Around 50 friends, family and members of the Triangle’s startup community huddled in the basement of Durham’s American Underground Sunday night to watch RewardStock’s CEO, Jonathan Hayes, land a deal on ABC’s Shark Tank.
In the episode, which aired Sunday but was filmed in June, Hayes brought hula dancers and a fire breather onto the set — in a dramatic demonstration of a trip to Hawaii — to pitch his Cary-based reward travel site.
“I loved the idea of bringing fire into the Shark Tank,” he said.
After bargaining with the sharks and sweating through four T-shirts, Hayes chose to partner with Mark Cuban for $332K for a 10 percent equity stake and 1 percent of advisor’s equity. Hayes entered the tank asking $200K for 5 percent of his company, and got a bite from Kevin O’Leary — aka Mr. Wonderful — who wanted 10 percent for his $200K. Cuban beat that offer and Hayes quickly accepted.
As soon as Hayes accepted the deal on-screen, the entire room burst into applause and Hayes did a victory lap around the room.
“The fact that so many people in the community came out to support us is… wow,” he said. “It’s amazing, it feels really good.”
Hayes said he got the idea for RewardsStock after his brother booked them a trip to South America for cents on the dollar by using their airline miles and reward points in the most efficient way.
This revelation hatched into RewardsStock, a site that uses an algorithm to find the optimized way to use your points from credit card, airline, and hotel rewards programs to get the best prices on hotels, airline tickets and more. The site has grown to include more than 10,000 active users and is now valued at $3.2M based on Cuban’s investment. The company makes revenue from users who pay a $29 subscription fee, and from referral fees if users sign up for new credit cards.
Hayes made sure to mention that this success on Shark Tank and beyond couldn’t have happened without the support from his team, and especially from RewardStock’s first investor, David Gardner of Cary’s Cofounders Capital.
Even though Cofounders doesn’t invest in many B2C companies, Gardner said that from the start, he knew Hayes had what it took to become a success.
“Jon has a great background — Princeton, Wall Street banker,” he said. “He was willing to give all that up and run with this.”
Much like he did after he sealed his Shark Tank deal on national TV Sunday, Hayes said the company is ready to run. He said RewardStock will use the $320K investment to expand their team.
“We’re preparing for a lot of growth,” he said. “We’ve already added one person to our team since the show and we’ll probably be adding a few more and preparing to service users hopefully all over the country.”
Although Hayes plans to expand RewardStock nationwide, he takes pride in the fact that they are North Carolina grown.
“Shark Tank is such an amazing platform for startups,” he said. “I think having a Triangle-area startup featured on Shark Tank and do well and get a deal is only a good thing for this area.”
As the night wrapped up and everyone shuffled towards the exit, one of Hayes’ most proud supporters, his mother Cynthia Hayes, was still sitting near the front of the room beaming with excitement.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “Jonathan is a hard worker and he’s very dedicated to whatever he decides to undertake. He’s very smart, he’s very professional and he has a drive.”