Episode 2 – Leigh Warren – Developing Cricket Cooler and appearing on Shark Tank Australia

June 20, 2019

Leigh Warren is from my home town of Adelaide, but I first discovered him and his business Cricket Cooler, when they were the first company to pitch on the very first episode of Shark Tank Australia in 2015.

In their pitch, they mentioned that they were both part time in the business, and running it as a side project at the time. This created the a lot of drama and discussion with Steve Baxter claiming that they weren’t entrepreneurs for keeping the day jobs and accused them of wanting safety and no risk. Janine Allis was also strongly opposed to it being run as a side project. She shared a story from the early days of Boost Juice, where they sold their family home for capital that they needed to grow the business, moved her family into the office and didn’t take a salary for 3 years before finally starting to pay herself $33k a year.

Sites and Resources mentioned in this episode:


Kevin: Hey guys, Kevin Graham here, and today on the podcast I have Leigh Warren with me. Leigh was one of the business partners in Cricket Cooler, which was the first business that ever appeared on Shark Tank Australia. As a huge fan of the show myself, I'm really excited to have Leigh with me here on the podcast. So Leigh, welcome to the show.
Leigh: Thank you, Kevin. I'm glad to be here.
Kevin: For people who haven't necessarily seen Shark Tank Australia or aren't super fans like myself, could you give them a bit of an intro to who you are, where you're from, and what it is that you do?
Leigh: Okay, so we started a company called Cricket Cooler Proprietary Limited. Before that we started a company called Sunscreen Umbrella Proprietary Limited, which was to hold our intellectual property. We didn't have them linked in the same company. So we... I approached Shark Tank when I had the idea in my head for the Cricket Cooler, which is essentially a cooler with a set of stumps at the front. So you can take it anywhere down the beach or the park and to play cricket and keep your drinks cool, whether you're in the backyard, beach, park anywhere you want to go. So -
Kevin: So just to interrupt you there for our non Australian or non British listeners, so basically the Americans who probably don't know what cricket is. Can you give a brief intro to cricket and how it works and how the stumps, which is what the cricket cooler provides, is such an important part of the game?
Leigh: Yeah, so cricket is generally played in... The cricket World Cup is actually running at the moment, the cricket is actually played in generally 10 countries... Well, it's played in a lot of countries, but 10 countries are in the World Cup at the moment. It has a... It's a field, a round field, a bit like a baseball field if you're from the States, and it has a pitch in the middle, you have 11 players on both sides if you're playing official cricket. If you're playing on the beach or backyard, it's whoever wants to play. The set of stumps is the target that the bowler will bowl from about 22 yards away at the batsman, and then try and hit the stumps and knock the stumps over.
Leigh: So beach cricket has a become a really big culture in Australia. In summer in Australia, a lot of people, you can drive past the beach and you'll see people playing cricket on the beach all the time. And when I was young, I spent a lot of time down the beach doing that very thing. So we used to have to drag lots of things down the beach, whether it be the actual stumps themselves, drinks for the afternoon, chairs. We would bring everything with us and we'd always be carrying a lot of things down.
Leigh: So, I remember when I came up with the idea of the Cricket Cooler, I was sitting in a meeting in a previous job that I had and the idea came to me and we were talking about one of our brands at the time. We were talking about being down at the beach, and what we could do with that brand. And this light bulb moment happened for me and I just left the room, and I went and googled, went back to my office and I google searched for patent lawyers, because I thought the idea was really good and the journey sort of started from there.
Leigh: So that was back in 2007, late 2006, early 2007. So it was it a long journey to bring the product to life. If I had my time again, I would have been able to a fast pace that, but you only know what you know when you know it, and you've got to sometimes take the long way around the journey to get to where you need to get to.
Kevin: Great. So you said that it started in 2007. When did you actually start selling the product? When was it first made available?
Leigh: So the product became available around just before Shark Tank aired. So we're looking at series one, Shark Tank Australia was 2015 from memory. Is that correct?
Kevin: That's right. Yep.
