What Really Became Of Autio From 'Shark Tank?'

Imagine you're on a road trip with the family and you're driving across the vast expanse of the Great Plains, wondering about the region's storied history. You forgot to pick up a guidebook and the content on Wikipedia is a bit dry. You do have your iPhone, however, and who could be a better travel guide to this frontier land than the actor who played Wyatt Earp himself, Kevin Costner? Or perhaps you're a fan of the '80s classic "Footloose" and you happen to be passing through the town of Provo, Utah. Who else would you want (apart from maybe Kevin Bacon) to give you a brief guide to the shooting locations than John Lithgow, the movie's main baddie?

Local history told by familiar voices was the brainchild of Woody Sears, the entrepreneur and software developer who walked into the "Shark Tank" studio in March 2023 — Season 14, Episode 17 — asking for a cool $1 million in exchange for a 5% stake in his travel app, Autio. The amount seemed high for a subscription service that only costs $36 a year, but Sears already had some substantial investors onboard and had secured the vocal talents of co-founder Costner, Emmy-winning Lithgow, and several other well-known celebrities to narrate over 10,000 stories for locations across the United States. Indeed, Sears and Autio already seemed so well-established and well-connected that it prompted the question from the show's "warm-blooded shark" Lori Greiner: "Why do you need a shark?"

What happened to Autio on Shark Tank?

Deals that are $1 million or over definitely aren't unheard of on "Shark Tank," but they often tend to come with a larger equity than the 5% Woody Sears offered when he made his pitch for Autio. This low number provoked some rather startled reactions from the sharks when he laid his figures on the line. However, he came across as a steady and reassuring professional who clearly knew his product and business inside out, impressing his potential investors with his experience in the market and a very credible pitch.

While four of the sharks respectfully declined to make Sears an offer, Autio grabbed the attention of Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary, who made his own fortune through software before becoming a TV personality. O'Leary offered Sears the full $1 million but wanted a 15% stake in the company.

Sears wasn't rattled. He was also in no mood to undervalue his product and stuck to his guns, maintaining that O'Leary would already be getting a discount compared to his other investors at 5%. A rapid-fire series of negotiations followed, in which O'Leary dropped his end to 10% while Sears was only prepared to go as high as 7%. It seemed evident from Sears' performance that he went into the studio with a very firm idea of the maximum he was willing to give up, and he calmly walked away without a deal but with the respect of the sharks.

Autio after Shark Tank

Autio began life under the name HearHere in 2020 and had good fortune from the start. Oscar-winner Kevin Costner learned about the project through his wife and was instantly hooked on the idea. The actor is a self-confessed history buff who was drawn to the app's potential for storytelling and education and came on board with Woody Sears as co-founder of the company.

Naturally, Costner's involvement helped generate publicity and investors for a few years before Sears even pitched Autio to the sharks, and the rebranded travel app certainly hasn't suffered after its innovator walked away without an investment. Away from the glitz of the popular reality show, Sears has had little trouble attracting investors: He raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding in 2021, another $3.2 million in early 2022, and yet another $5.9 million in March 2023, the same month that Sears' TV appearance aired. In total, the company has raised $10.7 million through pre-seed and seed funding.

The latest round of seeding was headed by iHeartMedia, which announced a marketing partnership with Sears' startup to bring Autio to a broader audience through its multiplatform audio network. Not only that, Autio also signed a deal with JetBlue to bring audio content for 29 of the carrier's destination cities via seatback screens on their planes.

While Sears and Autio didn't necessarily need Kevin O'Leary's money to succeed, the company acknowledged that the show helped generate a huge spike in website traffic and downloads.

Is Autio still in business, and what about the future?

Autio is going strong, now boasting well over 10,000 stories across the United States and launching in Australia in January 2023. Its already celebrity-laden profile has been raised further by features in several major outlets, including Forbes and Insider. Despite only being available for Apple iOS at present, the travel app has attracted over 230,000 registered users with a rating of 4.8 stars from 3,600 reviews as of this writing. The number of users is likely to rise exponentially when the company releases an Android version, which was in private beta testing as of March 2023.

In the immediate future, Woody Sears and Autio are concentrating on building up their database of fascinating stories and trying to distribute the experience evenly across the 50 states. With a focus on heritage, they are listening to their subscriber membership for ideas and working with historic associations in places like Texas and Niagara Falls to expand their range.

Sears is also thinking big further down the line, hoping to expand Autio on a global scale and bring fascinating local stories from all over the world. While we have a whole internet's worth of information at our fingertips, the history of a place can often remain overlooked unless you go digging for it. Autio deserves praise for taking the hard work out of learning and bringing these tales to life for curious travelers.