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Feeding the Sharks

CMU alumna lands deal on ABC's "Shark Tank"

Like many budding entrepreneurs, Taylor Johnson, ’16, is confident, innovative and driven. But she has one thing that most others don’t: a shark.

The mass communication alumna appeared in an October 2019 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” alongside her father and brother. They pitched their portable modular outdoor kitchen, Tailgate N Go (TNG), to a panel of investors also known as sharks. After Johnson and her family, all TNG co-owners, rejected an offer from show staple Kevin O’Leary, they accepted one from the episode’s guest shark, Matt Higgins — $250,000 for a 20% stake in their business with a $50 royalty on every box sold.

“When I heard the guest judge was Matt Higgins, I was over the moon,” Johnson said. “He’s a chairman on the Miami Dolphins and he’s a tailgater. He’s opened doors for us that we would never have been able to on our own.”

TNG can be used camping, fishing and tailgating. Its patented modular design enables 360 degrees of function with attachments for stoves, griddles, cutting boards and even a collapsible sink.

“It’s a convenient way to cook in the outdoors without having to spread all your things out,” said Johnson. “You open a box, put on an attachment and you have a prepping station, cooking station and cleaning station all in one.”
Johnson’s father, Ron, started sketching out ideas for TNG in September 2017 following a family camping trip on the Grand Mesa.

“I forgot the salt and only brought about an inch of oil,” Johnson recalled. “We were trying to flip burgers with sticks and forks because I forgot the spatula.”

By that January, they had a prototype they could sell, which they took to outdoor shows and sportsman expos.
Before their national television debut, Johnson said TNG sales depended on going to trade shows. Now they’re selling product every day through their website.

“Forty thousand people try out for ‘Shark Tank’ every year. One hundred businesses make it to California. Eighty of them air on TV and only 40 of them get a deal with a shark. We were one of the 40,” Johnson proudly said.

She greatly admires the CMU faculty and the vast array of skills they taught her.

“I use my degree every day,” said Johnson, who among her many hats manages the company’s website and marketing. “CMU prepared me to be on the same playing field as large professional companies and designers. I still use the professors at CMU to help me with new projects, and I still feel like I’m really close to the people I graduated with. Staying connected is a huge part of our success.” •

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Written by Cloie Sandlin