When Travis Perry introduced his revolutionary invention, ChordBuddy, to America on the ABC TV show “Shark Tank” in 2012, he had no idea it would become a nationwide success, bringing in millions in sales in three years.
“When I went on ‘Shark Tank,’ that changed everything,” said the Dothan entrepreneur and music teacher. “Within a week, we had $12,000 in business and we sold over $2 million in the first eight months.”
Perry struck a deal with shark investor Robert Herjavec, who offered him $175,000 for a 20 percent stake in the new business.
Perry said Herjavec’s advice and input in the business has been invaluable.
“In the beginning, we talked on the phone every week, if not several times a week, and we communicated daily by email,” said Perry. “Robert also talked about ChordBuddy everywhere he went and opened doors for me at retailers like Wal-Mart and Target – places I could never have gotten into on my own.”
It’s no wonder Perry’s invention is a hit. With ChordBuddy attached to the neck of the guitar, beginners may start entertaining family and friends with their favorite tunes in a matter of hours. Using the learning system, students of the instrument can quickly play basic chords at the touch of a few buttons.
Perry said his learning system helps new guitar players get past the “two-month hump,” adding that seven of 10 people lose heart and quit during that time frame.
“It takes motor skills and muscle strength to play the guitar,” Perry said. “Until you get calluses and develop your muscles, it hurts your fingers to play. But after two months, the success rate inverts to 70 percent because that’s when your calluses and muscles start kicking in.”
A challenge from his little girl was the driving force that led Perry to turn a long-buried idea into reality. In 2007, his 8-year-old daughter, Bradi, asked him to teach her to play her favorite Taylor Swift song. But after about 15 minutes, she was ready to quit, saying it was “too hard.”
“I told her about an idea I had as an 18-year-old for a gizmo that would play the chords so you could learn a song right away,” said Perry, who has been teaching stringed instruments for 36 years. “She said, ‘Daddy, if you’ll invent that for me, I promise you I’ll learn to play.’”
It was a perfect time to begin a new venture. Along with his Dothan music store, Perry owned a real estate company. But when housing sales began plummeting in 2007, he was forced to close his realty office and focus all his attention on music.
Perry enlisted mechanical engineer and guitar enthusiast Troy Mason, of Indiana, to design and build the first model.
Perry then had Dothan-based Custom Plastics build the refrigerator-sized stainless steel molds, which are used as the pattern for the ChordBuddy devices. Finally, he hired fellow Realtor Roger Yates to manage and oversee his ChordBuddy factory.
Meanwhile, Perry was on the road pitching ChordBuddy to music stores.
“It took 18 months to design, prototype and build the first model before we could go to market, and that was fast-tracking it,” Perry said. “They told me it usually takes two to four years to get to market, but I had to start selling it as soon as possible. It was life and death financially.”
ChordBuddy hit the market in 2010. By the time Perry was featured on “Shark Tank” two years later, his sales were $232,000.
Sales skyrocketed thanks to “Shark Tank” and with the help and guidance of Herjavec. Perry has now sold more than 300,000 units and brought in about $7 million.
The ChordBuddy Learning System is available in Guitar Centers nationwide, in more than 600 “Mom and Pop” music stores and online. Perry is featured four times each year on QVC, where he promotes and sells the ChordBuddy Learning System.
Most recently, Perry was invited to appear on “Beyond the Tank,” the ABC show featuring the shark investors’ most successful protégés. During the May 15 episode, Perry introduced his new creation, MathBuddy, an educational system that uses music to teach math equations to children. Although he hopes to promote it to schools across Alabama, Perry said the system is in the early stages of development.
Perry said his newest product is ChordBuddy Jr, a guitar package for children ages 4-8. The package includes a half-size acoustic guitar, a ChordBuddy Jr device, a guitar tuner, a songbook and an instructional DVD. With this system, children can play “real” songs within minutes, Perry said.
“From a business standpoint, ‘Shark Tank’ was literally life-changing,” said Perry. “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I would not be where I am today without my appearance on ‘Shark Tank.’”
Get more information on Perry’s invention at ChordBuddy.