November 22, 2013

Kennebunk native to compete on ABC-TV’s ‘Shark Tank’

The Berwick Academy graduate will be on the show at 9 p.m. Friday, pitching her combination phone case and purse, called pursecase.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Kelley Coughlan is trying to turn a case of the dropsies into big business.

Kelley Coughlan, right, a Berwick Academy graduate, will pitch her pursecase to “Shark Tank” investors in hopes of winning business backing.

Adam Taylor/ABC

click image to enlarge

Kelley Coughlan, in blue dress at right, grew up in Kennebunk and will be featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” Friday with her company “pursecase,” the first ever smartphone clutch designed with just essentials in mind. Coughlan and her business partner Jenn Deese, at her right, will pitch to the panel of five millionaire and billionaire investors including Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec. They will find out by the end of the episode if anyone wants to invest in their product or not.

Adam Taylor/ABC

The Kennebunk native will be seen Friday night on ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank,” trying to persuade the show’s panel of millionaire entrepreneurs to invest in her product, called pursecase. Is it a phone case? It is it a purse? It’s both, and it straps to your wrist.

Coughlan and her business partner, Jenn Deese, designed it because they’re both busy Los Angeles public relations specialists who do a lot of running around, and are prone to dropping or losing their phones. So to make their lives a little easier, and their phones a little safer, they came up with pursecase.

“We wanted something that you could put your phone in to protect it, and maybe just credit cards and essentials, and we thought there must be something like that on the market,” said Coughlan, 26, a 2005 graduate of Berwick Academy. “But we looked and looked and thought ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting.’ Friends told us that if we didn’t do this, somebody else would.”

So Coughlan and Deese, who met at the University of Southern California and run Melrose PR together, designed and named their product, omitting a capital P. They raised startup money, and had it manufactured.

So far they’ve sold $30,000 worth of the tiny protective handbags, at $29 a piece and available at pursecase.com. Earlier this year they applied to appear on “Shark Tank,” hoping to strike a deal with one of the business moguls on the show to get national, maybe worldwide, distribution of their product.

The episode the women will be on Friday, at 9 p.m., was filmed in July. Coughlan can’t say whether she and Deese got a deal on the show, but she can say she felt that she and Deese were prepared for all the questions the moguls threw at them.

“It was the most intense thing I’ve done in my life, but we were very prepared, we practiced,” said Coughlan from Los Angeles. “We had an answer for every possible question, and we had a plan. Jenn would handle questions about distribution, and I would handle questions about marketing. That way we wouldn’t talk over each other.”

The pursecase is a protective phone case, the exact size of a phone. On one side is your phone, with the face exposed for easy use. On the other side is a little purse, with a cover and a clasp, just big enough to hold some dollar bills and credit cards. Then there’s a handle on top. It comes in a variety of colors, from black and white to pink and yellow.

On “Shark Tank,” three or four budding entrepreneurs come on the show each week to pitch their ideas to a panel of successful moguls and persuade those deep-pocketed folks to invest in their businesses. The show’s panel of would-be investors includes: Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, among other things; real estate tycoon Barbara Corcoran; jewelry designer Lori Greiner; technology innovator Robert Herjavec; and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary.

The “sharks” and the startup business owners try to broker an investment deal, with a guaranteed return for the investors, on camera. Sometimes a deal gets done, other times the episode ends with no one getting a deal.

The casting director of “Shark Tank,” who happens to be from the central Maine town of Winslow, said that as soon as Coughlan and Deese applied to be on the show, she knew that their pursecase was a “wow” product.

“I immediately knew this was something new to the market, exciting, and a wow product, which we are always looking for,” said Mindy Zemrak, the show’s casting director.

Coughlan is no novice when it comes to having clever business ideas and following through on them. Her mother, Elizabeth Coughlan, remembers her daughter as a girl painting rocks she found on the beach in Kennebunk, and selling them. One year, Coughlan sold cookies at Webhannet Golf Club in Kennebunk that had fortunes baked into them, saying things like “You will get a birdie on the next hole.”

Coughlan’s mother thinks her daughter’s can-do spirit, combined with the fact that she’s always prepared, will help her go far with her pursecase.

“Kelley has always been incredibly organized,” Elizabeth Coughlan said. “Her homework assignments were always finished two days ahead of the due date.”

And now Coughlan is hoping her pursecase will hit stores nationwide at least two days ahead of the competition.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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