After CoinOut’s exciting turn on Shark Tank – they agreed to a deal with Robert Herjavec for $250,000! – here’s CEO Jeffrey Witten, ’10CC ’15BUS ’15LAW, on the draw of startup life, how his time at Columbia helped launch his big idea, and the advice he has for other budding entrepreneurs.
What do you find appealing about startup life?
The ownership. When you start your own company, or go work for an early-stage venture, everything you do is meaningful. When you make a decision, the ripple effects are instant and traceable to your effort. Your time, energy, curiosity, and hard work translate into successes or failures that reverberate through your body and soul like nothing else. As a young person, it is the absolute best way to learn and hone skills that you’ll use for the rest of your life – whether it be sales, business development, or interpersonal skills.
How does CoinOut work?
As a student, I used cash but hated getting change back. Talking to other people, I realized I wasn’t the only one, so I went about finding a solution to cash-based transactions. CoinOut offers customers a free, digital cash wallet to use at retail partners. Customers can earn cash back from their everyday transactions through the CoinOut app by simply scanning any receipt. At supported locations, customers can also save their change from cash transactions to their CoinOut wallet. The wallet has no fees, no minimums, and customers can cash out to their bank, Amazon, or charity in just a few clicks.
How has your time at Columbia influenced you?
I’m a big fan of [Columbia Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship] Steve Blank and the Lean Startup Method. I took a Steve Blank class called Lean Launchpad as a Columbia Business School student that allowed me to test my hypotheses for CoinOut and receive incredible feedback.
The Columbia Startup Lab was also key to taking CoinOut from concept to reality. Columbia Law School sponsored my spot in the Startup Lab, and I spent a year taking classes in the morning and working in the Lab in the afternoon.
CoinOut’s first merchant was Just Salad, a shop that is a block away from the Lab – we took everyone at the Lab out to lunch there so that they could come out and use our product. It was really our first true customer feedback experience, and the other entrepreneurs at the Lab played a vital role in the development of the product.
It was an amazing opportunity to get people from different backgrounds and viewpoints give us advice on everything from the phrasing of the receipts to the cash-back options being presented.
What advice would you give to future Shark Tank contestants?
Practice. Looking back, we practiced a tremendous amount. We identified where we were vulnerable or weak and got in front of those items before the Sharks could bring it up in an attempt to disarm them. I wanted to make sure we had a succinct and compelling story to tell the Sharks. But more importantly, we wanted to tell a story that the audience would want to learn more about. We got there by going through hundreds of drafts of questions and answers and by soliciting questions and feedback from our advisors and friends – people who knew very little about our business, people who knew a lot, and everyone in between. Live presentation practice was the best possible prep work.
Second, I would say make sure to get your personality out there and be prepared for a dogfight. I went in with the mentality that I was literally fighting for my company’s survival and I was going to do whatever I could to get my points and emotions across.
What’s next for CoinOut?
After our turn in the tank, were looking forward to building off the momentum from the deal to expand nationwide. We have a number of very large chains that want to test our technology and we think that now more people will know about CoinOut, will try our app, and will love it.
Read more about CoinOut in their Forbes feature.