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David Zamarin: One TV Appearance Away From Rapid Growth

Driven by an urgency to create a better future for his generation and future generations, David founded DetraPel with one simple mission: protect what you love. This mission is derived from his passions for entrepreneurship and creating world-changing initiatives that contribute to a thriving society and planet.

David believes that through innovation and a commitment to reduce environmental impacts and negative health effects, corporations have the power and responsibility to disrupt the growing trajectory of global challenges. That is why he implemented a strategic shift towards a smarter business model that reimagines the way my company builds new consumer and industrial products, creates distinction and contributes to change.

TRANSCRIPT:

BRYAN WISH: What is the One Away moment that you want to share with us today?

DAVID ZAMARIN: My biggest One Away moment was when we realized that we going to be on Shark Tank and then finally when we aired, that was a big moment in my career and for the company for various reasons; some obvious and some not. The most obvious was it made the business go from a college dorm room business or businesses I started in high school, and a hobby at some points, to a full-blown company. That was the real moment when things changed. 

BRYAN WISH: Tell us the business, what you’re doing, and who invested on Shark Tank.

DAVID ZAMARIN: I run a company called DetraPel. I started this company in high school with a very simple problem that I was trying to solve. I just wanted to keep my shoes clean. Initially, when I was thinking of the idea, I had a few mentors through a youth entrepreneurship program that told me, “You don’t know anything about chemistry.” The initial idea that I wanted to come up with was a film that could be peeled off whenever it got dirty, that wasn’t really going to work. What my mentors recommended, and I ultimately did, was I pivoted the idea to a local shoe cleaning company for local university sports’ teams in Philadelphia, which is where I’m from. Fortunately, I was able to sell that quite quickly. Four months into it, I had my first exit which was a big deal for a 9th grader. It was a small exit but when you’re in 9th grade and you’ve got a little bit of money and don’t know what to do with it, it’s a good position to be in.

Fortunately, when I sold it, I started doing a lot of research in nanotechnology and came across some competitors of what now is DetraPel and just learned how harmful most of the chemicals that have been in the market are and how they continue to be made in a very unsustainable way. We started doing research on natural ways of coming up with repellant products or protective coatings, to be specific, without the use of fluorinated chemistry. Fluorinated chemistry is just a chain of 5,000 chemicals that are incredibly carcinogenic. DetraPel is an advanced materials company that makes all different types of coatings but specifically protective coatings that we really focus on that you can spray on any surface and then pour pretty much any liquid base substance on it and it will repel the liquids; thereby, preventing stains and messes and ultimately saving you time and money from having to clean or replace your favorite belongings. 

Since eight years ago, when I initially started the company, we’ve transitioned from just shoes to a lot of other things. We’re actually mostly an industrial company now. We do have a big consumer side of the business. We do have a big consumer side of the business, thanks to Shark Tank. I was a freshman in college when we aired and then as a sophomore, my first semester, is when it aired. It was a great experience. It made a big difference in the company’s life. We got an investment on air from Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner.  

BRYAN WISH: Seems like a journey of a lot of exploration early, a lot of hard work early that led you down a path that you probably were never expecting but you felt that inner curiosity and it seemed to work out for you. Take me back to your roots. Describe your upbringing, where your family is from, and how that’s shaped you as an individual. 

DAVID ZAMARIN: I have a very interesting upbringing. My parents are both immigrants. My mom is from Kiev, Ukraine and my dad is from Moscow, Russia. They met here when they were 20 years old. They both came here when they were like 18 or 19 and met shortly thereafter. Got married, had me, and then got divorced when I was less than two. It wasn’t the best marriage. My dad was always in business. He was a stockbroker at first and then he went into real estate and mortgages. He’s kind of an entrepreneur. He’s got a couple of his own businesses now. My mom was working 17 hour shifts after the divorce in retail. She was struggling to make ends meet because she was taking care of me, herself, and my grandparents. My grandma didn’t work. My grandfather did work in construction but he was literally earning 3 bucks an hour because he was working on cash because he wasn’t fully legal here. My mom was the breadwinner and there wasn’t much winning of bread either.

We struggled. I lived with my grandparents for the first five years of my young life. That kind of shaped me in a weird scenario. I realized that my parents struggled really hard to get to where they are today which ultimately made me very motivated and self-driven. I was incredibly strange as a child. I was always very entrepreneurial from a very young age and always had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to fit in is what it came down to. I really just wanted to have friends. The only way I thought, at the time, to do that was to be gung-ho and strong about my upbringing and where I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be is where everyone wants to be in terms of how they define success. 

