One of season three’s fan favorites was Fleetwood Hicks and his custom bike-building business, Villy Customs. The colorful cruisers captured the Sharks’ attention almost as much as Fleetwood’s adorable dog, DeVille, the namesake of the company. Villy Customs’ story is different than most, which is why we loved having the opportunity to catch up Fleetwood to hear about how life has changed since making a half million-dollar deal with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban.
Editor’s note: This piece is dedicated to the loving memory of DeVille, who passed away on August 24, 2012.
Villy Customs humble beginnings
How did Villy Customs get its start? I was actually in the clothing industry during the earlier part of my career. I was in LA travelling on a business trip and I had half an afternoon open before I flew back [to Dallas]. I went to Venice beach and I went in a cruiser bike renter store on the boardwalk. I rented a bike for an hour and I came back 6 hours later. I flew back to Dallas and I was walking by a store a week later and I saw a cruiser bike in a bike shop and I bought it! I started riding around my neighborhood and I loved them so much I was getting little groups of people to come on these bike rides.
I opened a little brick and mortar store and I brought in a line of cruiser bikes. One thing led to another: I started to take fenders off one [bike]and put them into another. I found a source for colored tires and chains and everyone wanted to buy them because they look different! It wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to do made-to-order bikes, and that’s how Villy Customs was born.
Before Villy Customs went into the Tank
What made you decide to apply to Shark Tank? I was lucky because our company got selected by Entreprenuer Magazine’s list of 100 brilliant business ideas 2010. Now I had already send a package about our company to Shark Tank a few times, but I ended up getting a call from an executive producer asking how I’d like to be on the show after he saw my article in Entrepreneur Magazine. The coolest thing was when Shark Tank [held an open call in]Dallas and invited me to be there. There were lines of people standing outside in 105 degrees, standing for hours. I got to go right to the front and it was awesome!
Before your appearance on the show, was there a particular Shark you were hoping to make a deal with? This is crazy but I really put a lot of thought into it, and I knew I wanted Mark and Barbara because I wanted the female mothering side of things, and Mark’s from my hometown and he’s a web guru; I knew he’d be a really smart business man.
You valued Villy Customs at $500,000 for 33% of the company. How did you arrive at that valuation? I based it on what I thought our sales could be pretty quickly without spending a whole lot of money. It was based on inventory, current sales and potential of what I thought we could get to. A lot of people don’t ask for enough money, but I knew I needed at least $500,000.
What makes Villy Customs a good investment
What do you think sealed the deal and make Mark and Barbara want to invest in Villy Customs? It’s funny because I asked [Mark and Barbara] that after the show. What they said to me was that they looked for a great product—which we had—and someone that seemed trustworthy and passionate about what they were doing. They trusted me and loved my product.
Fleetwood’s advice from the fishbowl
What do you think is the biggest mistake people in make Shark Tank? They’re not preparing, they’re not planning, they don’t know their numbers. You have to know the numbers backwards and forwards!
I practiced with a big crowd of people. I got up and did my presentation and I told them to beat me up and ask me every possible question under the sun. The first time it was so embarrassing—I was so terrible! I even had some business friends who told me “we’ve gotta work on this or you’re gonna get blown out of the water.” Once I was on the show, the hardest part is getting past the intro, the pitch. But the Q&A was a breeze.