Jeremy Weisz: Dr. Jeremy Weisz here. I’m founder of inspiredinsider.com, where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders like the founders of P90X, Baby Einstein, Atari and many more, and how they overcome big challenges in life and business. This is part of the Skubana E-Commerce Mastery series, where top sellers and experts teach you what really works to boost your E-Commerce business. Skubana is a software platform to manage your entire E-Commerce operation.[00:00:37]
Today I’m excited. We have Desiree Stolar. She’s co-founder of unshrinkit.com. Desiree, now I see you for real, not just on Shark Tank.
Desiree Stolar: [laughs]
Jeremy: Now, unshrinkit.com is an emergency sweater saver. They have a patent pending formulation that helps unshrink wool clothing back to the original size. They were featured on the hit TV show Shark Tank, and got an investment offer from Mark Cuban. We’ll talk about that.
Desiree has an MBA from Harvard, and a wool expert is my favorite quotable… Was quoted saying, “This could change the world of yarn.” Desiree, thanks for joining me.
Desiree: Thank you for having me.
Jeremy: We were talking right before and I was, like, “What do you really want to talk about?” And I love what you said. You said, “Let’s talk about the tough realities of entrepreneurship.”
Jeremy: So talk about some of those tough realities.
Desiree: So I always joke with people that, if progress was linear for an entrepreneur, everyone would do it. But it never actually is that way. It’s always ups and downs…
Desiree: …Pitfalls, valleys. I mean, it’s both the ecstasy of the moment, as well as the great despair. I always joke with people that, as long it’s the upward trajectory of the pits and valleys, then you’re doing okay.
There is never a week in which all five days, everything that I have planned, every meeting that I’m going to attend, every goal that I have in terms of sales, that anything goes according to plan. There is always some hiccup in terms of, if someone has decided internally that they don’t want to have this in their product lineup, or, for whatever reason, they have decided that they are going to go in a different direction with laundry, or someone calls me out of the blue and says, “I would like to make this order,” and it’s the largest one of the week, and I had nothing to do with it… But for some reason they saw something that I did three months ago, and it caught their attention, and a friend of theirs used it, and now they think it should be in their store.
Desiree: So I would tell people that it’s good to have goals for each week. It’s really good to continuously keep pounding the pavement and trying to get your product out there and making the right connections.
Desiree: But on any given week I have never strung together five perfect days. There will be two great days, and then one day where nothing goes according to plan, and then I’ll inch my way back up. Some people can thrive in that environment. For others, that’s a lot of uncertainty.
Jeremy: So, Desiree, tell me about one of the great despair moments.
Desiree: Oh-ho. I mean, this is peeking into Shark Tank, but I’m gonna go ahead and go there, because it was by far the biggest.
Jeremy: The despair moment, Shark Tank?
Desiree: Yes. Oh, yeah. So let’s just get straight to it.
Desiree: Leading into our air date… We were episode eight of season seven. What an adventure, and I’m sure we’ll talk about how we got to that stage. But by the time we were airing it was supposed to be Friday the 13th, which I should have known from the get-go was a little ominous.
Bad luck, right.
Desiree: But Friday the 13th of November happened to be the day of the Paris attacks. So around 5:00 o’clock I was sent an email from ABC and the Sony studios that they were likely going to preempt us because there was something happening abroad that, depending on how it unfolded, it might not make sense to air Shark Tank.
Desiree: Now, for those who are really big fans of Shark Tank, and/or just like to follow what we talk about, I’m sure you’ve heard that most companies have prepared a lot of inventory in advance for such a showing, which are costs involved, any time you have ramped up your inventory. We also had a customer service team of over ten people that were helping us, because our product is not eating a donut, or opening a card. There’s a process to it.
Jeremy: You need to explain it a little bit.
Desiree: Yes. There’s specific fabric and a specific process, and wanted to make sure people were well informed. Then, quite frankly, we had a lot of backend web and advertising things, and we were running in place in terms of campaigns that were all gonna take advantage of that showing. So between 5:00 and–
Jeremy: MBA Harvard, prepared? That makes sense, yeah.
Yeah. If there’s one thing we’re gonna try and do, it’s try to be prepared.
Jeremy: We’re not gonna wing this thing, yeah. Okay.
Desiree: So between 5:00 and 8:00, I was basically on the phones with everyone saying, “I’m not sure if we’re going to air. If we do air, this is what we should do. If we don’t air, this is what we should try to do. I don’t know if they are gonna start to air us, and then cut away if something happens in Paris.” There were a lot of contingency plans that were in place, and without any warning whatsoever, we just started airing at 9:00 p.m.
They started the show. Everything seemed okay. However, we noticed online that ABC and all six of the sharks, even though we were only gonna be in front of five, all six of the sharks are well known for posting a lot of comments on Twitter and on Facebook during the hours of airtime to sort of galvanize the fanbase and to get people excited about whatever it is they invested in. So they all put up the same tweets and pictures across their channels, which basically was saying, #prayforParis.
Desiree: So, contrary to other weekly cycles in which there’s a lot of repertoire between you and your shark, or sharks that you rejected or engaged with, there was nothing for us.
Jeremy: There’s a banter there that goes on.
Desiree: Yes, yes. I mean, as any good marketer/sales person, even though I was in the middle of a huge party that my husband had thrown for me, and people were talking to me and excited that our segment was going well, every five minutes I was refreshing all of our different pages, whether that be Amazon or Google Analytic, basically just trying to see, really quickly, what’s going on. Is this going to be as big an item as we anticipated?
What Unshrinkit saw… I mean, we’re pretty decent friends with the other three teams that aired that night. I don’t want to give away their numbers, but for the most part the average is that we saw about a fourth of the website hits that we would have expected, and a fourth of the sales that we would have expected. For any business that has worked towards going into Shark Tank, it’s almost like the Super Bowl for your business.
Jeremy: For sure. Yeah.
Desiree: It’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl losing power and not happening when you’re watching that unfold. So I was up late watching Pacific standard time airing. I was up late talking to the media, who wanted to get my reaction to the Mark Cuban deal. I went to bed around 3:00 a.m. and I was emotionally and physically spent. Although our segment was very positive and we had an amazing edit in terms of… I think we did a good job on stage, but what they showed in terms of ten minutes just made us look fantastic, really made our product look like something that someone should want to try if they had an application for it.
So everyone was sending me… I mean, I was literally getting texts every minute from people saying, “Saw you, so happy.” Meanwhile, I know from the backend that it was not the night that we anticipated.
Desiree: So I woke up on Saturday and had tough questions. IS it that Paris had some undue impact on us? Was it that people just didn’t find that our product resonated with them?
Jeremy: Right. There are so many variables. It’s hard to identify.
Desiree: Absolutely. So my background is in media. So I knew where to look to look at the ratings from the night.
Jeremy: Yeah. Where do you look?
Desiree: Variety. Variety has done a pretty good job at overnights and then three day DVR ratings. So I could tell immediately that a similar amount of people had watched Shark Tank that had watched it the previous night, so there was this big question mark of, okay, if we had anywhere from six to eight million people, why is it that they didn’t go to our website or purchase the same amount that we would have anticipated?
I reached out to a couple of my producing friends, and they said, “Look, we could tell on our end that this was going to be a crazy night for the four of you. The last time this happened was 2001 with Osama Bin Laden on a Friday night. We just don’t have a lot to go by, but we would tell you, don’t freak out. Give it a couple of days.”
Jeremy: You’re, like, “But I have three garages full of Unshrinkit.”
Jeremy: That’s easy for you to say, don’t freak out. Yeah.
Desiree: My co-founder in Boston literally had a garage filled. I mean, we had our manufacturer that had a lot that had been sent out in huge pallets to Amazon, but we also had some for [inaudible 00:09:17] that all ran out, and yes. We had a garage full of inventory. So I asked the team, I said, “Look, it’s too early to tell now what the full impact is. Let’s give it a full week to see what happens.” So by Monday morning I had over 800 emails to respond to.
Jeremy: Good luck. Yeah.
Desiree: By Monday morning, starting as early as Saturday, we saw that the website hits started to tick upwards, that the sales were ticking upwards. Through the weekend, if not the full next ten days, we more than moved through what we thought we were gonna sell that opening weekend. Also, what came from that was that people responded very strongly to Lori in particular truly getting onboard.
Jeremy: I was really surprised at that.
