FORT Before Shark Tank
FORT is the brainchild of Conor B. Lewis, a husband, and father to two young children. One day, while watching his wife and two-year-old daughter make pillow forts with blankets that kept collapsing, it struck him that there must be a better way. He subsequently took out his phone and wrote down “magnetic pillow fort” in his random idea document. He then filed it away.
Fast forward to April 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic had hit, causing him to lose his job. To make things worse, they were also about to welcome their second child. At first, he didn’t know what to do. But then he realized; he had always wanted to become an entrepreneur and this was his chance to act upon it. He even had a random idea document tucked away on his phone.
Realizing that he had nothing to lose, he decided to go for the “magnetic pillow fort” idea that he had written down previously. Determined, he sought out a designer and quickly began to build the brand. And within a month, he had started to talk to factories about the manufacturing process.
In need of funds, he launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised more than $3 million in early 2021. They eventually shipped their first units a few months later. However, they soon found themselves running into supply chain issues, which were worsened by the ongoing pandemic.
In need of help, they decided to try their luck on Shark Tank, with the hopes that one of the sharks would be able to help them with their inventory and manufacturing process. And after several rounds of auditions, they received the call that they were going to be on the show.
Their segment was later included in episode 1318, which aired on April 1, 2022.
FORT on Shark Tank
Instead of walking into the tank, Conor surprises everyone by poking his head out of one of the foam pieces that are on display. He subsequently greets the sharks and introduces himself as the founder of FORT. As he stands up, he gives the foam pieces a push, which causes them to collapse onto the ground. He then tells everyone that he is seeking $500,000 for 10 percent of his company.
As the sharks look on, he dives straight into his pitch. He begins by talking about his backstory; he tells them that he came up with the idea while he and his daughter were building pillow forts in their living room. He explains that while it was fun, it often left a big mess in the house, which he had to clean up afterward. And that that was when he realized that there must be a better way to do it.
Pointing at the foam pieces beside him, he tells them that that’s how he came up with the idea. Continuing, he explains that the pieces are stackable, wipeable, and storable, and feature a “completely modular system to build the ultimate pillow fort”. He also adds that they’re all held together by magnets, and as he says that, he puts two pieces together as a demo. Just seconds later, however, they come apart. which garners laughs from the sharks.
Conor then dives into the foam pieces. After standing up, he asks if anyone is interested in investing in his magnetic pillow fort company.
The camera then turns toward guest shark Emma Grede, who comments that “he wins points for the world’s best dad”. She then asks about his background.
As the sharks play with the foam pieces, Conor explains that he worked in marketing and that he had lost his job during COVID-19 back in April 2020. Continuing, he tells them he had always wanted to be an entrepreneur but that he has always been hesitant due to various unknowns. After being laid off, however, he realized that he had an opportunity. He explains that he ended up selling his car and also used the severance money from his job to launch the company.
Emma asks how they sell the product and Conor tells her that they’re “completely focused on direct-to-consumer.” He also reveals that he has taken on a business partner, who currently owns five percent of the company, has put in all of the operational equity, and has the opportunity to buy in up to 40 percent.
The sharks are surprised. Lori asks about the triggers and Conor replies that it’s the revenue targets. He then decides to talk about the price. He lets them know that the full set sells for $499 and that it comes with 12 pieces including five cushions and 124 magnets.
The sharks are immediately baffled by the high price tag, with Emma remarking that “it’s a lot of a money”.
Conor explains that the price was actually one of the biggest challenges that they faced early on, and several of the sharks, including Kevin and Mark, remark that it still is. Conor agrees but continues, telling them that they launched on Kickstarter in January 2021 and that his claim to fame is that “[he] sold $2 million of products in 10 hours.” The sharks are noticeably surprised.
Conor explains that they ended up raising over $3.1 million for the whole campaign and that they’ve done $4.5 million to date, year to date. Stunned, Kevin asks if it was at the $499 price and Conor tells him no, that their average purchase price was $269.
Emma asks if they’ve delivered on the Kickstarter yet, to which he replies that they’re delivering right now and that he actually has “400 units going out today.” He then switches gears and talks about the cost of goods. Backtracking a bit, he explains that their price at the beginning, including shipping, was $269, and that their original COGs were approximate “$200 landed” plus an additional $50 shipping charge.
Conor explains that he had wanted to see first if he could actually sell the product. He also admits that FORT is more expensive than its competitors but reasons that it’s because of the magnets, which alone, “cost $60 a unit.” Lori responds by saying that “it’s insanely expensive.”
