Behind the Scenes of Shark Tank!
To our diehard Susty Party fans, Shark enthusiasts, and curious entrepreneurs, here’s how we landed ourselves in the Tank, and survived!
A year before I was staring down an extremely well lit hallway at the unflinching faces of Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec, I had never even heard of them.
I first learned about Shark Tank almost exactly one year prior, sitting in a meeting that would change our lives forever. It was our first meeting with UNFI, the world’s largest natural products distributor. Our UNFI manager, Nora Cline, told us we could go from 0-100 mph overnight and said we needed to decide how quickly we wanted to scale. Oh, she added playfully, you should also go on Shark Tank!
In the parking lot that day, we profusely high-fived and did a few victory dances. A distribution deal with UNFI was like getting a record deal; the retailers were our audience and we were on tour. We performed at pitch meetings and trade shows to get our products into stores. And we heard again and again that we should go on Shark Tank.
I filled out the Shark Tank online application in January 2013, and with no response sent it again in February, sure to include many fun pictures of Jessica and myself! In April, one of the casting directors called me for an interview. With that, we passed to the next round: the Personal Video Submission. We picked a sunny day in Bushwick and filmed against one of our favorite graffitied walls. We wore bright colors and danced for most of the video, while covering a few key points: how we make our products, the fact that we were nearing $1 million in sales, and that we’re carried in Whole Foods nationwide.
In June 2013, months after we submitted the video and paperwork, we got a call. A voice asked us if we had heard the news from casting. “No, we haven’t,” I said while silently freaking out to Jess, my business partner standing next to me. “Congratulations, you've been selected to pitch to the Sharks.”
Cue another victory dance.
We were excited, nervous, and shocked. Now that they had picked us, we started the long process (5 months!) of prepping to film the episode. It proved much easier said than done.
We attempted to watch every episode. We took notes on every question the Sharks asked. Our caring boyfriends quickly learned that our only time together meant watching Shark Tank episodes.
I knew we needed an epic display for our Susty Party tableware. We custom built a wooden shelving unit to showcase our products. It was an ordeal to get it crated and shipped, but it was our national television debut, and we pulled out all of the stops.
We wrote about 10 versions of the pitch. We wrote 12 pages of talking points. We printed out photos of each Shark to practice looking them in the eye!
We rehearsed our pitch in front of a mock panel of our closest advisors. They grilled us for two hours! They were ruthless. We practiced being torn to shreds and still responding with poise. This mock panel exercise was the most helpful way to prep.
I spent hours looking for the perfect outfit! Finally I hit up my my favorite Williamsburg, Brooklyn boutique, POP Shop, where an awesome Keeshond dog named Oscar hangs out by the door. I snapped up a dress within minutes! I realized that even though we were going on Shark Tank, there was no reason to present myself any differently from how I normally do (plus a little extra manicure and hair love).
By late September 2013, the display was on its way via a wooden shipping crate, extra boxes of product were shipped, outfits were picked, bags were packed, nails were painted Susty colors, and we were ready to go. We flew off to the west coast for the experience of a lifetime!
Photo: outside our Shark Tank trailer on the Sony Pictures Lot in Los Angeles.
On the day of filming, we were transported from the hotel to the set at 6am, and then we could "relax" in the trailer, and so we did this:
Hair and Makeup
In the hair and makeup trailer, I asked to use my own natural makeup. Jess and I are not big makeup wearers. We did use stronger foundation and coverup, but we avoided the rest.
The hair stylist put the crown on my head minutes before we appeared on camera. I didn't have time to review how I looked, but I had reviewed how our products looked and that was the most important thing!
We waited outside those famous double doors, with cameras already trailing us, as a stage manager counted down for us: 3 - 2 - 1. We entered the Tank.
After filming in September 2013, our episode aired on May 2, 2014! And yes, we kept it a secret that entire time! The night of the airing - after having put support in place for extra sales and web traffic - we threw a Viewing Party near our office in Brooklyn for our staff, friends and family. We all shouted along with the screening and had a raucous time!
Then, we broadcasted our live reaction:
After the intense journey, we came to a bittersweet ending: we did our best but didn't get a deal. It was time to return to business and to hustle harder than ever.
Since we needed funding right away, we aggressively followed up on many investor leads. Having filmed our episode in September 2013, we closed a $500,000 seed round for Susty Party in late November 2013. The round was led by Radicle Capital, an investor focused on early stage sustainable, triple-bottom-line businesses!
Finally able to pay for new product inventory, we launched new products in January, including the new Susty Party tablecloths, napkins, cutlery, 16 oz cups, and 18 oz clear cups. Whole Foods Market was the first retailer to bring the products to market. Whole Foods even awarded us a local producer loan to expand our production, and to create a new Party Pack that launched into 6 regions of Whole Foods Market, while benefitting the Whole Planet Foundation!
A worker who is visually impaired makes Susty Party tablecloths at Envision, a non-profit facility for the blind and visually impaired in Wichita, KS.
We're glad that we didn't take a deal. The most important thing when seeking an investor, is to find a partner whose values align with yours. It's like a marriage. It's a deep partnership and you need to be aligned.
We were clear with the Sharks that we weren't just out to make a profit. We are committed to the triple bottom line: people, planet AND profit! This is a legal commitment through our certified B Corporation Operating Agreement. Shark Tank forced us to really look inside ourselves, become crystal clear with our own values, and learn to communicate them.
As a result, we've found mission-aligned investors. We even closed a second round of financing in May 2014, after our episode aired.
Our investors believe in Susty Party, believe in us as entrepreneurs, and believe that everyone deserves the best party products. Like us, they are passionate about creating jobs for communities in need and making high-quality, beautiful, responsibly sourced party tableware. They want to party with us, #sustystyle! Susty Party will continue to make the world a better place and a more fun place!
Respect Earth & Party On!
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