BatBNB Before Shark Tank
BatBNB was founded in 2016 by Christopher Rannefors and Harrison Broadhurst. They were both scared of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne infection at the time. Chris and Harrison wanted to create an innovative solution that did not involve harmful pesticides, which was the only solution they saw being offered at the time. Thankfully, both men came from interesting backgrounds. Christopher’s father was a conservationist who built bad houses with his son, and Harrison’s mother was a middle school science teacher.
He and Harrison started a tiny hobby business making bat houses, or what they called BatBNB. Harrison had a degree in architecture and did most of the design and fabrication work. They consulted with other conservationists to make the most effective structure to attract bats to eat mosquitoes and other pests.
In 2017, they crowdfunded their BatBNB project on Indiegogo. They had four original designs that people could pick. They networked with essential people in conservation spaces. Adrian Grenier, an environmental goodwill ambassador and Merlin Tuttle, the founder of Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, has been involved in the design and composition of the bat houses from the beginning. They met their initial goal of $85,000 with the help of 343 backers on September 25, 2017. To date, they have raised $120,260.
BatBNB on Shark Tank
Chris and Harrison walked out onto the shark tank stage and introduced themselves. They said they were from Lexington, Kentucky. They requested $100,000 for a 16% equity stake in their company. Chris started their presentation by saying that climate change presented an issue. Winters were getting warmer and shorter, which meant that insects like mosquitoes were coming out earlier and in more significant numbers.
These changes brought the Zika virus and other deadly mosquito-borne illnesses in their wake. The current solutions were only expensive pesticides that burn and irritate skin and endanger local wildlife. There is a natural solution that no one thinks about. Bats will lead up to 1000 mosquito-sized bugs in an hour, making them one of nature’s most effective forms of pest control. Lori gasped audibly when Chris mentioned bats.
But how do you enlist these animals in support of the cause of mosquito killing? The pair of entrepreneurs had the solution: BatBNB. They saw their product as a bed and breakfast for bats. Chris explained that customers could significantly reduce their backyard pest population with these structures attracting bats. The BatBNB has interior group chambers for the bat to climb, hang, and grip. This bio mimics the bats’ natural habitat, the space between the peeling bark on a tree. Harrison states it provides the ideal environment for mother bats to keep their pups warm and safe.
Chris continued, stating that businesses, farms, and retail customers’ backyards could eliminate pests and provide a home for a commonly misunderstood animal. Lori looked horrified by all of this. Before the pair asked questions, they brought out Melinda, a professional animal handler, and their bat Radar. Radar was a giant six-year-old brown rescue bat with a damaged wing, and he could not be released back into the wild. Big brown bats live all over Los Angeles and North America and hunt at night while people sleep.
Lori protested, stating that she did not want to meet the bat. She asked Melinda to make sure that Radar did not escape. Mark even teased her, chanting let it out. Robert just sounded happy to be there. He greeted Melinda and seemed excited to see the bat. All the sharks were teasing Kevin that Radar was his relative.
Kevin stopped their presentation. He said he spent his teenage years in Carthage, and some bats would blanket the sky at dusk. He noted that not all bats eat insects; some go after human and animal blood. The other Sharks acted like they had heard the story before and were tired of it. Kevin wants to know how the BatBNB would be sure to attract the correct kind of bats. Chris assured them that in their target market of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia, Kevin spoke about the vampire bats were not a concern. They only live in Central and South America.
Lori asked about the entrepreneur’s background. Chris explained that they did not specialize in bats. The pair had started the company in 2016. Both entrepreneurs wanted to have kids, but they were frightened by the reports of the Zika virus in the news. It was scary, and they felt helpless because of how easily it could spread. The only options for dealing with mosquitoes at the time seem to be harmful pesticides. He built bat houses with his conservationist father.
Mark asked the duo to tell them about the business side of things. Chris explained that they launched via crowdfunding about 11 months before appearing on Shark Tank. Their revenues to date were $135,000. They projected that they would make another $10,000 in the next month.
Chris explained that they discovered the highest market value was in the public sector. On the county level, there were enormous budgets for pest control especially focused on mosquitoes. Mark wanted to know how they would go about acquiring public sector customers. Chris explained that it was one tear of the market. They would pursue relationships and work with people with experience with government contracts. Chris saw them being a million-dollar business in five years.