Desiree: Yeah, we were too. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you anticipate, and people were emailing and saying, “Here’s the contact information of my nearest craft store,” or, “I’m in the military, and I think the military [inaudible 00:10:25] should have this,” or, “I run five dry cleaners and would like to take an order.”
Jeremy: That’s awesome.
Desiree: So by the time I had [inaudible 00:10:32] my way through the emails, we had a bunch of wholesale orders. We had some licensing offers. We had a couple of acquisition offers. I had a lot of people just saying, “Love this. So glad you created it.” Obviously, it’s Shark Tank. There are a couple of people that said, “I don’t like your product at all.” But those were in the far minority.
Then, more importantly, we made up on the metrics that we were despairing about. So I’m praying that no other Shark Tank team ever has to do with what we went through, because ultimately that was caused by a horrible tragedy. But it was a huge lesson for me that sometimes the dips will be all out, like, huge holes in the ground, and you won’t know if you’re gonna get out of it. You need to give yourself a couple of days.
One, to breathe and get some sleep, and two, to let the market respond in a way that works for them. Basically what happened is, people watched the show, but instead of doing the normal behavior where they immediately go to unshrinkit.com or go to our Twitter page, it appears they were online checking out the latest news of Paris, which makes complete sense.
Jeremy: Sure, yeah.
Desiree: It wasn’t until 24 to 48 hours later that they said, “What was that company that was unshrinking wool? I thought they were cool.” That’s when they looked us up.
Jeremy: Yeah. That’s a crazy story.
Desiree: I mean, I could write a book about the hour by hour play of that, but I won’t bore you on it.
Jeremy: No, it’s not boring at all, actually.
So would you recommend that someone who is gonna be aired not even have a party? Should you have been locked in an office with a computer and a phone, and just been coordinating? Because it sounds like you had a lot of coordination that you needed to do minute by minute.
Desiree: Yeah. So what we did… The biggest coordination, if you’ve done your job well, all happens before the airing. You’re only a ten minute segment in a full hour, so there’s room to actually be doing a lot of work in the segment before you, actually enjoy watching yourself for ten minutes, and then immediately go back to work.
That’s basically what happened during that hour. Once it was over, I took about 25 minutes to answer Q&A from the crowd of people who had come to the party. Then I went back downstairs and did work.
Jeremy: Yeah. So tell me about this. This is interesting. In preparation, right?
Jeremy: So talk about those components of preparation.
Desiree: Oh yeah.
Jeremy: The backend. You talked about investing in a certain amount of bottles. How do you decide how many, and how do you project how many to invest in? How many did you actually… If you can’t show the range that you actually end up getting?
Desiree: No, that’s fine. I will say this, because this was representative of us reaching out to people. I would say that I joke with a lot of people, we should create a Shark Tank alumni group. There are not that many of us. At least since season three, they’ve aired about 100 each season.
I mean, out of the 50,000 people that apply. So it’s like a mini university, of sorts. So I basically looked for people who had done something in the laundry space that was a consumer good, who had made a deal on the air and reached out.
I wanted to get it as close as possible to being something akin to us. I also looked for things that were in our price point. So something that was between $10 and $20. The last thing I want to do is ask someone who has a $60 specialty laundry basket what they did. We then reached out to those companies and said–
Jeremy: What were some of the companies, and what did they say?
Desiree: I don’t want to…
Jeremy: Oh. [inaudible 00:13:58] I immediately got Scrub Daddy as maybe one that would be seen.
Desiree: So Scrub Daddy, because they… I mean, they are the king of all of Shark Tank in terms of the sales that they generate.
Jeremy: Sure. They are, I think, the most successful, right?
Desiree: Yes, by far. So most people don’t even ask them. One, all of their metrics are publicly listed everywhere, and I feel like they update it every month or two anyway. Second, they’ve just had a bonanza after their airing in season five.
What we did… Because a lot of these people are entrepreneurs and they are very busy, I reached out to a lot of them, and most of them, I will be honest, didn’t get back. But what I did was, I knew that, particularly for season five and season six, a lot of people were very amenable to answering repertoires questions on, “Well, what did you do this weekend?” Or, “How successful was the first month?”
So I basically stalked all of the reports in which they came out in the first week after Shark Tank, and looked to see what sort of business that they would talk about that they did. Sometimes they didn’t talk about sales. Sometimes they talked about website hits, or they would talk about the growth in their social network.
But I knew what our internal conversion rate was for people going from our website to actually purchasing a bottle. So I could extrapolate from there. If they were saying X number of website hits, what should we start to see? So I had a range that was pretty wide, actually. It was from 3000 all the way up to 10,000 for our category.
Jeremy: Units of product?
Desiree: Units of product that went out the door that first weekend. So what I did was, we sort of prepared for something slightly north of the mean, and then tried to have… We had a couple of backup plans, and if for some reason that went over. So that’s why we had product in the garage. That’s why we had a manufacturing team that was ready to press go on Monday if we needed more, etcetera.
Jeremy: Yeah. So talk about some of the backend. You had people in place.
Jeremy: So what was an important component that you knew you needed? You said that you had a sales team. How do you even train the sales team?
Desiree: So we had a customer service team.
Jeremy: A customer service. Okay.
Desiree: A customer service team. Yeah.
Jeremy: That’s what I mean.
Desiree: Yeah. So what we… We have people we talk to across every possible channel we own. So I have people who will write me on Facebook, on Twitter, on our website, on our Contact Us page who will call us, all asking similar questions. “Can I use it? How does it work? I’ve tried using it and have questions. Can I get this in Canada?” I’ve got a lot of, can I get this in Canada?
It runs the gamut. The cute thing is that people will email you about, and give you the backstory of their scarf, and why they want to save it, and then say, “Can I save it? It’s X percentage merino, X percentage epoch, and X percentage cashmere.” They want an answer on that, and that’s wonderful.
Desiree: What we did was, when we delegated who owned a particular channel… So I am particularly comfortable very quickly writing and engaging with someone on the social media channels, where people are a bit more demanding in terms of the speed in which you need to get back to them. I had one of my co-founders, who was manning the Contact Us page, as well as the phone, and since that night in particular we actually had most of the phone calls going directly to voicemail so that we could capture that phone number, get the full message, actually take our time in getting back to people. He was manning that with a team of about six or seven people. What he did was helped train them on, what are the key things to recognize in the message, and when she should know what information they are looking for. What is the tone that we’re trying to respond to people?
If, for whatever reason, they responded to you multiple times… Because sometimes someone will create a conversation with you. How do you engage that, but also make sure that, at some point, you’re concluding what they need and moving onto the next person?
So we, in many ways, just mapped out, what are gonna be the top 25, 30 questions we expect, and what are some of the key aspects that you should answer? Then, for the things that you could never anticipate, who do you call to give you more information?
Desiree: Customer service, for us, was particularly important. When we did our first iteration of our product, we didn’t focus on it too much, and we realized, if you have something that is brand new to the market and you’re creating a brand new category, a brand new product, you have to be overly proactive in reaching out and helping people.
Jeremy: So what have you learned from customer feedback?
Desiree: One, that you have to stay even keeled, because you’re usually going to get the happiest of people and the most upset of people. It’s going to seem as though it’s a roller coaster in which people love and hate your product, but in the grand scheme of things, what we discovered is about 90%, 95% of people never reach out to us at all. You’re seeing the extremes in terms of people and their usage of the product.
And then to always exercise a great deal of patience. We have worked with this product day in and day out now for two years. We know it backwards and forwards. If someone has just heard about our product, and they watch a ten minute snippet on Shark Tank, and they were eating dinner while they watched it, and the kid was running around doing something, all they really captured was something to unshrink clothes.
They might not have caught part where you said it’s for wool or cashmere, or wool blends. They might not have caught the part where they need to actually mix it with warm water. You know, to treat people as you would treat your grandmother, in terms of… It takes her a little bit longer to pick up on it, and/or she doesn’t have as much context, but you should be just as caring and just as patient with her as you are with [inaudible 00:19:52]
Jeremy: So, I mean, what was productive feedback that actually maybe helped you improve the product? Was there anything else?
Desiree: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Absolutely. From the get-go… So our first iteration of the product, when we had no manufacturer guarantee, which, we quickly heard from people. They said, “This is something that’s brand new to me. Why should I take a chance on you, on something that I’m not getting in my store, that I haven’t heard from my neighbors? All I’ve seen is your website.”
