On 3 April, NJIT alumnus Ryan Cruz (Industrial Design, 2014) will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank alongside his brother Eric and lifelong friend Kevin Zamora.
In 2014, Cruz presented his senior thesis project where he had to create a product: a shoe with an easily detachable sole that then converts into a slipper.
Two years later, Ryan, Eric and Kevin cofounded MUVEZ. After several bumps in the road over the years, the team got on track to finalize their design and created the 3:AM slippers.
“With a little bit of luck, a little bit of work and putting ourselves out there we were able to find the right pieces we needed, and about two years ago we were able to come up with our first working prototype,” Ryan said. “Once we had that in hand, we started pitching to investors about the idea and trying to get them on board to see the vision, and luckily after a few investor meetings we were able to lock down an investor to give us $90,000 to give us the first run of these shoes.”
This investor was NJIT alumnus Patrick McGowan (’88), who is also the CEO of the general contracting and construction management company McGowan.
After ordering 3,000 pairs of the shoes, the team launched a series of successful online marketing campaigns, including a Kickstarter that received 292 backers that pledged over $30,000.
As for the future of the brand, Eric said “We’re looking to expand the size range. They’re currently reserved for men’s sizes nine through 12 in full sizes only. For the rest of the year, depending on conditions and manufacturing capacity overseas, we’re hoping to expand that size range.”
The brothers had a long road from starting their company in 2016. Ryan and Eric agreed that the biggest challenges were to find a manufacturer and to build a team.
Eric said, “If I had to pick it, the hardest obstacle we’ve faced so far I’d have to say is manufacturing because footwear in its current condition is incapable of manufacturing stateside. If you’re going to want to manufacture footwear particularly, you have to look elsewhere.”
Ryan noted that “the hardest thing is to find the right people that you can trust that will actually go and come through on what they say they’re going to do. It’s more about the relationship building and the trust you establish with people throughout the journey that kind of helps you take these steps and get to the next level, because without that it’s really hard to work with anybody if you don’t trust them.”
For students who want to get into the business world and launch a product, Eric recommends that “they audit their passion for the project. In order to be successful you have to be insanely passionate about the project at hand…. And there’s also remaining flexible. This world is constantly evolving, so being willing and able to reconsider a few strategies when you get the time would only be to your benefit.”
Ryan added that “You really have to be willing and able to go through it because inevitably a lot of things are going to happen, problems are going to come up, you’re going to get punched in the face a few times, but it’s all about not giving up. So if you’re going to do something, you have to be sure that you love it enough to not give up because there’s a lot of times where you feel like quitting and it’s really hard not to give up, but if you don’t quit you’ll be able to see it through.”
Last July, the team was contacted by Shark Tank. “They said they saw an ad about our shoes and they were interested,” Ryan said. “So that’s when we started the Shark Tank process.”
“The nerves were going,” Ryan continued, “the questions were flying at us, but because we believe so much in our product we just had to refocus and execute the plan that we had going up there.”
Eric said that “It was gratifying and a cool validation of the work we’ve put in.”
Ryan Cruz, after starting out with an idea in 2014 from a project at NJIT’s Industrial Design program, has created a product that ships nationwide and to 10 different countries. The MUVEZ team can be seen on Shark Tank on 3 April at 8PM EST on ABC.
Pictures are courtesy of ABC