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Autio Shark Tank Update


Mark Furr

This post contains affiliate links, and we may be compensated if you buy something after clicking on our links.

Autio is a travel app, specifically designed for road trips. The app features audio stories about places, landmarks, and cities as you drive by them. It is a great way to be entertained and learn something while on a road trip, without the need to be in front of a screen all day. But what will the Sharks think about this ambitious audio app? Read our Autio Shark Tank update to find out more. 

What is Autio?

Autio is a mobile audio entertainment app for travel that features stories about places, landmarks, and cities as you drive by them. The company is located in Santa Barbara, California.

Autio has over 9,000 stories, spanning the US, each of which is told by a professional narrator, including actors, such as Kevin Costner and John Lithgow. The app uses geolocation technology to trigger stories automatically, as you drive, for your specific location. 

Who created Autio?

Autio Founders

Autio was co-founded by Woody Sears, who appeared alone in the Tank, along with Bill Werlin, and actor Kevin Costner. When Woody pitched in the Tank, he represented a very experienced, talented, and successful group of founders. 

Woody serves as the CEO of Autio, and he is a veteran of the software and mobile technology industries. Woody attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he earned a BA degree in Environmental Studies and Economics, and he then went on to Pepperdine University where he received an MBA in Entrepreneurship.

Woody started his professional career at AT&T and worked in several tech positions before he founded his first company, iStoryTime, a library of narrated and illustrated kids’ books for iPhone/iPad. The company was acquired in 2014, and Woody took on a number of advisory positions until Autio was founded in 2020. 

Bill Werlin is Autio’s Content Manager. He was born in Colorado mountain territory and grew up working at his family’s ski area. He studied at Colorado State University and has a degree in Industrial Administration. Bill has a long, successful career in the outdoor apparel industry, where he has served as President of The North Face, General Manager of Patagonia, Japan, and the Pan-Asia GM for Keen Footwear. 

Kevin Costner is from California, and he is widely known as a film actor and producer. Kevin is also a songwriter, and he performs with his band, Kevin Costner & Modern West. He has won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Prime Time Emmy, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. He loves to travel and his interest in history and the importance of place led him to become a founding member of Autio, hoping to showcase indigenous voices as a critical component of American storytelling.

How did Autio get started?

According to an article in Forbes magazine, Autio started as a result of co-founders Woody Sears and Kevin Costner’s kids attending school together. Woody had already built and sold one very successful story-based app, and when Costner’s wife told her husband about Woody’s idea for a new travel-story app, Kevin was interested because he had always been fond of stopping to read historical markers on road trips. And the prospect of digging into the stories of the places you’re visiting, without having to be glued to technology, was particularly interesting to Kevin. 

Woody explained to Forbes that “Growing up, our family trips were high on adventure and low budget, so it was normally by car. We’d drive all over the West and along the Pacific Coast and did some road trips to Mexico, so there were a lot of boring moments, but the stories that kind of filled in some of the gaps always intrigued me.” After building his first successful business iStoryTime, which encouraged kids to read, he decided that he wanted to turn his attention to road travel, and the history and stories linked to particular places. 

Kevin Costner also spoke to Forbes, saying that the idea was that “the app supports this kind of disconnect where you aren’t watching the clock anymore, you’re putting miles on there, you’re going places, and you have a chance to settle in and understand that there’s this gigantic history. There’s blood everywhere, and there’s drama everywhere. There was loss as much as gain, and every inch of land was fought over. And you honor it when you know a little more about it.”

What happened to Autio before Shark Tank?

When Autio appeared in the Tank, the company had been trading for under two years, and in its first year in business, it had $210k in sales. Autio had sales of $700k year-to-date when they pitched in the Tank, and they were forecasting $2 million for the full year. 

Prior to their Shark Tank appearance, the company had 15k paid subscriptions and 500k downloads of their app. They had already raised $3.5 million in capital when they pitched to the Sharks, and they were in discussions for an investment from the country’s largest broadcast radio and podcast network. 

