How Shark Tank helped Ride FRSH escape Facebook dependence
Initially, the air freshener startup relied on Facebook Ads. But it was getting “pricey.”
When Donovan Brown appeared on Shark Tank, he wanted funding for his subscription air freshener business, Ride FRSH. But he also wanted to “create a moment.”
So he and his co-founder and brother, Trey, started a feud with Shark Tank investor Marc Cuban.
“This one smells like winning,” Trey said during their pitch, sniffing an air freshener with the Golden State Warriors’ logo on it.
“Sorry Mark,” Brown laughed.
Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, who lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
He was immediately out on the deal, and called their dig at him “the dumbest marketing move ever.”
But it was actually the best thing that ever happened to Ride FRSH’s marketing funnel.
Ride FRSH’s “pricey,” Facebook-heavy DTC funnel
Founded in 2018, Ride FRSH initially relied on Facebook ads for day-to-day demand generation.
Their earliest website looked—and converted—like a landing page. It sold one product, and one product only: two air-fresheners, delivered monthly.
Even as they graduated to a Shopify store and a catalog with multiple subscription levels and a la carte offerings (like NBA logo air fresheners), Facebook ads remained central.
Their core acquisition funnel looked like this:
- Paid Facebook and Instagram ads drive customers to the website.
- An on-site popup offers free shipping on the first month of your subscription, in exchange for an email signup.
- A biweekly email newsletter blends creative content—like “The best 5 songs about cars” and car cleaning tips—with discounts and upsell CTAs.
The on-site pop-up and newsletter drove a lot of additional revenue that paid ads alone wouldn’t capture.
“We’ve actually converted a lot of people through email,” Brown says.
Then again, many email conversions wouldn’t happen without paid ads. Isolating each channel’s contribution isn’t so important to Brown—he’d rather look at the funnel “holistically,” tracking total marketing costs and total customers acquired.
How does the marketing machine work overall?
Since Apple’s 2021 privacy update, the answer has been: effectively, but expensively.
Paid social performance dropped suddenly in the wake of the update, and targeting grew less precise. It cost DTC businesses, Ride FRSH included.
“It’s just pricey and I don’t like relying solely on that,” Brown says of Facebook Ads today.
Paid social didn’t always bring in high-quality subscribers, either. It brought in the lowest-hanging fruit: quick conversions that churned as quickly as they arrived.
That’s “good on the front-end,” Brown says, “but then you’re just playing that constant game of, are your Facebook ads working that month? Because you’re not really getting quality customers.”
To reduce reliance on Facebook, Brown started exploring partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers like Autozone, but those conversations took time.
He also tried applying to Shark Tank. Over and over. The third year he and Trey applied, they played up the “family business” angle on Ride FRSH—and it worked.
What really happened on Shark Tank
The Shark Tank soundstage lights were “really hot,” and the first moments with the Sharks felt stilted, Brown recalls.
“Before you start your pitch, there’s a 45-second timeframe where you’re just standing on your mark looking at the Sharks,” he says. “They tell you to smile because it’s for B-roll.”
There was no music. The Sharks didn’t look at the founders. They were on their phones.
Brown couldn’t let it stay that way. He and his brother had to make a splash.
The producers had hammered home that boring segments got cut, recommending humor, or a “sob story,” he recalls. Anything memorable was better than playing it safe.
A Mavericks air freshener would have been clutch—but Ride FRSH didn’t have that inventory on hand, though they had licensed the team logo from NBALAB. It would have cost them a minimum of $10,000 to get that product in time for filming, Brown says, and even then, there were no guarantees it would arrive on time.
So he and Trey took a risk and worked with what they had: Golden State Warriors inventory.
“I knew that it would give us a high chance of airing, and it would give us press and create a moment after the show aired,” he says.
Brown knew Cuban might not like it—but he’s not the only Shark. The other investors laughed at the joke at Cuban’s expense, and the rest of the Ride FRSH pitch impressed them.
They especially liked the fact that:
- Ride FRSH had done $1.1M in sale in three years, profitably.
- They had a retail partnership in the works with AutoZone—which has 6,700+ locations.
- They ended their pitch with a confetti explosion
There was only one thing a few Sharks took issue with: Ride FRSH’s margins.
Revenues had grown year over year, the founders said in their pitch, but margins were too thin for a few Sharks—about $40K of profit on $540K in revenue.
Ultimately, Barbara Corcoran offered an investment that valued Ride FRSH at $1M. Their spat with Mark Cuban made it on CNBC. The bet paid off.
And funnily enough, their cameo on the show helped improve those margins, and propel Ride FRSH from heavy Facebook spending to a more diversified approach.