Robert wants to know how many bats could live in one house. Harrison explains that 8200 bats could fit in each. Lori pointed out that they like to be close, and she looked disgusted. To this point, Robert said that many people do not like bats. He asked how they planned on selling it to people and educating them on the necessity of these bat houses. Chris blamed Dracula on bats being misunderstood in the media.
Kevin interrupted again and said it went back to Greek mythology. He elaborated, telling a weird folk myth from the time saying that if you did not want to go to sleep, you would cut the head off the bat and put it in a bag by your left arm. Kevin said that he was one with the bat and understood them alone.
Kevin wants to know how much each BatBNB costs to make. Harrison answered, stating it was $88.50 to make, and they shipped it out for $239. Robert went out, saying he saw it as a small hobby market for him to invest in. Mark Cuban went up next, saying that he saw the amount of time and effort it would take and didn’t see their forecast as being enough profit.
Daymond went out as well. He thought the education aspect would be too difficult, and people would not understand the value of what they were doing, making the customer acquisition cost high. Naturally, Lori went out as well. She was scared of the bats, and as such, she did not see them as something she was able to invest in.
On the other hand, Kevin was very interested. He said he had a lot of passion for bats, seeing that they were misunderstood throughout the ages. Harrison made a joke that said that Kevin would make of bloodsucking bat of a deal, but Kevin was sure that he was making a fruit bat offer.
Kevin liked the business but saw that it was a small market, and it would need a tremendous amount of promotion on someone to explain it. He insisted that no one knows bats better than him. He offered the duo $100,000 in exchange for 33.3% equity in the company. Chris said the valuation was a little too low for them. He countered with 25% equity. Kevin said that he needed to feel like he had a seat at the table. He would bring a ton of promotion to it.
Harrison and Chris whispered amongst themselves, and then Harrison asked if Mr. wonderful would be willing to put on a bat man’s suit for promotion. Kevin agreed. They made a deal with Kevin for $100,000 in exchange for 33.3%. Kevin finally had bats in his portfolio. Lori said that he was the perfect partner for the business. Robert told him to turn into a bat, and he obliged by flapping his arms as he walked back across the stage.
In the posts Shark Tank questionnaire, Chris explained that BatBNB started as a bit of a hobby business two years ago, and now they had Kevin on board with all of his resources. They felt like there was no place that they couldn’t go. Back in the tank, Kevin was telling a story that people were already scared of bats in the Mayan culture. On the other hand, he first became close to them in Tunisia.
Daymond asked if that was where he had first started sleeping upside down. Kevin ignored him and said that he also met bats in Ethiopia. They would cover the skies at night. He knew that he would be in the bat business one day.
BatBNB Now in 2023 – The After Shark Tank Update
Harrison and Chris were recognized for their efforts by the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2020. Forbes magazine chose them for the Social Entrepreneurs category, described by Forbes as business owners that “combine purpose and profit.” BatBNB was also awarded an honorable mention in the spring of 2020 by the Fast Company 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards in two categories.
A potential customer on the BatBNB Facebook page asked how their “bat-saving” business was fairing after COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, the disease was thought to originate from a bat at a wet market in China. The admin of the page was quick to say that the bats were still beneficial for the environment and the world.
The BatBNB website now features new products, such as creatively designed greeting cards and t-shirts. They now offer the Mammouth, an extra large bat house that costs $450. Some of them, like the Sonora, are smaller and perfect for retail customers at a modest price tag of $125. BatBNB also has packs of two or three smaller bat houses for larger customers such as local governments and non-profits.
They have an educational aspect on their website. This section has a bat education box with a PowerPoint containing information about bats and games to cement important concepts, arts and crafts, and completion certificates. BatBNB also has a 15% discount for educators who want bat boxes for their classroom to observe. On the Customers Stories portion of the website, many photos show the personalization that the fans of BatBNB have brought to their bat houses. These people showed off their personal touch with the bat boxes using paint and their creativity.
In August of 2022, the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy did a blog post outlining their work with the help of the bat houses. They could track the bats’ activities and when they left the boxes to feed. The Conservancy placed netting over the boxes so they could swab the bats for microorganisms and do experiments. As of the writing of this piece, they were still awaiting the testing results.