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One year later: Disrupt Sports chief Gary Elphick on the real reason he went on Shark Tank

Emma Koehn /

Disrupt Sports founder Gary Elphick

Disrupt Sports founder Gary Elphick. Source: Supplied.

Disrupt Sports founder Gary Elphick has never been to New York, but on his first trip this year he’ll be hailing a yellow cab and telling it to head to his company’s new office.

The former Shark Tank contestant, whose business allows punters customise they’re own sports gear from surfboards to yoga mats, says Disrupt Sports has experienced rapid growth over the past 12 months despite walking away from a $250,000 deal that would have involved giving a 33% equity stake to shark Andrew Banks.  

The business, which Elphick co-founded with Chris Bailey in 2014, now has satellite offices in the US and UK, and Elphick says even though he walked away from the cash on the program, he’s since found investors who have opened many doors.

When Disrupt Sports appeared on Shark Tank in mid-2016, the company had booked $620,000 in revenue in the previous 18 months, and was pitching to the sharks with a valuation of $4.3 million.

Elphick is now tight lipped on the company’s revenue, but says Disrupt is “five times” bigger than it was at the time Shark Tank was filmed

“Take what we were doing and times it by five. We’ve increased our product lines from three to over 40, now we’ve got an office in London, LA and New York, though I’ve never been to New York,” he says.

Thinking back 12 months, Elphick says the Shark Tank experience was invaluable, but the motivation for signing up to the show was never about the money.

“I’m a marketer — that’s what the purpose of Shark Tank was,” he says.

“We saw a massive increase in sales right after, but then also people always say, ‘oh, you guys were the ones that were on Shark Tank‘.”

The company decided to consider investors from outside the TV set after the show was done, and Elphick says he’s since found a number of people who are the “right fit” for Disrupt.

When it comes to finding a good match, it’s all about asking quality questions, he says. 

“Treat it like tinder — create an ideal profile and then go out and date lots of investors. Ask how big is their fund, what’s their investment mandate? Do they want to be out in two years?”

With the backing of quality investors, Elphick says the company is in hiring mode as it looks to grow revenue at home and its international outposts.

“It was always about moving away from just a surfing company, and there was always the opportunity to go international — we were getting so many enquiries in the UK,” he says. 

Since Shark Tank was recorded last year, the business has also opened up a wholesale option for brands wanting to tap into the company’s manufacturing process, as well as doing deals to produce promotional products for projects like the reboot of Baywatch.

“We just did a full range [of products] in a deal for Baywatch,” Elphick says, although he had to be educated on the power of the leading man, Zac Efron.

“I didn’t even know who he was.”

Elphick says many in the corporate world think startup life is “real sexy”, even though the reality is far from glamorous.

Even so, as the company looks to expand its wholesale operations and grow overseas, there are plenty of great stories simply from watching what customers want printed on their surfboards and yoga mats.

Take the couple who wanted a scan of their unborn baby on a surfboard so they could make a stellar social media announcement about their new family — a request that had a strict timeline that the Disrupt team was happy to work to.

“They wanted [the image] built into the board, and they were like — can you hurry up? We want to announce it!” Elphick explains.

Then there are more common requests.

“People go crazy for dogs on yoga mats — like, a dog for your downward facing dog. I was like, ‘this is the weirdest thing’, but i love it — let people get crazy.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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