I grew up in a very strict upbringing. I went to school not knowing any English. Everything was all about education. My mom’s side of the family was super, super strong on getting good grades, having a great education, and then going to the Ivy Leagues and what not. My dad pushed business my whole life. I was constantly in this weird dichotomy between both worlds. I remember when I was 6 or 7. My dad was never shy about keeping me in the office or bringing me to any of his meetings. He brought me everywhere. For that, I’m truly grateful. I can point to this one moment in time.

My stepdad who I also called daddy – he raised me along with my mom – he is the one that picked up my mom and helped her end up going to school. She ended up graduating when she was 30 years old from undergrad here in the states and became an engineer. Ever since then, my parents have been doing really well and they’ve made investments along the way. It paid off. The reason I bring this up is because my stepdad was a very plain guy. He’s also an immigrant from Ukraine. Was just working very hard shifts and my mom fell in love. That was his first marriage. He was in his mid-30s. My mom was in her 30s by then. Things went well for them which was great. They got married when I was around 10.

Simultaneously, when I was 5 or 6 years old, when they first met, I remember sitting in my dad’s car and this weird, vivid image. I remember listening to Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This was back when there was cassettes still and CD’s. In his car, he had whole CD playlists that he bought with Robert’s program and he was listening to it. I almost related to Kiyosaki’s story. I wouldn’t say my biological dad was rich by any means but he was certainly trying whatever self-help and motivational kind of entrepreneur advertising. He was in real estate. He was doing a bunch of different things. I saw this dichotomy of Rich Dad Poor Dad. A rich family. A not so rich family. Even though my dad was not rich. My mom’s side of the family lived much better off than my dad did. 

One of the major things I noticed when I was growing up was that I needed a purpose. For me, that was trying to be independent. I really wanted to be independent from my family. I didn’t want to rely on them and wanted to be successful early on. I was always critically motivated by my education because I was forced to but I naturally do love education. I’m a big proponent of it. I’m very strange in that matter. There are a lot of entrepreneurs that are proponents of dropping out. I’m actually not unless you have a reason to. I lived that firsthand. I didn’t drop out when I was in school. That along with my passion for business and I was always entrepreneurial and always selling and flipping things from six years old all the way up to high school and then college. Those two things and the love of soccer – I was a big athlete when I was younger – is what kept me on the straight and narrow path because a lot of my friends did not go down the same way. My upbringing was in a really rough part of Philadelphia. 

BRYAN WISH: You saw your childhood from a number of different angles. That perspective of your parents being immigrants and that hard work ethic. Sounds like you parents were extremely hardworking. Their approaches and how they went about it were different. It worked out for them in different ways. You being the son, you were able to see mom value education and value ways of doing things. You saw your dad try and be entrepreneurial. Given your background, you’ve been able to kind of merge your desire to learn and educate yourself and also go to school but then also take control of your life and create that independence through business as a vehicle to do so. There’s a lot of people who may have had that upbringing and gone another way. 

DAVID ZAMARIN: I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I was kind of forced. I was forced to grow up really early. I was exposed to way too much as a kid. My dad, when he got in real estate, I was like 9 or 10 years old. I remember he took me to one of his investment properties in north Philly in an area that was not up and coming. It was not gentrified or planning to be gentrified yet. I remember stepping in. It was a show. They had illegal quadrants in the building and all I saw all over the floor were heroine needles and blood. I ran out of the place wanting to throw up. Some people would call that inhumane of my dad but I’m very grateful looking back. I was always critical of my dad growing up. Looking back, I’m very grateful for those opportunities because on one hand, I didn’t have a childhood in many ways but on the other hand, that’s just not the cards I was dealt and I’m very fortunate that at least I had a good upbringing to keep me on the right path. 

Don’t get me wrong. I was still a kid. I still played with other kids and still had games. I was very non-traditional. I didn’t have the same kind of stress-free, no worries as a child. Or whatever a normal child would think about, I didn’t have that. The other thing is my friends were sheltered in a lot of ways and I wasn’t. My parents never tried to pad or cushion anything. I was told this is life. Life is what you make out of it. You’ll get out what you put in. That seems to have been a consistent theme throughout my young adulthood. Every situation is different. I’m not saying every kid should go through this. I’m just speaking from my experience and what’s happened with my family and how that rubbed off on me. I don’t know if I’d raise my kids the same way. That’s a question I’ll have to answer in the future. 

BRYAN WISH: I appreciate the vulnerability and perspective. Those core traits have been drilled into you and have clearly gone into what you’re doing. When you got the initial ideas for DetraPel, how have those skills maybe propelled you? How did they get you to that point to Shark Tank?

