Oliver Zak, co-founder of tattoo aftercare brand Mad Rabbit, was at his third tattoo appointment when the alarm bells started to go off: Guidance was seriously lacking around the proper way to care for fresh ink, and the oft-recommended petroleum jelly solution didn’t work for him — in fact, it only made his scabs worse.

“For tattoos, scabs are pretty bad,” Zak tells Entrepreneur. “The ink gets lodged in the scab, and when the scabs fall off, your tattoo that you just spent tons of hours and pain and money on can look pretty rough after, as soon as week two. It was that initial pain point that drew me to wanting to formulate a more natural, clean and vegan solution for tattoo healing.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mad Rabbit. Oliver Zak, left; Selom Agbitor, right.

It was 2019, the second semester of Zak’s senior year of college, when he and Mad Rabbit co-founder Selom Agbitor got to work. With the help of Zak’s mother and her apothecary knowledge, the duo created an all-natural moisturizer that was “kind of a test” to see if a natural brand in the tattoo space would resonate with people.

“That product ended up being product that we ran with for the first two years.”

“So we ended up ordering a bunch of ingredients from Amazon and a crockpot and trying recipe after recipe after recipe,” Zak recalls, “going off of the feedback of my mom’s apothecary experience. That product [a spot moisturizer for tattoos with a shea and cocoa butter base] ended up being the product that we ran with for the first two years.”

The summer after graduation, the co-founders focused on transitioning the side hustle out of Zak’s kitchen and into a full-fledged venture. They flew to Los Angeles to interview manufacturers and doubled down on Facebook ads and brand-building through paid media. Within two years, Mad Rabbit’s single balm product brought in nearly $3 million in revenue, Zak says. At that point, Zak and Agbitor knew they “had something really special.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mad Rabbit

The hit product convinced them to expand, and in 2020, they were invited to appear on Shark Tank. Zak calls the experience “a dream come true” — growing up, he’d watched the show with his family every Friday. Ultimately, after 10 days of preparation in a Covid-bubble Las Vegas hotel room, Mad Rabbit struck a deal with Mark Cuban: $500,000 for a 12% stake in the company.

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“Not only did [Shark Tank] help us with general brand and household awareness, but it was also a helpful opportunity for us to hop on the venture capital train and raise a proper seed round from a venture-backed firm,” Zak says.

The weekend after the co-founders’ Shark Tank appearance, Mad Rabbit did an additional $500,000 in sales and rode that momentum into introductions with other venture capitalist groups, ultimately stumbling across Acronym Venture Capital, led by general partner Joshua Siegel.

“He’s just very founder-friendly,” Zak says of Siegel. “I like to think of him as a visionary because he got in very early on something people [overlooked]. People just assume tattoos are taboo and the market’s too small for any sort of venture backing, but we ended up finding a fantastic partner as a result who is excited about the momentum that we’ve built [and] the progress that we’ve made.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mad Rabbit

“It was a bit of an uphill battle as far as us really proving out that tattoos are a big thing, and they’re here to stay, literally.”

In March, Mad Rabbit announced a Series A investment of $10 million led by Lucas Brand Equity with Mark Cuban, Acronym Venture Capital, H Venture Partners and others, quadrupling the brand’s valuation to $56 million.

Like every business, Mad Rabbit faced its fair share of challenges throughout its founding journey, Zak notes. But one of the most recent — and “exciting” — ones? That would be securing the brand’s place in retail. It’s “pretty easy for a brand to represent itself online,” Zak says, but there’s an additional hurdle when it comes to landing coveted space on physical shelves, especially if some view it as “taboo.”

Related: This Woman Launched a Multi-Million Dollar Company Out of Her Dorm Room in College. Now She’s Helping Kids Launch Big Ideas of Their Own.

“It was a bit of an uphill battle as far as proving that tattoos are a big thing, and they’re here to stay, literally,” Zak explains. In 2012, around 20% of adults had at least one tattoo in the U.S.; now, that number sits around 32%, according to Pew Research Center. “So there’s been massive cultural adoption of art that is permanent on bodies,” Zak says.

But the co-founders finally got retail giant Walmart on their side. The retailer took seven of Mad Rabbit’s products nationwide, effectively rolling the brand out as the “tattoo destination of mass America” over the past few months, Zak says. Now, Mad Rabbit’s “tripling down on Walmart” — collaborating with the retailer on “a kind of tattoo roadshow,” where the team travels to Walmarts across the U.S. to “get people excited to come get tattooed, hopefully in the parking lot.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mad Rabbit

“I always say that college is the lowest-risk time you could possibly learn some lessons — you don’t have a full-time job to worry about.”

Mad Rabbit also continues to “invest pretty heavily” into influencer and celebrity partnerships and “go deeper” within the tattoo artist community, which Zak credits with facilitating the growth of tattoo culture.

“It’s increasingly important for us to not only win them over as kind of the aftercare recommendation to replace that petroleum jelly pain point that I shared earlier, but we’re also at the point where we’re innovating on products that they use in their tattooing process,” Zak says, “so focusing on the professional channel and creating better products for the artist to use as well.”

Related: How This High School Dropout Got Mark Cuban’s Attention and Disrupted an Industry

And for other emerging entrepreneurs who hope to turn their side hustles into successful full-time businesses, Zak has a perhaps unexpected piece of advice: “Keep it a side hustle as long as you can.”

“Especially for those considering starting something in college,” Zak explains. “I always say that college is the lowest-risk time you could learn some lessons — you don’t have a full-time job to worry about. You most likely don’t have a wife and kids and a house to pay off. College really is the only time where you have a ton of [room] to fail.”


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