29 year old Far Rockaway resident Zoli Honig and 25 year old Isaac Deutsch of Los Angeles were featured on a Shark Tank episode that aired this week, negotiating a deal with Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary, known on the ABC program as “Mr. Wonderful.” The two friends, who met several years ago when they were neighbors, pitched a car-sharing company called Waivecar that gives customers two hours of free access to electric cars via a smart phone app, with extra time billed at just $5.99 per hour.
Advertising space on the vehicles’ roof mounted screens and custom body wraps pay for the cost of the service, with drivers turning each car into a mobile billboard as they drive their Waivecar.
The company, whose motto is ‘We waive the fee; You drive for free,’ had been operating for just one month when the two found themselves recruited for the popular show via email in February 2016.
“The email came from a regular gmail address and at first we thought it was a prank or a scam,” Honig told VIN News.
But a quick Google search revealed that the email was legit, and had come from one of the show’s executive producers who had seen Waivecars in Santa Monica and read about the company in a small local paper, the Santa Monica Daily Press. The two were encouraged to submit an audition tape to the show and after being accepted, they were given a filming date in the early summer of 2016.
Honig said that their Shark Tank appearance was a fascinating experience.
“The segment may only be 10 minutes long but we were standing there speaking to them for an hour and a half,” said Honig. “The only part of it that is rehearsed it the first two minute pitch and after that everything is an open conversation. There are no cuts and no bathroom breaks.”
While sharks Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and special guest Chris Sacca passed on the opportunity to invest in Waivecar, Honig and Deutsch found themselves with two offers: one from Barbara Corcoran and the other from O’Leary.
The two passed on Corcoran’s deal which required them to give up a 10 percent stake in Waivecar, negotiating a package with O’Leary that included a $500,000 loan, a two percent share in the business and an 80 percent discount on unsold advertising space.
Honig and Deutsch appeared on the program wearing matching Waivecar t-shirts, black jeans and sneakers and black yarmulkas. Honig, who has worked on several startups, said it never occurred to him to take off his yarmulka before diving into the tank.
“I sold my last startup to a company in Mobile, Alabama and I wore my yarmulka there,” noted Honig. “You would think the deep south would be scary but they were very respectful. Most of these people have never met a Jew in their lives and it was an opportunity for me to show them that I was a normal guy, who will hold the door for you.”
Few Orthodox Jews have been featured on Shark Tank. As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2yk3mb9), Rabbi Moshe Weiss appeared on the show in 2013 with an iPod amplifier called Sound Bender, but Honig noted that theirs was a very different experience.
“They did shtick then,” said Honig. “They played Hava Nagila when he came out. This was the first time that two guys walked on who just happened to be wearing yarmulkas. We are serious guys, with a serious business, who just happen to be Jewish.”
Since hooking up with O’Leary, Waivecar has grown from 20 to 45 cars and has cut deals with BuzzFeed and Hyundai. The company will soon have 200 vehicles in its fleet and has New York City on its short list of cities that are being eyed as possible target markets.
“I think having a shark like Kevin O’Leary on board has been very helpful to the company,” said Deutsch.
Both Deutsch and Honig said that they enjoyed interacting with the sharks during filming.
“They were very nice to us Mark Cuban said ‘mazel tov’ to us when we closed the deal,” said Honig.