If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, you may need any help you can get to make it big. And so after Johnny Georges came up with his own great idea, he landed a spot on the reality television show Shark Tank in a bid to find the funding to boost his business. Once the humble farmer appeared in front of the panel of potential investors, though, he faced some tough, probing questions. Would he keep his cool under such scrutiny?
A resident of Arcadia in Florida, Georges lived with his mother and brother as a youngster in Winter Haven, FL. And the future entrepreneur had a keen work ethic even back then, as he found a position at a local gas station while still in elementary school. A few years later, though, he chose to team up with a close member of own his family.
Yes, Georges joined his dad, Rick, in the agricultural sector, with the pair working together for more than two decades. However, as Georges later explained, Rick wasn’t merely a farmer. “My father was an irrigation engineer [and] designing engineer,” he told the Future of Agriculture podcast in September 2018.
“[Rick] actually worked for hundreds and hundreds of farmers,” Georges continued. “He would take somebody with capital and land who wanted to build a farm, and he would do a turnkey operation from start to finish. Especially in the citrus industry, he was a pioneer. He started out with the great guys in this industry in Florida.”
In fact, in 1970 Rick conceived of his own innovation: the micro-sprinkler. The invention made a tremendous impact upon the irrigation and citrus industries, too, as it allowed farmers to use less water when tending to their trees. And it’s worth mentioning that Georges also benefited from his father’s knowledge during their time together.
For example, during that period Georges learned how to install pumps and irrigation systems, with the farmer ultimately going on to work on thousands of different projects. Alongside all of that, his father operated a number of citrus orchards across Florida as well. So with all of this in mind, the pair came up with an interesting idea in 1984.
To help battle against cold snaps in the orchards, the pair would “bank” the citrus trees in dirt to protect them from the conditions. However, as that endeavor required a lot of effort, it led the father and son to conjure up an alternative method: instead of covering the bottom of the tree in dirt, Rick instead brought out a plastic cone. And, happily, the cone did indeed do its job in shielding the tree from the frost.
Yet Georges started to visualize the other potential benefits to such a device. He believed, for example, that the cone could possibly also conserve the water being pumped out of the sprinklers – meaning that more liquid would ultimately reach the base of the tree. And off the back of that realization, the Tree T-Pee was born.
“The Tree T-Pee is water conservation and frost protection at its finest,” Georges later explained on the Future of Agriculture podcast. “I’ve used them for over 30 years. What we’re doing is containing water. Anybody that’s using micro-jets, micro-sprinklers or drip irrigation – this is like putting a turbocharger on that system.”
On that note, Georges then listed some of the other benefits that come with using the Tree T-Pee. “The beauty of it is that [farmers] don’t have to change anything,” he continued. “They just add this to [the trees], and they get so much more for so much less. [And they’re] saving water, [so] it’s a great domino effect.”
“You’re saving fertilizer, [and] you’re saving the fuel and electricity it takes to pump it with,” Georges added. “Helping the farmers, which is one percent of this population, helps us all because they grow the food we eat. So it’s very important that we save our most natural resource while being able to grow crops to feed the population.”
Then, after Rick passed away in 2002, Georges put further effort into the development of the Tree T-Pee. The cone therefore changed in size after that point, with the farmer also formulating the device so that it could now stay under a tree for a number of years. But as Georges told the Future of Agriculture podcast, he was still very much in his dad’s debt.
“[Rick is] the guru,” Georges said of his father on the podcast. “I learned everything I learned from that man. He was an innovator; he was ahead of his time. Everything [that] he did was to help farmers, and that was his life.” In March 2005, meanwhile, Georges also set up a new business named G.S.I. Supply, Inc. from which he chose to sell the improved Tree T-Pee.
In 2013, however, Georges’ life changed forever following an unexpected conversation. “A [Shark Tank] producer called me, and I thought it was a joke!” he recalled. “But it was for real. A fella that I had met at the Citrus Show called them or sent them some information, and [the producer] asked me to send them a video.”
Back in 2001, a reality TV show titled The Tigers of Money had hit the small screen in Japan. There, a panel of wealthy investors could be seen scrutinizing the ideas of different entrepreneurs – all of whom aspired to earn some sizable financial backing from at least one of the “Tigers.”
And the show’s unique format went on to inspire other nations to produce their own versions. The U.K.’s iteration of the program – titled Dragons’ Den – started in 2005, for example, with a similarly named Canadian series emerging the following year.
Then, nearly a decade after Japan had first aired The Tigers of Money, the U.S. produced its own version of the reality series. Called Shark Tank, the show debuted in 2009 – and despite the name change, the format largely remained the same. Five “Sharks” had been enlisted to look over the business proposals of hopeful entrepreneurs, with Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran and Kevin Harrington playing those roles in the first season.
Since then, only Harrington has moved on, with the other four staying on the Shark Tank panel. In addition, a number of other investors have made guest appearances on the series along the way. John Paul DeJoria was one of these business bigwigs; he became a Shark for the fifth season of the show.
Born in April 1944, DeJoria had spent his childhood years in Atwater Village, California, before joining the U.S. Navy. Then, following his stint as a serviceman, the future billionaire took on a number of different roles; after Redken Laboratories hired DeJoria, however, he received his business break.
You see, when DeJoria had ended his time at Redken, he started his own company in 1980. Along with stylist Paul Mitchell, the California native founded John Paul Mitchell Systems, which went on to become an astounding success. Yet DeJoria seemingly wasn’t content with merely focusing on hair care.
