When you land on a national TV show and your company’s growth skyrockets 1000%, the next logical step doesn’t seem to be to walk away from the investment deal that got you name recognition in the first place. But that’s just what Sarah Ribner and Jess Edlestein of PiperWai natural deodorant did. They parted ways with their Shark Tank investor, and instead decided to go at it as a self-funded company. Here’s what happened next.
Shark Tank And Beyond
After appearing on the nationally televised Shark Tank in December 2015, Sarah and Jess spent nearly a year negotiating all the details of their offer from investor Barbara Corcoran. In the end, it just didn’t work out, Sarah says. “By that point, so much time had passed that both parties were ready to part ways.”
Before Shark Tank, PiperWai was sold in about 40 independent brick-and-mortar retailers across the U.S., one in Canada and one in Beijing. Sales skyrocketed from $110,000 (in 10 months) before the show to a crazy $2 million within three months post-show. That also led to a significant increase in retail partnerships and now, PiperWai works with about 250 new wholesale retailers across the U.S. and Canada, including Whole Foods, GNC, LuckyVitamin and a variety of beauty shops, gyms, pharmacies, organic grocery stores and wellness centers.
Sarah says that 2016, in the aftermath of Shark Tank, was all about survival mode. “We were backordered for five months after the show aired,” she says. “We went through two different supply chains and kept running into issues with the manufacturers, but we finally found one that could meet our post-show demands.”
But that resulted in delays to about 70,000 customers. Sarah says they had to manage expectations and get caught up as quickly as possible. “We saw 6000% growth in one year, so it makes sense that we’d have some setbacks!”
The Shark Tank demand also necessitated that both Sarah and Jess take PiperWai on full time. Until then, Sarah had been in grad school and Jess was working in realty. They finally had enough funds to pay themselves a salary and hire a team that included customer service.
Now, they have six full-time employees and a number of contractors they work with regularly. “Our growing pains in 2016 prevented us from moving forward with our plans,” says Sarah, “but 2017 is about expanding.”
Looking Into the Future
When Jess and Sarah launched PiperWai with one product in March 2014, they were working on it as a side project, in a commercial kitchen they rented by the hour, late at night, because it was cheaper. They handcrafted no more than 300 deodorants at a time. “We’ve been about boot-strapping since day one,” says Sarah. “That means we wear 50 hats. We’ve seen all the different sides of the business, and operationally, we’ve been the head of every division and the day laborers!”
In the beginning, they didn’t outsource anything, since they self-funded initially with a $2,000 loan from Jess’ parents. They kept things to scale and managed processes on their own—until the summer of 2015 when they launched an IndieGoGo campaign that raised $27,000 to accommodate the fact that they were experiencing enough month-to-month growth and bigger orders that they needed to find a manufacturer to increase production.
Now, with a stick deodorant that launched in late 2016, they’re looking to expand their product line even more. They’ve got a few things in the pipeline (“I can’t say much, but I can say that most of them are supplemental to the deodorant, and one might be a game-changing product,” Sarah says.) and they’re looking to upgrade their social impact.
“We are in talks to donate a portion of all our profits to one organization,” says Sarah. “It’s a really important part of our expansion to be giving back.”
That extends to the ingredients they use and where they source them from. Sarah says that one of their potential sources donates profits from ingredients sales to a scholarship program, and PiperWai is working on ensuring sustainability in all areas of the business.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
Sarah says that she and Jess never gave themselves a timeline for making the business successful, but they were willing to devote lots of their personal time to making it work. “We always wanted to become a household name, to eventually become massive, and have an entire organic skincare line,” she says.
“We have had this boot-strapping mindset from the beginning,” says Sarah, “and while it depends on the industry, a lot of times you can funnel a lot of money into manufacturing and inventory immediately. But that wasn’t want we wanted to do.” She says that buying into the idea that you don’t have to outsource anything from the beginning is what helped PiperWai.
“It might be uncomfortable for a while and you’ll make mistakes, but the more you take on and learn yourself, the better,” Sarah says. And while there are some things you can’t make mistakes on, like accounting (“That was the one thing we did outsource!”), it’s important to learn from any mistakes you do make. “We’re still involved in so much of what happens at the company because we know it the best,” says Sarah.
She also says that they were looking for careful growth. “Scaling quickly, after Shark Tank, came with a lot of downfalls. Now we’re focused on consistent, cautious growth.”
Want more Business of Wellness? Check out the entire series coverage.