Sierra Madre on ‘Shark Tank’: A Look Inside the Hammocks & Camping Gear

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Sierra Madre entered the Shark Tank with their high quality hammocks and camping gear.

We interviewed founder Richard Rhett, a mechanical engineer who made the first prototype with a thrift shop sewing machine. His idea for the company was born on a medical missions trip in Honduras where he slept in an uncomfortable hammock. While there, he also saw the lack of clean water that was available, which led to illness. Therefore, a portion of their profits go to digging clean water wells in Central America. Each product from Sierra Madre is equivalent to a year’s worth of clean drinking water for one person in that continent.

Here’s what else he told us about…

Interested in Sierra Madre hammocks? Buy one here.

How a Trip to Hondorus Opened His Mind to Lack of Clean Water

I was on a medical missions trip in a small Honduran village so remote that you could only get there in a dug-out canoe. There were lines of mothers, fathers, men, women and children, young and old, spilling out of the doors of our tents. They were all suffering from different assortments of illnesses or disease. Whether it be a simple virus or bacteria chronically attacking their systems, I quickly found out that around 80 percent of these illnesses would not even exist in this community if they simply had access to clean drinking water.

How the Idea Was Born From an Uncomfortable Hammock

During the extent of our stay there, I made camp in the trees and slept in a hammock. I loved the idea of its simplicity and functionality, but it was just too small and uncomfortable for me, and offered no protection from the elements. By nature I’m hyper-critical, an analyst, and a perfectionist. I couldn’t accept the fact that I wanted so badly to like the hammock I had called home, but I just didn’t! I also couldn’t settle with the fact that these illnesses we were treating did not have to continuously plague my fellow humans. On the long flight home, I bounced these two ideas back and forth in my mind. There must be a way I could effectively and consistently raise money to combat this water crisis. I would then shift my attention to the hammock and used my mechanical engineering background to draw up designs for a better, stronger, more protective and comfortable hammock system. That’s when it hit me. I could collide these two problems and solve them both in a single effort: An outdoor gear company that uses its success to drill clean water wells.

Advice to Future ‘Tank’ Contestants

No one else cares about your business. Let me repeat that, no one cares. You have to make them care. If you’re going to the Tank so a Shark can ‘save’ your business – don’t waste your time. Shark Tank is a platform that can be strategically utilized, but you are entering the Venture Capitalist and the entertainment world – learn everything you can about these two worlds when presenting yourself and your business. You are trying to impress both segments simultaneously, you are a performer for this occasion, as well as a serious entrepreneur – oh and make sure your business is on a growth trajectory and you can articulate the path to profitability and scale for the next year, five years and 10 years. 

What Makes Their Hammocks Unique

Our hammocks are a new experience of blended comfort, durability, and sexiness. Not only does our gear function exponentially better than our competition thanks to our thoroughly and rigorously tested designs, it looks unique and incredible too! Our gear is designed out of real world use, not around a margin or price point. We have invented what was missing in the segment of the outdoors that we know and love. We just wanted to stay comfortable, dry, and keep our gear out of the mud, and not fall into the regularly accepted stigma that you can, and it is normal to “get rained out”. So often you hear people saying of their camping trip “Oh we had to come home early, our tent flooded.” Or “a storm moved through so we got drenched and had to pack up and head out early.” – We just felt like that shouldn’t be normal or accepted. You should be able to stay out in the storm! So we created gear that changes that stigma! When a product is centered around innovative design you can feel it, literally.

Pros & Cons to Working With Your Spouse

Con: We are both unbelievably strong-willed and bull-headed. Though we know the outcome of a project, product, plan, or idea is always better when we both contribute our perspectives in the development phase, we still hold so tight to our own beliefs and ideas so it makes for a mighty rough course to completing a task to excellence.  
Pro: We have such different minds. Such different strengths, skill sets, and eye for things. We are able to cover so many bases. I might miss something as to the way a product is displayed to the public or a creative angle in marketing or visual aesthetics or even just talking to customers, Juli excels there. Where I can visualize and execute the more structural, statistical, business, financial, and logical approach to everything. 

Interested in Sierra Madre hammocks? Buy them here.

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