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Monday, March 20, 2023

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From left to right: Bruno Aschidamini, Brandon Leibel (’12) and Steven Ford (’12). (Credit: ABC) From left to right: Bruno Aschidamini, Brandon Leibel (’12) and Steven Ford (’12). (Credit: ABC)

Aztec Made: Sand Cloud

Two SDSU alumni followed their entrepreneurial dreams and survived the "Shark Tank."
By Ryan Schuler

“Going to SDSU definitely molded us and helped us become well-rounded individuals.”

It’s not often entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to pitch their startup companies to five internationally recognized businessmen and women interested in mentoring them.

But for two San Diego State University alumni, that dream became a reality when they were given the opportunity to appear on the hit show, “Shark Tank.”

In 2014, as young SDSU graduates enjoying life by the beach, SDSU alumni Brandon Leibel (’12) and Steven Ford (’12) came up with an idea for a beach towel company with a social cause. Their original concept was a beach towel with a built-in pillow.

Shortly after meeting Bruno Aschidamini at a corporate job the three shared, the trio quit their jobs, moved in together and formed Sand Cloud, which sells beach towels and other beach accessories, including t-shirts and water bottles. The company donates 10 percent of its net profit to marine life organizations, including San Diego Coastkeeper, Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Surfrider Foundation to support preserving beaches, oceans and marine life.

“We wanted to be in control of our own destiny,” Leibel said. “We wanted to make decisions. We wanted to be creative.”

In the shark tank

Sand Cloud first applied to appear on “Shark Tank” in 2014 in the beginning stages of their company, but did not receive a response to their application. They persisted and applied again a year later. They received a response and interviewed to be on the show, but were not accepted. But they didn’t let that deter them. They applied a third time in 2016.

After completing the paperwork, multiple rounds of interviews, going to Los Angeles to meet with producers, working on their pitch and display set up, they were selected to appear on the show. To prepare for their turn in the shark tank, the trio watched every episode of the show for months, but despite all the preparation, the team was still nervous when their turn in the tank finally came.

“Walking up to the sharks is nerve-racking because of the buildup, but once you start going along with your pitch, the nerves go away,” said Ford.

Once in the shark tank, the trio made their pitch in hopes of receiving $200,000 for eight percent of the company to optimize their website and increase their inventory. Investor and internet mogul Mark Cuban offered them $400,000 for 25 percent of the company—something the trio admits they were not ready for. Cuban withdrew when the San Cloud team countered.

“It was exciting to get that first offer from Mark Cuban,” said Leibel. “It kind of validated us like we belong there. It felt good to know somebody wanted to make an offer.”

Daymond John, founder of the clothing company FUBU, followed suit and offered $300,000 for 25 percent of the company. He also withdrew when the trio countered his offer.

Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec followed, each offering the same deal: $200,000 for 15 percent of the company.

After quickly discussing, Sand Cloud team went with Herjavec.

“Robert was the exact guy we wanted, so we were really excited about how it turned out,” Leibel said. “He has partnered with other companies that fit our business model and we knew he was a guy that was really interested in giving back, which is a huge part of our company.”

In the future

According to Sand Cloud, in its first year of business in 2014, Sand Cloud brought in $30,000 in sales revenue. In 2017, the company is on pace for $7 million in sales revenue.

“We never envisioned it to grow this fast, but it has and we couldn’t be happier,” Leibel said.

With the help of its loyal customers, charity-driven motivation and Herjavec, Sand Cloud believes its potential is as endless as the ocean its hopes to preserve.

“Working with Robert (Herjavec) has been incredible,” Leibel said. “His team has been so helpful, setting us up with a lot of opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Being on the show has paid huge dividends.”

But Leibel and Ford never forget that their entrepreneurial spirit began as roommates in SDSU’s Piedra del Sol apartments.

“Going to SDSU definitely molded us and helped us become well-rounded individuals,” Leibel said.


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