Leigh: Yep. So we would have started... In September, we started with our Kickstarter campaign. We pre sold quite a few coolers on Kickstarter. I think in the first 10 months before Shark Tank had aired, we'd sold 10,500 coolers. And then when Shark Tank went to air in the first month, we sold 12,262 coolers. So that Shark Tank obviously was... helped us that market out product quite while.
Leigh: And then from there we, with the product, we became... we got lots of media exposure on different... in many areas. And that's certainly help the product. We got range in Bunnings, and which... Bunnings is a hardware outlet in Australia. We've around about 380 stores from memory. And so we've had distribution all around the country and with our coolers leading up to the next Christmas, and that certainly was fantastic. We also started to export it to New Zealand, United Kingdom, South Africa, and we have done a first order into India albeit a smaller.
Kevin: Nice. So really starting to hit all those cricketing nations.
Leigh: Yes, yes. So that when we're... When we looked at where we wanted our intellectual property kept, the cricketing nations was always top of mind. So South Africa, UK, India and Australia, and New Zealand, they were always the the countries that we shortened our intellectual property. So we have trademarks, design registrations, patents in place. And yeah, obviously patents run for 20 years. So I set that up in 2008, so we've got still another nine years of the pipeline to run.
Leigh: Sorry. My phone with me.
Leigh: Continue to keep the product viable and keep selling.
Kevin: Yup. Cool. So the idea came to you in late 2007, and then it was finally like released into production in 2014 so can you explain the journey across those seven years? I know you said that if you did it again, it would be a lot shorter than seven years to achieve that. But what took seven years?
Leigh: Yeah. So initially I wanted to make sure I had the intellectual property in place. So that took a little while to find the right patent lawyer. The first one I went into in Adelaide basically told me, you can't put a patent, you're wasting your time. So I didn't take no for an answer. So I went back and then I found another patent lawyer that I... intellectual property lawyer that I went and saw, and he was forthright in saying, "Yes, you can put intellectual property around that." So we... So I start started that journey early on and just made sure that was all in place before I started getting quotes of... So getting quotes to make the product is... to get them all built is... On the wage I was on at the time, it was just, it was way too much of a stretch for where I was positioned.
Leigh: So I had to shop around and see where the model could be made to make it viable. So that took us on a journey to China. And to give you some sort of indication to get a mold made in Australia was... quotes were around $850,000 and in China they were... So part of the journey in China was finding, and this is where I kind of made a mistake up front, is I found that, got some quite mild and I went with the cheapest one. And so that was about $35,000 Australian and I thought, yep, I can afford that so... We can afford that. So we started the journey and with someone that potentially... The right quality procedures weren't in place and we were then getting samples through, and they were coming every couple of months and they were just not up to standard.
Leigh: So from 2008 through to 2013 we were really just banging our head against a wall with the wrong... Well, we got it to a point where we were kind of happy with it, and that's where we went to Shark Tank. And the product was okay. It wasn't exactly how I would liked it, but we never had an industrial design in the first place. So the design that we had was just, I went to a mate that I went to school with who was a great graphic design artist. I said, "Mate, this is what's in my head. Can you draw it down for me?" Which he did. And that's the picture I took into China and said, "Can you make this?" So there was no industrial design put behind it to commence with, and the original cooler, their interpretation to make it was around 46 parts.
Leigh: So when you've got 46 parts to make something, there's a lot of labor involved and a lot of things that can go wrong. So one of the lessons was before Shark Tank, basically while going through shark tank, we were getting an industrial design done so we can get the product. We are with a local Adelaide company called [Thingo Design. 00:11:20] I've worked with them over a series of months to improve the product to where we thought it needed to be in an industrial design, in a CAD design that we could take to a manufacturer that could scale it up and it was going to be reputable.
Leigh: So we searched China again and a the second time around we had meetings only with companies that were doing coolers for the companies like Coleman or Rubbermaid. They were... these guys were doing the big guys, so we knew that we were in the right place when we walked in. And we had an industrial design there that we knew that was pretty fault proof and there was no interpretation needed. It was this is how it needs to be made, so you make it this way. So that is probably where we lost most of our time in the initial stages, is we were just probably pretty green and not realizing that sometimes you get what you pay for.