So we realized that, if we felt confident enough in our product to be selling it and to be working on it full time, then the least we could do is say to someone, “If you don’t have a positive or the perfect experience, we’re going to give you a refund.” That was something that we decided was important.
There were little things, such as, when we were doing all of our internal testing and testing with our analytical lab, we were working with liters. When we put, “Mix Unshrinkit with three liters of water,” a lot of people said, “I never deal with liters in my home. I either deal with quarts or gallons. So I don’t even know what the heck to use when you tell me this. Is there any way that you..?”
We were getting lots of questions. Like, “What does this mean in terms of things I have in my home?” So we updated our instruction so that it was very clear in a way that people understood. We also talked about, with people… I’m trying to think, what’s another good one in terms of customer service?
Jeremy: What’s the biggest objection you get, and then how do you overcome it?
Desiree: Why don’t you work on cotton?
Why don’t you work on cotton, and why can’t I use this on cotton, and can I try it on cotton? Can I take a risk using it on cotton? It’s funny that they are so happy that you have even entered the space and you’ve done some specific tool, that they immediately want to then apply it to other aspects of their life that would be helpful.
I actually had a guy who said, “I’m really excited about unshrinking my dollar pack of white t-shirts from Walmart.” It took me a lot to not laugh. Part of the reason why we did wool, and probably why our next product will be for denim, is…
Jeremy: It’s more expensive.
Desiree: …Why pay $10, $12 to save something that is the same amount as your item? Why not just buy a new one?
Desiree: So I say to people about cotton, I say, “We know that you wear a lot of cotton, and we know that you care to save it. To a certain extent, you and I both know that you’re probably just gonna go buy a new Old Navy t-shirt. You’re not gonna want to try to save it,” kind of story.
Jeremy: There are those old t-shirts that you probably have tried to throw away that your husband has, right? Those old cotton t-shirts?
Desiree: Yes, but it’s rarely because they shrunk. It’s normally because he has had them for way too long.
Jeremy: Exactly, exactly. That’s true.
Jeremy: So talk about the conversion rate. Right? I mean, you were very methodical. What did you do to increase the conversion rate? Yeah. Talk about that.
Desiree: One, we tried to eliminate the pathway to getting to the purchase. So one of the things we did prior to Shark Tank, we actually had a very different website. It had a lot of content on the home page. It had a lot of content on the product page, and it was more of an immersive experience in which someone was going to learn information about Unshrinkit.
The guidance we got from people who had worked with other Shark Tank teams, as well as previous Shark Tank teams was, one, you want to have the most efficient experience possible. Someone comes to your website, you reinforce that they just saw you on Shark Tank, that this is the product for this particular use case, and they immediately are going to purchase.
Jeremy: They have a huge [inaudible 00:23:25] or something, yeah.
Desiree: Later on they can figure out more information about your wool guide, more information about your story, about the two founders. For that weekend, it should all be about sales. So we cut down our content by almost 80%. So the website was very streamlined. Then we also had several other platforms that we were redirecting people to [inaudible 00:23:53] just talking about, and we basically sent all traffic to Amazon.
Jeremy: Yeah. I saw that.
Desiree: Yeah. The thought was, I mean, we were prepared for a crazy number of visitors. But a great backup is to have your sales platform be something that is so large and so robust…
Jeremy: It’s not gonna break, yeah.
Desiree: …That, even if we went down, people could still access Amazon and purchase.
Jeremy: I see.
Jeremy: So was there a debate internally about,okay, do we send them to our own shopping cart? Do we send it to Amazon? Or was it a no brainer?
Desiree: It was a no brainer only because we had done that previously. So fall of 2014 we were selling on our website, and what we discovered was people were spending more time trying to figure out, should they trust us? Should they purchase it? Were the reviews valid?
We found that when we switched everything over to Amazon, they trust that one through five star system. They trust those reviews, particularly if they are verified by the purchaser. There was a much faster… We went from around a 10%, 11% conversion to being something akin to almost one out of four were converting once they hit our [inaudible 00:24:59]
Jeremy: That’s amazing.
Desiree: So it was worthwhile to keep it there, and just get people through the door.
Jeremy: Yeah. So what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of sending it to Amazon for someone who is debating it?
Desiree: The disadvantages are super, super easy. They own your customer data, and it’s the biggest tradeoff you make. You want people who are within the Amazon platform. They love Prime. They love the ratings. They love the consistency of the interface, how quickly it is to make the purchase with the one click. But the one sacrifice you make is that you don’t own [crosstalk]
Jeremy: Yeah. That’s a great point. Yeah.
Desiree: …They are Amazon’s [inaudible 00:25:56]. So if you want to send a huge blast out to everyone and say, “It has been two weeks to Shark Tank, and we want to hear about your experience,” you can’t do that to those customers. So what we did to compliment that, and they have done an excellent job… We work with these team called Feedback Five.
Jeremy: Sure. Yeah.
Desiree: You can leverage them to basically reach out to people post purchase and to check in on the experience, and that has helped us to better own the post purchase experience. But, to a certain extent, that’s the one big tradeoff you make with Amazon. I know that’s why a lot of my entrepreneurial friends don’t do it, because they want to create this huge database of people that are using it.
But I find that their products are much more dependent on someone purchasing their product on a monthly basis. It’s not a subscription service, by chance, but they need more frequent purchases, and our business model is one in which someone to purchase Unshrinkit every winter season.
So there’s less pressure. I’m not gonna circle back with someone because it’s Patrick’s Day and say, “Oh, St. Patty’s Day! Have you unshrink your ugly Patrick’s Day sweater?” That’s not really an issue, per se.
Jeremy: I guess you have to team up with that other one in Shark Tank, the Ugly Sweater Company, or something.
Desiree: Yeah, the Tipsy Elves.
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly.
Desiree: Yeah. That was actually the most surprising thing. They didn’t show it completely, but Robert loved our product. He was the most effusive, and then when it came time to dole out an offer, Damon was in there, Kevin was in there, Mark obviously jumped in at the last minute, but at no point did he sort of make a move. We were very surprised. There was a natural compliment there to him already having [crosstalk]
Jeremy: You ship a bottle of Unshrinkit with every sweater or something.
Desiree: Yeah, I know. Here’s your insurance policy. Stay ugly.
Jeremy: So what else didn’t we see, or that didn’t air?
Desiree: What else didn’t we see? I mean, there was quite a debate about-
Jeremy: How long were you [inaudible 00:27:33]
Desiree: Oh, we were there for two hours.
Jeremy: Two hours? Yeah.
Desiree: Which, I will tell you, felt like 20 minutes. We walked off the stage and our associate producer said, “Great job.”
We were, like, “Wow, that just flew by.”
They said, “No it didn’t, you were there for a long time.”
We said, “How long?”
And it’s two hours. My gosh. Which then, of course, made me scared, because I’m thinking, “Oh God, they are gonna cut down two hours to ten minutes. What are they gonna decide..?” You could create a completely different [inaudible 00:28:00] out of two hours.
Desiree: But let me think about what didn’t happen. One, there was a pretty fierce debate about that market size. So they focused on Lori. We actually had a huge Facebook group of thousands of people who were gonna watch it that night, and the pull question I had was, who do you think we made a deal with? And it was close to 75% thought we went with Lori, which is why they showed it on the show.
Jeremy: It seems like a good fit for an infomercial or something like that.
Desiree: Absolutely. Now, one of our concerns was that she is a powerhouse at what we would call… At [inaudible 00:28:41] we would have called it sustaining innovation. So the product is already in the market, and someone has come out with a slightly better one, or a slightly cooler one. She’s very, very good with products where she doesn’t have to explain it to you, that this is a sponge. What’s cool is that this sponge can flip and can do the hard stuff and the soft stuff, or heres’s a purse that can also carry your phone. It’s intuitive.
Jeremy: You can look at it and get it.
Desiree: Yes. She very rarely will go with something where she has to educate the market.
Jeremy: So let me back up for a second, Desiree.
Jeremy: People don’t truly understand the research that both you and Nate did for this, okay? I was doing my own research, and you were spending how many hours per week, for how long, preparing this?
Desiree: It was a full time job.
So at the time it was the spring of 2015.
Jeremy: Yeah, because this is not random. You guys put an Excel spreadsheet. I mean, talk a little bit about what the preparation you did.