DAVID ZAMARIN: The huge thing that I think all of this culminated in me is that independence kind of gave me a little bit of naivety and a little bit of courage to be able to do things. When I was in high school, this youth entrepreneurship program that I got into, was the first introduction into what true entrepreneurship was. Not like buying and selling and flipping stuff. Something beyond that. Solving an actual problem. What I learned was people were willing to help me because I was young. I think that independence and that self-motivation and self-drive, I did all these programs on my own. My mom didn’t even know English until she went to her undergrad program. By the time she did that, I was like 11 years old. She knew nothing about any of this stuff. All she cared about was if I’m doing well in school and how chess is going. 

One of the cool things I had, when I was in my freshman year, was I had this knack for not being afraid to ask for help or not being afraid to reach out to older individuals. I wasn’t intimated by business professionals that had been doing this for 30 years. I had the balls to actually reach out to a lot of people. I cold emailed Mark Cuban at the end of my freshman year of high school and that’s how I ended up getting on Shark Tank. It was by sheer naivety because I thought, “Why not email him? I’ve got nothing to lose.” That’s what propelled a lot of my early success. It was that ability to not be scared to reach out. I think that’s because I was immersed in all these situations with my parents.

A lot of my friends were a lot older than me. They’re all grades above me and older than me. I’ve always had it that way. When my parents had friends over, when we had holidays and we had family friends over, I didn’t sit at the kids’ table. I sat at the big people’s table. That’s what I remember. I spoke to everyone normally. I loved learning from other people. I wasn’t afraid to ask for help. I asked for advice when I thought it was needed. 

BRYAN WISH: You became the best at getting free consulting without realizing it. 

DAVID ZAMARIN: Yeah, it wasn’t my intention. 

BRYAN WISH: I’m kidding. I really admire the way you said that. I think a lot of people struggle reaching out and asking for help and getting the help they need when they need help. It’s one of those valuable skills. To be a good entrepreneur, I think it’s vital. Let’s come back to the big moment and share the story of how things have unfolded. You started DetraPel. You got to Shark Tank. You got the investment. Take us to that moment and that feeling that you experienced when they said, “We’re going to do it.” 

DAVID ZAMARIN: My situation was a little interesting because it was one of the quicker deals. I didn’t do it for 1 ½ hours. My filming was 32 minutes long. It was very quick. The average is 90 minutes long. The woman before me was over 3 hours long. My experience was interesting. When they heard the story, they felt culminated by it. A lot of them can relate to it because a lot of them started the same way. They started with one, small idea and it turned into something else. Then they were trying to solve a real problem and that became real business. First and foremost, I walked in with a demonstration that was pretty damn good. I walked in with a white dress shirt on, fake tripped, spilled coffee on myself. The shirt got all stained. I ripped it off. There was another shirt underneath that was treated with my product and I spilled coffee again and it rolled right off. There was no stain.

That was literally the first 30 seconds of the presentation or the first minute. They were amazed by the product, first and foremost. Once I got into it, they asked how I came up with it. I started talking about the story. I said how I started in high school and they’re like, “How long ago was that? How old are you?” I go, “I’m 19. I started this 3 ½ years ago.” That’s when things switched over and I think they cared less about the product and more about the story. They were eager. For whatever reason, I think I created interest really early on. Once one of them bit, no pun intended, the hook – then all of them started to. Mark was the first one that offered me a deal. Then Lori was like, “Wait, no.” Then there’s a commercial break that cuts out. In reality, she says, “I’ll offer you the same thing.” I don’t remember the exact sequence but I think I either had Rohan Oza as the guest shark on my episode jump in and mention that he’ll go in. I said, “Thank you for all of your offers.”

Then I turned to Mark and Lori and I asked if they would partner together. Mark asked me as to why I wanted that. I explained there was a tech side to the business which is the industrial side and then there’s also a consumer and branding side. They agreed to go in together. Quickly, Rohan and Robert Herjavec went in together and offered technically a sweeter deal but I thought the right deal to go into was Mark and Lori. We closed on air. Then all the due diligence started right afterward. That’s when they really dive deep into the company. Unfortunately, once due diligence was over, there were several discrepancies from their end and on my side. The deal wasn’t exactly what we agreed to. It was a mutual decision. We actually did not end up closing the deal at the end which ultimately, I think was better for the company. At the very minimum, what it did, is it changed the life of the company altogether.

BRYAN WISH: So, you didn’t do the deal but you were able to get the exposure. 

