There's rarely a time when Kevin Harrington, an original “Shark Tank” TV show shark and an infomercial guru behind 500 products over three decades, isn't being pitched something.
A St. Petersburg resident who hits the road more than 100 times a year for trade shows, events and speaking gigs, Harrington says the pitches come from all over. A Las Vegas taxi driver once pitched Harrington a product idea, then later flew to St. Petersburg, with his own money at Harrington's invitation, to continue the conversation.
Then there was the Salt Lake City masseuse, who pitched Harrington his idea for a business while rubbing the 60-year-old entrepreneur's back. “About the only time I can't be pitched is when I'm jogging,” says Harrington, “when I stuff my headphones in my ear.”
Those pitches, like a chunk of others, fell flat. But a recent pitch from Juliann Nichols, closer to home, resonated with Harrington.
A St. Petersburg-based business coach and the founder of Focus on You Strategy, Nichols invited Harrington to speak at a Focus on Entrepreneurs conference she put together in downtown St. Petersburg in April. The pair met for coffee after the event, when Nichols seized the opportunity and made her pitch to Harrington: her idea for a business was an incubator and business accelerator, a help-center for business owners under the name Focus on Business Owners, or FOBO.
Nichols' vision is to take the concept national, in a franchise/club membership model. The niche, Nichols told Harrington in April, is to create a place for “serious, established business owners” who want real-world help and advice in everything from growing to an exit strategy. “This was an idea I had for several years but was never able to bring it together,” Nichols says.
Harrington embraced the concept.
For one, he wants to do more things closer to home and cut back a bit on travel. This idea also brings Harrington back to a group he helped launched 30 years ago, the Entrepreneurs Organization. “I've gotten away from being able to help and mentor,” Harrington says, “and that's what I really like to do.”
Focus on Business Owners was ready to go within two months of the initial conversation. “The main thing for us is we focus only on the business owner,” says Nichols. “We both see a big market for this.”
The FOBO network will serve business owners from a variety of industries looking to expand, develop relationships, talk about challenges and solve core problems, says Nichols. While networking is an obvious by-product, this isn't a local chamber or lead generation group. Members don't have to meet mandatory referrals, and no more than 20% of any chapter's member base will be startups.
Another competitive perk: members get access to Harrington, and what Nichols calls his “golden Rolodex.”
There are three FOBO membership levels. Basic is $499 a year; Member Plus is $999; and Platinum is $1,499. Platinum gives members one-on-one access to high-level CEOs, in addition to the meetings, sessions and other features.
Next up, after proving the concept in St. Petersburg, says Nichols, is to launch in other cities. Orlando and Jacksonville are on the list, and after that Nashville and other large metro areas. “The big dream,” Nichols says, “is to have these business incubators everywhere across the country.”
A Kansas City native, Nichols' first job was a mobile disc jockey in high school. She later founded and ran a private detective agency and sold custom-made handbags for upscale boutiques. She founded Focus on You Strategy in 2007.
Harrington, chairman of Clearwater-based As Seen on TV, started a driveway-sealing business when he was 15. He later dabbled in the heating and air conditioning business and in franchise development, before his infomercial career took off. “This is a great time to be an entrepreneur,” Harrington says, “and a great time for us to help entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs.”
For more information on Focus on Business Owners, go to fobonetwork.com, email [email protected] or call 727-316-5958.
(This story was updated to reflect the correct headquarters for Focus on You Strategy, St. Petersburg.)