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Episode 172 Shark Tank Winner Joe Altieri On Building Brands That Disrupt

Shark Tank Winner Joe Altieri On Building Brands That Disrupt

This week’s episode is an exciting ride in product innovation with Joe Altieri, a window industry professional who went from struggling with sales to winning Shark Tank.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov
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The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Joe Altieri is the inventor and founder of FlexScreen, a product featured on Shark Tank. He’s one of the best in the business when it comes to disrupting a building product category, and we talked with him about the road to his success.

Going From Garage to Shark Tank

“So I've been in the window and door industry on the manufacturing side for about 22, 23 years now. And my customers had a problem with window screens scratching and denting, and [being] hard to get in and out,” explains Joe.

In his own garage, Joe started working on a solution for customers in the form of a flexible screen. “This was just a hobby,” says Joe. “I pulled my wife's Yukon out of the garage and set up a workbench, and two years later, I had this really ugly prototype that I showed off to some contacts that I had in the industry.”

And that is how the FlexScreen product was born. “FlexScreen is the world's first and only flexible window screen,” says Joe. “We've been producing for about seven years now.”

The road to FlexScreen’s success has been bumpy, but definitely interesting. “We are in the middle of opening up our seventh manufacturing location. So we [have been] growing fast over the past seven years. It's been a wild ride,” Joe says.

If Joe’s name sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve seen him on TV. The FlexScreen brand gained attention since it was launched — attention that eventually led to Joe’s appearance on Shark Tank in 2020. The road to Shark Tank wasn’t a clear or obvious path, however. “Our first year of sales was $400,000,” Joe explains.

New products are launched in the building materials industry every day, and Beth points out that “many of them just get sucked right into the traditional channels.” So she pressed Joe further and asks, “How did you resist that traditional go-to-market strategy? And what did it look like for you when you guys were starting out?”

The window industry was ripe for product innovation when FlexScreen went to market. “So, we were entering a very, very mature market — like ‘this is how we've always done screens, why would we do anything different?’ Those types of things,” explains Joe. “So even though our product answered a lot of issues for the window manufacturers and for the homeowners, we were having trouble getting people to convert.”

Building a Disruptive Brand With No Budget

172 Building a Disruptive Brand With No Budget

Screenshot From FlexScreen’s Site

Joe recognized the ROI of digital marketing, especially because platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are (mostly) free. And as a sales rep with decades of experience in the window industry, he understood the value of attracting and engaging an audience on social media.

“And we're like, ‘Okay, what can we do to possibly get some attention to our product?’ Because I don't have the money for a Super Bowl ad. Just doing ads in some of the industry publications, I didn't have the money for it,” Joe explained. He realized he needed to come up with something a little different than what traditional window and door brands were doing on social media.

“I bought a piece of fabric, put a black sheet up, and we just started making videos trying to get the word out about us,” Joe explains. “They were making fun of me, making fun of our industry. It was like me hitting stuff with hammers, running stuff over with cars — just things that were so crazy that it started getting some attention. And then just doubling down.”

“It was out of desperation,” says Joe. “I had to show that it was different. I had to go out and do something different. I had to be different.”

Taking a risk on social media with these videos paid off, and the FlexScreen brand was able to grow further because of how they stood out from competitors — they had a story to tell. Joe used social media to amplify that story further and did it in ways that most traditional window and door brands weren’t.

“So, if you were on Facebook, even just trying to get the AdWords for window screens and stuff like that, we were grabbing really, really cheap digital real estate because nobody else was doing anything with that,” explains Joe.

Standing Out From Competitors

But even though he had attention from viral videos, Joe needed sales. Contractors, installers, architects and other professionals aren’t the easiest customers to sell new products to. “It has to be exponentially better or just a complete game-changer in order for somebody to go, ‘You know what? I'm going to try something new.’” explains Zach with Venveo.