5 ways Shark Tank reduced Ride FRSH’s reliance on Facebook Ads
It’s hard to find a business that doesn’t use some Facebook Ads (though it’s possible!).
But conventional marketing wisdom holds that a conversion takes 6-8 touchpoints with a brand—and paying for all of those is unsustainable.
Ideally, a few of those come from unpaid channels — like organic social, organic search, or email. Or Shark Tank.
The show got Ride FRSH a huge, one-time PR boost, but it also opened up lasting, cost-efficient opportunities outside Facebook advertising. Let’s walk through the benefits.
1. It gave the founders a huge audience for proven messaging. For free.
Ride FRSH’s episode of Shark Tank reached an estimated 3.91M people — and in their pitch, Donovan and Trey highlighted the core Ride FRSH value props that perform best on Facebook:
- Ride FRSH is the antidote to a stinky car. This resonates especially with a male audience, Brown says.
- Ride FRSH is convenient. It’s delivered to your door—you don’t have to remember to go to the store.
- Ride FRSH is a Black-owned business. Some customers will pay a premium (or switch brands) to support Black entrepreneurship.
- Ride FRSH lets you express your fandom. That’s thanks to the NBA and SpongeBob designs.
All four came up in a natural way, mixed with other business details relevant to investors.
The show gave them a way to share proven messaging with prospective customers — for free.
2. It sparked unprecedented branded search.
The week the episode aired, Ride FRSH saw record search volume on their brand name, according to Google Trends.
That “100” means they saw 100% of peak 2022 volume that week. It’s more than double all the year’s previous highs!
Everyone who clicked through to the site from organic search entered the Ride FRSH marketing funnel, no Facebook spend required.
3. It accelerated retail partnership deals.
Ride FRSH will launch in Target in Q1 2023, and AutoZone later this year.
Ride FRSH was in talks with both chains before filming Shark Tank, but the TV appearance “helped to throw some fuel on the fire,” Brown says.
Established chains like this have thousands of brick-and-mortar locations between them—AutoZone alone had 6,196 in the U.S.
In each location, new customers can discover Ride FRSH in-person. Facebook Ads might help customers recognize Ride FRSH air fresheners on the rack, but they’re not as important as they are for DTC.
There are other ways to boost brand awareness for brick-and-mortar conversions.
4. It gave Ride FRSH’s organic Instagram new life.
Ride FRSH’s Shark Tank success could easily be a flash in the pan—but after the fact, the team kept the success story alive, especially on tehir biggest social channel: Instagram.
Their Instagram bio mentions their Shark Tank appearance:
They can’t post clips straight from the show—copyright!—but they can mention their appearance, share stills, and repost fans who share Shark Tank clips, Brown explains.
This open up new, unpaid customer acquisition opportunities for Ride FRSH. Their first post about Shark Tank got more than 17X their account’s average engagement.
Now, Brown is testing organic TikTok, too.
5. It created a lasting email hook.
Ride FRSH emailed their subscribers flagging that they would be on Shark Tank, and continues to send out follow-up messaging like this:
They’ve already made thousands in revenue from emails mentioning Shark Tank, and there’s no reason to stop now.
Whenever Shark Tank or Mark Cuban is in the news, Ride FRSH can build a send around the event and get traction in an owned channel.
Next up: Deeper customer connections and higher LTV
Thanks to Shark Tank, Ride FRSH has new and improved options for acquiring customers. Leads are flowing in from inbound search, via organic Instagram, and soon, from brick-and-mortar AutoZones.
The founders’ appearance on the show created a cultural moment, just like Brown wanted, and it didn’t end when the Google Trends spike did.
The show really created a new normal, where Ride FRSH didn’t have to give up so much of their margins to paid social. They had alternatives.
For 2023, Brown’s focused on a new marketing goal: retaining customers and growing LTV.
Recently, Brown looked at how behavior in the Ride FRSH store related to LTV. He found that the longest-lasting, highest-spending customers “do a little bit of research on the site and decide that they want to support the brand.”
Customers who take their time, browse all the scents, dig into the company’s origin story—they’re loyal for the long haul. They connect more deeply.
So Ride FRSH is looking for new ways to go deep with customers. First on the docket: combining their email and SMS marketing in Klaviyo, and testing ways the two owned channels can drive repeat purchases and deeper customer connection.
They’ll test out a variety of creative to figure out what drives repeat purchases. Customers could resonate with the founders’ taste in music, their sense of humor and entrepreneurial spirit.
Maybe some prospects are in a feud with Mark Cuban, too.