How Scholly sparked a big fight on 'Shark Tank' (and landed $40K) - Technical.ly Philly

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Feb. 20, 2015 10:27 pm

How Scholly sparked a big fight on ‘Shark Tank’ (and landed $40K)

Drexel's entrepreneurial darling makes a splash on national TV.
Team Scholly, left to right, just before the company’s appearance on ABC: Nick Pirollo, Eli Bernstein, Chris Gray and Bryson Alef.

Team Scholly, left to right, just before the company's appearance on ABC: Nick Pirollo, Eli Bernstein, Chris Gray and Bryson Alef.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Forget the details. The “Sharks” just wanted to invest.

Drexel undergrad Christopher Gray, founder of scholarship app Scholly, caused a catfight on ABC’s “Shark Tank” after two investors — Lori Greiner and Daymond John — aggressively pursued a $40,000 investment before Gray could answer many questions about his business plan.

“Christopher, look at me,” Greiner, the so-called Queen of QVC, said during the episode. “I don’t care how we monetize.”

Greiner and John were taken with Gray’s story about being raised by a single mom and winning $1.3 million in scholarships himself.

After some heated back and forth, Gray accepted the deal: $40,000 for a 15 percent stake in the company.

But the fireworks erupted after he left “the Tank.”

That’s when the sharks yelled at each other, saying that Greiner and John should’ve allowed for more questions about the revenue model. This isn’t “charity tank,” one miffed investor, Robert Herjavec, said, before storming out of the studio.

A viewing party at the offices of First Round Capital in Philadelphia erupted with applause at the conclusion of the episode. The Scholly founders popped champagne.

This is just the beginning of Scholly’s fundraising, said cofounder Nick Pirollo. Immediately after the show wrapped up, he told us that more than 1,400 people were on the company’s site, buoyed, of course, by a large surge of search traffic and lots of social chatter. (Gray told us he hired some contract staffers for the weekend to help with social media.)

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The big vision is for Scholly to be more than just a scholarship app, however. Its founders say they want it to be a full-service resource for getting into college.

Pre-Shark Tank, the app had been downloaded 60,000 times (Scholly hit more than 40,000 downloads by November 2013) and they estimate about 100,000 users are on the app (due to sharing throughout a family), Pirollo said. (The “Sharks” noted that it had been downloaded 92,000 times, but Pirollo told us they probably got confused with the number of users on the app versus downloads.) They expect those downloads to skyrocket after the episode. ABC told them to expect 4,000 hits per second on the website, and to prepare for the enormous demand. Scholly worked with Amazon Web Services and Stripe, their payment processor, to handle the surge, Gray and Pirollo said.

Last month, Scholly launched a web app. It was the No. 1 thing that parents had been asking for, Pirollo said, since Scholly previously only existed as a mobile app. The web app ($2.99) costs slightly more than the mobile app ($0.99), and the team plans to build complementary versions where every mobile app user has access to the web app, too.

The Shark Tank process started a year ago, when ABC reached out to Gray because they had read about him in USA Today. After he sent an audition tape and pitched producers by phone, ABC flew Gray out to Hollywood to pitch the producers in person. If they liked him, he’d pitch the Sharks — on camera — the next day.

Gray was one of 40 teams pitching the producers that day, he said. “There were a lot of different personalities,” he said, raising his eyebrows. (Gray does not have the typical entrepreneur God complex. He’s about as down-to-earth as it gets, though he admits that he cares about fashion.)

When he pitched the Sharks, he couldn’t see any of the cameras filming him. It kind of felt like a normal conversation, he said, except with rapid-fire questions. Gray wasn’t that nervous because the whole pitch was scripted, he said. The producers essentially told him what to say.

He didn’t know he had caused the “most heated Shark fight ever” until two weeks ago, he said. He thought it was just “generic bickering.”

That’s when he found out about the splash he had made.

Then, the press started rolling in. The local TV stations, like FOX 29 and NBC 10, have reached out. ABC 6 showed up at the viewing party (as did we).

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