Desiree: Yeah. So I decided we were gonna download the seasons three through six because those included Mark Cuban, and we knew he would be there for season seven. We watched the shows. With the database, I probably went a bit overboard, but I felt like every detail could eventually be helpful.
So I had the company, the people that came out to represent it, their gender, around about what age, what they were wearing, what they asked for, how did they pitch, like, what they had on the set… What questions they received, what pushback they received, who ultimately offered a deal, what was some of the negotiation that went on there, and then, did they walk away with a deal or did they say no, etcetera. So we did that for every single segment to try to pick up trends for what things might unduly set a shark off. Like, the last thing you want is to say something that has obviously been shown in a different season where they hate that phrase, where they hate this particular approach.
Jeremy: Right. So what were some of those things that they hated?
Desiree: I mean, so people who come in who don’t really understand their customer acquisition costs, or people who come in and, for whatever reason, the lack of sales is because they have outsource everything to someone else and haven’t actually tried to go and talk to people.
Desiree: Or, with Lori, her zero to hero thing, we knew that we had, as best possible, needed to try to defend our market size. We thought that was something that she might be worried about. So we had three or four different counterarguments for her for how to defend what we thought would be our market size.
We knew the hobbies and the interests of all the sharks. We knew where they were from. We wanted to make sure that Kevin knew that we were from Boston. We knew that Mark would care that Nate was right near where he used to grow up in Pennsylvania. Everything that we could possibly capture about them… We knew…
Jeremy: Right, you were maximizing–
Desiree: …The ages of their children, who actually might have things in their home that were shrunk, who did their own laundry. Mike did more laundry.
Jeremy: You’re, like, “Mark Cuban, I talked to your wife the other day. She says you do need this product, and she shrunk your favorite [sp] Mav sweater,” or something.
I mean, ultimately, it came down to, there have been other entrepreneurs who, for whatever reason, had to go through the fire and messed up and lost out on a deal because they didn’t know this information. The least we could do is learn from what they had to experience and not make that same mistake. So we were, between the preparation for the pitch, working with the producers, finishing up what we wanted to showcase for our product and actually just doing the research, it ranged anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week.
Jeremy: Yeah. That’s what I read. Yeah.
Desiree: I mean, a lot of people spend their last semester at HBS going to dinners, bonding with people, traveling, doing an independent project. We were basically… I Was basically nonexistent to people. People joked, but I had four hours a week that I devoted to social activities, and I would literally leave a party after, like, an hour and 20 minutes and say, “This is my cap. I needed to go.” I had a husband that lived in D.C. I had cases to read, and there was just so many hours in the day.
Jeremy: Yeah. So what numbers, Desiree, did you and Nate prepare, ready for Shark Tank?
Desiree: In terms of what we wanted?
Jeremy: What you wanted, and also to answer questions.
Desiree: Sure. [inaudible 00:33:16] the whole thing. We knew our business numbers inside and out in terms of, if they asked about the last six months, the last year, the totality of our company, what were our projections in terms of sales, what were we expecting to do over the next, by month, by year, next five years… We also knew our costs. We knew our revenues versus our profits.
One of the things that we always worried about is that, it’s not that people don’t know their business. It’s that most people are in front of these sharks for an hour to two hours, and after awhile you might get flustered. You might get nervous. What they are looking for is to see, do you know your business so well that, even under intense pressure, you don’t contradict yourself or make a mistake. So the last thing you want to do is mix up revenues with profits, or mix up your cogs, if you were to scale at X level versus a different level.
We just wanted to make sure that we didn’t make dumb mistakes, and then, in terms of the negotiation, you might have noticed this… I purposely wanted Nate to lead that, because he does numbers exceptionally well in his head. I can do numbers fast if I’m sitting in my room by myself, but under pressure, that is not my forte. So we knew that we wanted to stay somewhere in between 10% and 18% of giving away our company, which is a very, very narrow window…
Jeremy: It’s a small window, yeah.
Desiree: …For Shark Tank. We needed to be able to play around with that, and needed someone who was going to be comfortable just sort of going tit for tat with them. So that’s why Nate led that part.
Jeremy: So give people an idea, Desiree, going into Shark Tank, how long was the company in existence, and then how many sales did you have at the time going in?
Desiree: So going into Shark Tank, we had been around for basically a year. So we Incorporated in June of 2014, [inaudible 00:36:15] June of 2015. But we had not sold a bottle. We didn’t start selling until September of 2014. So we were basically coming to the conclusion of our sweater season, which is September through May, before we were going on Shark Tank. One of the concerns that our friends had… Now, here’s the funny thing. Until the moment you apply to Shark Tank, you tell everyone, “Oh, I’m planning to apply to Shark Tank. I’m really excited.” As soon as they express an interest in you, you have to pretend that nothing is happening.
Desiree: So prior to being told they were interested, I was asking people. I said, “Should we go on? We’ve only sold about 4000 or 5000 units,” and everyone said, “Oh, no. It’s too early, it’s too early. They are gonna eat you alive. Shark Tank has gotten too big for the small businesses. You would have been great in seasons two or three, but now they are looking for the million dollar offers and the people who are making $300,000 in annual revenue already.”
I said, “Well, maybe.”
Jeremy: Who is saying that?
Desiree: So, basically, all of the Shark Tank fans, or people who they think know Shark Tank.
Jeremy: Oh, I gotcha. So it’s not like an associate producer of Shark Tank that’s saying this?
Desiree: No, no, no.
Desiree: Not at all. These are both intense and casual fans. Their perception is Shark Tank gets bigger and bigger each year, so, to make people’s jaws drop, they need to have bigger bets, bigger asks, etcetera. I said, “Look, I hear you, but at its core Shark Tank was made to be the American dream during the recession.” Small businesses couldn’t get loans, so this was the place you went for anything from $50,000 to $200,000 so that you could keep your business going or make it grow.
So they still need businesses like myself that are going in with a new business, not a lot of sales, but a lot of promise, and a decent amount of revenue that shows that we’re not just sucking in money, that we’re actually making money off of it too. So it was a risk. It was always a risk that they say, “This is too early. You haven’t proved yourself. Sell more bottles,” etcetera. That’s probably why we went the extra mile in preparing, because we felt, if we could truly nail the questions and our plans, that they could have confidence that we as a team were people worth investing in.
Jeremy: What question were you most nervous to get into and debate and answer?
Desiree: Probably the market size. At that point, we were part of the Multiple Accelerators. We were at the Harvard Innovation Lab. We were part of Mass Challenge. We had pitched at the New Venture competition out of Boston. We had pitched at Thai Boston, which is basically a local Shark Tank event for people. Each and every time, the judges basically bifurcated. It was, they completely go the market size, never questioned it, and wanted to hear how we were gonna execute against that. Or they didn’t get it at all, and they couldn’t see past anything else. But tell me how this is gonna be something that could have a great return.
Desiree: So the last thing we wanted was all of our time in front of the sharks to be about market size, when there were so many more interesting things about the future of the company, and/or what we had currently done that would really sort of sell them. So we had prepared the heck out of that in terms of not just talking about what we had done to date, but what was coming out in the next six months, as well as what we were planning to do once we had the funding.
That was the nice thing, which, I don’t know if they showcased it as much as they did, but four out of the five never really questioned it. In fact, there was a really, really beautiful moment, at least for me, where the four sharks, who were all men, because Barbara wasn’t part of our group, were sort of turning to Lorie and saying, “We just don’t understand why you don’t get this.” [laughs] Because the [inaudible 00:39:19] woman is normally a married woman with kids, who I’m sure is making mistakes and/or doesn’t take all of her laundry to the dry cleaners. She’s doing a lot at home. We get this.
Desiree: One of our biggest fears was that you need people who are engaging with laundry, and have a real life, and make real life mistakes. And all of these people [crosstalk]
Jeremy: You’re wondering, like, “How much are some of these people doing laundry?”
Desiree: Yeah. They are multimillionaires, and they have people who do their laundry. The great thing, thank God, is that Damon, Kevin, Mark and Robert all started from very humble beginnings. In fact, Lorie did too, to a certain extent. But I want to say, for a longer period of time, she has been doing quite well. But all of them come from relatively humble beginnings. They remember those days of making mistakes, and that’s what helped us. I think if we had started out with people who had always been well off, that that might have been a harder sell.
Jeremy: Yeah. So after Shark Tank, Desiree… So those were the numbers before. What can you share after? What were sales like after?