Kevin questions his decision to go with magnets and asks why he isn’t using velcro instead. Conor explains that they had run several surveys and that most, if not all parents “unanimously hate velcro.” Kevin questions the results but Lori seems to agree and states that “hair gets stuck in it.”
Continuing, Conor explains that they sold at a loss for the first day at $269 with shipping included. Before he can go on, however, Kevin states that he’s not a fan of the price. However, Mark urges him to let Conor finish. Asked about his thought process, Conor admits that shipping was and is a major hurdle due to the size of the pieces, but that he was amazed at the high volume that they were selling- nearly 13,000 units on Kickstarter.
He also reveals that he let codependency set the price and what the customers wanted, and that after overselling on the first day, he realized that he would have to work really hard to “sell the rest of the campaign” as he didn’t sell enough to accommodate the cost initially.
Lori points out that it was the customers, who were excited to get the products from Kickstarter, who dictated the price, and that’s why they ran into problems. Conor agrees and explains that’s why they started selling the magnetic foam pieces at a higher price point.
Emma seems skeptical but continues to listen as Conor reveals that they went on to sell $250,000 in another 24 hours, at a higher price point- $499. Lori seems surprised; she then reconfirms the fact that doubling the price didn’t hurt the business. Conor tells her that it hasn’t been an issue and that they’ve continued to sell the product, though no one has actually received it yet as they’re focusing on their initial Kickstarter orders. He also reveals that they have 17,000 units coming from overseas at the moment.
Emma is quick to state that she has a few big concerns. She points out that while he has an enormous amount of orders “sitting there”, he has no idea “whether or not it will work.” She also reiterates the fact that no one has received the product yet, which means they haven’t received any customer feedback. Lori agrees.
Conor admits that it’s a huge concern. Mark jokingly comments that at least “[he] has their money first.”
Conor then talks about their international-freight challenge and states that they’ve had great suppliers over the last 30 days and that there’s also “an incredible 3PL” that they’ve been working with. But he also admits that they’ve burnt a lot of cash in the process.
When prompted about the number, he reveals that they’ve basically gone through “all of it”. The sharks are visibly appalled. Robert states that “[he’s] selling [himself] out of business” and Conor himself agrees with the statement.
Lori asks how he’s able to remain jovial. Conor admits that things have been hard- to the point where his wife had stepped out of the house and cried.
Lori praises his honesty about what has happened so far with the company.
Emma then asks about his business partner, who he had previously told them, owns five percent of the company. Mark also asks about the trigger for the 40 percent. Conor explains that he and his team will get 40 percent if they are able to help them get $30 million in gross revenue.
Lori asks about the role of his partner. Conor explains that he has a relationship with a supplier, who he has already done tens of millions of dollars with, and that he also has a full marketing team as well as ad buyers. He also reveals that they believe they can get themselves out of “the hole that they’ve got themselves into” in the next few months.
Kevin states that there are a whole bunch of problems. He mentions the high cost of goods and questions again the decision to use magnets instead of velcro. He also states that their decision to give away 40 percent “to somebody for no cash” is their number-one problem and that it “makes absolutely no sense to [him].” He apologizes but promptly goes out.
Mark remarks that other aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from his experience. He also believes that they will be able to get through their issues but like Kevin, he also questions the 40 percent deal that they have with the partner as it will dilute them of a significant amount if they were to offer him a deal and help him get their sales up. He also goes out.
Emma is the next shark to speak. She comments that it’s not yet a proven business as no one has received the product yet. Noting that it’s not an investable opportunity, she also goes out.
Everyone’s attention then turns toward Lori, who praises Conor for being a good person. Noting that he already has a partner who “will get him out of the hole”, however, she also goes out.
With that, Robert is the only shark left. While he likes Conor’s humility, however, he can’t see himself getting into it, and for that reason, he is also out.
Conor thus leaves the tank without a deal.
FORT After Shark Tank
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much improvement in the business since the episode aired. In fact, the company has received a lot of backlash on its Kickstarter and Facebook pages. For one thing, many original backers are still waiting to receive their product.
And those who have received the product, are not happy with the quality. Not only are the magnets weak, but some people have also reported magnets shattering and poking through the covers, which poses a serious safety hazard seeing as how the product is for young children. Some have also run into issues where the magnets repel each other instead of attracting each other so there are obviously some quality issues.
Given all that, it’s not surprising to know that they currently have dozens of open complaints on the Better Business Bureau.