Funding / Investing / Pitches

A pitch with teeth: Media’s Dino Don duo walked away from ‘Shark Tank’ with $500K from Mark Cuban

Dino Don Inc. will hit the road this fall with a traveling robotic dinosaur tour and some updated technology.

Don Lessem and Val Jones on “Shark Tank" season 12, episode 22. (Courtesy ABC)
They’re roaring to go.

Earlier this month, met the husband and wife duo behind Dino Don Inc. which recently appeared on the season 12 finale of hit ABC business pitch show “Shark Tank.”

After years of scientific consulting for projects like “Jurassic Park,” Don Lessem’s business, Dino Don Inc., is now formulated around producing accurate, life-sized dinosaur robotics. His dinos are in zoos around the world, including Philadelphia’s. And after three years of launching his company, Lessem was pitching the sharks, looking to diversify the business further.

While the couple — Lessem and wife, Valerie Jones, a nonprofit fundraising pro could then only share what it was like pitching to the sharks for a $500,000 investment, now that the episode aired, they revealed they indeed struck a deal with Mark Cuban.

He was the couple’s intended investor, they said, as he’s the shark most experienced in the entertainment world. And about eight months after filming, they report that they have a weekly check-in with Cuban and work closely with his marketing team. The deal involved Cuban taking a 25% stake in the company, up from their original 10% offer.

For the most part, the filming was as high-stakes as it appears on your screen at home, but there was a little bit of acting for dramatic effect, Jones said.

“When they ask you to really consider the offer, we knew we wanted Mark Cuban, and we kind of milked that moment before accepting,” Lessem said.

Lessem also shared that funding will go toward a change in the company’s business model and a technical update. Currently, the robotic dinosaurs are powered with motors used for windshield wipers, but they’re prone to breakage. But Lessem said an update involving Numatics motion control products is on the horizon, as is a dino tour.

They imagine the tour — Dino Don’s T-Rex Safari — to kick off in the late fall, with scenes of dinosaurs in public parks for a few weeks at a time before traveling to a new city.

“It will feel like walking through a real ‘Jurassic Park’ scene,” Lessem said.

They also foresee a change with their business dealings with amusement parks and zoos as the pandemic eases across the country, the pair said. Instead of paying upfront for the robotics, Dino Don will instead take a share of gate sales.

Within the last three days since the episode aired, Lessem said the company’s social media presence has grown and site visits have skyrocketed. But one of the most exciting parts is the potential business deals. Cuban’s investment definitely sets up the company to receive more venture capital and expands its name recognition.

Within the last two days, Lessem’s received four valid business offers “and about 20 insane offers,” he joked. Overall, the experience — including the cross-country road trip to film back in September — has been worth it, he said. He’d recommend the experience to other entrepreneurs.

“It’s been well worth it,” Lessem said. “Plus, it was really fun.”

People: Mark Cuban

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