The Idaho inventor who didn’t let failure get him down
POCATELLO — Robert Poleki is relieved his self-cleaning toilet seat didn’t make it onto Shark Tank this year.
In January, the Bannock County clerk was among 1,500 people to pitch their inventions for the show in Las Vegas. But he later found out that in order to be selected, he’d have to give up his job. The network had rules about letting political candidates — even unopposed ones — get airtime on its shows. So Poleki chose to not run for reelection.
As one of the finalists, Poleki was all set to get on the show with the Washie toilet seat. But just a few weeks later, he learned his product got tossed out in favor of another invention that had more sales.
“I was too early,” he said.
While it was unfortunate at the time, he realizes now that he’s probably pretty lucky. Poleki estimates the Shark Tank titans would have wanted about 50 percent of his company, a large percentage of what he believes is a million-dollar idea.
“I went back to the drawing board,” he said. “The seat looks way different now.”Instead of the thick, bulky seat it was before, the Washie is much thinner and sleeker, and compatible with people who use wheelchairs.And aside from getting a better product, Poleki’s rejection opened the door to new opportunities. He got some investors. The CEO of Squatty Potty reached out to him. And cleaning expert Don Aslett endorsed the product.While Poleki wasn’t able to make a deal with Squatty Potty, he said it’s not out-of-the question in the future. And besides, he’s already made more than $260,000 in pre-orders. The products should start hitting the stalls in March, beginning with stadiums and airports.The Washie toilet seat costs less than $150 and each refillable sanitizing cartridge is good for 1,000 wipes, he said. The cost equates to about 1.7 cents per wipe, compared to 1.5 cents for a paper liner. Users push a button to release a foamy sanitizer onto the seat, and then grab some toilet paper to wipe it down.“There is nothing out there in the market that sanitizes the seat,” Poleki said.He says he’s close to getting a contract with an international airport. And while he won’t have a job come January, he says he will get back into politics eventually. He might even try for Shark Tank one more time.“Shark Tank is going to make me a millionaire,” Poleki wrote in his blog. “And I didn’t even make the show.”