Autio Co-founder Woody Sears had already secured a good deal of capital for the business, and he was in negotiations to bring in new investment, so other than for the publicity brought about by appearing on Shark Tank, we wonder a bit about why he went before the Sharks asking for $1 million in return for just 5% of the company. 

What do customers think of Autio?

Autio Product

On the Apple App Store, we found over 3,900 ratings for the Autio travel app, and reviewers gave the app a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars, with the overwhelming majority of users rating the app at a full 5 stars. Apple editors also approved of the Autio app, awarding it an Editor’s Choice Award, and writing, “We love how Autio’s audio stories, read by a cast of narrators including John Lithgow, Phil Jackson, and the app’s co-founder Kevin Costner, dig deep into major destinations and landmarks as well as often forgotten stories.”

What are customers saying about Autio?

One very happy Autio user said, “We recently traveled from Ohio to Virginia to see Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, with a short side trip to Schuyler, Virginia to see Walton’s Mountain. Listening to the stories of the people, places, and history while we were on the West Virginia Turnpike was so interesting, as were all the other stories we heard while on our trip. We even started listening while driving around our home town! We immediately subscribed to the 3-year plan because we KNOW we will use it often. Good job to all the people behind this amazing app. Thank you!”

Another satisfied Autio purchaser wrote, “This was worth it. I wish it was just a one time fee and not a subscription, but I get that they have to pay for all the research and all that goes into making this app. I think it’s well worth it!”

While not a major complaint, one early adopter of the app was a bit frustrated by the lack of notification given by the app. He wrote:

“I use carplay and the notifications don’t pop up or make a sound to know that there’s something nearby. If I happen to see that there was one on my phone and tap on it, it will start playing. But it then continues with a bunch of stories that are either way behind me or ahead of me. I’d like it to turn off and go back to my music. Would also be great if there was a setting to just automatically play something when I’m nearby. I’m mostly driving an RV by myself and don’t like to be distracted by fiddling around with buttons. Those 2 adjustments would make it a 5 star.”

Overall, the Autio customer reviews which we were able to find online were very positive, so the app seems to be functioning well for most users. 

When did Autio appear on Shark Tank?

Autio appeared on Shark Tank in Season 14, Episode 17, which aired on March 17th, 2023. The company pitched to regular Sharks Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Robert Herjavec. 

Autio was not the only specialty app to appear on Shark Tank in Season 14. Woof, an app designed to give pet owners peace of mind when they are away from home, also pitched in the Tank during this season.

Autio Shark Tank update, what happened next?

Autio co-founder Woody Sears entered the Tank and asked the Sharks for a $1 million investment in return for a 5% equity stake in the company.

When Woody entered the Tank, he told the Sharks that when he and his family would take road trips, they always had questions about the places around them. For example, they wanted to know how a small town came to be, or perhaps what people who live there did for a living. They also wondered about the names of mountains and other places as they drove by. 

Next, Woody asked the Sharks, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a personal tour guide who could share these stories?” He then told the Sharks that his new app, Autio, was a mobile auto entertainment app for travel which tells stories about the places, landmarks, and cities as you drive by. It uses geolocation technology to trigger the stories by your location automatically. 

Woody informed the Sharks that Autio had over 9,000 stories, spanning the US, and each story was told by a professional narrator, including actors such as Kevin Costner and John Lithgow. Woody said that Autio allows people to be entertained while taking a break from their screens, and at the same time, to be more engaged with their surroundings and their fellow travelers. 

When Woody concluded his pitch, Lori Greiner remarked, “Very cool,” and Robert asked Woody to walk him through an example of how the product works. Robert learned that one downloads the app for free, and it comes with 5 free stories. Then, you enable geolocation services in the app and choose your notification preference, and then as soon as you drive into range of a story that you haven’t heard, it will automatically begin to play. 