Kevin: Yeah, definitely. And I mean it sounds like obviously some of that was building up that proper industrial design work that would better detail the specs of what you needed to your manufacturer. But it sounds like an even larger part was finding the correct manufacturing partner who's already making products in that industry and has worked with the big players. So they've possibly worked out a lot of the kinks on how you make a cooler, versus someone who might've just only made random plastic parts in the past and this is an entirely different type of product to what they used to.
Leigh: Yeah, certainly. And it wasn't until we started placing our first orders through the factory that we had a container arriving to Adelaide, and obviously really excited because we've got orders to fill, and it was... We were taking coolers out of the boxes and going, oh my God, this one's missing the wheel. This one's got a broken water outlet.
Leigh: And we actually got to a point where my stepdad had just retired at the time. I said, "Look, we can't put anything through the market. We need to check every single cooler that goes out." So we'd have to employ him and another person, basically just to check every single cooler. And we ended up with around about 1500 coolers from our first two shipments that we couldn't sell because there was issues. And that meant that we sometimes could, if we had two coolers, and one of them had a broken water outlet and the next one didn't, but that one had a broken stump and this one didn't, we could make one cooler out of two. So we could limit our damage so that, but that meant labor from our end.
Leigh: And so myself, a business partner, David Lawson and his wife Tina, we spent 23 out of 26 weekends in that year of 2016, the first 23 of the first 26 weekends in the year, Saturday, Sunday, fixing coolers from pretty much nine until five, where I'd just say to my wife in the morning, "See you, I'll see you in the day." And we were still working Monday to Friday. So it was a very testing stage, and certainly after going through that, knew that the only way to do this was to do it right. We already knew that, be we were in the process of vetting the second factory at that stage anyway.
Leigh: But that certainly was something that we had to overcome in the initial stages and the integrity of the brand and the product, and making sure the product went out and as people expected, what they'd purchased is obviously very important. So this was another hurdle we had to jump when we thought we were almost there.
Kevin: Just briefly on China, and I know it's a total diversion from the usual course of this podcast, but let's just go there. Have you actually been over and done like factory tours?
Leigh: Initially we had... we were just doing Skype calls from Adelaide and looking at quotes. The second time around when we had decided to go with the first factory, which was sort of inland China, we would go over and we were going there to do an inspection on our product, but was soon whisked away for lunch and other things which was... should have been an alert for us. And we didn't actually get much time inspecting a product that was going to be coming to Australia.
Leigh: So we ended up parting ways obviously with that factory when we had found the second factory. So the second time around, the second factory, we had three factories that we visited, had meetings with and then toured their factory, inspected their factory and the quality of product that they were doing. And then we made a decision based around that. The factory that we currently use we're very happy with, built up quite a good relationship I think over time. And you know, ideally one day you'd love to make a product in Australia, but Australians would have to pay at least six or seven times as much for the product as well, so you can only do what's viable, what the marketing will let you you do.
Kevin: Yeah, for sure. So I think we've sort of slightly alluded to it anyway, but just to make it really obvious, can you explain the business model to our audience of how this business works?
Leigh: Yep. So basically we have a Cricket Cooler. We have branched out with a few other products that compliment the Cricket Cooler, so a Bluetooth Cricket Cooler Speaker, we do beach bats, Cricket Cooler beach bats, stubby holders, so just to compliment someone going down the beach for a day of each cricket, we want to be that one stop shop website.
Leigh: So we have our own website where the product is available. We sell on some other online avenues as well. And we don't currently... We were at Bunnings Australia. We don't currently... We do in the United Kingdom we have had a few outlets that have ranged the product over there. Some high end outlets. That's pretty much our model and it becomes quite a bit of a lifestyle business for me, where as, I still work full time and my wife and I, and my partner Dave Lawson and his wife Tina, between us, we make it work.
Kevin: Cool. So can you tell me about one of the inflection points in the business, and what you attribute the success of that a inflection point to?
