Jason Richardson (far right) pitches his company Bad Birdie to the five sharks.
Jason Richardson (far right) pitches his company Bad Birdie to the five sharks.

Jason Richardson ’10 Lands Deal on Shark Tank

by Nathan Foster

Azusa Pacific University alumnus Jason Richardson ’10 walked onto the set of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” with his heart pounding and adrenaline coursing through his veins. “That was probably the most nerve wracking moment of my life, other than proposing to my wife,” he said. Despite the high stakes and pressure, Richardson artfully delivered his business pitch to the celebrity judges and a television audience of millions, negotiating his way to a deal with a spectacular finish.

Richardson, who holds a marketing degree from APU, came into the tank asking for $300,000 for 10 percent of his company Bad Birdie, a golf clothing brand that designs “the freshest polos in golf.” As he stood in front of the five wealthy sharks, Richardson described the inspiration behind his business. “I went into a store to buy a polo for a golf tournament and I walked out with a basic shirt. I had an epiphany that all golf polos are the same. They’re dominated by solid colors and stripes, and are very boring. I’m someone who likes to wear bolder stuff,” he said. Richardson hunted online and in retail stores for something more exciting, but couldn’t find any golf shirts that appealed to him, so he decided to create some himself. Six months later, in May 2017, Richarson launched Bad Birdie.

With no fashion industry experience, Richardson researched the steps to make polos and found a designer to help him create bold prints that would be sure to grab attention on the golf course. The challenge came in finding a manufacturer to make the shirts. His business was so small at the time, that his orders weren’t large enough to meet factory terms. He improvised, buying plain white fabric in bulk, taking it to a printer, and bringing the designed fabric to a seamstress who sewed the polos by hand in a 1,000-square-foot space.

Initially, Richardson’s company struggled to lower manufacturing costs, but he gradually brought prices down as the demand for his product skyrocketed. In his first year of business, Bad Birdie captured $72,000 in sales, then grew to $412,000 in 2018, and to more than $1 million in 2019. “People love the look. They see Bad Birdie polos for the first time and say that’s exactly what they’ve been looking for,” he said. “The majority of growth has been word of mouth. People come up to each other on the course and ask where they got their polo, what brand it is.”

While Richardson has learned a lot in the three years since starting Bad Birdie, the road hasn’t been easy. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. You might think, this guy started his own company, so he’s got it made, but it never lets up. Your back is against the wall every day. That’s why I wanted to bring in an investor who has done this many times already and can help us continue to grow year after year.”

That investor is tech mogul Robert Herjavec, and winning him over required some creativity on Richardson’s part, providing an entertaining television moment for “Shark Tank” viewers. While Herjavec clearly wanted a deal, he wasn’t willing to sway from $300,000 for 25 percent of the company. In response, Richardson walked behind his set display, pulled out a putter, and proposed that the shark make a six-foot-putt for a 25 percent deal, but if he missed they would settle on 20 percent. Herjavec accepted the challenge. The other sharks jeered and jibed as Herjavec lined his shot up and it stopped just an inch short of the hole. “I may not have made the putt, but I made the deal. Jason’s a great guy and it’s a great company. I’m really looking forward to getting out there,” Herjavec said in an Instagram video.

Richardson said he is extremely excited for the partnership and where his company is headed. He is also grateful to integrate the sport he loves into his business while continuing to enjoy it as a pastime. “I try to get in at least nine holes once a week. I don’t have nearly as much time to play as when I was a student at APU,” he said. Richardson recalls his final semester as a senior in college when he only had a couple classes, so he used his extra time to play golf every morning at Rancho Duarte Golf Course with his roommates.

If it had not been for those early morning rounds on the green, Richardson’s career path might have taken a different trajectory. “There’s a letter, a little prayer to God, that I wrote in my room. A week before I went on the show, I said, ‘I’m giving this all up to you and seeing what happens.’ That’s been my mantra this whole time,” Richardson said. “I have the huge privilege of running this company. At the end of the day, I’m trusting God. I’m not in this alone.”

Nathan is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a senior double majoring in journalism and public relations.