This young couple lost their side-hustle during Covid — now their start-up has $2.5 million in annual sales and a 'Shark Tank' deal

Business

Ellen Hodges, 28, and Omayya Atout, 33, were in a bind.

When the Covid-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown, the engaged couple lost their ability to perform live music in New York City. They still had their day jobs, but music was more than just a side-hustle: They relied on gig income to survive.

Desperate, they spotted opportunity in April 2020 when a friend offered to pay them to write a song for his wedding. A day later, the couple launched Brooklyn, New York-based Songlorious, an online marketplace where musicians can make money by writing and recording songs for people's weddings, birthdays and other life events.

"Greeting cards, flowers, they all fall flat because they're kind of impersonal," Atout said on Friday's episode of "Shark Tank" on ABC. "Sooner or later, they end up in the trash."

The business, Atout said, took off more quickly than he ever expected. Since launching, Songlorious has received at least 11,000 song requests from more than 160 musicians. After four months, both co-founders left their day jobs — Hodges was a Blue Bottle Coffee barista, and Atout was a production manager at Amtrak — to focus on the growing business full-time.

Last year, the company brought in $700,000 in sales. At the time of the "Shark Tank" episode's taping, the co-founders said Songlorious was on pace to bring in $2.5 million this year.

On the episode, the couple landed an additional $500,000 from four of the five "Shark Tank" sharks — Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O'Leary and Peter Jones, a star investor from British sister show "Dragon's Den" — in exchange for a 40% stake in the company.

"I get the feeling you're not businesspeople," said Jones. "That's why you're here. You need help."

The couple tried to counter the offer, asking for $800,000 in return for 40% of the company's equity. The Sharks didn't budge. "Think about the amount of money you would have to pay to get four Sharks like us," Jones said.

The idea behind the company isn't exactly new. Songlorious' competitive edge, Hodges explained, comes from speed and the level of its customization.

Each song is written from scratch, at a cost ranging from $45 to $230, depending on length and amount of instrumentation. According to the company's website, artists start writing within 24 hours of a request, and return with an original song in two to four business days.

The artists receive roughly 35-45% of each song's price tag, plus any tips. Songlorious pockets the rest.

Each of the four Sharks offered to help with different parts of the business. O'Leary promised assistance expanding into the wedding market. John and Jones emphasized their connections to the American and international music industries, respectively. And Cuban offered a partnership with another of his portfolio companies, AI video maker Synthesia.

"You've got four people who touch every base," said Cuban. "That is a home run."

Hodges and Atout also plan to use the money to grow their corporate offerings. "Anytime somebody gets promoted or hired … buy them a custom song," said Hodges.

More importantly, though, the couple plans to lean on their new investors for strategic input on a regular basis.

"It's going to be big," said Jones.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Songlorious was on track for $2.5 million in 2021 sales at the time of the "Shark Tank" taping, according to its co-founders.

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