Leigh: I would say that clearly for us, Shark Tank was a big turning point. When we had just finished our Kickstarter campaign in the Shark Tank, I had a link sent to me from a coworker saying, you should apply for the Shark Tank season coming up. And I thought, you know what, I should, but I did notice when I was applying I was two days after the cutoff date. I thought, well I'll put it in any way, see what happens. And I've got to find call literally 10 minutes after submitting my application, and basically said [inaudible 00:20:17] Adelaide round. So we attended the Adelaide round and they loved the product there and loved the idea. So from there we moved to the stage of going on the actual show itself. Going on the how itself was something that obviously propelled the products into lounge rooms all over Australia, because the Big Bash [inaudible 00:20:48] our product as the leading advert on the Big Bash, that Shark Tank was coming, and this backyard cricket cooler idea.
Leigh: And so that was fantastic, because that was giving us exposure before even Shark Tank had even aired. If I recall correctly Shark Tank aired in March or April, and we were getting a lead up through the Big Bash Cricket which played in summer through to the end of February. We're very lucky in that sense that we were kind of the marketing product that they decided they were gonna use for the show, and then we were the first company, on the first show, on the first episode. So we were the first, even though we weren't filmed first, we were put in the first show as the first product idea put to the Sharks.
Leigh: So the actual process of Shark Tank itself, I recall we were flat out with the Kickstarter campaign things at the time, and getting coolers out, and I recall fly to Sydney on a red eye and then getting to the studio and not knowing when we were going to be filmed, but we were the last ones filming that day, which was I think seven o'clock that night. We got up at three, hadn't really slept to get on the earliest flight to get over there. So I recall drinking a lot of coffee backstage, because there was no real food. There was a few biscuits and stuff, and I just recall getting myself, because I'm not a massive caffeine person, I recall getting myself.. thought I was going to have a caffeine overdose. So I was just really jittery, and then I had the nerves of going on the show as well.
Leigh: So when I came out, actually, at seven o'clock that night, I hadn't really eaten, hadn't really slept, drank for someone who doesn't drink coffee. I just felt like a deer in headlights. There was all these bright lights, there was five sharks sitting there, and I recall just standing there just pretty much like a space cadet for the first minute or so, and then you kind of get you feet, and all the work you put in starts to kick in, and all the hard work to get it to that point, you think well, I deserve to be standing here. We're going to tell our story.
Leigh: I remember watching Shark Tank with a group of friends later on when it aired, and really the show, you sign a waver that shows that they're allowed to cut and edit whatever they would like, which is fine, and it wasn't about me, it was about the product. But the editing team I thought really had a lot of fun with myself, because none of my facial reactions or comments were in... Are you there Kev?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm here.
Leigh: Sorry, just lost you on audio. So yeah, not one of my facial reactions or expressions or comments were actually a flow of what actually aired on the set. It was 51 minutes, I think we're out there, and they cut it back to seven minutes for the show, so obviously the editing team take all the facial reactions that they like, and put it into a scenario that they want to portray. But like I said, it wasn't about me. It was all about the product and the show itself was fantastic for our product. We were extremely lucky that we got to go on that show, because that was certainly a great turning point in terms of propelling the product forward, and letting people know that the product is available.
Kevin: Certainly. I remember recently re watching that episode, and a lot of the time, every time they cut to you, it was just a very concerned look on your face. Someone would make an offer, and it's just a concerned look on your face. If someone went out there just cut to a real close up of you, just concerned look. I was like, the editing for you had been pretty brutal.
Leigh: Yeah. And I didn't... When I watched the show for the first time, I didn't really care. I just thought I signed up for this and that's fine. And like I said, it wasn't about me, it was about the product. And I knew that the PR for the product was great. PR for me personally didn't really matter. So it was fine. Yeah. I was comfortable with how they edited it, and yeah. And it was all about the product.
Kevin: Definitely. And when you mentioned the appearance in all the adverts during the Big Bash, which to buy that amount of television coverage for that product, in terms of regular advertisements during the cricket would have cost you guys like hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to be getting all that exposure for free? Totally worth it.
Leigh: Yeah, I absolutely thought the same thing and... But there was also a spin off from that. Like we ended up getting radio interviews and we were showing up on lots of different morning shows, and we were showing up in catalogs for the great ideas, and TAB websites for the holy grail of what to take down the beach. And we were on the project and we were on Today Tonight, the Living Room. All these shows that going into, we were in the newspapers with our product. The Cricket Cooler featured on Neighbors. Which is obviously a pretty cool when you're someone... you're out for dinner and someone sends you a text and just says, "I saw the Cricket Cooler on Neighbors," and we started getting promotions with big companies like BP, and beer companies and things like that.
