Earlier this month, entrepreneurs Kevin Ullery and Stan Krozel went on “Shark Tank” to seek funding for their company Fun Time Express, a trackless train ride people pay to experience at family-friendly events.
They went on the show seeking $125,000 in exchange for 20 percent equity in their company. After some back and forth, they managed to secure a deal with Kevin O’Leary and Lori Greiner for exactly what they asked for, but were required to use all profits to pay off their investment first.
We recently had a chance to speak to both Kevin and Stan in an email interview. Here, we discuss coming back from failure and the pros and cons of partnering with a significant other on a business venture.
You both mentioned on “Shark Tank “that you guys have experienced the pain of losing a business. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Stan: “In 2003, we started an independent real estate firm, Royal Service Realty. It was very successful, resulting in multiple locations throughout the Chicago area. When the market turned, the entire industry took a major hit. We were forced to close the doors to our very first office. It was an emotional time for us.”
Kevin: “We had worked so hard and were suddenly faced with circumstances beyond our control. We did all we could to keep afloat, but the future was very uncertain. That first office had been a great source of pride for us. Watching Stan lock the door for the last time was really heartbreaking.”
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from those failures?
Stan: “I learned the importance of diversifying. Success can be fleeting, but you can pull yourself back up. Never be afraid to take a chance at something new.”
Kevin: “You also have to believe in what you are doing and move forward. When the market turned, we had to make some tough choices and find other means of income, but we never gave up on the business.”
Stan: “That’s right. We stuck it out and thankfully, the market has made a comeback and our real estate business is enjoying success again. The rough times really make you appreciate what you have when you have it.”
What have your experiences been in partnering up with your significant other in a business venture?
Kevin: “Working as partners in both life and business is so rewarding, but it comes with a set of unique challenges. Success is terrific, but failure can really test the strength of your relationship.”
Stan: “Kevin and I are very different personalities, but we have a strong bond. When things get tough you realize how important it is to stick together and support one another.”
Kevin: “It all comes down to love and commitment. Being on ‘Shark Tank’ was such a proud moment, because it truly was ‘Team Stan and Kevin.’ One of us could not have done it without the other.”
What have been the pros and cons of working as a team?
Kevin: “You get to see each other all the time. Luckily for us, we aren’t sick of each other yet [laughs].”
Stan: “There are frustrations as well. Kevin and I have different styles. He is creative and more carefree, while I am very organized and like to see quick results.”
Kevin: “We are definitely an example of ‘opposites attract.’ In business it can be a tricky dynamic. Ultimately, it has worked in our favor.”
Would you recommend it for other people?
Stan: “It may not be for everyone, but if you both have a passion for your business and can each contribute a unique set of skills, then you should work together as partners. If it isn’t working, you will know sooner than later. Make sure to have a clear division of responsibilities, be willing to accept criticism and remember to complement each other.”
Kevin: “Trust is key. On the show, I told the sharks that when Stan approached me about operating trains in the malls, I was a little apprehensive. The truth is, I thought he had lost his mind [laughs]. We were in a rough place and this was so out of the box for us, but deep down I knew to trust his instincts.”
Have you guys run into any challenges and issues in the business world because of your sexual orientation?
Kevin: “I’m happy to say no, we haven’t. If anyone has ever declined doing business with us because of our relationship, they never told us. The response to our appearance on ‘Shark Tank’ has been overwhelmingly supportive. Of course there are still people who discriminate, but times are changing.”
Stan: “We conduct ourselves professionally as any other couple in business. We treat everyone with respect and hope to receive the same in return.”
Since striking a deal with Kevin and Lori on ‘Shark Tank,’ how have things been?
Stan: “We are still in the ‘due diligence’ stage, so the result of our deal has not been finalized, but the process has been a pleasure. Our admiration for Kevin and Lori has only increased since striking the deal. They have a gifted team of people working with them who have been nothing but kind and helpful.”
Have you learned any new business lessons from them so far? Please share!
Kevin: “The entire process has really been a learning experience for us. Preparing to pitch your business to the sharks forces you to get down to the bare bones of it. You have to be able to articulate facts about what you do clearly and concisely. If you lack confidence, it shows and you will not succeed. That is an important lesson for entrepreneurs.”
Stan: “Cultivating good relationships is paramount to your success. As I mentioned earlier, Kevin and Lori have incredible people working with them. You don’t survive in business alone. Our real estate firm has endured the worst economic crash of our time, and that is largely due to the trusted and loyal associates who stayed with us.”
Tell us some of the exciting things to come since coming off Shark Tank.
Stan: “The response to our appearance has been fantastic. Our website has received almost 20,000 hits. There is a tremendous amount of interest in our business, so we are weighing many options. We would like to expand to some great new locations and have been invited to participate in a variety of events. ‘Shark Tank’ has really opened a lot of doors for us.”
Kevin: “Our appearance on the show has highlighted many of the unique aspects of our business. For instance, we play our own original music on the trains and our theme song, ‘Fun Time Express,’ is now trending on ReverbNation — which has been really fun. We want to continue expanding on those types of things, so look for the Fun Time Express music video and full CD coming soon!”
Lastly, what is your greatest advice for anyone looking to start a business someday?
Stan: “Be prepared to sacrifice your time. In order to get a successful business running, you have to be 100 percent committed. It is much more time-consuming then people may think. You don’t get sick days or paid vacations, but the benefits are worth the sacrifices.”
Kevin: “If you aren’t truly passionate about your business, people will take notice, so do something you really enjoy. Be willing to accept criticism, but don’t let adversity discourage you. Most importantly, when you do have success — stop and take time to appreciate it, because you never know what the future brings. There is no sense in working hard if you don’t enjoy the rewards.”
Check out more from Fun Time Express.