On the latest episode of the hit ABC show Shark Tank, Drexel student Christopher Gray, Co-Founder of Scholly, an app to help college students find scholarships, walked away with $40,000 and two “Shark Tank personalities–FUBU founder Daymond John and Lori Greiner of QVC, as investors with a 15% stake in his company.
Gray’s aha moment occurred after he was awarded 34 scholarships for a total of $1.3 million. He then used his knowledge about the scholarship process to create Scholly. The Scholly app, available for 99-cents, sold 92,000 downloads before the showed aired. Anyone who is a fan of the show knows it doesn’t take long for the Sharks to dive into a unique concept and present an offer. But on this episode after hearing very little about the back end of his website and business model, Lori and Daymond offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse. The deal, which set off an epic fight between the Sharks about making an investment for charity vs profit, led to Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec and Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary, walking off the stage. With Scholly rated at No. 1 in the app store, Black Enterprise caught up with Gray to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey.
Since launching your Scholly, what has your journey been like leading to this point?
The journey has been surreal. I am only a senior in college and have had tremendous success. Being featured in national outlets and other accolades has been amazing. My top three highlights:
- Shark Tank Appearance
- Scholly Being Chosen as one of Inc. Magazine’s Top College Start Up
- I was selected as one of BET’s 30 Under 30
Have you always wanted to venture into entrepreneurship? If so, who has inspired you the most?
Yes, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was little. I have a lot of mentors who I look to for various things. Have a problem with choosing one!
What advice would you give an aspiring young entrepreneur?
Young entrepreneurs should make sure they surround themselves with mentors who have been where they are now. You can be the most intelligent person on the planet, but that doesn’t make up for experience. The same goes for their peers. Surround yourself with smart people who you can learn from. You are the average of the five people you spend the most of your time with.
As a young entrepreneur, do you think it’s hard for people to take you seriously? If so, can you give our readers some business tips or advice around getting people to invest in your vision?
I think people of any age take you as seriously as you take yourself. You need to be confident, know your product and market, and convey the passion about the problem in the market you are trying to solve. At the end of the day, investors are investing in you!
What are your top 3 tips for developing a mobile app?
- Develop A Product Road Map
- Test Everything Before Launch
- Release your app, get feedback, and improve.
Can you describe the Shark Tank applicant process? How did you prepare for the show?
The producers reach out to you and then you send them an audition tape. Then if ABC likes what you sent, then you rehearse for a month or two until they let you know whether you are going to LA to film. I filmed June 2014 so it’s been awhile.
Now that the show has aired, is there anything that you think you could have done differently? How did you feel about the backlash from the show?
I think I made the right decision. I didn’t go on Shark Tank for the funds, but rather to get investors who believed in Scholly as a business and as a product that will have massive social impact. I could have easily answered any questions Mark, Robert, or Kevin asked, so their opinions did not bother me,” he says. “However, Daymond and Lori gave me exactly what I asked for and were willing to go in together. They are savvy investors who saw Scholly’s potential right from the start and those are the sorts of investors I want.
What are your goals for the next 2-3 years?
I’ll be focused on Scholly full time going forward. Although we are focused on the scholarship search at the moment, we are working to make the scholarship process even easier. Next, we are working to move beyond scholarships and evolving into a platform that students can use to get into college and until they graduate from college. There are lots of barriers to entry for college, especially for low-income minorities. Scholly is looking to change that!