Defying the Odds
Accountancy alumnus’ innovative business lands him on ABC’s Shark Tank
NIU College of Business accountancy alumnus, Joe Parisi, was going to be an accountant. The 2011 graduate passed his CPA exam, worked in public accounting and never dreamed of owning his own business—or defying the odds of being one of the 100 selected out of approximately 40,000 applicants for a shot to pitch his business to the investors on ABC’s entrepreneur pitch show, Shark Tank.
Parisi’s company, Guard Llama, offers a mobile personal security system that includes a keychain remote and app, along with a subscription service for the police to be deployed immediately after the push of a button. It sends police the user’s location, photo and medical history.
On April 14, 2017, Parisi swam with the sharks (what ABC’s Shark Tank calls the investors looking for their next business venture) on the Emmy Award-winning show.
Why a Llama?
Llamas are often used for protection. “If you look at a list of protective animals, llamas are second, next to the guard donkey,” Parisi says. Guard llamas are specially selected to protect herds of sheep and goats. In fact, they’ve been stealing jobs from guard dogs for decades. Guard llamas also bond quickly to their companions and become exceedingly protective of them.
Guard Llama secured an offer from Barbara Corcoran while on the show, which ultimately did not monetize due to differing interests, yet the personal security service valued her time discussing and consulting on partnership options. The Guard Llama team will continue to vet future partners very heavily until the right one is found.
Parisi says the first step in entrepreneurship is to “bet on yourself.” He says by “focusing on the few reasons why your business will work—instead of the million reasons why it may not work—is the only way to move forward. You have to be willing to risk everything and lose everything. In return, you get only the possibility of success.”
Shortly after beginning to build his Guard Llama business, Parisi quit his second accounting job. “If you split your attention, both things will suffer,” he remarks. “A business requires everything you’ve got. If you aren’t willing to give it your full attention, investors won’t give you their money. They know how challenging building and growing a business is.”
It was during this early stage of the company when he met his now friend and mentor, Scott Kluth, NIU College of Business alumnus and founder of Coupon Cabin. Parisi tells the story with heartfelt emotion. “I met Scott when I was about to get evicted and had no food in my refrigerator. He owed me nothing, and just after our first meeting he did something selfless and unexpected. Without me asking for anything, he paid 6 months of my rent without me knowing and then gave me food to stock my kitchen. His only request was that I pay it forward to another NIU entrepreneur one day.”
Parisi says Kluth is one of those individuals who can respond to a text with a just a few sentences that puts everything in a positive perspective. “When I feel like there is something not going well, or I’m stressed, I can message Scott and his words bring calm and clarity to the situation. He has had the most impact on my life as an entrepreneur.”
Parisi’s committed attention to Guard Llama early on earned them a place in the second cohort of Impact Engine, the social business accelerator in Chicago’s 1871. “We worked for about 6 months with a network of several hundred mentors who were accomplished entrepreneurs. They only select six to eight social entrepreneurs a year, so the process provides your business with instant credibility and validation,” remarks Parisi.
“Starting Guard Llama has awarded me with the tremendous satisfaction that we have created a business that is making the world a better place. In doing what we do, people live and work more comfortably and with less fear. Realtors show houses with more confidence, home health care workers enter a home with security, runners and students venture out with more ease, and just about everyone else could be a candidate for this device.”
“When you are in trouble there often isn’t the luxury of time,” explains Parisi. “Our device solves the problem when you can’t find your phone in your purse, or you can’t dial 911 in time or without an intruder hearing you, or when you can’t state your location and emergency. Not everyone has time to make the call and answer a series of questions. Furthermore, people often think if you dial from a cell phone that 911 dispatchers can locate you. This can often take 20 minutes or more, if at all.”
Guard Llama has customers across the United States and offers three different purchase options.