Revolights Co-founder Adam Pettler Switches Gears to Save Lives
Bay Area Startup Lands $300,000 on ABC's "Shark Tank"
By Sandy Louey
Adam Pettler helps save lives. First he did it in biotech research. But now he does it in bicycle safety, as chief financial officer of Revolights, a company that he co-founded after receiving his MBA from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management in 2011.
Revolights Inc., maker of wheel-mounted bike light systems, rode into the national spotlight recently on ABC Television’s “Shark Tank,” landing a $300,000 investment.
With Revolights’ big score, UC Davis is three-for-three on “Shark Tank”: In October 2013, Chris Johnson ’02 negotiated a $300,000 investment for his Rapid Ramen Cooker — the tray that he invented for microwave cooking of ramen noodles, in less than half the time of making them on the stove. In May 2011, Jason Lucash ’06 of OrigAudio received a $150,000 investment after pitching the company’s Rock-It, a device that turns anything into a speaker.
Pettler said he pursued an MBA to help advance his career at Genentech. Instead, he said, his studies at the School gave him the knowledge, skills, connections and confidence to launch Revolights.
“It’s about doing something good,” he said of Revolights.
The lighting system’s “fully integrated, revolutionary design” is about seeing and being seen, to ensure cyclists’ “maximum safety,” according to the Revolights website. With the Revolights City model, a white light on the front wheel illuminates a wide, vertical swath of the cyclist’s path, and works in tandem with a red light on the back wheel for 360 degrees of illumination — so motorists can see the bike from all directions.
‘Engaging with teachers and professors’
As an MBA student, Pettler focused on technology management and entrepreneurship. The School’s small class sizes and teamwork figured prominently in his experience.
“It was a new type of learning,” he said. “It was the ability to engage with teachers and professors.”
They included Marc Lowe, an adjunct faculty who worked with Pettler in an independent study course — which is where Pettler developed the Revolights business plan.
Lowe said Pettler’s entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity are key to the company’s success. “He’s willing to put it all on the line,” Lowe said. “He’s genuine and passionate about what he does.”
Revolights’ chief executive officer, co-founder Kent Frankovich, came up with the bike light idea and pitched it on “Shark Tank,” in the March 7 episode.
“Shark” Robert Herjavec, who called Revolights an “incredibly clever and smart idea,” invested twice what Frankovich had asked for, without asking for any more equity than the 10 percent that Frankovich had offered.
“Shark Tank” had an immediate impact: “Seven million viewer impressions from the show in one night certainly have a significant effect,” said Pettler, referring to clicks on the company’s website. “Sales, as well as interest, have continued to steadily grow.”
And so has staffing: The Emeryville-based Revolights has added two employees, for a total of nine, plus a number of people on contract.
Revolights is using Herjavec’s investment for continued product development and to lower the cost of existing products, for marketing and to expand the availability of Revolights worldwide.
The School’s network
Pettler is joined at Revolights by another UC Davis MBA, Danny Wong, who graduated from the School’s part-time program in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011. He learned about Revolights from Lowe, and got hired as the business manager.
It’s just another example of the School’s network that Pettler said has been such a big factor in Revolights’ development, especially in the first two years.
Pettler gives back by sharing his experiences at the School, for example, by speaking in Lowe’s new- and small-business ventures course, telling the students: The tools you are learning are the same tools that we used to start Revolights.
He also fields questions such dealing with work-life balance and the challenges of a start-up.
Providing the real-life perspective from a recent graduate is important, he said. “I feel like I’m able to create a bond,” Pettler said. “Not too long ago, I was sitting literally in that seat.”