Leigh: So the spinoff is... it started with Shark Tank, but there was a bigger spin off from that, that ended up... we had Ab De Villiers and Adam Gilchrist, and famous cricketers tweeting about the product. Yeah. And then I guess that when you have someone else trying to knock off your product, copy your product, that's always a bit of flattery as well.
Kevin: Yeah. So just on that, obviously you've spoken about a lot of the highs of seeing your product everywhere, being on all these Australian TV shows, having famous cricketers tweet about your product. But business isn't always amazing. So, can you tell me about an unexpected crisis that happened and how you handled it? Whether that's the knockoff that you just mentioned there or something else.
Leigh: Yeah, well I'll start that off by saying, the thing that drove me all the time when I had a set back was I just knew if the Cricket Cooler was in the market, I would buy one myself. And so that always drove me forward. I guess there was a couple of things along the way when when we were saving some of our samples through, and I recall going to wheel one across the car park in front of our business partners applies, and one of the wheels went one way, and one of the wheels came off and went the other way, and we were really, at that stage, looking forward to having a product that was going to be ready for sale, and you take it out of the boxing, and wheels come off as you start to reel it, that's pretty deflating. And you have to just get yourself back up and go, well we just got to make this happen. And we are obviously struggling with the people that we were dealing with at the time.
Leigh: One of the other things that I probably look back on, and looking at and in the business review with leads, Steve Baxter who was one of the Sharks, he was asked, was there any pitches you regret not buying into? And his answer was, "I honestly wish I'd invested in the Cricket Cooler. For me, a tick or flick question is, are the founders taking too much in wages? But with a better understanding of their business, I'd love to have done that one."
Leigh: So we would have loved to have had him on board as well. I think he would have complimented what we were doing, and where we were heading. But for me, standing on the show, where we hadn't taken any wages out of the business, all I'd ever done was put money into the business, and Shark's not really having an understanding of your situation, but summing new up pretty quickly and assuming that you've take the money out the business.
Leigh: So we had Janine Ellis from Boost Juice, founder of Boost Juice, basically saying to me that she, from memory said she'd taken $35,000 out of her business in the first two years. And if I was sharp at the time, I should have said, "Well that's 35,000 more than taken out then what do I have." But I didn't, I didn't have that response in me at the time. And Steve Baxter saying, "Well, you guys aren't full time in the business, so I'm not gonna invest in you because if you're not committed, I'm not committed." But him not knowing that the only way I could fund this was to have a job. The only way I could bring this product to life was to work a job so I could make money so I could... because I wasn't taking money out of the critical and at that stage it wasn't making money. So we didn't have, the only viable option was to work and do this on the side to make it, bring it to life.
Leigh: So, I guess that that was always a little bit disappointing, but it was good to see Steve Baxter come out after the show and say that he regretted not doing us any... He actually... Yeah, he understood our situation a bit better after the shower I think. But there was obviously a lot of times where you've just got to just got to find motivation and get yourself up, because things... Nothing in, and I don't think things in life are easy. If you need to bringing an idea to life, sometimes you've got to just keep working at it and working at it. And it's easier to walk away sometimes, but that was never on my... I was always going to bring this product to life was just a matter of finding the way to get there.
Kevin: Yeah. And I mean just on that little bit from Janine where she was... she said, look in her case with Boost, they sold the family home and moved into the office, and lived out of the office for like two or three years, and didn't take money other the company and that. And I mean that's one way to fund the business is to sell a bunch of your personal assets to pour it into the business.
Kevin: But another way to do that is exactly what you guys were doing, which was keep working a nine to five job, and take the spare money that you have from that job to fund into the business, and work nights and weekends and whatever it takes to make that business come to life. And you know, that's just another way of funding it and giving it the resources it needs to take off.
