One former Red Hawk has soared from the nest and into the “Shark Tank.” Tog Samphel, who graduated from Montclair State University in 2022, recently appeared on the hit TV show to promote his business, “Anytongs.”
Despite Samphel’s success, his path to the tank was not linear. He originally attended Montclair State to follow in the footsteps of his siblings, but eventually dropped out to work at AOL.
“I didn’t get a chance to finish my degree at the time,” Samphel said. “That was back in 2005. And I figured, ‘You know what, I’m going to try to finish it,’ but commuting to New York and going back didn’t quite work out, so I ended up dropping out.”
Samphel decided to go back to school and finished his degree 17 years later.
“I’m in Clifton now. Montclair State’s looking back at me and I decided to just finish it because it’s just staring at me every day,” Samphel said. “And also [for] my kids, I want to give them an example to just finish things that they started and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
One professor who inspired Samphel throughout his time at Montclair State was filmmaking professor Anthony Pemberton.
“I was taking some film courses and I just loved his passion for making films,” Samphel said. “And in my career [at AOL], storytelling [was] a big, big component to the work. You always have to tell a story. Whether you’re presenting or crafting user experiences and user journeys. You’re basically telling stories all the time in those film classes, you’re learning to do that.”
Pemberton spoke about what it was like to have Samphel as a student.
“He was always creating solutions to our problems and collaborating with us as a tight-knit group. I am so proud that he is out there creating [and] inventing,” Pemberton said. “Many of our graduates really learned they could do anything after being tasked to produce and create each [other’s] films. Filmmaking takes so many different skills and collaboration of those skills, that it is really much like running a small company and similar to the skills learned in [a] Master’s in Business. [Samphel] was one of our brightest.”
Andrew Atkinson, a digital photography professor, advised Samphel and observed his work ethic.
It is no surprise that he has such a good career at Meta and elsewhere: he made the most of his opportunities at [Montclair State], and his hustle, enthusiasm [and] friendliness, always left a good impression,” Atkinson said.
Samphel spent many years working in product design in the technology industry, but he felt like something was missing.
“As much as I loved what I did professionally, my normal day job, I just had this really, really strong itch just to do something that I created [on] my own [and] have [my own] business,” Samphel said. “And if it was [making] a useful product that people really enjoyed and thought was actually useful for them in their life, that would be cloud nine for me.”
His invention, a plastic handle that allows users to make their own tongs out of any two utensils, is modeled after his mother’s crafty solution to an everyday problem.
“She would have family parties and stuff and people coming by and the different types of foods she would make and people would bring,” Samphel said. “These trays always need tongs and there’s just never enough. We had like, seven or eight trays or more. And you don’t want the tongs touching different things and all that kind of stuff. So what she used to do is she’d take clothesline pins and she would just tape the plastic utensils to them.”
As he explored this new business venture, Samphel faced some challenges. He had an idea, but he struggled with making it into a reality. He had to learn about sales and marketing, and he jokes that he isn’t really a “numbers guy.”
“No matter how good your ideas, no matter how great it looks in concept, it is going to change massively once you get into manufacturing, because you’ve got to worry about costs,” Samphel said. “And then outside of that is the marketing, like learning how to create all this content around that, learning about logistics and shipping costs and getting it to customers.”
After launching a Kickstarter campaign that garnered positive results, Samphel received an email asking if he’d like to appear on “Shark Tank.”
“When I saw the email, I thought it was just some kind of scam,” Samphel said.
After doing some research, he realized that the offer was real and he began the intensive casting process for the show. He completed several rounds of interviews and video auditions, and each time he was unsure if he would advance to the next round. Finally, he got the offer to fly out to California and appear on the show.
“I was floored,” Samphel said. “It was a mixture of just fear and excitement. I mean, it was very bizarre. I’ve never done anything close to this. Ever.”
Samphel said he did not have a preference for any of the sharks before entering the tank, but that he was just grateful for the opportunity.
“I would have been ecstatic to get a deal with any of the sharks,” Samphel said. “I’m a big fan of the show.”
The tank wasn’t all smooth sailing for him as one shark, in particular, went in for the attack.
“I was actually most concerned with Kevin [O’Leary], Mr. Wonderful, because [I’ve actually] seen past episodes with him [but it] turns out that he was actually very fair with me and he was very engaged as well,” Samphel said. “And, you know, Mark [Cuban] was the one, a little kind of the guy who came [from] out of nowhere, I wasn’t really expecting it and he was very very tough.”
However, Samphel said that all of the sharks were interested in the product.
“I think the biggest shock to me was just [how] engaged all of the sharks were, the amount of questions just firing at you, and [it’s] kind of like a commotion and it was just very, very fast,” Samphel said.
Samphel received an offer from Daymond John for a $150,000 investment in exchange for a 49% stake in the company. Even though it was higher than the 20% stake Samphel asked for originally and his counteroffer got rejected, he took the deal.
Samphel added that John has already been helpful in various ways.
“Since that pitch up until now, he’s a busy guy, and just the time that he’s already given to me and just jumping on several calls, he’s been great and I’m just so ecstatic to just go through this process with his team,” Samphel said.
One topic Samphel spoke passionately about during his pitch was grind culture. Samphel held jobs in product design while working on his business, which goes against the model some entrepreneurs see as necessary to get a business off the ground.
“All I was seeing, a lot of it was just [people] just risking it all, putting it all on the line,” Samphel said. “And me with a family, two little kids, [a] wife, we’ve got bills to pay, and I just kept thinking, is this really the only way?”
Samphel has some advice for Montclair State students with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“I think [there are] ways to do this more methodically,” Samphel said. “It’s a little bit of a slow burn, and you stay patient and you stay consistent. And you will see the fruits of it.”
Samphel’s story is certainly one of patience and consistency, from finishing his degree to starting his business and making it to the “Shark Tank,” he never gave up and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.