- people on the move
Christmas lights business invades ‘Shark Tank’
Startup’s creator hopes to bring Christmas ‘into the 21st century.’
It’s hard to imagine that Brad Boyink’s festive Grand Haven startup, which is about to air on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” started as a simple $5 bet at the office.
Call it a Christmas miracle.
Boyink is the creator of GeekMyTree, which he described as the “first product that breaches the gap of taking the fun of an outdoor (Christmas) light show and bringing it inside, and making it easy enough to set it up in, like, 10 minutes.”
Boyink’s tech-savvy lights, designed for 6- to 8-foot Christmas trees, are made up of GlowBalls with two, full-spectrum LED lights inside, creating a digital 360-degree illumination of color. The bulbs have 50,000-plus hours of useful life and can change color and make patterns with more than 16 pre-loaded effects.
Imagine watching a dazzling wheel of colors and patterns roll over your Christmas tree, and you’ll get an idea of GeekMyTree.
Although the concept of Christmas tree lights hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison’s assistant Edward Johnson first wrapped lights around a tree in New York in 1882, Boyink said he’s ready to revolutionize the way the lights are enjoyed, bringing Christmas into the 21st century.
“What GeekMyTree is all about is being able to bring full-color, animated effects onto your Christmas tree. But we’ve done everything different from what you’re used to. Most lights are wrapped around a tree. Ours are vertically hung, making it easy to hang but also leaving for perfect spacing,” he said.
“And we’re saving a ton of energy. Our LED lights are between 15 and 45 watts, max. We have two sets (of lights), an 80 and a 160. Our 80 set produces more light than 400 of the mini-lights … and 100 of those mini-lights is 120 watts.”
The light patterns and special effects of the GlowBalls can be controlled by a mobile GeekMyTree app, which is available for both Apple and Android products. The app allows users to create animated effect playlists, and to purchase additional patterns — there’s a total of more than 100, Boyink said.
Product development firm Anidea Engineering in Florida helped create the controller for the lights and is working with him on the app.
“The app was our way of letting us do all the programming for you and then we’ll give you the controls, but you don’t have to deal with any of the nightmares to make that happen,” he said.
“I have a dear friend who’s 75 years old. She loves tech but isn’t great at tech, and she knows it. When I was designing this app, I put it in the hands of several people. Until she could run it and set it up, I knew it wasn’t done. The moment she had it, I knew I had it.”
Boyink’s fascination with Christmas lights started in 2005. He and his colleagues at Grand Haven software company Meal Magic Corp. were watching a viral video of electrical engineer Carson Williams’ Christmas lights show set to “Wizards in Winter” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
“‘It’s got to be fake,’ they were saying. I kept looking at it thinking it wasn’t fake. So, I made a $5 bet that it wasn’t fake. Then I had to prove how it wasn’t. And I figured out how they were doing it,” Boyink said.
“Being the geek that I am, I thought, ‘Well, now that I know how it’s done, I’ve got to do this.’”
Boyink soon became the coordinator for the Holiday Road Light Show, an elaborate display of Christmas lights synchronized to holiday music in Spring Lake. At its peak, it was considered one of the largest neighborhood computerized displays in the U.S.
“It got national coverage. We had about 70,000 people per year, traffic back-ups for miles. … And the show was in a cul-de-sac, no less. It was crazy,” he said.
“We raised almost one quarter of a million dollars for charity in those six years (2006-2012), but it was never fun standing out in the cold. … The show is living on in the sense that I’m able to do a light show across thousands of living rooms across the country.”
In January 2014, Boyink started working on GeekMyTree. In July 2014 at the Christmas Expo tradeshow in Biloxi, Mississippi, GeekMyTree took Best of Show, and “Shark Tank” producers approached Boyink about being on the show, he said. Boyink didn’t feel he was ready yet, but when they contacted him again in March of this year, he felt it was the right time.
The show was filmed in September and his episode will air Dec. 11. He said he couldn’t give away how it went, but deal or no deal, he was a winner just to make it on the show.
“You can’t buy exposure like that. I’m in front of 7 million viewers. That’s a $10 million advertisement for your product,” he said.
“Season 7, which filmed and is on right now, 69,000 businesses applied. Of those, only 180 are invited out to pitch. Of the 180, only 150 make it to air.”
Being on the show is an amazing but grueling experience that requires a tremendous amount of work, Boyink said.
“They tell you before you get there: The number one rule is ‘know thy numbers.’ Rule number two: ‘You’d better have the experience to do what you say you’re going to do,’” he said. “They really don’t see your stuff before you get there. When you give that pitch, that is the first time they see you and your product.”
Currently, GeekMyTree products are available online at geekmytree.com, at Bronner’s — the world’s largest Christmas store, Christmas-leds.com, and thechristmaslightemporium.com.
As this is the product’s initial roll-out year, Boyink decided on a limited production run, so the product is more expensive than it will be next year.
“Right now, it’s normally $399 (for the 80 GlowBall set) … but when we roll out to the retail, we’re looking to get the cost down under $299 for next year,” he said. “But these will be the last lights you ever buy.”