DAVID ZAMARIN: For me, the cool thing about the show was that we had one of the most successful episodes of the season. Not necessarily just my segment but I mean the entire episode. I think our segment was very highly rated. That translated to a lot of eyeballs. We made a lot of mistakes afterward because we were backordered for like 14 weeks. The funny part is I had a bunch of inventory in stock but we sold out much quicker than expected. Then the backup inventory was in travel and it just took forever. We did piss off a lot of customers afterward but ultimately, it worked out well.

BRYAN WISH: When you had that delay, were you freaking out?

DAVID ZAMARIN: Yes. I was definitely freaking out. We had sold a bunch in the first night. Over two days, it was 300K of revenue just on our website which at the time, that was a lot of money for the business especially when it came so quick. There were a couple of things that happened. First and foremost, we didn’t have enough inventory. We realized that off the bat. The next day, the morning of, we had made a note on everyone’s order that if you’re placing an order that you’re going to have a delay of like 5-6 weeks which most Shark Tank viewers expect, I think. Maybe it was 3-4 weeks because that’s what we were quoted for.

Our shipping times had been delayed at the port. At the time, we were outsourcing our manufacturing. Now today, we don’t outsource almost anything at all. The point is, we ended up having these massive delays. I’m freaking out. About 3-5 weeks into it, people actually forgot and stopped asking us questions. There were still people following up but for the most part, a lot of people forgot. I chose to be proactive. I think it was the right decision. I just think timing was incorrect. I wanted to get the message out quicker than what the rest of the team wanted. Two of our members were on vacation. I sent the email blast to all customers saying, “We have an additional 5-6 week delay and we’re going to give you the option…” Which is where I f’d up actually. I shouldn’t have given the option of what people wanted to do. I said, “We can either refund you. We can give you a free bottle or we can discount you a certain percentage.”

Most customers wanted the free bottle, which is fine, but the problem was we had to then respond to all of these emails. That was the issue we had. In the first night, we had 3,000 emails. It was nuts. The amount of people that reached out was crazy. Then on top of that, you have people who didn’t reach out previously who are either business owners and trying to get the product and then you have the 30,000 people that had ordered, and the next thing I know that more than half of them are responding and we’re back in the same boat that we were just in a couple weeks prior where our inboxes were completely full. That was the hardest part of the whole thing and it was very stressful. I think that’s when I lost the majority of my hair actually. Just kidding. At the end, we ended up persevering and getting customers what they wanted. Those who wanted a refund got one. 

BRYAN WISH: Good learning lesson. Don’t give 30,000 people an option of what they want. Shark Tank was what year?

DAVID ZAMARIN: The episode aired in January 2018. 

BRYAN WISH: It’s 2021 now. Pandemic years. Take us to where the business is today.

DAVID ZAMARIN: Things have changed dramatically. We’ve tripled in size in terms of employee count. Now it’s full-blown employees. No longer just college students. We have people in their 60s, people in their 50s. I think the average age now is in the mid-40s. Me and one other individual who was part of the Shark Tank time are the only two people that are in their 20s. I mention all of that just to show the growth. My COO and my chief research officer both have 37 and 25 years of experience, multiple exits under their belts. My chief research and development officer is like world renown for his research. He’s developed some of the world’s most known chemical products. We convinced them to relocate out of Ohio. Dropped their life that they had there for over 20 years. He had a nice position at a large, global company. He pitched us. He said to my COO and I, “Hey, we want to join you. My wife and I, who is also a chemist. Would you guys want us to relocate?” We were like, “Yeah.” I mention age because I’m incredibly humbled that people are willing to make a bet on some 23 now year old kid who just has a dream and a vision. 

The key critical component of what we do now – after Shark Tank, things really changed for us. We realized that we finally had a real company, not just the business. We could  make things happen internally. Slowly and surely, after my COO was brought on board, we started bringing everything in-house. The first thing was our packaging. We were doing most of that in-house at that time but we wanted to bring in more packaging and more equipment and more automation. We started working towards that. We then brought in all the R&D and manufacturing house. All of our R&D is done internally. Three full-time chemists on staff. Then we’ve got our own production, our own manufacturing, our packaging, fulfilment, shipping. Everything you could possibly think of, we do it here. Anything we do outsource, like the printing of our labels, is done locally in Massachusetts as well which is where we’re based out of now.