Desiree: Lets’ say that… So it’s December 2015, and we’ve already doubled all of what we did last year, and we’re only halfway through the season.
Jeremy: Congrats. That’s awesome.
Jeremy: So what’s the next step in execution, like you were saying? People want to know, and you wanted to answer, how you were gonna execute.
Jeremy: So what’s working best now after it? People will think, “Well, Desiree, that’s easy. You had Shark Tank.”
Desiree: Oh, yeah.
Jeremy: But once the Shark Tank buzz dies down, you start to have to execute a different game plan. Obviously, that’s actually your wheelhouse, is the media side of things. So that was perfect.
Jeremy: So you maximized that. Now what is working best on a day to day without a huge explosion from Shark Tank?
Desiree: Exactly. So the biggest thing for us has actually been a ground game with the wholesale accounts. So what we do is, to me, it’s all about going local. So general merchants, knitting shops, universities, dry cleaners. That has been our game from the get go, because you want to be in places in which people are contextually thinking about your product or laundry, and/or that’s where… For example, universities, our biggest surprise our first year was that 40% of our customers were young men between about 18 to 25…
Desiree: …Doing laundry for the first time.
Jeremy: They shrink everything.
Desiree: I mean, not to knock the young men, but they seemed to…
Jeremy: It’s okay. We’re not that smart when it comes to a lot of things, especially laundry. Yeah.
Desiree: …I just noticed that every guy I know just throws all their laundry and…
Jeremy: For sure. I still do that.
Desiree: …Hope it all comes out okay.
Desiree: And it doesn’t work that way. You have to sort. So, anyway. What we’ve been focusing on is completely separate from Shark Tank, and guess what? The whole world doesn’t watch Shark Tank. You can say that to people and they say, “Oh, that’s cool.” But most often than not, they haven’t heard about Shark Tank. If anything, it’s an extra cache alter when you say, “Oh, yes. This was also featured on the show.” But, for us, it has been a very strong and consistent outreach effort to saying. “This is a–”
Jeremy: How did you identify that?
Jeremy: Yeah. How did you identify that young males at universities would be one of the biggest customers? Obviously I would think, oh, like, moms is perfect.
Desiree: Oh, that was our first [inaudible 00:42:54]
Desiree: We spent a lot of our… We didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but what money we did spend we spent it on mommy blogs, and [inaudible 00:43:01] out to moms and saying, “Will you write about us?” While that was very effective, when we first started we were on our own platform on Shopify. I kept seeing these male names come in. By all means, I don’t mean to stereotype when I’m seeing a name, but when Barry comes in or when Luke comes in, it’s obviously a guy.
Jeremy: Luke, yeah.
Desiree: So I was putting in the addresses, and I could tell that some of the address was in university regional code. What we actually did was, after we had sold about 5000, you’ve got to take advantage of your resources that are free.
Jeremy: I love hearing methodical minds. Yeah. Keep going with this, yeah.
So I downloaded all of our geocodes and sent them off to a lab at Harvard. It was a bunch of grad students how were actually collating, and were willing to run for you a map of where you were selling your products.
Jeremy: That’s cool. Yeah.
Desiree: One, I wanted to disprove from people who were concerned that we didn’t sell in Florida and Texas and California, because we do sell a lot of bottles there. They are very sensitive to sweater weather under 65 degrees. But second, I wanted to see if we were having hotspots around [inaudible 00:44:12], and that’s what was happening.
Jeremy: Yeah. So what did you find? What were the hotspots?
Desiree: Well, one, our assumption going in was that it was gonna be metropolitan areas. It was gonna be a quarter metropolitan areas, and that it was gonna be mainly moms. What came out was that, from a genders distribution, it was 60/40 female male that, in terms of location, we were getting suburbia, as well as what I’d call residential areas outside of a city, as well as the city itself. Not a lot on the rural side.
I want to say that’s probably because they might do a better job of taking time to wash their clothes. We’re still working out the assumptions there. But then, more importantly, that we were in the pockets that were rural, it was because it was near a university. So a good example of that… So, let me think of a good one.
So Blacksburg in Virginia, which, most people don’t even know what the heck that is, unless you’re a football fan. That is where Virginia Tech is.
Desiree: The concentration was Blacksburg. So it was the college town.
Jeremy: Right around the university.
Jeremy: So how do you get it in the hands of those people? Now you know where they live, so what do you do to get it in the hands of them?
Desiree: So one of the things that we’re actually building out right now is a mini sales force of students at those universities. We do have contacts at the bookstores, but the faster way to do it is to get it into people who will be, in many ways, an ambassador for you in the campus, actually talk about it to other people, use it, have it in their room. That’s one of the ways that we feel it’s gonna work faster.
I’m a huge… This is probably because I’m entrepreneur, but I’m a huge fan of [inaudible 00:46:04] bureaucracy, and when you go top down, and you have to go to the university, and then the bookstore, and get on the shelf, and then there’s placement fees and [inaudible 00:46:11]. That can be a whole year before you’re in front of the student.
Jeremy: Yeah. So you really do a grassroots effort…
Jeremy: …To get it in there. So where do you start with that? I mean, this is helpful for any business, right?
Desiree: Oh, yeah.
Jeremy: To have a grassroots effort for something like this. Are there companies out there that will serve… Like, help you get in front of college students, or do you just have to get out and do guerrilla marketing style?
Desiree: There are companies… I joke with people. When it come sot sales and marketing, there’s a plethora of companies. You will never have a shortage of companies that will focus on just one thing and hope that you do it. But, ultimately, if you want control over what they are saying, how it’s being done, and/or you want it to happen faster and cheaper, you should try to do it yourself. So what I did… One, we’ve always just been very careful with every dollar we have… Is that I started out with universities that we know.
So I knew Harvard and I knew University of Virginia, because that was my undergrad. With Harvard, there were several different laundry places right there near us in Cambridge. So we walked over to the dry cleaners and came with our bottles and our packaging, and said, “Will you have this here in your dry cleaners? We can do it on consignment. Start here.”
Jeremy: So no risk for them, essentially.
Desiree: Yeah, no risk whatsoever. Meanwhile, it creates a relationship. They learn a little bit more about the product. The next time people are coming in and they are already in the mindset of taking care of their nicer clothing, it’s something that’s there.
We also reached out to student groups that were focused on helping businesses in the area, and asked for them to… So, for example, and maybe this is just HBS, but there are a lot of ugly sweater parties. I didn’t hesitate to reach out to any person I knew that was in a particular location representing Harvard or UBA and say, “Do you mind receiving six bottles of Unshrinkit for your ugly sweater party?” They are already in the context of wearing sweaters. You can give it out for free. We can be the prize for the ugly sweater party. Use the bottles as you see fit.
But what I find is that, if I send six bottles to an ugly sweater party, we have people coming back saying, “We gave your information out to people. We have people following up saying, we’d like to buy a bottle,” and those six bottles are very quickly going out the door. So it amplifies our message in the areas that we want.
Desiree: For example, University of Virginia, I reached out to friends and said, “I’m not there right now. I haven’t been on campus in almost a decade in terms of an actual student. Can you let me know, what are the most respected dry cleaners in the area that either do a concierge service for students, and/or just the go-to places?” They put me in contact with them, and that’s how I could quickly get the information and say, “Can I send you a bottle?”
Jeremy: Yeah. So what else is working with increasing sales? The grassroots effort..?
Desiree: Oh. So completely the opposite of a grassroots effort is going abroad. So one of the things that happened after Shark Tank was that, on a daily basis, we were getting dozens of emails from people in Canada saying, “Can we please get this before the holidays?”
Now, Canada has the lovely province of Quebec, which has a lot of different regulatory needs, because it’s a majority French speaking province. But what we did was, we opened up international shipping for Canada just to test out, how well was it gonna ship? Were people just saying that they wanted it, or were they actually gonna purchase it?
Jeremy: IS there a lot of red tape to get that setup for you?
Desiree: I mean, a lot and a little. It’s a little if you’re willing to spend a lot of money to make it go fast, and it’s a lot if you’re any small business and you want to just be very careful with how you’re spending your money, and/or you don’t want to have to completely change your packing for Quebec.
Jeremy: I see, right, because you have to put French…
Desiree: Yeah, and it’s not just that you have to call out French for you product identity. You need to actually have the French version be larger. There are certain things that you have to change [inaudible 00:50:10] warnings and whatnot.
