started working there after his previous company, AgileCraft, was acquired by Atlassian.
Needless to say, they’ve both moved on to other endeavors. Given that, it’s probably fair to say that we won’t be seeing Bill and Kyle on the show again anytime soon, not unless they come back with another business idea, at least.
Actually, Robert is absolutely correct. I have an apartment in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city), where there is a fingerprint reader to access the apartment complex. The biometric fingerprint scanner works 10-20% of the time on the first try. Usually, it takes at least a half dozen tries before the $&%^#)@! scanner works. Seriously. In short, this technology is not perfect . . . unless of course, you invest in the most expensive technology, which I doubt these clowns did.