Life Outside the Tank: 7 Things We've Learned in 7 Months

When Erika and I walked into ABC’s studios to participate in Shark Tank seven months ago, we were brand new to the world of business. Our company was only a few months old, and it had just begun to pick up steam. Needless to say, the thought of presenting our company to five self-made millionaires on national TV made us a bit nervous.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to be a part of Shark Tank was a huge turning point for our company. The feedback and advice we were given, particularly from Robert, Mark, and Barbara, has profoundly impacted our company’s success as well as helped influence our own personal paths. 

Now that we can finally share them, here are seven lessons we’ve learned since our dip in the Shark Tank:

 1) Follow Your Dream
We had no idea what the Sharks were going to think of our tiny peanut butter company from Eugene, Oregon. It’s hard to put your passion on a tray and hand it over for judgment, but that’s exactly what we did.

The fact that the Sharks loved our peanut butter and saw potential in the company was a huge boost for us. Hearing such positivity about our product made us proud and reconfirmed the bottom line for us: making delicious peanut butter. We knew if we could continue to make great tasting products, the rest would follow. And so far, it has!

 2)  Be Realistic
If you’ve seen the episode, you’ll know that we felt very strongly that we could be both students and entrepreneurs. The Sharks tried to explain to us that this simply could not be possible – we needed to choose between pursuing our formal educations and building our company. Robert explained to us that if he was going to invest, he needed to have access to us 24/7 – that we needed to take our company seriously before any investors would.

Immediately after the show, Erika and I both called the University of Oregon and dropped our fall class load. Though we have continued to take online classes here and there, we have never once regretted leaving our full time student lives – we are full time businesswomen now and our company is so much better for it.

 3) Be Tough and Persistent
Shark Tank was the first time we had ever truly had to defend our company. The crowd at Farmer’s Markets and Street Fairs is typically a pretty tame bunch; we were used to fielding compliments about our peanut butter, not criticism about our company’s viability in the marketplace.

The show made us really study the market, imagine what our long terms goal were, and then be tough enough to defend our company.  Looking back at our pitch now, there is so much raw passion and excitement there. We hadn’t figured out how to harness it yet, but we were pretty tenacious already! 

4) Remember Your Roots
We weren’t chosen for Shark Tank because we were a huge company making millions of dollars. We didn’t own any patents, and we didn’t hire a PR firm to pitch us to the producers. We entered just like everybody else – with a short blurb about our company and a snapshot of the two of us.

Wild Squirrel resonated with the show’s producers because of our story, and because of who we are as entrepreneurs. We are proud to be young college girls who took an idea and ran with it. We know we’ve gotten this far because of where we came from, and we’ll never forget it.

Our genuine enthusiasm and youth have really been beneficial and instead of shying away from this and pretending to be something we’re not, we embrace it and use it as another facet of our company that makes us unique.

5) Communication is Everything
As two best friends running a company, good communication is key to making sure everything runs smoothly. At the end of every day, we always have each other’s support, and we never blame each other for things that may go wrong in the process. We’ve done this by doing our best to keep the lines of communication open, and make all big decisions together.

Preparing for Shark Tank was the first big stress put on our business relationship. We have very different approaches when preparing for a big presentation.  We learned that patience and strong communication through every situation will help us remain best friends and benefit our business. 

6) Everything is a Learning Experience
One lesson we took away from Shark Tank is that everything doesn’t always work out the way you expected it to – but that’s half the fun! So what happened after Shark Tank? After further evaluation, the investment relationship didn’t end up being the best fit, so the deal with Barbara never materialized. But we did move forward with an incredible set of lessons and experiences. Barbara is an amazing businesswoman and helped us improve our “pitch,” our focus, and even our negotiation skills! Since we originally taped the show, we’ve had some amazing things happen, including being featured in O magazine, Glamour magazine and even winning “The People’s Choice” award at an investment competition.

7) Building a Company is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Living the life of an entrepreneur means accepting the fact that the work will never be done.  This isn’t a school project and we will never receive an A+ and be free to head off for summer vacation – but we don’t mind.

This is the beauty of running your own business – making your own schedule and setting your own priorities.  There is never a dull moment and boredom is not in our vocabulary. We are learning to just be willing to wake up every day, work hard, and enjoy the journey. So far, our company has turned out to be an amazing journey, and we can hardly wait to see what the next weeks, months, and years hold for us!

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