Coffee with Martin Dimitrov, CEO of SnapClips

In late January of this year, 19-year-old Martin Dimitrov found himself on Shark Tank, pitching a company he had created in high school. The founder and CEO of SnapClips walked away with a star-studded combined offer from Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, and Alex Rodriguez. On the show, his Shark Tank offer was contingent on one thing – a college diploma.

In late February of this year, I found myself at a La Colombe to meet Dimitrov to talk about SnapClips, Shark Tank and life. True to his word, Dimitrov is in currently in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago working on his degree. The college student and entrepreneur agreed to meet me for a coffee at 8 o’clock in the morning; to be clear, I’m a fully grown adult and I still have trouble making such a commitment – and I can count on one hand how many times I agreed to meet anyone before noon when I was in college.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a nonchalant, yet enthusiastic Dimitrov. Throughout our conversation, I was constantly struck by the disparity between his age and experience – Dimitrov seemed to have years of business acumen, but he couldn’t legally have this conversation over beers instead of coffees.

My theory is this: if you have an idea good enough for Shark Tank, you grow up in the business world pretty quickly.

What does SnapClips do?

If you aren’t an avid Shark Tank fan or gym owner, you probably haven’t heard of SnapClips. The company solves a fitness problem with a simple product.

Photo courtesy of @snap_clips

SnapClips helps secure weight plates on barbells by clipping on quickly. If you use a barbell in your fitness routine, you can probably empathize with how difficult and clunky weight clips can be to use. SnapClips, by contrast, work kind of like a snap bracelet (ahh, the 90’s), only it snaps on a barbell instead of your wrist … and can hold and secure a hell of a lot more weight.

How did he start a business in high school?

Dimitrov has always been a businessman – sort of. When he was in high school, he hustled with several friends at a telemarketing company. They learned the game, and they learned how sales worked; shortly thereafter, they quit the company and created their own telemarketing company.

When Dimitrov was sixteen, he sold a car straight off a lot. He didn’t own the lot or the car. He’d never sold a car before. He did it anyways.

Dimitrov might be confident, but he’s not pompous or presumptuous. He’s just that kind of guy – it’s not surprising he did so well on Shark Tank. He’s likable, sharp, and eager (but, like, the good “I-want-to-learn” kind of eager, not to be confused with the “desperate” kind of eager).

Where did the idea come from?

Dimitrov’s idea for SnapClips developed in high school. His high school had an incubator program that Dimitrov participated in as a junior (can we all take a moment to appreciate/be jealous of the fact that incubator programs now exist in high schools?). The program encouraged participants to take note of their everyday problems and try to find solutions for them.

Photo courtesy of @snap_clips

Dimitrov found one of those everyday problems: switching out weights in gym class was an arduous, time-consuming task. He immediately thought about the simple concept of snap bracelets and how they could be applied to the weight room – and over time that idea developed into a real, tangible product.

How did the business start?

During his senior year, his team was given $2,500 to execute on the vision for SnapClips. $300 of the $2,500 was immediately used to apply for a patent – which ended up being a smart move, because someone else applied for the same patent a mere twenty-two days later. If he hadn’t filed for that patent when he did, we probably wouldn’t have been meeting at La Colombe to talk about his Shark Tank success.

From there, his team gambled on making more money through Kickstarter. Kickstarter helped SnapClips raise another $25,000+, which made the team realize this thing was real: the market desired it, and it had a good price point that people were willing to pay. All that was left was developing the product – a process that took 18 months, and a hell of a lot of patience from all Kickstarter funders.

What has he learned?

Dimitrov learned patience the hard way. It took a long time to get the SnapClips product design just right; from opening batches of bad shipments, to figuring out the balance between cost and durability, to creating the design, Dimitrov had a lot of product decisions on his plate. Over time, and with the help of mentors (like Patrick from the Chicago-based Tiesta Tea), Dimitrov and his team started to figure out what worked best for the company.

What was Shark Tank like?

Dimitrov drove 16 hours through the night with his friends to make it to their Shark Tank audition. He was in line by 6:30 am, and pitched his idea around 11, sweating through his suit while demoing on barbells. He thought he did terrible.

Five months later, SnapClips made an appearance on the show. They must have done something right.

Dimitrov was still in negotiations with the Sharks when I spoke with him over coffee. While he wasn’t able to disclose the terms, it’s interesting to learn that a lot of the negotiation happens after the show – getting an offer from a Shark (or, in Dimitrov’s case, three Sharks) is just the beginning.

What’s it like to be an entrepreneur at 19?

You also might be wondering, like I did, how Dimitrov finds time to be a 19-year-old. He assured me he does, but his day is not one of a typical college student. He wakes up around 7 am and goes to the gym to start the day. He has a to-do list filled with company obligations: answering e-mails, checking and ordering inventory, reviewing shipments, scheduling meetings, and maintaining customer care fill most of his days. At some point, of course, he goes to class and socializes – however, from my understanding, that “point” comes after the work is done.

While most 19-year-olds are concerned with partying, Dimitrov is concerned with setting himself up for the future. For Dimitrov, work with SnapClips doesn’t feel like work – he’s traveling, creating, and learning. Sometimes, “learning” includes learning lessons the hard way (like when people try to take advantage of him in contracts because of his age, or how to file company taxes). But most of the time, the learning is fun and new. He’s stretching himself on his presentation skills (he described his Shark Tank pitch as an “out of body experience”), and is constantly meeting new people to share SnapClips with them.

What’s next?

If I were a betting person, something tells me that Dimitrov will be an entrepreneur to keep tabs on. He’s already considering other adjacent market applications for SnapClips, and he has no shortage of motivation to succeed.

You can find SnapClips in several Chicagoland gyms, as well as on their website.

Live Work & Money

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.