ZipString is an addictive new toy that floats a loop of string in the air. The string seems to magically follow the user’s movements, making this a great toy for people of all ages.
With some 200 million views on social media, there is a great deal of buzz about this new toy, but will the Sharks be willing to float some cash their way? And what will the Sharks think about the company’s valuation? Read about all of this and more, here in our ZipString Shark Tank Update.
What is ZipString?
ZipString is a company which produces a mesmerizing toy that floats a seemingly standard loop of string in the air. The company is based in Johns Creek, Georgia.
ZipString carefully balances several forces of gravity, lift, tension, and drag to fly the string in the air. People love to play with ZipString, as the string follows any movement that a user makes.
Who created ZipString?
ZipString was co-founded by Austin Hillam and Stephen Fazio. Prior to co-founding ZipString, both Austin and Stephen were attending college. Austin was attending Brigham Young University while Stephen was enrolled at Georgia Tech. Both co-founders put their education on pause for a year as they initiated a successful Kickstarter campaign for ZipString.
How did ZipString get started?
Company co-founder, Stephen Fazio, has always been passionate about electronics. Stephen says that he remembers watching a Physics teacher demonstrate a benchtop string launcher. The teacher’s device would send a string in a loop, and Stephen was fascinated by it. He took the idea for the benchtop version, compacted it and designed a hand-held prototype.
Stephen never realized that he had an idea which could become a scalable business until a reasonably new acquaintance, co-founder Austin Hillam, came over to see it. Then, Stephen, Austin and Stephen’s father began to nerd out on the idea, and they realized that they could actually take a product to market.
Stephen put the prototype on his social media site, and by the end of the day, it had 20 million views.
What happened to ZipString before Shark Tank?
Prior to pitching to the Sharks, co-founders Austin Hillam and Stephen Fazio both decided to put their college careers on hold in order to launch a Kickstarter Campaign. They started the Kickstarter campaign on September 7, 2021, and they were hoping to raise $75k to get the company started and ship their first products. The campaign closed 32 days later, and they had raised over $90k.
How did ZipString develop before Shark Tank?
Zipstring successfully completed their Kickstarter Campaign and shipped the ZipString toys to their backers. By the time that they entered the Tank, they had sales of $277k, despite having major supply chain problems. During their pitch, the ZipString team told the Sharks that they had, for a time, been unable to meet demand.
According to an article in the Finger Lakes Times, Fazio said he and Hillam, in the summer of 2021, decided to start the business, but wanted to keep it small at first. They started a Kickstarter campaign that took off quickly, largely due to videos that had tens of millions of views on social media, and they got a boost when Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy group headquartered in Texas, took ZipString on a nationwide tour.
“I only wanted to make a batch of 100 in my apartment. That would be proof of concept, and I could go from there,” Fazio said. “I wanted to be kind of reasonable. Never did I expect to run a Kickstarter with Austin and be on the hook for like 4,000 units. It totally ballooned.”
Austin said that even the Shark Tank production team was impressed with their social media exposure, “Everyone wanted a piece of ZipString by then,” he said. “They said, ‘Y’all should apply for Shark Tank.’ I would watch Shark Tank every now and then, so I applied for the show.”
Fast-forward to March 2022. By then, sales of ZipString were approaching 10,000 units, and they were being assembled, by hand, in the basement of Austin’s home.
“Stephen and I got this call. Shark Tank liked the application and asked us to build this whole video,” Austin said. “We told them, ‘Hey, that sounds great, but we’re a little busy right now. Would you mind calling us back in a month?’”
Finally, while in the Tank, Austin and Stephen also revealed that they had just received a tentative agreement to place ZipString into Walmart stores in Canada.
What do customers think of ZipString?
There are two primary sources for reviews of ZipString, Amazon and Google Reviews. On Amazon, there are 105 global ratings, and customers rate Zipstring 3.8 out of 5 stars. 55% of Amazon reviewers give the product 5 stars while a fairly high number, 15%, rate it at only one star.
On Google reviews there are 429 reviews, and interestingly, Google reviewers also rate ZipString at 3.8 out of 5 stars.
What are customers saying about ZipString?
One happy verified purchaser on Amazon wrote, “This has been the best party trick to bring around. It’s nice and small so it’s super portable. All of my little cousins love playing with it and trying to jump through the loop. I love how easy it is to use and how excited it makes everyone. My next goal is to get my dog to jump through it! We’ve had it for almost six months now and we haven’t had any issues with it.”
On Google Reviews, a college physics teacher also had positive feedback about ZipString: “I impulsively bought a couple of ZipStrings immediately after seeing it on the cover of the 2023 Physics Teacher magazine. They were immediately used for a major outreach event where over 1600 people of all ages visited our University Physics Department over two days. We had many different demonstrations, but the eye-catching ZipString was particularly well suited to engaging visitors as they arrived. I am very happy with my impulse purchase! The ZipStrings seem robust and the batteries lasted several hours of heavy use before needing recharging.”
On the other hand, there were a number of customers, on both review platforms, who were not as happy with their ZipStrings.
This Google review writer was quite unhappy with the strings themselves: “Unit well made. Fairly easy to operate and a neat effect. Comes with three loops – short, medium and long. Two of the three strings broke in under 1 minute of use each. Appear to be unrepairable. Once the third string breaks, the unit will be going in the trash. The price paid for a few minutes of operation was not worth it. I wrote to the company to inquire and have not heard back from them. I would not buy this again without a more robust or repairable string. Suggest the company look at Kevlar or carbon and charge a few bucks more.”
