Group Hug Before Shark Tank
On her website blog, Krystal says she considers herself eco-conscious, composting and using reusable water bottles and tote bags. She couldn’t find a solar panel that she liked or that fit her situation. So she decided to make one- the Grouphug. She designed and developed a prototype solar panel that would look nice in her tiny NYC apartment.
Krystal launched a Grouphug Kickstarter in 2019, attempting to raise $10,000 to fund her aesthetic solar panel project. The project was fully funded on July 10th, 2019. Four hundred sixty-six backers pledged $70,760 – seven times what she initially requested. As of the March 2020 taping of the Shark Tank episode, they had not shipped yet. Would they still be able to get a deal?
Grouphug On Shark Tank
Krystal came out into the Shark Tank to introduce herself. She said that she was from NYC and her company was Grouphug. She began her presentation by making fun of her generation, the millennials. She asked the Sharks to withhold judgment of her and remember that an essential thing millennials care about is taking care of the planet, ditching fossil fuels, and switching to renewable energy.
Even though millennials get a bad rap, we care deeply about significant issues. Krystal was thinking about these values one day and decided to go out and purchase a little solar panel because how hard could it be? Unfortunately, the only ones she could find were for camping, hiking, and fishing, which could have been more aesthetically pleasing.
Since she was living in New York City, it’s not like she could install solar on her own. She ended up inventing a way to harvest solar power from any home with no rooftop and expensive installation required. Krystal asked them if they were ready for it and introduced them to the Grouphug window solar charger.
She called it a beautifully crafted and innovative solar charger for any and everyone. Installation was as simple as placing it in a window with the solar cells outside, situated toward the sun. The energy from the cells is built upon and stored in the internal battery, allowing customers to charge things such as phones, tablets, and computers, even at night.
She designed the bamboo frame with home decor in mind – the Grouphug solar panel could blend into any home. It allows customers to look good while doing a little more good for the environment. The product is just the beginning for Grouphug – they could design panels of any shape, size, and pattern that could help take even larger appliances off the grid.
Krystal believed that the future of solar would be to make it as beautiful as it is efficient. This would decrease the friction and allow more people to adopt it. Krystal asked the sharks who wanted to join her Grouphug and change how the world gets energized.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
She told them each Shark had a sample in front of them. She set each of them up with their preferred charging cable so they could test it out by charging their phones. Barbara wanted to know how she came up with the name Grouphug. Krystal explained that she had a background in consumer electronics, and she began as an intern at a NY tech firm.
All of the Sharks asked at once if she was an engineer, which she denied. She referred to herself as a creative technologist and described it as half science, half art. Mark asked which company she worked for, and she said it was a tech start-up called Little Bits, which was in the toy space. Kevin said that he was aware of the company.
She began as an industrial design intern and ended her reign there as senior director of product design. Krystal said that she did not want to work for someone else. She knew that she would be able to create something that would be worth a lot. Rohan asked about her background. Krystal explained that she was first generation American. Her parents were from Guyana.
She said that she had always been the black sheep since her three older sisters chose to go into medicine and healthcare. She said that it was always a struggle getting her parents to believe that she would be able to make money from something that was not healthcare. Lori asked how much charge time a customer would get from each panel and if it was meant only to charge smaller devices such as phones and tablets.
Krystal said she was about to get geeky and explained that it was a 10-watt panel with a 2200-milliamp battery inside. That was powerful enough to charge small things with USB-style charging cables. Kevin asked if she had any idea how to sell the Grouphug. Lori said that she had an even better question – if Krystal had made any sales at all.
Krystal explained that she had launched Grouphug in June as a Kickstarter and had $80,000 in sales. That was off a goal of $10,000. Kevin asked if she had shipped her current orders, and she said she had yet to. Rohan looked disappointed by her previous answer but asked her how much she was selling the units for versus how much they cost her to make.
Krystal said that the MSRP for each is $149, which costs $42 to make for a batch of 1000 units. She said it would drop closer to $35 for a batch of 10,000 units
Lori asked if she was making all the products by hand in her home. Krystal told her that she was working with factories in Shenzhen that she knew because of her connections in consumer electronics. She worked with the factory to reduce the amount of exposed hardware, clean up their edges, and take it to an entirely manufactured product.
She said she wanted to show them a few photos to give them an idea of the larger vision. The first photo was of Solarcat, dubbed “the cutest solar panel ever made”, an installation she did in the window of the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY. This picture got some of the Sharks excited again.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Kevin was the first to go out. The way that he looked at it, Grouphug was a commodity business that would be very difficult to make money from. He apologized as he went out.
Lori was up next. She told Krystal that she thought it was incredible what she was doing but thought it was too early to be an investor. Lori couldn’t get a read or customer feedback on how people would use it in the home. She went out.
Barbara went up next. She told Krystal that if everyone from Guyana were like her, she would pack up and move immediately. She loved the presentation but thought that the product looked ugly. Krystal’s face fell. Barbara said that Krystal had a long way to go to figure out how she would tweak the product and how she would market it. Barbara went out.
Rohan believed that her entire focus should be on things like Solarcat. He saw her able to do $100,000 installations with her creativity and drive. He went out, stating that it made sense for him to invest at this stage. This left only Mark.
Kevin pointed out that Mark was the only Shark left, but that didn’t mean that she was leaving without a deal. He said the one great idea was capable of changing her life. Krystal addressed Mark Cuban directly.
She told him that she knew that she would be able to make more solar cats, and she had spoken to businesses in NY about getting them in their windows. Mark asked how much it would take to make the Solar cat, and she said the materials only cost $1000. This seemed to perk his interest. He said that he felt like there was a corporate business there, as well as maybe government outreach to get them out in the parks.
Krystal explained that she was inspired to get them into NYC parks, where people could sit around it and charge their phones. Morgan Stanley would sponsor it, Mark said. He said that there was a lot of upside to the concept. He decided to make her an offer. $150,000 for 25% equity was not open to any counter offers. Krystal eventually decided to take it, and they shook hands.
Grouphug After Shark Tank
The Kickstarter orders, a large sticking point in the Tank, were finally shipped in September 2020. They were mainly well-received. Customers who had issues were encouraged to return the panel to the company, as Grouphug did not want to create any landfill waste.
The orders were delayed mainly by the shutdowns that everyone experienced in 2020 due to the pandemic, halting public installations, impacting supply chains, and delaying orders.
The deal went through with Mark Cuban, and he and Krystal emailed each other weekly.
Krystal advocates for more female STEM majors and careers, stating that she wanted the central takeaway from her shark tank appearance: “You can be a female tech CEO and also be on Shark Tank.” She makes it a point to work with female contractors and engineers
Their website sells few things – just the original solar panel, Grouphug hats, a sunny yellow tote bag that states “I’m no fossil fool.”, and a reusable gift bag. They also sell a USB C adapter to accommodate newer chargers.
Grouphug’s Instagram is thriving. It features recent posts and has an impressive following of 15.3K. They had a post about the Solar Uterus that Grouphug had in development shortly after the Supreme Court Decision about Roe v Wade. They posted that 100% of the proceeds would go to abortion causes. Grouphug does frequent giveaways on their Instagram.
On Grouphug’s Facebook more personal posts with 1.3K followers. On October 3rd, 2022, Krystal posted that some exciting things were happening behind the scenes “a shift in company strategy that aligns more with our mission.” On October 21st, 2022, Grouphug announced that Krystal was working on another project, wild grid, described as a solar marketplace, making it easy for anyone to find local solar options online. In that same post, she told the world she had a baby.