In 1989, then, DeJoria moved into the alcohol industry by helping establish the Patrón Spirits Company. In the years since, moreover, the businessman has acquired ties to a number of other major sectors ranging from multimedia technology to energy. And as a result of all these dealings, DeJoria is now worth over $3 billion.
So, in November 2013, DeJoria appeared on screens in the episode of Shark Tank that featured Georges and the Tree T-Pee. Much in the same manner as the other entrepreneurs on the show, the farmer is seen in the footage standing before the panel with the product by his side. And from there, he delivers his hopeful pitch.
“Hello, Sharks, my name is Johnny Georges,” the Floridian tells the panel. “I’m the creator of the Tree T-Pee water containment system. I’m asking for $150,000 for 20 percent of my company.” The farmer then begins to talk about the benefits of using his product, citing some intriguing statistics.
“Instead of using 25,000 gallons [of water] per tree per year, we’re now only using 800 gallons per tree per year and doing a better job,” Georges continues. “With a 30 percent increase in the growth of new trees, we’re letting the farmer get a return on his money a whole lot faster.” After initially speaking with confidence, however, he then starts to show signs of nervousness.
Indeed, Georges then appears to forget what he was going to say next, and the camera duly cuts to shots of the intimidating panel. Thankfully for the entrepreneur, though, he quickly picks things up again. “When good people come together for a noble cause, great things happen,” he says. “And water conservation is what Tree T-Pee’s all about.”
After explaining how the Tree T-Pee actually works, Georges then begins to take questions from the panel. One of those queries is about the price of the product and how much money is required to produce each example. “[It costs] $2.95 [to make],” he responds. “I have made 127,500 T-Pees, [and] I’m selling them for $4.50 each.”
“[Out of each] $4.50 [sale], I make a dollar,” Georges adds. He then recalls the day that he and Rick came up with the idea before facing down some more questions. And while the pricing proves a sticking point among certain members of the panel, Georges has a suitable riposte.
“[The price is low] because I’m working with farmers,” Georges says. “They’re not buying one; they’re buying 20,000, 10,000.” And when asked why he doesn’t charge $7 for the Tree T-Pee, he replies, “I’ve never done that. I always try to be right. I make a dollar off each one. I sold 7,000 yesterday and earned seven grand.”
At this point, however, O’Leary reveals that he has doubts about a potential partnership with Georges. “I can’t get involved with you because there’s not enough margin as a distributor,” the Canadian business mogul says. “I need to be able to sell it for $12 at least, so that I can make some profit and you can make some profit.”
O’Leary then continues to lay out his concerns before abruptly saying, “I’m out.” Yet all is not lost for Georges, as just a few moments on from that setback, DeJoria speaks up. And unlike his fellow Shark, the billionaire has some incredibly good news for the entrepreneur.
“Farmers are the cornerstone of America,” DeJoria says. “There may be a lot of farmers out there that can’t afford $12 per trade. But maybe they could afford $6 or $7. I’m going to give you everything you’re asking for: $150,000 for 20 percent. What you’re doing is right.”
DeJoria adds, “You deserve a chance to make it big and do a lot of good. I’d like to be your partner, [Georges]. I like everything that you stand for, man.” The pair then share a warm handshake and a hug, and O’Leary mentions Rick. “Tell your dad he’s a great man,” he says to Georges.
After telling the panel that Rick passed away, however, Georges breaks down into tears. “We worked hard every day,” he says. “I worked for that man for 20 years. I thank God that I got to work with [him]; he was an innovator. He was hard on us, but nobody owes you nothing. Life is what you make it – he taught me that.” The segment then came to an emotional end as Georges left the stage $150,000 richer.
Fast-forward two years, meanwhile, and the touching segment of the show that featured Georges received further attention after a Facebook user uploaded the clip to the social media website. The video in question has since earned over four million views.
The Shark Tank snippet also earned over 20,000 likes and 40,000 shares on Facebook as well as close to 2,000 comments from online users. “[Georges] has a good heart. [It’s the] best thing [I’ve] seen all day, next to my family,” wrote one individual in response to the video. “Good job to the Shark for giving him a chance.”
Those feelings were reiterated by another commenter, who praised Georges’ attitude. “It’s pretty standard that everyone on Shark Tank gets ripped to shreds,” they wrote. “As the barrage occurs, [he] backs his product, sticks to his beliefs and gets rewarded. What an awesome display of entrepreneurship! Way to go!”
And a further Facebook user hailed Georges’ character and work ethic. “God bless this man – hardworking, honest [and] a good man,” they commented. “I wish there were more honest people like this [who are] so caring and respectful of others. God keep blessing him and his father.”
As for Georges’ partnership with DeJoria, things were still going well long after they met on the show. According to the farmer, the pair even speak on a weekly basis. “If I need advice, [DeJoria’s] there,” Georges told the Business Observer newspaper in February 2018. “The man ain’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He just really wants to help others.”
And following Georges’ appearance on Shark Tank, he’s since sold Tree T-Pees to farmers across the world, from Spain to Africa. It would be a customer rather closer to home that sang the farmer’s praises in the press, however. Bill Riddling owns a citrus orchard near Gainesville, FL, and subsequently bought hundreds of Tree T-Pee units for his trees.
“I would never plant another tree without a Tree T-Pee on it,” Riddling told the Business Observer. “It just makes economical sense. The cost of the Tree T-Pee doesn’t compare to fertilizer savings and water savings. I can honestly say I get 18 months of growth using the T-Pee in 12 months.”