Peddling with the sharks

Another look at Camas duo's self-balancing unicycle, pitch to potential investors on ABC

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

ON TV

• Daniel Wood and David Martschinske of Camas will display their self-balancing unicycles Monday in a rebroadcast of ABC's "Shark Tank," which will air at 8 p.m. on KATU, Channel 2.

CAMAS — Daniel Wood and David Martschinske aren't re-inventing the wheel. They're just updating it with gyroscopic technology, a computerized stabilizing system and an electric motor.

Put a bike seat on it, and it's a self-balancing, battery-powered unicycle made by their company, Focus Designs.

To get a better sense of how it all comes together, check them out at Monday on ABC's "Shark Tank."

In a rebroadcast of an episode originally aired in October, the Camas duo pitch their high-tech ride to a panel of possible investors — the "sharks" — who offer inventors and business people working capital in exchange for a share of the product.

The episode airs at 8 p.m. on KATU, Channel 2.

Even though they know the ending, watching the episode still is a stomach-churner, Martschinske said.

"The way they edit it is scary," Martschinske said. "They build suspense. When the suspense is pointed at you, that's scary."

Viewers might not necessarily know how things turned out. Martschinske and Wood made their pitch, proposing to

give up 10 percent of their product for $300,000; two of the celebrity panelists countered with an offer of $300,000 in exchange for a 30-percent share of the unicycle business.

"We made a deal," Martschinske said.

But the deal fell apart later.

"It was not a good deal for us, but the publicity was great," Martschinske said.

Their company is expecting more of that publicity after Monday's telecast. There was an earlier rerun, so this will be the third airing of the episode. Focus Deigns got huge spikes on its website after the previous two broadcasts, Martschinske said.

That publicity gave Wood, 34, and Martschinske, 28, some return on their trip to California more than a year ago.

"They had an open casting call in May 2012, and we drove 18 hours straight. We arrived at 10 p.m. and the line was 40 or 50 people long," Martschinske said. "My brother Casey saved us a place in line and we went to a hotel."

When he and Wood returned in the morning, at least 1,000 people were in line, Martschinske said.

The Camas residents made a series of pitches as the crowd of hopefuls was whittled down. Finally, they made it to the "Shark Tank" taping. That was no guarantee that Martschinske and Wood would wind up on TV, however. The pitches were heavily edited, and it was a 50-50 shot that any of the product pitchers would be seen on the national telecast, Martschinske said.

They two men have learned another way of generating visibility, Martschinske said. After somebody buys a unicycle and starts riding it around in public, the company often get follow-up orders from the same area.

Focus Designs has sold about 850 of the unicycles so far, Martschinske said. The product is priced at $1,795.

The technology developed by Wood is also used in another Camas-based "one-wheeled people mover," as Martschinske calls the concept. Shane Chen's "SoloWheel" does not have a unicycle seat; the rider stands on foot pegs.

You can learn to ride the self-balancing unicycle in less than an hour, Martschinske said. And a test drive showed how quickly you can pick up the basics. Thanks to the self-balancing technology, a rookie rider can quickly roll forward without toppling over. To go faster — it tops out at about 15 mph — just lean forward.

Turning corners is a little trickier.

The demo ride was done with training wheels, by the way. That's right: training wheels on a unicycle. They cost extra, Martschinske said.


Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.