So we opened up international shipping so that people from Canada could purchase it, and what amazed me is that it actually… One, it showcased to us that there really was demand. We’re actually going through the process, from a high level regulatory standpoint, of actually getting it into the country, as well as with the EU, Australia and New Zealand. But it also gave us a little bit more insight into the price elasticity of our product. Lori actually called this out.
Desiree: She though it was priced too high, and I know her sweet spot is things–
Jeremy: Were you saying it was $11 to $14?
Desiree: So we told her on the show we’d retail $12 to $15.
Jeremy: $12 to $15.
Desiree: And we normally sell it for $12, and she thought that was too high. The funny thing for us is, one, $12 has never been… At least from what we can tell, has never put a damp in our sales or demand. But for Canada and Europe, there have been people who have purchased it who have paid $10 to $15 for shipping.
Jeremy: So it’s, like, $25, $30.
Jeremy: With the exchange rate and everything too.
Desiree: Yeah. So when we actually get it into the country, there’s a lot of room for us to even charge a higher price. I’ve always wanted this to be something that’s accessible, a mass product that people are picking up at the same time they do their detergent and their dryer sheets, and etcetera. I don’t want it to be some premium niche product. But, if anything, that was another data point for us, that we are at the right price point. Because if someone is willing to pay almost twice as much just to get it, they [inaudible 00:51:50]
Jeremy: Yeah. So wholesales work and grassroots, international… So what have you found that you thought would work that has not worked, that you had to stop doing?
Desiree: So one of my… It has been an enigma to me, is that the most avid group, people that there is no price point by which they would want this product, or they would pay $100 to have it, are knitters and crafting groups.
Jeremy: They will not pay for it, you’re saying?
Desiree: No, no, no. They would pay $80 for [crosstalk]
Jeremy: Oh, they would pay a lot. Okay.
Desiree: Is the knitting craft group. Just to break it down for you, imagine that they have bought a skein of wool.
Jeremy: It has taken them three years to do something.
Desiree: Yeah. It has taken them three to four months to make a sweater for someone in some intricate pattern that they learned. They spent a good… If it was premium wool, maybe $40, $50 just on the wool. Then it’s their time involved. Then it was for someone, and it was a gift of some nature, and then the recipient shrinks it.
Jeremy: So remind me of this, Desiree. I’ve interviewed and know some of the top E-Commerce yarn knitting E-Commerce that I’ve talked to.
Desiree: Yes, yes.
Jeremy: Yeah. So I’ll have to tell you about those. So go on, yeah.
Desiree: So when we first launched, we were covered on Ravelry. We were covered on Knitting Paradise. We were covered on Knitter’s Review. I mean, blogging sites about it, the whole nine yards. So I always thought it was going to be the easiest sell ever to put it in front of knitting and craft shop owners and say, “Purchase this. Don’t you want it?” What has fascinated me is that it has just not resonated with the owners as much as it has the actual makers or consumes, or owners of the product.
Jeremy: The consumers it resonates with, but the owners don’t see it?
Desiree: No. What’s interesting is that they care a lot about the wool, the dying, the tools to actually making something. But they are not as interested on the backend of, once someone has already finished making it, they’ve washed it… How do they save it, per se?
Jeremy: I see. They geek out on the knitting part, but they could care less about afterwards, and the people, that’s a real people for some of these people.
Desiree: Absolutely. I mean, every once in awhile I’ll have a knitting shop that says, “Someone came in and they wanted it because they shrunk something, and they would like it.” But I have found them to be a…
Jeremy: That’s interesting.
Desiree: …[inaudible 00:54:26] resistant group. It has always been on the consumer side. Never from the knitting shop side.
Jeremy: Wow. So what else have you fond that you’ve tried that has not worked, that you’re surprised about?
Desiree: It’s a whole list of things.
Jeremy: What would Nate say?
Desiree: I mean, this is [inaudible 00:54:43], but I’m thinking of a good one.
Desiree: I’m very, very thoughtful on how we do online ads, if at all.
Jeremy: Yeah, talk about online ads. Yeah.
Desiree: I know a lot of businesses invest a great deal of money in social media ads and online ads. Re-targeting ads, I think, have some value. If someone has gone as so far as to visit your website, and for whatever reason they didn’t put a product in the cart, I think it’s valuable to follow them along their online experience, and to remind them that they, at some point, were interested in the product. But I have found that organic engagement with people, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, has been so much more valuable than posting up Facebook ads, or Twitter ads. I have searches for [crosstalk]
Jeremy: The content marketing type of stuff.
Desiree: Yeah. I have saved searches for all things related to shrinkage and sweaters and wool on Twitter, and if I see someone with a message and within reasonable amount of time [inaudible 00:55:52] reaching out to them and saying I can save it. That is so much more effective than trying to winnow down on all of the different levers that you have with a social media ad to try to reach the target group, which, in many ways, for us, is very context driven. It’s that they are doing laundry and they know that they make this mistake, and/or they just made it.
Jeremy: Yeah. You know what’s funny, what reminds me of the Shark Tank… Both you and Nate, obviously I don’t know you that well, but you both seem very conservative as far as professional conservative, and then he comes out with saying about shrinkage, you know.
Oh, God. So I will tell you that the pitch is a baby that you produce with the producers. It’s very rare that it’s something that is representative of what you as a founder wanted to do. We probably did 50 iterations of that opening pitch, and the goal… And you see this with any Shark Tank episode. Their goal is to hook someone in in the first minute of your pitch, and then you’ll watch the remaining 15 minutes. Frankly, if they can hook you in from the opening pitch, they normally have you for the rest of the hour. So their goal–
Jeremy: Right. You were testing what the opening lines were gonna be. So what were some of the things that lost, yeah?
Desiree: Oh, God. I’d have to look them up. I mean, a lot of them had to do with making fun of the story when I Was at Harvard Business School, and when I tried to fix my sweater I ended up having a crop top. We had a couple of jokes that were directed at particular sharks. At the end of the day, they wanted something that was going to make…
Jeremy: Like, a one liner. Yeah.
Desiree: …Well, eyebrows raised, and almost like a, “Huh? What’s going on here?” And it got that reaction. I mean, even our friends and our spouses, who had seen us at some point practice into our… Afterwards, [inaudible 00:57:57] let them know… I mean, Nate and I definitely told our spouses. You have to travel to LA. You need to let your spouse know if you’re leaving the state for some place.
Desiree: They even forgot about that line. They loved it when they saw it, and they laughed. That one was one that we planted, and we thought, “If that one lands well, we might have a chance.” The other one was, and I still blush, even though you can’t tell because I’m black… But I still blush every time I think about it. The, I look good, don’t I? I could not believe I did that in front of the sharks. What I did…
Jeremy: So that was planned, or it was not planned?
Desiree: …Oh, it was planned. But the level of sass that I did it there was… I think I tried to make it really a moment. [laughs]
Jeremy: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good direct male piece to college males. Do you experience shrinkage, question mark, in the dorm rooms? Then they are all gonna read that.
Desiree: And who wouldn’t? In fact, I don’t know any male who wouldn’t read that, college or otherwise. [laughs]
Jeremy: So talk about the Mark Cuban investment a little bit, and what advice he has given you in working with him.
Desiree: Sure. So I will give you short and long answers, because you deserve both. The short answer is that we didn’t close our deal with Mark. So the advice we received from him was nonexistent, because we never actually were in the room with him. We spent all of our time with his business team. I mean, to the deal not closing, I think most people know this… You shake on the set, but then there’s a lot of…
Jeremy: Due diligence.
Desiree: …Well, more contractual things, like term sheets and negotiations on what is going to be the nature of our partnership with one another, and how will that play out, etcetera.
That can, one, take time if you have a difference on opinion how that should look, and two, as you get closer and closer to a potential air date, you as a founder and an entrepreneur need to decide, to what extent do I want to move forward with someone who, at this point, has 60, 90 other companies they are working with, or do I take a risk and simply leverage the additional awareness and the additional sales, and potentially find alternative investors who might be able to give me a closer basis, and more likely are really passionate, not just about consumer goods, but about laundry, or something particular to what you’re doing.
Jeremy: You need someone who is gonna say, “This is gonna change the world of yarn.” That’s who you need as an investor.
