BILLINGS - A Billings West High School grad will appear on ABC's Shark Tank Friday to pitch Chill-N-Reel, a drink coozie complete with a 50-foot fishing line and reel built in.
Oklahoma firefighter Jake Rutledge got the idea in 2017 while standing in the Gulf of Mexico surrounded by fish.
"I thought, I can't bring my rod out here because there are too many people," Rutledge said, "so I tied some line on the bottom of my coozie. I'd unwrap it, throw it out, catch a fish, reel it in. I kept spilling my beer and I thought, 'I have to figure out a better way.'”
So he went home, designed a mock-up, and three weeks later, the Chill-N-Reel was born. It’s fairly simple - a can coozie with a reel holding 50 feet of line on it that you can throw out in to the water. A TV station in Tulsa featured the product in 2020, and it was an instant hit.
"He calls me at 8:00 in the morning and says, ‘hey I need you here in Tulsa,'" Chase Rutledge, Jake's son, said. "'The first story aired at 6:00 a.m. and we already have 100 orders.’"
They ended up selling 1,500 units that day for a $15,000 haul. There was just one problem — their website couldn’t handle the traffic. That’s where Billings West grad — and Jake’s brother-in-law — Chris Diede came in.
"This is what I do," Diede said. "Let me build you a big-boy website up on a real E-commerce platform, spend a little money on advertising. Here’s a plan that will get you to $1 million in a year. We got there in 10 months."
Since then, they’ve sold almost 150,000 Chill-N-Reel’s, mostly thanks to Chase touring the country at trade shows. But he didn’t want to settle for small fish - he wanted sharks.
"In the general application they have, it asks, ‘How did you hear about Shark Tank?’" Chase said. "Well, from the hundreds and hundreds of people that have suggested we go on."
Out of 20,000 applicants, the trio were one of about 150 that made it all the way onto Shark Tank - a nationally-broadcast show where inventors hope to receive funding from a group of investors.
"The minute you walk in and are standing in front of the sharks is this surreal moment you don’t think you’ll ever be a part of," Diede said.
"I kept expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out of the bushes and tell us we got Punk’d," Chase added.
They can’t reveal much ahead of Friday’s episode, but a TikTok video showing shark Mark Cuban wearing a Chill-N-Reel shirt may give us a little hint.
@chillnreel #stitch with @kevinolearytv Watch us on @Shark Tank May 13, 2022 8/7c on @ABC Network #sharktank #fishing #beer @Mark Cuban ♬ original sound - Chill-N-Reel
And yes, the Chill-N-Reel has already made its way to Montana.
"We were seeing orders come in state-by-state," Diede said in the early days of the company, "and then the first Montana order came in - I think it came from Missoula - and I was like ‘Yes!’"
After Friday, there may be a whole lot more.