We do a lot of different things. Our website only talks about our consumer products that are focused for fabric protection but the reality is, we do a lot more. We’re actually mostly on the industrial side. We work with manufacturers primarily. Then we have products that are in completely other industries. We have a food packaging coating to eliminate the use of fluorinated chemistry in food packaging. Unfortunately, all those Chipotle bowls, Sweetgreen bowls, all the compostable stuff, is actually not that compostable because fluorochemicals live in the environment for thousands and thousands of years. More importantly, they’re carcinogenic and they’re proven and linked to cancer and they’re proven and linked to cancer and birth defects. It’s a big problem right now if you just up PFAS. It comes up all over Google. There’s new articles every day that there’s either new litigation coming out or new regulations being sanctioned against companies that use these chemicals. We’ve kind of been ahead of the curve. That’s how I started the company. It was all about being non-toxic. To take steps even further, we’re really the only ones that have any fluorochemical-free products that actually work, are patented, and have multiple characteristics to them. 

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like you thought through all the details. You thought about the environment and people. What is the vision?

DAVID ZAMARIN: We want to be the leader in the industry for all protective coatings. I personally think that it’s time that we redefine chemical standards. For many decades now, this has been going on. Teflon was in WWI. It’s the same stuff that they use on tanks that they use in your nonstick cookware. That was recently banned, like the PFOA and PFOS chemicals. If you go and shop for cooking pans, you’ll see a lot of them say no PFOA or PFOS. That chemistry is old. It’s known. It’s cheap. It’s durable. It’s a really effective chemistry but there’s no reason to have it in almost every single product that’s mass produced.

We think it’s time to redefine those chemical standards, to redefine what traditional chemistry is, and to push boundaries further because for many years and decades, people have been trying to find alternatives to fluorinated chemistry. They’ve just struggled deeply and the general consensus in the industry is that there is no solution to zero PFAS and the solutions that do exist suck with performance. Our first issue that we addressed was having a good product that worked. We wanted to be a better repellant or protective coating than what’s already on the market. That was a hard thing to achieve because fluorochemicals are very effective. Part of that criteria was to make it PFAS free. I think one of the main components of what we do is try to really push the boundary of what chemistry allows us to do. 

BRYAN WISH: Let’s say you redefine chemistry and protectants in modern day form. What happens as a result?

DAVID ZAMARIN: From an impact perspective, there are multiple things that happen. First and foremost, we save people. It’s $70 billion worth of goods being thrown out each year specifically due to stains; due to being ruined because of some liquid based stain. From an ecological perspective and from an economical perspective, you’re saving people from wasting time and money by having to clean or replace items whether it’s their couch, their clothing, whatever. It also makes people stress-free. It makes life easier for the moms of the world, for people who are having to struggle and juggle three kids, two kids, a dog, and a messy husband. It makes life easier for them because they don’t have to worry about all the stains and ruining of items that they’ll have from the family.

From an impact perspective, it solves a few major issues which is having to throw out items, replace items, or repair items that are damaged or clean them. More importantly than that, we do all of that without the use of these cancerous chemicals. It’s a much bigger problem than what the regular person will now. My town, for example, where I live in Massachusetts, I get a letter every month for the last six months talking about how water systems are all infiltrated with PFAS chemicals. The problem is there’s no way to treat them. There’s no way to get them out of the water system. They don’t degrade. They’re one of the strongest bonds in chemistry, the carbon fluorine bond. That’s the whole issue that’s present because 99% of humans in the U.S. have it in their bloodstream. Almost every single product that you can pick up, including your shirts; the color fastness and all the other chemicals and dyes that are used, all of that has fluorinated chemistry. It’s a big problem. 

BRYAN WISH: When you paint it like that, you can really see the impact it has on the every day person and how the problem is so big. I’m so excited for you. Stay the course. I’m sure it will all work out. For you personally, as a leader in the business, how have you evolved as an individual? How has your evolution as a leader impacted your relationships on the home front and with the other leaders within the company? 

DAVID ZAMARIN: I think the evolution that I personally had is communication skills and being more empathetic. When I started studying empathy and trying to train that skill, I think things changed quite a bit. You start to build better bonds with your team, better structure. By no means are we perfect. I don’t think we do a good job here personally yet because we’re a small team, of being accountable for certain things because there’s a lot going on. This is me being critical of myself and the company. There’s not a ton of structure with what we’re doing. Compared to a regular startup or a regular company that’s in the same mid-market tier that we are, we’re probably better than most. My point is, I personally would think that we could be better. I like to challenge my team and myself to do better because I know that we’re capable of it. There’s so much going on that it’s really hard to manage all of that. 

BRYAN WISH: Getting that right is hard. It’s not an easy feat. Good for you. I’m thrilled for you. Where can people find you?

DAVID ZAMARIN: I’m always open to mentor back or give back. The best way to reach out is usually through email. I’d rather stick with social for now. Reach out to any of the social media links that I have which is literally my name, David Zamarin, on all social media platforms. From there, we’ll link up.

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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