Over on Amazon, another reviewer expressed frustration with the product: “This is the biggest $40 piece of junk toy I’ve ever bought! IF you can get it going, it tangles easily and it’s nearly impossible for kids to use. I was getting so annoyed trying to get the string going. Great concept, but someone needs to go back to the drawing board to make this work! Do Not Waste Your Money!”
When did ZipString appear on Shark Tank?
ZipString appeared on Shark Tank in Season 14, Episode 9, which aired on December 9, 2022. The Sharks in this episode were Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, and Robert Herjavec.
During Season 14, there were many strong pitches in the Tank, including the gourmet cheese board company Boarderie.
What happened to ZipString on Shark Tank?
ZipString co-founders Austin Hillam and Stephen Fazio entered the Tank and asked the Sharks for a $100k investment in return for 10% of their company.
Austin and Stephen, dressed like characters from the series Men in Black, entered the Tank and, told the Sharks that throughout the decades, we have been introduced to objects which have entertained millions, things like the yoyo, the Etch a Sketch, and Rubik’s Cube. Reaching into their jackets, as if pulling out a weapon, they presented their ZipString toys and shouted, “The toy of the future, introducing ZipString!”
While both Austin and Stephen were doing tricks with their ZipStrings, Stephen told the Sharks, “Anything the user does, ZipString follows. The string flies around at 30 mph, but it’s safe to the touch.” Next, the Sharks each played with a ZipString, and they seemed to enjoy it.
The fun soon came to an end, as the questions began, with Robert asking, “Did you invent it? Tell us your story?” Stephan replied that he was super passionate about electronics, and he told the Sharks the story of seeing the benchtop string launcher in his Physics class, and then eventually working to prototype a handheld model. He added that he didn’t think of ZipString as a marketable product until Austin came over to see the device one day, and then with some advice from Stephan’s father, they turned it into a toy.
Stephan told the Sharks that he put his prototype toy up on social media, and he had 20 million views on TikTok in one day. The Sharks were really impressed when they heard this; however, when Kevin O’Leary asked, “how many have you sold from all of that?,” the Sharks learned that even with the massive exposure on social media, they had only sold 10k units.
Before the Sharks could dive deeper into the sales of 10k units, Mr. Wonderful wanted to know the retail price and the cost to manufacture, and Austin told him that ZipString retails for $25, and their cost is $6.35. Some Sharks complained about the $25 price, but Robert wondered aloud if any of the Sharks had bought a stuffed toy recently, as he believed that the price was reasonable.
Stephen brought the discussion back to the ZipString’s massive social media exposure, and he told the Sharks that ZipString had been used on the comedy-sports supergroup, Dude Perfect’s, tour. Stephen also mentioned that ZipString had now been viewed on social media more than 200 million times. Hearing this, all of the Sharks still wanted to know why, with all of this exposure, they didn’t have more sales?
Finally, Austin admitted that they had a real problem with their supply chain. They had huge demand, pre orders were coming in, but they couldn’t make them fast enough. And Stephen added simply, “we weren’t ready.”
Just before the Sharks started to circle, Austin revealed that the company had recently received a verbal commitment from Walmart Canada to start selling the product in stores there.
Did ZipString get a deal on Shark Tank?
ZipString successfully got a deal on Shark Tank. Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary teamed up and offered $100k for a 20% equity stake in the company.
Kevin O’Leary was first to strike, and he made an all-royalty offer of $1 per unit, and he would not ask for any equity. Lori jumped in next, and told the ZipString team that she loved the innovation and the co-founders, but it was too early for her to invest. Barbara chimed in quickly with, “It’s nothing I could help with honestly.”
With Kevin’s royalty deal on the table, Robert spoke next and tendered an offer of $100k for 20%. Kevin quickly responded that he would do it for 15%. Another offer from Robert took the offer to $100k for 10%, and Kevin responded again quickly saying, “I’ll give you extra, I’ll do it for 9%.” At this point, Austin and Stephen were going to step back and discuss the deal, but Mark Cuban interrupted them, only to explain that he was out.
This delay gave Mr. Wonderful the time to think, and to say to Robert, “Just thinking here, you and me together, for 20% for $100k. Instead of killing each other, we help them.” Robert really liked the idea, but Austin wanted to know if the previous deals were still on the table, and Robert said, “There is no rearview mirror in my life.” Austin tried to negotiate the 20% equity, but Robert and Kevin would not move, so finally, Austin and Stephen looked at each other, and then at the Sharks, and said, “Robert, Kevin, you’ve got a deal.”
ZipString Shark Tank Update, what happened to ZipString after Shark Tank?
ZipString appears to have experienced a huge Shark Tank effect. In the Finger Lakes Times article, Austin said that orders for ZipString have been almost non-stop since the episode aired. He also indicated that Robert Herjavec’s and Kevin O’Leary’s “teams” have been helpful in advancing the product, which is now being made in Asia and sold in 50 countries.
While Stephen and Austin had dropped their college classes to get ZipString off the ground, they have resumed their studies and hope to earn their college degrees in a year or two. They also credit their customers with ZipString’s popularity and said ZipString Lumos, a glow-in-the-dark version, is the next step.
“What’s so fun is we have this community of what we call Zipsters, our fans, and they are creating new tricks and naming them,” Austin said. “Lumos is like fire at night. We think it’s the next thing for concerts and big shows.”
“Because it emulates your movements, the tricks and possibilities are endless,” Fazio added. “I think the Sharks saw the product has the potential to be huge.”