Leigh: Yes, definitely. And there was no other way I could've done it. I couldn't have done it the Janine Alice way, and there was only one way I could have done it, and that was every time I got a tax return, when my wife said, "Let's renovate the bathroom." I said, "No, I need that for the Cricket Cooler." And this went on for seven or eight years. So yeah, I had not only... I had to prove to a lot of people inside my own inner circle that this product is going to work, because I'd sacrificed a lot of... to get there. And there was just not... I was not going to take no for an answer. It was just a matter of keep pushing it forward, and it's all about momentum.
Leigh: So for me, I kept looking at business plans that I've done, kept reworking them, what had been done, what hadn't been done. And it's all about just making sure that the project is moving in one direction and that's forward. Sometimes you go sideways, sometimes you might go backward a step, but you've just got to keep getting up, and you learn from your mistakes and you keep moving forward with it. And that's generally what I did. And in the end that's what got to the result that we got to.
Kevin: Yeah, definitely. So 12 years on from the initial idea. Wait, it's 2019 now. 2007 when you first came up with the idea, what's one thing about your business that still makes you excited today?
Leigh: Lots of things, because I still think it's rather untapped, especially in overseas markets. If we're looking at the Cricket Cooler itself, we've sold approximately 70,000 coolers in Australia, but in the overseas markets and look, in Australia, I still drive down the beach on Australia Day or other days and I'll drive past 15 groups of people playing cricket and they don't have a Cricket Cooler there, but I think if they did have a Cricket Cooler there, I see they have an Esky or a cooler of some description, plus I've got their cricket stumps, plus they've got other things like, I mean our Cricket Cooler has a bottle opener on it, and it has other... Yeah, it's practical for the beach.
Leigh: So I still think that there's still a lot of people out there that don't know that it exists, and it's a great gifting opportunity, so the Christmas and things like that. So I still think there's upside for the Cricket Cooler in Australia, but certainly in overseas markets it's untapped. It's just a drop in the ocean at the moment. So the way the patent works is, patents last for 20 years, so we started the patent in 2008, and that expires in 2028, so there's still a lot of time between now and 2028 before other people can possibly copy the idea and they can't challenge it.
Kevin: Yeah. So it sounds like then, the future of the business you see is potentially the international expansion? Would that be right?
Leigh: Yeah, I do. We've only just gone into India just recently. South Africa is still a challenge based on their economy. The UK is still finding its legs. New Zealand has been going well for us. So there's still plenty of upside in all of those markets, and I still think this product is so well suited to Australia and Australia's culture of beach cricket, and going down there and playing beach cricket.
Leigh: So, I still think in Australia, there's plenty of upside as well. So for me the future looks great in that sense. We'll still continue to work on other products that we see fit to put into the range that we have. We have been working on another project, so I can't say too much about that at the moment. And so I think the future looks bright for the Cricket Cooler, because there's always a new generation of people coming through that are going down the beach and or going down the park and are playing cricket. This is a solution for them.
Kevin: Definitely. So just to wrap up here, where can our listeners connect with you to either find out more about the Cricket Cooler and buy it, or if they have questions or anything like that, how can they reach out?
Leigh: Yep. So cricketcooler.com.au is where... or cricketcooler.co.uk or cricketcooler.co.nz. You can find us on any of those websites, and info at cricketcooler.com.au if you want to contact me directly on an email, just shoot me an email [email protected]
Kevin: Awesome. Well, it's been a great have you on the show Leigh, to talk about the history of the product, and that really long journey that it took before you released the first one. Thanks for your time this morning.
Leigh: Thank you Kevin. Really appreciate you having me on.

Show Notes

  • 02:30 What is Cricket?
  • 03:51 Coming up with the idea
  • 04:55 First sales on Kickstarter
  • 08:15 Going to China to get the mould made
  • 10:39 Finding a better manufacturer in China
  • 12:15 First container arrives in Australia
  • 14:35 Visiting China and doing a factory tour
  • 17:30 Shark Tank Australia as a turning point for the business
  • 19:20 Filming day for Shark Tank Australia
  • 24:44 Dealing with Setbacks
  • 25:48 Steve Baxter in BRW on not investing in Cricket Cooler
  • 27:10 The only way I could fund the business was through a day job
  • 29:15 Using tax returns to fund the business instead of renovating the bathroom
  • 30:40 Total Sales and the Future Potential for Cricket Cooler

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