When Eli Crane’s brother in the Marines had a chance to return stateside to see his family, he came bearing gifts. For Eli, he had a unique bottle opener made with .50 cal ammunition from the Philippines.
“It was very cool,” says Crane, a 13-year veteran of the Navy SEALs who’s been deployed five times to Iraq. “At the time, I was in SEAL Team 3, so I spray painted it black and put a white Punisher sticker on it. The guys loved it and asked me to make more. I realized I had something.”
Crane began buying expended ammunition from suppliers that had gathered it from military installations. His goal was $500 a month as extra income. In January 2013, his first month, he made $375 out of his garage, despite the fact that they were “really sloppy,” covered in spray paint and stickers. Six months later, as materials and quality improved, he was making $7,500 a month, and then hit $22,000 in another month and a half. Roughly a year later, he made $80,000 in four weeks.
Crane credits the growth in large part to an episode of Shark Tank that aired when he was first starting out. He watched as shark Kevin O’Leary gave a couple entrepreneurs a hard time for lacking brand recognition on their product.
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘We’re going to get our name on every unit,’” he says. “We bought an engraver, and we went from $7,500 to $22,000 thanks to the groomsmen market, because now we could put names and dates on every piece. If you told me four years ago that I would be in the wedding industry, I would have laughed.”
But the growth at what was now known as Bottle Breacher was no joke, and Crane wanted to see it expand even more. So he applied to appear on Shark Tank himself in the summer of 2014. He went to an open casting call, armed with engraved Breachers, and made a short unaired pitch to qualify for an episode.
Two days later, Crane got the call he was waiting for. With just a week’s notice, Crane and his wife flew to Los Angeles, pitched to the sharks and made $1 million in revenue immediately after their episode aired, resulting in a three-month backorder period. They had to increase their employee count from six to almost 30 in less than two weeks, operating on two shifts, and relocated to a 1,100-square-foot incubator space in Tucson.
“I welcome growing pains and leaving our comfort zone,” says Crane. “After Hell Week as a SEAL, nothing’s a big deal anymore.”
While meeting surging demand for Bottle Breachers and keeping local people, including six veterans, employed (95% of the manufacturing is done in Tucson), the Cranes are determined to continue supporting the military in any way they can.
“Cash will always be king, but having a mission is queen,” says Crane. “We support veteran nonprofits with cash donations and products for their fundraisers. We also bring awareness to social and political issues that affect our veterans.”
One of Crane’s special projects is the Never Forgotten Series of Bottle Breachers, which began when Debbie Lee, mother of Marc Lee (the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq) asked Crane about putting something special together for her son. “Her biggest fear was that people would forget about him,” says Crane. “We wanted to help other families with the same concern. We make a special Breacher commemorating their loved one, and 20% of the proceeds go back to a charity of their choice. We’re honored to work with these amazing families.”