Mike Sewell and the team at Springfield-based StepNpull had a series of high-profile successes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sewell, president and co-owner of the foot-operated door opener company, appeared on popular television show “Shark Tank” in April 2021, securing an on-air deal with investor Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful. Prior, several videos featuring the company’s product went viral during 2020 as the pandemic took hold, leading to massive sales for the company he founded in 2007 with business partners Kelly Coddington and Ron Ely.
“It was a 70-times increase in just a matter of a week,” Sewell says of the early days of the pandemic for the StepNpull product, a hands-free door opener solution to keep germs from spreading. “When that hit, I was working day and night and weekends.”
During 2020, the company’s revenue jumped to roughly $7 million, with $1.7 million of that generated in March 2020 alone. Springfield Business Journal previously reported the company’s 2019 revenue was $336,000.
Those sales increases catapulted Sewell and the product’s appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of wealthy celebrity investors.
In the episode, Sewell accepted a $300,000 offer from O’Leary in exchange for a 6% equity stake after also receiving interest from Lori Greiner and Daymond John. O’Leary and John went back and forth, until O’Leary sweetened his offer at the last moment by lowering his previous equity stake bid to win Sewell’s approval.
“Kevin, let’s do it,” Sewell finally responded.
As of November 2021, Sewell says StepnPull and O’Leary’s team have continued negotiations. It’s customary in “Shark Tank” for the negotiation process to continue off the air.
Whether an investment is ultimately secured, Sewell says the “Shark Tank” appearance “was a very pleasant experience, other than my nerves.”
“That’s like the best commercial you could ever have and not have to pay for it,” he says. “People use the term ‘surreal’ and that’s appropriate.”
Sewell says sales for StepnPull have calmed since the COVID-19 wave, ending 2021 at around $1 million, which he says is more sustainable for the three founders.
While the company’s appearance on “Shark Tank” fueled a sales push, Sewell says it was “nothing like what COVID did.” Reflecting on his company after the show, he says future cash injections likely won’t be needed.
“I’m honestly very happy with where we landed,” he says. “We didn’t go on the show because we really needed the money investment. We had ample money to work with. We had the biggest commercial we could ever have.”
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.