Swimming with the Sharks

by Katie Carter ‘12
Notre Dame Alumni Association

“Imagine a crisp fall football weekend. You’re back at your alma mater with your family and your team just won by a touchdown!” So began Rent Like a Champion’s compelling pitch to the preying investors on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank, on Friday, October 30th.

CEO Mike Doyle ’12 and co-founder Drew Mitchell ’01,’08MBA represented the company in the “tank,” proposing a $200,000 investment for a 10% stake of their emerging business, Rent Like a Champion. So what brought these ND grads to the entrepreneurial stage and treacherous waters of the primetime hit?

Notre Dame classmates Jordan Curnes ’01, Drew Mitchell ’01, ‘08MBA and Derrick Shenk ’01 founded Rent Like a Champion in 2006 as a student housing company in South Bend. With a few vacancies prompting an experimental post on Craigslist and eBay advertising weekend rentals for a Notre Dame home game, the trio discovered a lucrative model falling outside of their 12 month student leases.

In 2010, Doyle, then a sophomore political science major living in Knott Hall, joined the Rent Like a Champion team as a leasing agent. Doyle, along with the founders, recognized a great need for Notre Dame home games, where families and friends come together for reunions and nostalgic weekends on their beloved campus, only to scatter to high-priced hotel rooms, separating just shortly after reuniting. With the common desire to relive “old times,” alumni return to Notre Dame, many with new families, to celebrate old traditions and create new ones, a weekend experience much more complete when sharing a residence as a group.

Doyle, seeing the success of this model in South Bend, ventured to bring it to other small college towns, where football games attract thousands of alumni and fans, many of whom seek the same experience observed during a home game at Notre Dame. In 2011, Doyle flew to Penn State, walking neighborhoods within a certain distance from the stadium and knocking on doors with a simple pitch: “How would you like to rent out your home for a Penn State home game and make some money?”

Not surprisingly, the model stuck. Now in 21 college towns nationwide, Rent Like a Champion has grown from a full-time team of one to seven, three of whom, aside from the original founders, are ND grads. Doyle, as CEO, has led the company into working with over 1,300 homes in college towns all over the country, allowing Rent Like a Champion to serve as the platform connecting renters with homeowners in their destination city.

The tenacity and fearlessness motivating Doyle to travel door-to-door is the same energizer that prompted him to email Shark Tank last winter. “What’s the harm in trying?” said Doyle. “I tend to just do things like this.” After four months with no response, Doyle and the team heard from Shark Tank in late May, with an invitation to be on the show in early-summer. Doyle describes the process as an intense back and forth of Q&A with the producers to ensure the legitimacy of their company.

Doyle worked tirelessly with Mitchell and the rest of the team for weeks on end to assemble their pitch, practice their delivery, and strategize possible investments from the sharks. As seen during the episode, Doyle and Mitchell were properly prepared, eloquently delivering their pitch and grasping the attention and interest of the celebrity investors. With an offer from the notoriously tough Kevin O’Leary of $200,000 for 15% of the company and a joint offer from Silicon Valley investor Chris Sacca (he was an early investor of Twitter, Instagram and Uber) and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Landmark Theatres, for $200,000 and a 10% stake, Doyle and Mitchell were comfortably afloat in the tank.

Doyle and Mitchell enthusiastically accepted the offer from Sacca and Cuban under the condition that the pair will tailgate in South Bend with Rent Like a Champion. With their new celebrity partners, the company will use the money to continue spreading to other identified college towns, increasing their presence nationwide.

“It was incredible,” Doyle said of his experience on Shark Tank. “On the morning that we pitched, we talked about how the ideal situation would be getting Mark and Chris together in the deal. Chris got in right away, and the fact that he pulled Mark into the deal was incredible.”

Watch out America, this Notre Dame-bred company is running downfield!