Tog Samphel always had a knack for design, and he didn't need a college degree to do it.
In 2004, the Clifton resident dropped out of Montclair State University because he was offered a job with AOL. And for the duration of his 15-year career, Samphel never needed nor wanted to complete his college degree.
There was one thing he wanted to do, though, and that was invent something.
Well, since 2020, Clifton's Samphel did both: He invented a product called "Anytongs" and finished his degree at Montclair State University. Later this month, he's making his pitch and telling his story on "Shark Tank."
"I always had an itch to create a physical product, nerding out on the manufacturing process," said Samphel, 40, who grew up in Paterson and graduated from Elmwood Park Memorial High School. After years of thinking about it, I doubled down on an idea that I had."
Growing up, whenever Samphel's mom needed a pair of tongs while cooking, she'd tape plastic utensils to clothesline clips. While deciding what it was he wanted to invent in 2020, that memory of his mom's invention popped into his head, he said.
All Samphel had to do was figure out if there was a need for it in the market. When a Kickstarter campaign raised triple the amount of money he was hoping for, Samphel knew he was onto something.
Months later, the dad of two was holding his invention: A plastic handle that turns utensils into tongs.
"They're for when you’re working on several dishes and you’ve got tongs, and you need an extra pair," Samphel explained. "You either have to find the other tongs, which are typically buried in a sink full of dishes, or rinse them off and clean them because you don't want to cross contaminate dishes."
"Now, you simply detach the ones you’re using and grab some clean utensils. Most kitchens have plenty of utensils, which you can just throw in the dish washer."
A single pack goes for $12.99 and a double is $19.99.
Samphel said his wife, Dawn, and kids, Marcus and Jorden, had fun helping him package the product and sending out orders.
The following year in 2021, Samphel got an email from "Shark Tank" asking him to audition for the show. He didn't see it until months later, and thought it was a scam. But Samphel ultimately decided to reach out and, to his surprise, advanced through the eight month audition process.
"Before I knew it, I was on a plane to California," he said, "pitching to the sharks."
That was in September 2022. Keeping the outcome a secret has been a challenge, to say the least, Samphel said. But at least he had something else to celebrate.
"One of the things I always told my kids and they'd repeat back in annoying fashion was, 'Just get the job done,'" Samphel said with a laugh. "I never got that job of finishing college but that weird motivation was just like, you started something, now finish it."
Samphel's backyard looks right out to MSU. For years, the school haunted him. Early last year, he got cracking on that college degree. By the end of the year, he had his degree in fine arts.
"It actually just felt really good to have the degree for a personal reason," Samphel tells Daily Voice. "While I did take some pride that I was able to work at these big companies and move up in my career without one, later in life I always saw it as something I never finished.
"And I don’t want to be a hypocrite to my own kids — finish what you started, get the job done."
Tune into ABC at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27 to see Samphel's "Shark Tank" pitch.
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