UPDATED: ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ makes its decision on Allen County native, veteran Bart Lomont’s Robin Autopilot
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from Bart Lomont.
Allen County native and 2001 Heritage High School graduate Bart Lomont went to “Shark Tank” with his business partner for an investment infusion. They appeared on the ABC show Sunday night to ask for $500,000 for 5 percent in their Robin Autopilot robotic lawn service.
Lomont and Justin Crandall, both Midwest natives who now live in Dallas and filmed the segment last summer, explained how “the world’s first-ever robotic lawn service” could change the industry. Customers in the Dallas-Austin-Houston area pay for the service, which includes installation of a battery-operated robot that stays at the property and emerges from behind a Robin-logoed small door to daily mow within a wired perimeter. The quiet emission-free robots don’t require a crew to come out, unless customers sign up for added services performed by the company’s human employees, such as edging and shrub trimming.
“So, Sharks, who’s ready to cut a deal?” said Justin Crandall on Sunday night’s show.
Unfortunately, the Sharks circling the waters – Daymond John, Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec – couldn’t smell money. They believed it would take too long to recoup their investment because Robin continues to lose money.
Crandall, who has an MBA from Harvard, said that could stop at anytime if they quit buying assets. They started Robin two years ago as a standard lawn-care business and are hoping to move all customers over to the robotic service. They do about 10,000 jobs for $400,000 a month. However, they lost about $1 million last year.
Cuban said, “This is an expensive business to get into.”
Greiner was the first to bow out of an investment option, saying, “I’m a product person. I look at this, and I think, ‘This is a consumer product at play more than a service.'”
For $1,800-$1,900 customers could buy their own robot from Europe.
Eventually the other Sharks followed Greiner’s suit.
As the Sharks talked after the duo’s exit, Branson pointed out that Amazon lost money for years. It only turned a profit in 2015, 21 years after it started.
The use of robots for lawn care is a billion-dollar market in Europe, and the Lomont and Crandall see Robin making it that way in the United States in the future.
Lomont, who joined the 122nd Indiana Air National Guard after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and served in Afghanistan 2010-11, told the camera after their exit, “Two to three years from now, they’e going to say, ‘Dang, why did I pass on Robin?'”
It’s not the end. In fact, for Lomont, their appearance had a positive effect anyway.
“The best part is we actually don’t even need the investment now that we’re starting to franchise,” Lomont wrote in an email Monday morning.
He pointed to a segment that ran on the show about Ring, whose owner appeared in 2013 on “Shark Tank” to get an investment for the product, then called DoorBot. It allows customers to connect a doorbell camera system to their smartphone so they can see and hear who’s at the door even when they’re not home. After the segment aired, in which Ring’s owner walked away with nothing from the Sharks, sales and interest in the product skyrocketed. Branson, who started appearing as a guest Shark this season, saw the renamed product in action and became an investor.
Ring used “the ‘”Shark Tank” effect’ to catapult their business to the next level,” Lomont wrote. “We literally have franchise requests pouring in (300+ at last count) from all over the country, which will allow us to fund our growth (without) taking any additional dilution of our ownership stake. Honestly, looking back on it already, not getting a deal was a blessing in disguise.”
They’re hoping to get a robot to the Fort Wayne area around the holidays, he said.