When Jonathan Hayes ’07 started his first job on Wall Street, he didn’t even use a frequent flier number when he traveled for work. Hayes mostly viewed rewards programs as a waste of time until he and his brother started planning a trip to South America in 2011.
On that trip, which they paid for with rewards points, he realized the immense potential of points and miles. “That was the moment that sort of kicked off the adventure,” said Hayes.
Hayes’ points journey led him to realize that computer software could help people strategically use credit cards to plan travel. He founded RewardStock to help users set, plan, and execute travel goals using points.
Last year, on the recommendation of a RewardStock user, Hayes successfully applied to appear on Shark Tank, the ABC reality television show where entrepreneurs pitch their companies to investors, called “sharks,” for funding.
“We just kept getting asked to submit more information or participate more in the process. And before I knew it, a couple months had gone by, and I was on a plane to L.A. to film an episode,” Hayes said.
On the Nov. 18, 2018 episode of Shark Tank, Hayes made a deal with Dallas Mavericks owner and “shark” Mark Cuban for $320,000 of funding in exchange for a 10 percent equity stake in RewardStock.
The capital — and the TV appearance itself — gave the company a significant boost. Funding and publicity for startups like RewardStock bring coveted stability and legitimacy.
“We absolutely needed the capital,” said Hayes. “We have sort of new life and ability to continue to build our business for another year, and to leverage that to grow into a larger user base that hopefully kind of helps us to generate enough revenue to start to be self-funded.”
Since they finalized the deal, Hayes has developed a strong relationship with Cuban. He said they communicate via email once or twice each week, and Cuban has been incredibly responsive.
“He’s got his large and influential network of resources, and he’s been really supportive. He’s offered us good advice,” Hayes said.
In Raleigh, N.C., where RewardStock is headquartered, Hayes has been stopped on the street a few times by Shark Tank viewers who remember him from the show. While Hayes describes himself as a “low-key, simple guy,” he’s happy that the appearance has engaged the local community, and the publicity has been important for RewardStock’s brand.
“It’s a rare experience for any company to be on the show, and it was very exciting, and I’m happy that it’s not just me. Other people are able to share in the excitement of all of this,” said Hayes.
After years of working to convince people of the company’s viability, Hayes says Shark Tank has helped solidify his confidence and the company’s identity. The marketing benefits were significant, too, as traffic to RewardStock’s site has soared.
“We’re a Shark Tank company and a Mark Cuban-backed company,” he said. “That gives us a certain credibility that we’ve never had before.”