AJ Crook, Long Beach State alumnus and director of operations for Shake It Pup!, a dog food seasoning company, made a deal with ABC’s Shark Tank host Mark Cuban for an investment of $100,000 for 25% equity in the seasoning.
“This is insane,” Crook said. “It was the one time in my whole life where it [felt] like a dream.”
Before Crook was making deals on television, he was a journalism and public relations major at CSULB. He said his education in public relations helped him and his business, but he wanted to take it up a notch.
Emma Daugherty, journalism professor, was one of Crook’s mentors while he was a student, and continues to provide support during his business ventures.
“He’s always had that entrepreneurial spirit … dating back to when he was an undergrad here,” Daugherty said.
After graduation, Crook began applying to advertising and social media agencies to work in the JPR field. Following several interviews with potential employers, Crook knew he had to take a different route.
“I never really found a fit,” Crook said. “Whether it was me not liking them or them not liking me, I just needed to do something. So I took the entrepreneurial route and started a few different businesses with friends I grew up with.”
Crook teamed up with his childhood friend Brett Maiolfi, founder of Snapwag, an auto refill dog food subscription service.
The challenge was to convince pet owners to trust a dog food brand they’ve never heard of. Crook and Maiolfi set up exhibits at dog-themed events around Southern California and learned just how picky dogs can be about their food.
“You can’t just switch the food on a dog,” Crook said. “You have to blend it over time so it doesn’t mess up their digestion and that was a barrier we ran into.”
While waiting for their business to take off, Crook was still overcoming financial obstacles as his investments had yet to really succeed. He contemplated getting a job and leaving his business ventures behind.
“Being locked in a cubicle behind a desk, nine-to-five is something I could not do,” Crook said. “That’s why I took the entrepreneurial route. Do I want to sacrifice what I do for stability and consistency, knowing how much money I’m making? Or do I just keep going?”
Snapwag was slowly losing its potential after not getting the subscribers Crook and Maiolfi were hoping for. Maiolfi’s cousin then decided to invest in the company, keeping Snapwag alive.
During that time, Crook and Maiolfi manufactured Shake It Pup! in their parents’ garages. The seasoning is human grade, made of ground-up dog treats and dehydrated meats. The team put Shake It Pup! underneath the Snapwag brand, which gave the company a resurgence.
Crook and Maiolfi took the seasoning to more dog expos and sold every bottle they brought with them.
“It was just perseverance and knowing that if you put in the hard work and become obsessed with it…your business is going to work out,” Crook.
Barely able to handle all their website and Amazon orders, Crook and Maiolfi knew it was time to pursue opportunities to grow the business.
Crook and Maiolfi reached out to potential investors seeking support. They formulated ideas to pitch each potential supporter to raise the money needed to expand.
Finally, a chance at landing an investor to grow Shake It Pup! came last February.
“Brett’s like ‘Hey, there’s an audition for Shark Tank. Do you want to go?’” Crook said. “And I’m like yeah sure let’s do it.”
After applying to be on Shark Tank Crook and Maiolfi got their film date on Sep. 11, 2019.
In preparation, the two reached out to other venture capitalists to rehearse their pitch of Shake It Pup! Crook and Maiolfi were “grilled” multiple times on how to formulate a deal-sealing pitch to the sharks.
Once on-air, Crook reached an agreement with investor Mark Cuban. Cuban recently invested in an organic dog food company, Wild Earth.
“In the episode of Shark Tank, we’re shaking up and waking up the dog food industry,” Maiolfi said.
Cuban then decided to make them the offer.
“Dog owners really care about their pet health and will spend anything to do it the right way,” Cuban said. “I think this will be a great combination. I think this can grow and I think that’s where the upside is.”
Crook and the Shake It Pup! team have beefed up their website to prevent a crash after the episode airs. To celebrate the contract with Cuban, Crook and the Shake It Pup! team will film a watch party to use for marketing in the future.
“Find something you believe in and you can become obsessed with,” Crook said. “Whether it be a business or a career, that’s where the success comes.”