Desiree: Yes, or revolutionize laundry, and is really passionate about that. But one of the reasons why we selected him is because we call him the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He never… At least, in my opinion, has never really lost that touch of, I want to see hustle. I want to see full commitment. I want to see people who are working as hard as possible to make their business grow. So just being around his business team we’re constantly pushing ourselves to exceed goals, to close deals, because–
Jeremy: That’s the underlying value that they have, too.
Desiree: That’s the essence that he puts forth to people. The last thing you want to do is to be working with Mark Cuban, and he thinks that you’re not trying hard enough. That’s horrible.
Desiree: But what I did learn from his business team… One, I am 200% smarter on how to think of term sheets and how to negotiate on behalf of my business having engaged with them. I mean, these are nice guys from Texas. I’m not joking. I decided to fly down to Dallas to visit them, and they said I was the first person that Mark Cuban has ever signed a deal with, or shook a hand with, who actually decided to visit them.
Desiree: First time ever.
Jeremy: That’s wild.
Desiree: They took me to lunch. I got to learn a lot about how they partner with businesses and how they support them. One of the things I love is that we were very well informed of what a partnership with him would have been like, and I think still made a really good decision for our business.
Jeremy: So ultimately the terms didn’t mix with both parties?
Desiree: Yeah. No, they didn’t. I mean, at the end of the day, we are incredibly grateful. I think, more so than any other shark, Mark Cuban is the one who, if he makes a deal with you, people who don’t even care about consumer goods, and certainly don’t care about laundry, they will look you up. They will want to see, what did Mark Cuban invest in?
Desiree: The other four, and this is not a knock against them… Lori and Damon, even Kevin, to a certain extent, people think, “Well, they like consumer goods. They like things that moms might like.” So they just think, for whatever reason… It might be a personal reason or an affinity reason that led them to it. But Mark, they know that, quite often, if it’s not his bread and butter, which is tech, or is something that appeals to him from a sports perspective… If it’s something that’s completely out of his wheelhouse, they will take the time to understand and look into you.
If anything, I think that’s why we got a lot of attention from, what I would say, surprise license and acquisition and interested parties. They said, “What is this company that Mark Cuban gave something to?”
Jeremy: Yeah. I mean, you’re gonna have future partners in whatever respect. So what did you learn from their… The team? The sport team, from a partnering perspective, that you could take and other people–
Desiree: …Basic stuff. So leading into the airing, they had really detailed thoughts about, how can you best optimize your website to translate to sales? What are some of the things that you can do in the backend to actually accelerate the right people getting through the funnel to making a purchase? They had specifics on–
Jeremy: So what’s some… Was it stuff you already talked about with the backend, or something different?
Desiree: Yes and no. So they actually had suggestions for rejiggering the menu, what things should actually be on the opening page, and I appreciated that that was the level of detail in which they wanted to help someone have an ideal website for that night. But then on the backend, I don’t know that a lot of business teams will dive into, who is your hosting provider, and how are you redirecting DDOS attacks, and what are you thinking about in terms of maximizing… Once you’ve maximized your traffic, how are you making sure that you’re filtering those people into the right places, and making sure that, for those that you think might be VP purchasers, getting them to sign up for your newsletter? It was just a level of attention that I thought was really well done.
Jeremy: Yeah. So I had a few more questions, and I just realized I’m like the Shark Tank pitch that took two hours and seemed like 20 minutes.
Desiree: I know. I just saw the time. I’m, like, “My goodness.”
Jeremy: It’s a fully… We’re at the hour. So I can wrap it up, or I can ask you a few more questions. I don’t know what you..?
Desiree: Yeah, let’s compromise. Let’s ask two more questions. We’ll go with that.
Jeremy: I could go with 100 more, but I’ll go with two.
Desiree: Oh, man.
Jeremy: No, I’m just kidding. We haven’t even talked about, before all this, before even selling, Desiree, you guys have to create a stellar product.
Jeremy: So I want you to talk a little bit about the creation and actually testing of something that’s proprietary.
Desiree: Oh my goodness.
Jeremy: Because that’s not an easy task in itself. We’re talking about, now you’re selling it, but you had to actually create it and test it.
Desiree: Yes. I will give full shout out to Nate here. When I went to him, crop top and all, saying, “This is something we have to fix,” I knew that, more than likely, we were gonna need a chemical product to do it. But, I mean, at no point was there any hesitation to reach out to Bloomberg and say, “Hi, we need to research the science behind wool shrinkage. Do you know where we should look?”
Jeremy: They are, like, “Who are you?”
Desiree: I know. He said, “I think there’s some books at the Cornell fiber science department. Since we’re all ivy league, is there any way that we could get those on loan?” They arranged for us to have these huge 1950 textbooks sent to us. We ordered about a dozen active ingredients and tested them, first in our dorm… What Nate did, given his product development background, was that he had a very rigorous process for, what are the benchmarks for success? How are we going to repeat that? The first two months was basically us just being mad scientists in our dorm room.
Jeremy: I have this written down about you on my sheet of notes, as a mad testing scientist. So, yeah.
Desiree: Oh, yeah. [laughs]
After two months, we felt pretty confident that we had something that was working. Not just working, but [inaudible 01:07:07] ingredients, but just was working well. Well enough that we thought it could be a product. So Nate pretty quickly reached out to Lando & Anastasi, which is an IP law firm in Boston, and said, “We’d like to start looking into the patent protection for this.”
That is something that I would recommend to any entrepreneur. If you think you have created something, found something that is proprietary, and potentially can be easily replicable, don’t hesitate to try to plant a flag. By all means, it’s no guarantee that it’s gonna go through. But the worst thing you can do is say that, for a couple thousand dollars, I didn’t try to protect something that was my idea.
Desiree: In terms of the testing, though, this was almost a year process. So that–
Jeremy: People don’t realize this. That’s why, at the top of the interview, when you talked about the tough realities, it’s not like you just threw together this. This is a process, yeah.
Desiree: I mean, one, it was just getting over the disbelief from a lot of people that we could do something of this nature. Wool manufactures, PhD chemists, were saying, “Wait a minute. Your science makes sense. Your process makes sense. How did you guys figure this out?”
We said, “Well, we just read. We tried to figure out, what was the reaction that was happening? We tried to figure out active ingredients and reverse the reaction, and we played around in our dorm rooms. This is what occurred.”
Desiree: But after getting it validated by other chemists, we spent almost a year trying to figure out, “Okay, our base ingredient works on loosely knit sweaters and sweaters that haven’t had that much shrinkage.” But guess what? Americans make really bad mistakes sometimes in the laundry room. So we need something that’s gonna work for the really strong sweaters [crosstalk] as possible.
Jeremy: Toughest cases, yeah.
Desiree: Yeah, and also for ones that are very tightly wound. To a certain extent, we’ve cracked this nut, but there’s still some work to be done. We also wanted to improve the scent, and for the lion’s share–
Jeremy: That is actually the biggest feedback I read online.
Desiree: Oh my gosh. It has been such a battle with this.
So we’ve done enough testing where we know that over 95% of people have no issue with the smell. But we’re discovering that we never said, in our instructions and to the point of constant learning as a business… When we normally worked with all of our testing, and when it was done testing in the chemical labs, and it was done testing with consumer testing, almost all of the circumstances were done with newer sweaters. So someone has purchased it, washed it, shrunk it, and then they are trying to fix it.
What we’re discovering is that there is a very small subset of people who have shrunk something, and then they wear it, and then they put it in the back of the pile, but they haven’t washed it again. We’re discovering that a mixture of what appears to be deodorant, slash, if someone took it to the dry cleaner, some of the treatments that they use…
Jeremy: The chemicals are mixing.
Desiree: …It’s interacting with our product and creating an odor.
Desiree: Because that’s not something that we, at least right now, can control, we’re going back into the lab and saying, “Is there something that we need to potentially have, like a little baggie that we’d say to people… Including in the mixtures that it actually neutralizes some external factors that are, at least up to this point, haven’t been…” Well, I cannot tell you how crazy it has been for us to try to… At first we’re going crazy. Like, how is it possible that someone can been having a negative odor scent?
Then what we did is, we started asking people. I’m sure it was annoying, but we said, “When did you buy this? Did you wash it? Did you wear it before you tried to Unshrinkit?” We’re starting to see a little bit of a pattern there, and it’s giving us some information.
Jeremy: Yeah. You’re trying to play Sherlock Holmes with it.