Barbara Corcoran asked how long the stories were, and Woody told her that they averaged 4-5 minutes, but some are as long as 20 minutes. Barbara then asked what happens if she is out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and she learned that she could download some stories in advance, for example, those related to isolated national parks, and then they would still begin to play when triggered by the geolocation device. 

Robert then asked Woody about his background, and he discovered that Woody had over 19 years experience in software and mobile technology and that he had built iStoryTime, producing over 200 apps, with 14 million downloads, and the company was eventually acquired. 

Kevin O’Leary, still apparently dazzled by the valuation, wanted to know why someone would walk into the Tank and ask $1 million for 5%. Woody responded that they had the nation’s largest broadcast network and producer of podcasts ready to invest in the business, and the valuation in the Tank was a discount in relation to other investors. 

Next, Mr. Wonderful, of course, wanted to know about sales, and he was told that the company was in its second year, and in the first year, they had sales of $210k, and for the current year-to-date, sales were $700k, and they were projecting $2 million for the full year. Mark Cuban followed up asking how much money that Autio had previously raised, and he learned that they had already raised $3.5 million. 

Woody also revealed that Autio had 15k current subscribers and over 500k downloads. After Woody had finished going through the numbers, a few Sharks looked ready to offer their assessment of the deal. 

Did Autio get a deal on Shark Tank?

Autio was not able to successfully land a deal in the Tank. 

Mark Cuban was first to announce his intentions, as he told Woody that since everything was linked to geolocation, Google Maps could easily simply choose to add an audio option. Barbara quickly followed Mark to the exit, as she said, “I keep measuring the words ‘15k subscribers’ against ‘I’d like $1 million.’” 

Lori spoke next, and she stated that the app was really cool and that Woody was very credible, but she couldn’t get excited at $1 million for 5%. Robert also followed his fellow Sharks to the door, as he told Woody that he thought it was a fantastic idea, and if it were still really early that he would take a flier, but for where the company was at now, he couldn’t see the investment. 

This left one Shark, Kevin O’Leary, still swimming. O’Leary told Woody that when he started his pitch, he thought that it was insane due to the valuation, but he said that Woody was very credible, and he liked the product, so he made an offer of $1 million for 15%. O’Leary also offered to narrate stories for the app concerning bank buildings, the Federal Reserve, or anything to do with money. 

Woody quickly came back with a counter offer of 6.5% for $1million, and he said, “15% is way too high.” Mr, Wonderful then said he’d do it for 12%, and Woody raised his counter to 7%. Finally, looking a little flustered, O’Leary said, “It’s gotta be 10, or it ain’t gonna happen.”

Woody explained that he simply could not go above 7%, and despite Robert telling O’Leary that he was throwing Woody’s investors under the bus, O’Leary would not budge, so after another minute or two of discussion, Woody left the Tank without a deal. 

What happened to Autio after Shark Tank?

Despite not securing a deal with a Shark, Autio still experienced a heavy Shark Tank effect from its time in the Tank. According to an article in the Travel Industry Tech trade publication PhocusWire, shortly after the appearance, Autio’s app saw downloads increase by almost 500% while new subscribers more than doubled.

Autio co-founder Woody Sears told the trade magazine, “We’ve grown immensely over the past year, adding over 2,000 stories to our platform, with new stories released each week. This year, we’re focused on bringing even more unique stories to our community and expanding our reach to new audiences.”

As Woody had previewed to the Sharks during his pitch, the company announced that they have also completed a $5.9 million funding round and strategic partnership with iHeartMedia, the largest audio media company in the United States. On top of the partnership with iHeartMedia, Autio has now launched in-flight integration with JetBlue airlines. The partnership gives JetBlue passengers access to audio content for 29 of the airline’s destination cities via its Avant seatback screens.

With the new strategic partnerships, it looks like Autio is soaring both on land and in the air, and we wonder if the Sharks would have thought differently about the deal which they declined if they had known the details of these strategic partnerships at the time of Woody’s pitch in Tank?