Arizona veteran uses 'Shark Tank' appearance to swim to success

Becca Smouse
The Republic |
Eli Crane, CEO of Bottle Breachers, speaks to a crowd of small business owners about his success as an entrepreneur.

Eli Crane's friends and family didn't think much when the Navy SEAL began fiddling with .50-caliber dummy ammunition in his garage. They chuckled when he considered starting his own business.

But now, Crane manages the multimillion-dollar company Bottle Breacher, which sells customized bottle openers made from .50-caliber dummy ammunition.

Crane started the business as a side gig to make extra cash. After a year and a half, the hobby became a career.

“I think I’m going to provide for my family this way,” he said as the business started to grow.

After appearing on ABC’s "Shark Tank," a show where budding entrepreneurs pitch their business to investors, Crane said he saw business skyrocket.

Behind the business: A gift from his brother

The Tucson resident said Bottle Breacher started accidentally. In late 2012, Crane had received a gift from his little brother: a bottle opener shaped like ammunition from a .50-caliber bullet. His friends gawked at the gift, wanting one of their own.

A few years later, Crane decided to paint the bottle opener black and imprint the logo from the fictional Marvel character the Punisher in white. He brought it to work, and colleagues began offering Crane money to make sets of their own.

“That’s when the lightbulb went off for me,” he said.

While still an active Navy SEAL, Crane set up shop in his garage and hand-made each bottle opener. His wife, Jen, opened up a shop on Etsy.

Money slowly started rolling in, but Crane realized he needed to brand his product. The company needed to invest in a laser engraver.

To pay for the engraver, Crane sold his beloved motorcycle. The sacrifice paid off, he said. Bottle Breacher started bringing in more than $20,000 in revenue each month, he said.

Eli Crane (left) speaks with Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Angela Cody-Rouge, owner of Major Mom, during an armchair chat celebrating National Small Business week. Both Crane and Rouge appeared on ABC's "Shark Tank."

‘The "Shark Tank" effect is real’

Crane and his wife wanted to continue growing the business after his military service ended in 2014. The two appeared on Season 6 of ABC's "Shark Tank" in early November 2014, just a year and half after the business started.

Crane said Navy SEAL training taught him an important lesson: “You never want to go into battle with one gun.” He and his wife went into the show planning to take a deal with a team of sharks.

The two closed with Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, who offered $150,000 for a 20 percent stake.

The Bottle Breacher team wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of business to follow.

Crane said their website crashed from the overwhelming number of orders after their appearance on the show. Crane’s team of five employees began handcrafting up to 170 bottle openers per day to try to make a dent in the demand of 60,000 pending orders.

Rapid growth can be a downfall for a young business, Crane told budding entrepreneurs at a Phoenix conference in May. In celebration of National Small Business Week, Crane joined Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, to discuss the impact military vets have had in small business.

Minimal resources and a lack of knowledge of large-scale production can hamper a startup, Crane said.

“We were able to pull through it as a company,” he said.

Both O’Leary and Cuban have stayed in touch with Crane and his wife post-show. Crane said although both men are extremely busy, they do offer services like bookkeeping and partnerships with other businesses to assist the growing business.

“The 'Shark Tank' itself is so tremendously powerful,” he said. “It is what you make of it.”

Crane said the business sees a surge in sales whenever reruns of the show air on TV. Appearances on spinoffs, like "Beyond the Tank," help give the company constant branding.

“Every time it happens, it's like going to the ATM,” he said.

Bottle Breacher, a Tucson-based company, creates custom, engraved bottle openers from .50-caliber dummy ammunition. CEO Eli Crane started the business in his garage and was granted funding from ABC's "Shark Tank" to expand the business.

Giving back to veterans' causes

A significant portion of the company's $8 million in sales goes to benefit local and national veterans organizations, Crane said. Bottle Breacher focuses on helping with job and financial support for veterans and active-duty military families.

“The coolest thing about my business is we give back to a lot of veteran non-profits and charities,” Crane said.

Crane was a longtime friend of Navy SEAL Charlie Keating, who was killed in Iraq in an ISIS attack in early May. Crane was one of three SEALs who had been listed to notify Keating's family in case of death.

The company recently launched a series of customized bottle openers honoring the legacy of fallen military veterans, with proceeds benefiting charities such as the Phoenix Patriot Foundation and America's Mighty Warrior.