Flipstiks now in Target

Flipstik inventor Akeem Shannon outside the Brentwood Target store on May 9, 2022, where his product is sold in St. Louis. In 2020 the 29-year-old entrepreneur also appeared on Shark Tank.

Akeem Shannon’s Flipstik startup gained momentum after his “Shark Tank” appearance, and he also says support from Arch Grants, a nonprofit organization that provides equity-free grants and pro bono support services to early-stage startups, was invaluable.

When St. Louis native Akeem Shannon launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2018, he had no idea how successful his company and invention, Flipstik, would become. 

Flipstik – a cell phone accessory that allows the phone to stick to most objects – was created following a “happenstance phone call” Shannon had with his uncle, an electrical engineer at NASA. When the uncle told Shannon about a reusable adhesive that NASA developed in the 1970s, Shannon realized how effective the adhesive would be when attaching an object, such as a cellphone, to a wall. 

He made a prototype out of double-sided tape and cardstock, sent it off to China and taught himself how to write a patent while working on getting the necessary trademarks. The result was a device that attaches to the back of a phone and, when the cover is flipped down, allows the phone to stick to a flat surface. The “synthetic setae” adhesive is based on the fibrous structure of gecko feet and can hold up to two pounds.

Shannon said he just wanted proof that anyone would buy his product. His Kickstarter goal was $1,865, a reference to the year the 13th amendment outlawing slavery was passed. He ended up surpassing that goal, earning around $15,000 in presales.

“That’s how it all began,” he said. 

Since then, he’s appeared on Shark Tank, received a $50,000 grant from Arch Grants and even received endorsements from the likes of P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg and Porsha Williams of “Real Housewives” fame. 

Now, his product is available on Target.com and at more than 300 Target retail locations, including three in the St. Louis Metro area. 

Shannon credits his success not only to his sheer persistence and his “Shark Tank” appearance but also to Arch Grants, a nonprofit organization that provides equity-free grants and pro bono support services to early-stage startups. Flipstik was one of the 19 companies included in Arch Grants’ 2020 cohort, earning the company a $50,000 grant.

“One thing I never had in St. Louis was a network. So, with winning contests like Arch Grants, I have a big network of people I can talk to when I need help with manufacturing or getting in touch with retailers,” said Shannon, 29.

Arch Grants announced its 2020 cohort one week before Shannon’s Shark Tank episode aired in November 2020. Although he received two offers on the show and chose to work with Lori Greiner, the deal wasn’t closed ahead of the episode’s air date and Shannon was still operating out of his spare bedroomin Downtown St. Louis. 

He was worried he wouldn’t have the proper resources to handle the influx of purchases once the episode aired. Arch Grants helped him find a warehouse and gave him access to the tools he needed to support his business.

“It was because of their fast action that we were able to take advantage of that opportunity,” he said.

After Shannon’s episode aired, he received $100,000 in sales in 48 hours. Before Shark Tank, Flipstik received $120,000 in sales over two years. Shannon wasn’t selling much product online, receiving most of his sales through kiosks and by wholesaling custom-designed Flipstiks. 

“I didn’t have the connections I needed to grow the company at the rate it needed to grow,” Shannon said.

His connections helped him secure the deal with Target. 

Shannon volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters and was asked to speak during one of the nonprofit’s job fairs in July 2021 where some Target executives were in attendance. Around the same time, his mentor, Daniel Lauer, founding executive director at UMSL Accelerate, connected him with Dan Bowling, CEO of Toy'n Around, a Target rep group, who set up a meeting with the lead Target buyer for phone accessories.

Shannon says those two things “coalesced” and he was able to make a pitch to a Target rep, who he says loved that he was making a product for the next generation. The fact that Flipstik allows users to create content from anywhere without lugging around a bulky tripod was a huge selling point. He then secured a deal to sell his product through Target, which launched on March 26 of this year. 

And Shannon’s success surely is no easy feat.

"It's not easy for brands to get onto the shelves of large retail chains," said Joseph Tarnowski, VP of Content for ECRM, a company that curates category-specific meetings between retail buyers and brands. 

Tarnowski says a company’s pitch must be developed with the buyer's needs in mind and clearly demonstrate how the new item will help deliver incremental growth to the buyer's category. 

This is an aspect that Shannon has truly honed in on.

“Flipstik is the only phone accessory made for creators. Our patented technology is the only one designed especially for creating content hands-free, by mounting your phone nearly anywhere. While stands and grips are nice conveniences, we believe the future is in the hands of casual creators,” he said.

In addition to Target and his company website, Flipstik is available on Amazon.com, with 17 designs. The product retails for $9.99 on Target’s website and is on display on five shelves in each store – a coup for a startup.

“It’s just been really, really exciting,” he said.

Since his Shark Tank episode aired 17 months ago, the company has seen almost $700,000 in sales, including more than $500,000 in the last two years. The company is now seeking to raise $1.2 million from investors.

And it continues to see growth in other areas with the hiring of his sixth employee. He currently operates in a co-working space at Ballpark Village.

“The biggest thing that I tell anyone I talk to is that sometimes you just have to jump and take the risk,” he said. “Sometimes when you take those chances, they work out. Especially if you take a lot of them.” 

Shannon says this is just the beginning. He’s just launched Flipstik 2.0, which is the version that’s available at Target. At the end of the year, Shannon is launching three new versions with additional features that he says are “pretty killer”. He’s also had 15 of his 19 patents approved. 

“We see there’s an opportunity to grow into a really large company,” he said.

Arselia Gales is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. She graduated magna cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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