Novel Effect

Company: Novel Effect

Founders: Matt and Melissa Hammersley

Season: Appeared on season 9 in the week 5 episode

Novel Effect is an app that makes storytime more magical. The “voice interactive storytelling” uses music and sounds to create a page-turning experience when reading children’s books aloud.

Their library includes “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Cat In the Hat,” “The Monsters’ Monster,” “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and many more. “Our hope is that whether you are a parent, a teacher, an older sibling, or a caregiver, Novel Effect will make it easier for you and a child to come together around a book and share a memorable moment,” according to their website. The app is available through the App Store for free.

When the Hammersleys originally appeared on “Shark Tank,” they came in asking for $500,000 for 10 percent equity. Mark Cuban felt as though they were underestimating some challenges and went out, as did Daymond John. Guest shark Sara Blakely liked the idea and Lori Greiner said she was intrigued by the storytelling magic. Ultimately, Greiner offered $500,000 for 20 percent and, after several counteroffers and a failed attempt by Blakely to partner with the queen of QVC, the duo accepted her deal for 15 percent.

The Hammersleys spoke with Business 2 Community about Novel Effect’s experience on the show and what their next steps are. Take a look at the Q&A below:

Q&A with Novel Effect’s Co-Founders Matt and Melissa Hammersley

What was your strategy for navigating “Shark Tank”?

Melissa: Preparation! We didn’t want to be caught off guard by anything. We planned, practiced and prepared for all possible scenarios. Luckily, we’ve been living this business for a few years now, so we know it backwards and forwards. This really helped us to just relax and answer questions while we were there.

Matt: I didn’t want to cry. After it was done, I’m sure I did, but thankfully, I don’t think they showed it.

How has Novel Effect changed since the episode was first recorded? Since it aired?

Matt: As a business, we’ve had some great opportunities since we recorded the episode. We were a part of the inaugural Techstars Alexa Accelerator, and through that program, we got to work with some industry leaders to develop and improve our system. We’ve been able to get organized, expand and hire new talent and incorporate new technology.

Melissa: Since the show aired, we’ve launched our Novel Effect Book Club, where subscribers can get books that work with our app delivered to their door each month. We’ve also adjusted our pricing structure. On the episode, we talk about a subscription model, and to the delight of all our customers, we’re currently still able to offer the app for free!

Is there anything you would have changed about your time spent in the tank, including your pitch and valuation?

Melissa: We knew Lori would be a valuable shark to have on our side, so when we got a solid offer from her within our ideal range, we jumped. In the moment, it felt like we took forever to decide, but looking back, it’s hard not to wonder if we could have gotten an even better deal if we’d waited to see what Sara Blakely had to offer.

Matt: I love our pitch—I’ve done plenty of pitches since the start of Novel Effect, and in the tank, I feel like we hit a stride with it. Melissa did an amazing job writing the “Shark Tank” story we read and it’s a great moment for us that we can’t wait to share with our kids. If I were to change anything, I don’t feel like we fully conveyed the potential for market. Mr. Wonderful got so put-off by a business tied to schools and educators, but there are so many other applications for our tech that we’re working on—things like role-playing games, voice-activated television shows and script readers for actors. Storytime for us, while our passion, is just the beginning.

Who’s your favorite shark?

Melissa: Lori, obviously!

Do you think “Shark Tank” was the right move for your business?

Melissa: Definitely. Our app is such a new way to do storytime. Just hearing or reading about what we can do doesn’t always get the point across—it really is something you have to experience or see in action to fully understand.

Matt: Exactly. “Shark Tank” gave us the chance to give a large audience an idea of the magical experience Novel Effect can create.

What are Novel Effect’s next steps?

Melissa: More platforms! We’re hoping to have an Android app and Alexa skill out in the coming months, and ultimately, we hope to have a web-based platform which can really broaden the types of things we offer and allow people to create their own soundscapes.

Matt: I’m really excited about where we can go next. We see our library growing as the kids using Novel Effect now do. Right now, my toddler loves Novel Effect and I want it to stay available to her as she grows into reading her first chapter books all the way through high school when she’s assigned things like Shakespeare.

Bring stories to life with Novel Effect!

A post shared by Novel Effect (@novel_effect) on

Where do you see this industry in 5-10 years?

Matt: I think voice technology will be everywhere in the next decade! We’re still in the early days of technology like Amazon’s Echo and new Alexa skills continue to outpace the year before. We’re at that point where smartphones were a decade ago and as developers and innovators create skills, voice devices will be able to do as much (or more!) than our phones can now. As the user experience continues to improve, it’ll be hard to compete with the ease of using voice, keeping hands free to do other things, like cuddle your child during storytime!

What would you say to people who want to start their own business?

Matt: Commit. You’ve got to believe in yourself and your idea because if you can’t, how could you ever expect anyone else to? You’re also going to be living, breathing, eating, sleeping your business. If it’s not something you can get passionate about, it’ll be really hard to sacrifice so much for it.

Melissa: I would agree and add to surround yourself with the right people. You need support, you need hard workers by your side and you also need people who aren’t afraid to disagree with you. Also, be adaptable. It’s crazy how things can change so quick. Some days I’m working until midnight on our website and then the next I’m in the craft store picking out string for packaging. Starting your own business, you never really know what the day might bring. It’s exhausting and exciting every step of the way!

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to make it on “Shark Tank”?

Melissa: Get as much exposure as possible. We submitted one application and weren’t selected to continue. But we kept putting the company out there, applying to and participating in start-up competitions and accelerators. Ultimately, we got on “Shark Tank” this season after they saw us at SXSW and invited us to reapply.

Matt: First, make sure that it really is the right fit for you and your business. If it is, then apply, apply again and re-apply. Know your product story inside out and make sure they have plenty of opportunities to hear it.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length

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