Desiree: That’s what people don’t realize. We’re not trying to be static here. Every iteration we’re saying, “Okay, what have we learned from this huge batch that sold that’s making this better?” At the end of the day, prior to April 2014, this did not exist at all.
Jeremy: Yeah. Surprisingly.
Desiree: When you pick up a Tide or a Woolite today, it is the product of years and years of finessing. It is not the same Woolite or Tide that came out at the beginning of the stage.
Jeremy: Right, right.
Desiree: So we’re working. We’re working on it.
Jeremy: So since you’re holding me to one last question, I’m just gonna state a couple I was gonna ask, but I’m not going to.
b. All right.
Jeremy: I thought an interesting one, the Grommet, I thought, was interesting, where you kind of got your start. I think people should look that up. You sold an initial run that sold out very quickly, and that was interesting early on, to get some traction. The future of Unshrinkit, because I know you probably have products in the pipeline, or ideas. So I was gonna ask about that. But what I will ask, and I have to put a plug in for the sponsor about… Imagine if you can combine all software tools you currently run your E-Commerce business into one centralized Cloud platform at a fraction of the cost, would people do it? OF course they would.
Jeremy: It’s Skubana. They do all that. I personally actually use them, and what I love about them, for you, actually, it automates entire 3PL communication. So inventory management, so you don’t oversell if you’re on Amazon or eBay, or in your warehouse. I love that about them, and they also [inaudible 01:12:35] profitabilities. So I know which product is actually profitable and which one isn’t.
Jeremy: Which is huge. So my questions is around software. You were talking about the Mark Cuban team being so intricate in looking at the hosting and the optimization. So tell people a little bit about the tools you use, the software, from an E-Commerce, entrepreneur standpoint.
Desiree: I have to give a shout-out to my web developer. So I worked with a guy out of Los Angeles named Nick. He is [inaudible 01:13:10] managers. I called him the Friday after we found out about Shark Tank and said, “Hey, love the website that you built for us. I just want to give you a heads up that we’re gonna be on Shark Tank, and we’re expecting tens of thousands of people visiting it. Not over a week, but in a five minute period at the outset, and I have done some updates to the website, but it’s probably not Shark Tank ready.”
He and his team basically dropped everything and spent almost ten hours a day between the day I told him to the day we launched looking at every single aspect of our website. So, to your question, one, we looked at rejiggering the website so it’s highly streamlined. We then added CloudFlare and changed my hosting to a combination of CloudFlare and Liquid Web, because we wanted to make sure that we could actually withstand a lot of the intense traffic that was coming.
We were working with AdRoll for re-targeting. We were… Oh my goodness. There’s a whole list of stuff going on right now. We had Zopim running our customer service on our site so that people could engage with us real time as they were… Ask, if they had any questions.
Meanwhile… So our website is based off of WordPress. We basically went through and stress tested every single plugin that we had. We eliminated things that we didn’t need. We compressed every single piece of content that I had on there. From an inventory perspective, a lot of that was managed and assisted by Amazon.
Fun story. The night of Shark Tank, we had a palette worth of product that was outside of the fulfillment center in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. When you’re a large company like that and there’s a whole process for getting inventory in, no one wanted to rush, and by rush, I mean walk outside to the truck and tag that our product was into the systems, that it would show up as being available to people on Prime. No one wanted to rush that process, and my husband on a whim said, “Well, I read somewhere that Jeff Bezos reads all of his email. So maybe you should just email him.”
I said, “You mean, like, Jeff at Amazon.com? Email Jeff Bezos and ask him?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Okay. Okay.”
So I emailed Jeff at Amazon.com and said, “Hey, here’s my product ID. Here’s my name. Here’s what we’re expecting. Here’s the [inaudible 01:15:51] center in which it’s going. It would mean the world to us if we could have an additional 2000 of our bottles in the inventory before Shark Tank airs tonight.” I never heard back from him, but in two hours I got a call from the Amazon Executive Seller Support Services saying that, and quote, “An executive had brought to their attention that we were having issues with the product.”
Desiree: And that they had looked into the situation over the past 45 minutes, and were able to accelerate our product getting into the fulfillment center so it would be marked as Prime. So that wasn’t an E-Commerce software platform. That was just damn good customer service from a CEO of a really large company. What was funny was, I think I mentioned at the very beginning of the interview that we had hundreds of emails afterwards.
Jeremy: Like, 800 or something.
Desiree: There were important emails, and then there were, like, this could lead to a huge sale or a huge partnership. Then there were a lot of one off customer emails just saying, “I saw you on Shark Tank, love you, can’t wait to use you.”
When Jeff made that happen that Friday night, I swore to myself, I said, “I will not sleep more than five hours a night until I make it through all of these emails. If he can do it at his level with the scope of his company…”
Jeremy: How much he’s managing, yeah.
Desiree: …”Then dammit, I can respond to these people too, and engage with them like a person.”
Jeremy: Yeah. That’s the best story of all time, Desiree. That’s the best story of all time.
To this day… I mean, I wrote him back on Thanksgiving say to say, “One of the people I’m most grateful for this past year is you, because you showed me what true customer service is like, and you surprised me on a night where there were already gonna be a lot of surprises.”
Desiree: Yeah. Crazy.
Jeremy: That’s a perfect place–
Desiree: I know people think that Amazon is destroying the world some days, but I will tell you that they have earned every piece of goodwill that they have. If their CEO can still do that today, then that says a lot about…
Jeremy: That’s a perfect place. I can’t even ask another question. That’s a perfect place to end it. Desiree, I appreciate you coming on. Everyone should check out unshrinkit.com. Where should people reach out to you or check out online? Where should they go?
Desiree: Oh, for me, or directly..?
Jeremy: Yeah. For you, the company. Where do you want to point them?
Desiree: Oh, if they want to reach me directly, they can email Desiree@unshrinkit.com.
Jeremy: Yeah. Check it out on Amazon. Check it out on their website.
Jeremy: Desiree, fantastic. Thank you so much.
Desiree: Thank you so much, Jeremy.
Jeremy: All right.
– [00:18:14] Desiree: Customer service, for us, was particularly important. When we did our first iteration of our product, we didn’t focus on it too much, and we realized, if you have something that is brand new to the market and you’re creating a brand new category, a brand new product, you have to be overly proactive in reaching out and helping people.
[00:18:37] Desiree: One, that you have to stay even keeled, because you’re usually going to get the happiest of people and the most upset of people. It’s going to seem as though it’s a roller coaster in which people love and hate your product, but in the grand scheme of things, what we discovered is about 90%, 95% of people never reach out to us at all. You’re seeing the extremes in terms of people and their usage of the product. And then to always exercise a great deal of patience. We have worked with this product day in and day out now for two years. We know it backwards and forwards. If someone has just heard about our product, and they watch a ten minute snippet on Shark Tank, and they were eating dinner while they watched it, and the kid was running around doing something, all they really captured was something to unshrink clothes. They might not have caught part where you said it’s for wool or cashmere, or wool blends. They might not have caught the part where they need to actually mix it with warm water. You know, to treat people as you would treat your grandmother, in terms of… It takes her a little bit longer to pick up on it, and/or she doesn’t have as much context, but you should be just as caring and just as patient with her as you are with [inaudible 00:19:52]
– On Consumer Focus [00:44:16] Desiree: Well, one, our assumption going in was that it was gonna be metropolitan areas. It was gonna be a quarter metropolitan areas, and that it was gonna be mainly moms. What came out was that, from a genders distribution, it was 60/40 female male that, in terms of location, we were getting suburbia, as well as what I’d call residential areas outside of a city, as well as the city itself. Not a lot on the rural side. I want to say that’s probably because they might do a better job of taking time to wash their clothes. We’re still working out the assumptions there. But then, more importantly, that we were in the pockets that were rural, it was because it was near a university. So a good example of that… So, let me think of a good one.
– [00:45:32] Desiree: So one of the things that we’re actually building out right now is a mini sales force of students at those universities. We do have contacts at the bookstores, but the faster way to do it is to get it into people who will be, in many ways, an ambassador for you in the campus, actually talk about it to other people, use it, have it in their room. That’s one of the ways that we feel it’s gonna work faster. I’m a huge… This is probably because I’m entrepreneur, but I’m a huge fan of [inaudible 00:46:04] bureaucracy, and when you go top down, and you have to go to the university, and then the bookstore, and get on the shelf, and then there’s placement fees and [inaudible 00:46:11]. That can be a whole year before you’re in front of the student.