Joe Altieri jumped into the “Shark Tank” in January 2020 and lived to tell the tale.
In fact, he got a bite from one of the sharks, Lori Greiner (known as the “Queen of QVC”), and it’s made his flexible window screen business jump. He now employs about 60 people in Westmoreland County at FlexScreen’s headquarters in Murrysville and the company’s main plant in Export.
Now, Altieri is appearing on the ABC show again this Friday at 8 p.m. to update the sharks on his success. He’s got deals with “an enormous” global window company and a big box chain to talk about, among other things.
“We’ll be sharing our success, from where we were before ‘Shark Tank’ to where we are now, and how much it has made our product and our revenue explode,” says Altieri.
After 20 years in the window business, Altieri found window screens were a constant annoyance — difficult to remove and install, easy to break and damage. After some tinkering in his Murrysville garage, he developed a strong, flexible, bendable screen made out of high-performance spring steel that snaps instantaneously into place. The frames also take up less space, leaving more room for views out the window.
“There’s not much exciting in the window industry,” explains Altieri. “It’s, ‘Hey, we sell a lot of white rectangles! You know, if you have a hole in your wall, we put glass in it.’”
“Shark Tank” has been on the air since 2009 as a reality TV show that features entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to a panel of successful investors, or “sharks” (such as billionaire Mark Cuban, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon), who decide whether to invest in the companies.
Usually, the sharks pore over thousands of video submissions and host large open call events where business owners pitch their products and vie for the chance to be on the show.
In Altieri’s case, the sharks came looking for him, reaching out via email after studying his social media.
“I thought it was just one of my buddies, you know, messing around with me,” recalls Altieri. “And then we got a phone call with a return number that was Sony Pictures Studios. I was like ‘Oh, maybe this is serious.’”
FlexScreen first appeared on “Shark Tank” in Episode 10 of Season 11, which originally aired on Jan. 5, 2020. Altieri initially asked for $800,000 in exchange for a 6 percent stake in FlexScreen.
It wasn’t easy. The sharks circled, pressing him on meager profit margins and the need to custom-make every screen for every window. However, he attracted interest from three investors, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner. Greiner offered $400,000 upfront and $400,000 as a line of credit for a 50 percent stake in the retail business only. Altieri chose her.
“Looking back, it was amazing,” says Altieri. “It’s, you know, national TV; it’s Lori Grenier and Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary). At the time, it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”