New products introduce new variables into projects, which means that they also bring risks to the user. “We had to jump the window manufacturers because the window manufacturers had absolutely no incentive to bring something new to their manufacturing process,” he explained. “It wasn't enough for them to put the effort into getting my message to their customers who then would get it to the homeowners. And so we started doing webinars.”

We’ve talked on the podcast about one of the best ways that manufacturers can stand out from competitors — through education. And FlexScreen started offering webinars during a time when Zoom wasn’t even a household name yet.

“We were the first people in the industry to start doing things like this,” says Joe. “So wherever you are in the world, you can log on. You can drive down the road, have Joe open on your screen, and your team can ask him questions and get the full presentation.”

Between the webinars and viral videos from the FlexScreen brand, the window products got attention from homeowners.

“And then that attention from the homeowners brings demand to the window dealers. The window dealers bring demand to the window manufacturers,” explains Joe.

The risk of using social media and silly videos ended up being a smart strategy, and Joe helped us understand why it paid off. “You have to figure out who the real audience is,” says Joe. “You think that it's the person that you're selling to when it's actually not. And so, again, that was a big paradigm shift for us.”

And it was a change in perspective for Joe. “I was a sales guy,” he says. “That is huge to understand — that there's a huge difference between sales and marketing. And when you become a marketing company, your message becomes more important than your product in a lot of ways.”

From Storytelling to Shark Tank Success

Zach has followed Joe and FlexScreen online for a few years now. “I can't believe I'm sharing this with you — I would check your site, and you all would make optimizations and little things to your checkout cart,” says Zach. And he kept following up on FlexScreen. “If you say your product is better and it's easier, but then buying from you is difficult? Well, those two things don't align.”

Joe knew that the impact of an easy website experience can encourage sales — but FlexScreen wasn’t seeing sales initially. “I'm a data person,” says Joe, who began monitoring how site visitors used FlexScreen’s site.

“We could get them to our site,” says Joe. “We'd get them there, they would actually watch the videos, they would do all this stuff. Then, they would watch how to measure for the screens because we needed them to. In our original e-commerce site, they had to measure first. Then, they would go in and do the checkout — and they would just stop.

Joe started digging into what might make that experience easier on homeowners. "What happens if we say, ‘Buy now, measure whenever in the heck you want?’" (Spoiler alert: good things happen.)

“I mean, it went from consumers having to spend 45 minutes on my website to check out to they could do it in 35 seconds, 40 seconds,” says Joe.

Creating a more seamless experience for the customer, even if it means fulfilling the order at a later date, helped FlexScreen guarantee their success — and eventually, a spot on Shark Tank.

“So we actually got a deal with Lori Greiner. She's one of our equity partners now. And we were doing so well within the first year that they did something that they usually don't do — which is [that] we got an update episode the next year just because we were growing fast. But then, because of the show, we were in Home Depot,” Joe explains.

172 From Storytelling to Shark Tank Success

Want Even More Insight?

Joe left us with a few more final digital marketing tips for how manufacturers can ensure they’re securing every customer sale.

  1. Make it pleasant to use on mobile. “Mobile is where people should be developing for,” says Joe. “We're talking about a site that is really pleasant to use on mobile.”
  2. Make sure they stay on your site without getting frustrated. “Form fills,” Joe recommends. “There's times where I actually want to know about a product, and they want so much information, and it's not auto-populated. And I'm like, ‘Screw it. I'm not doing this.’”
  3. Make it so convenient that they don’t care about price. “If a consumer can order, get something easily, no matter where they are — number one, they'll do it because of convenience. Number two, they don't care what they pay. I know that I overpay for things on Amazon, and I don't care because I can order it from the toilet.”

To encourage people to truly connect with your brand, you have to ensure them that you, too, are human. “Show who you are and why a consumer wants to buy from you and you as a person, you as a company,” says Joe.

Be sure to listen to the full episode here.

Check out what FlexScreen has to offer by visiting their site, or follow Joe at JoeAltieri.com.

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