Two Normal residents are a long way from where they were in 2017 with their Toilet Timer, when they first visited WGLT.
What started three years ago as a fun side project for Adam Stephey as he taught himself 3D printing has now landed him and his wife Katie in front of the sharks on "Shark Tank" with their product, the Toilet Timer.
The sand timer with a humorous design is for poo-crastinators. It sends a clear message to “poop or get off the pot.”
And, the couple came away a winner. Appearing on “Shark Tank” Friday evening, the Stepheys earned a $200,000 investment from billionaire Mark Cuban who also gets 25% of their company.
“We didn't have the official injection molded versions of it. We came into the (WGLT) studio with, I think it was a 3D printed version of the Toilet Timer, and it was before Kickstarter got funded. Soon after that, we got full funding on Kickstarter, through thousands of backers around the U.S. and the world,” said Adam Stephey. “Then after that we got to launch the product and have it mass produced. We've been going since then, with the ups and downs of a small business. It's been quite a ride.”
Kickstarter funded $23,000, above the $20,000 goal.
COVID came at an interesting time, said Stephey. Right before COVID was becoming big in the news around March, the business was being run out of the Shephys' basement.
“We had a finished basement area and we kind of had it stuffed to the gills, with racks and boxes. And I had a couple of part-time employees that would work right there from the home,” said Adam Stephey. “Then it was right around that time that the business was actually just growing organically. We needed to find a bigger space.”
The Stepheys found a new location on the south end of Bloomington off Hamilton Road.
In the midst of getting a new location, "Shark Tank" reached out to the couple and asked them to apply. Adam said that despite "Shark Tank" reaching out to them, they have the same chance as everyone who applies to get on the show.
“What's interesting is ever since the first time I saw the show, I thought, ‘I can see myself on the show some time, but I've never had a 'Shark Tank'-worthy idea.’ Back in March, the Toilet Timer got into some rounds of media and some articles were published, and so the 'Shark Tank' producers do a limited number of outreach to say, ‘Hey, would you consider applying for the show?’ I still don't think that I would have applied myself for the Toilet Timer, if they hadn't reached out,” said Adam Stephey. “And kind of the caveat to that is, is that even though they reached out to us and they do that with other businesses, that doesn't make your chances any better than any other applicants.”
Adam Stephey said it has been impossible to project sales and keep up with the demand during their biggest seasons, Christmas and Father’s Day. They went to the sharks to ask for an investment and partnership as they grow Katamco.
Float or get flushed
In the episode, the Normal residents went before the panel of five investors who are millionaire entrepreneurs. Besides Cuban, the other sharks are Barbara Ann Corcoran, Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John and Lori Greiner. The couple was filmed in August and knew the outcome, but the audience had to wait until Friday evening to learn the outcome.
“My goal for the business is to make the Toilet Timer this generation's most iconic gift," said Stephey. "It's that one that in 20 years, people look back and say, ‘Oh, you remember that silly thing that was everywhere, that Toilet Timer?’ That's the goal. That's what we're working towards."
He said the exposure for the Toilet Timer is helpful in itself.
“I just think that it's a great way of, in today's economy, in today's world, making a Shark Tank deal is a great thing for any business,” he said. “The exposure is still huge for that business so we are very grateful for that.”
Being in front of the sharks was huge boom to the business, he added.
“Just the expertise and the business savviness that each one of them can offer is great for any business,” said Adam.
How it began
Stephey said he had no idea the sand clock would take off.
“I've got another part to my business, which is a retro video game cleaning kits and kind of what happened with Toilet Timers eventually over time, it overtook that side of my business,” said Adam. “I've shifted focus away from the video game side, we still maintain it. So if this is popular and people want it, and it's a great gift, I'm going to do whatever I can to keep getting that product into customers' hands.”
Bloomington-Normal has not produced one "Shark Tank" invention, but three.
Two sisters, Julia Schmid and Joan Pacetti, won a $100,000 investment in 2014 for their Cookie Dough Cafe in Normal.
Two Illinois State graduates, Kasey Gandham and Mike Shannon, received $250,000 for their college-textbook rental service called Packback.
“Isn't that so funny that this part of the Midwest has produced this entrepreneurial spirit,” said Adam.
The Stephey family is honored to be the third group to go on and do this.
“My encouragement, here's something I did wrong ... I sat on this idea, probably for a couple of years after I had invented it and just didn't do anything with it,” said Adam. “My advice to anybody who's sitting on an idea or wants to launch something is, is just to do it now. Just start taking tiny steps, do one thing today to help bring your idea into reality. Whether it's emailing somebody, researching something, coming up with some drawings for it, whatever it is, just do it right now. It's the best time to start.”
As the business grows, that means the creativity in their three children, Lotte, Felix and Sloan, grows as well.
Their daughter Lotte and Adam have been busy making 3D Mario prints and selling them on Etsy, he said.
“They actually just sit and watch our 3D printers run. Like they're just fascinated by it,” said Katie Stephey. “They get to watch Adam be so creative and he talks to them about, ‘Hey, you know, this is how I make money. I make these things and then I make money, and this is my job. I'm an inventor.’ I think that their minds are being expanded beyond a typical career path, not that many 7-year-olds are thinking about a career path, but I think that they're developing a lot of creativity and business knowledge just being in our household.”
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