What began as a daughter’s idea to help her ailing mother after 12-hour workdays has turned into a cameo on primetime television and a partnership with a billionaire businessman.
The concluding results couldn’t have worked out better for 13-year-old San Luis Obispo-native Andrea Cao and her mother, Hong Cao, after the two appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Friday, Dec. 12. The two pitched their startup product, the Q-Flex, to the sharks in search of $20,000 in exchange for 20 percent of their company.
As Andrea explained to the panel of five well-heeled and sharp-tongued investors, the Q-Flex back and body massage tool is a personal acupressure system. It’s designed to be used on sore spots and muscles that are knotted up. The 13-ounce portable, purple, question mark-shaped tool constructed out of bulletproof plastic works manually by putting the pear-like tip of the Q-Flex on a sore area and simply pulling and releasing. By using this technique, it flexes to provide the right amount of pressure on your back to relive tension and pain.
The idea to develop the Q-Flex came to Andrea after being consistently tasked with alleviating her mother’s back pain.
“I’m a nurse, and I have to work long hours,” said Hong Cao. “After working on my feet, I’d come home so sore, I could barely move. I would beg Andrea to massage my back for me.”
But a mother’s needs often combat with a daughter’s quest for autonomy. “I love my mom, but I was getting really tired [of giving her back massages], I had homework to do, I had pets to feed. So I went to [my mom] and said, can we make something for this?”
So the two went to work spending months conceptualizing, designing and testing a uniquely angled product, geared towards mitigating the vast market of “65 million people suffering from back pain alone,” Andrea explained.
But the mother and daughter duo didn’t start producing their product blindly. Hong, who was once an engineer and now a registered nurse, relied on her professional experience to develop the prototype.
“The idea behind this is when our body has a pain, blood flows to that problem area. By stimulating those pressure points, it increases the blood flow to that area,” Hong said.What makes the Q-Flex unique is that it differentiates itself from other similar designs by its angle and specially formulated flexible plastic.
Andrea and Hong Cao first started pushing their product the old fashioned way. “I go door-to-door selling them in my neighborhood,” said Andrea.
The door-to-door efforts from Andrea proved to be a success, as her numbers spoke volumes to the would-be investors. With 800 units sold, and with a price point between $25-$36 per Q-Flex — which costs just $4.50 to produce — the sharks were left in awe over the eighth grader’s charisma and ambition. Her ambition charmed billionaire Mark Cuban, who shouted out: “Good for you, a capitalist is born.”
Some sharks wondered if the Q-Flex is distinctive enough to gain patent protection.Others wondered if Hong — a full-time nurse — and Andrea — a full-time student — were so consumed with everyday life that the business might not get enough attention.
But when asked by the sharks which of them would be quitting their job to run Q-Flex, answering for her mother, Andrea simply said “her,” as she looked at mom and smiled.
With three sharks already out, Cuban and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran merged their investment and made the Cao’s a counter offer. The two sharks offered to put $25,000 on the table in exchange for 25 percent of the Q-Flex company. Additionally, Cuban and Corcoran would handle the entire businesses operations, with a stipulation of Andrea having to be on-call for any business-related interactions and sales calls. The Cao’s jumped all over the opportunity to work with two of the most powerful investors in the country, and so far the results have been a success.
Since cutting the deal with the sharks, Q-Flex has launched a website, a Facebook page and is even selling on Amazon.com.
Q-Flex’s Shark Tank appearance caused an influx in sales and its construction and shipping is currently bottlenecking for the holiday season. A rather small and satisfying price to pay, especially considering that this project established its roots from a middle school student selling her product door-to-door.
The innovation of the Q-Flex, coupled with the notoriety received after appearing on network television, is making for some memorable moments.
“It was a really amazing experience, it was nerve racking but it was breathtaking at the same time,” said Andrea. “A once in a lifetime opportunity.”