Barbara Corcoran has turned the founders of her favorite “Shark Tank” investments into a family of entrepreneurs.
For the past four years, Corcoran has assembled a group of her most profitable entrepreneurs, along with the most promising founders from the most recent season of the show, for a three-day retreat at one of her homes. The group changes each year.
During this time, they all share best practices, give updates on successes and failures of the past year, and get to know each other better.
This June, she brought the founders of five companies to New York City, ending the retreat at a New York Yankees game. The founders, with custom “Barbara’s All-Stars” Yankees shirts, got to enjoy the game from a box suite overlooking home plate.
We met up with them to discuss the best business lessons they’ve learned from Corcoran.
Daisy Cakes founder Kim Nelson learned that there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself when things go wrong.
Kim Nelson is the veteran of Corcoran’s all-stars, having made a deal with her in Season 2, back in 2010. Corcoran invested $50,000 for 25% equity in Daisy Cakes, and the South Carolina-based online cake company grew rapidly. Last year it brought in $5.2 million in revenue, at a profit.
Nelson said that Corcoran taught her the importance of knowing when to keep her emotions from impacting her decisions and, in turn, hurting the business.
In 2013, Corcoran secured an update segment for Daisy Cakes on an episode of “Shark Tank” — the investors compete for the update spots because each appearance drives sales. After the Daisy Cakes update aired, one of Nelson’s employees was unavailable to take orders, and it had a significant negative impact on the segment’s potential success. It was also just one of many mistakes this employee had been making.
Corcoran was furious and told Nelson she needed to fire this employee immediately. Nelson began crying, because even though this employee had failed her, she considered her a friend.
“It’s OK to cry,” Corcoran told Nelson. “You’ve got five minutes. Step outside, get your cry, get it over with, and get back inside and get your ass back to work.”
Nelson said she’s carried the lesson with her: “If something doesn’t go right or how you wanted it to, get back up, dust yourself off, and go back after something else. Don’t sit around having a pity party, feeling sorry for yourself.”
Grace and Lace founders Rick and Melissa Hinnant learned how to expand their team.
The husband-and-wife team of Rick and Melissa Hinnant gave 10% of Grace and Lace to Corcoran in exchange for a $175,000 investment in Season 5, in late 2013. The women’s apparel company has made $25 million in total sales since its appearance on “Shark Tank,” and the Hinnants expect sales to be over $10 million this year, at a profit.
Melissa is the visionary behind Grace and Lace, and during the summer of 2015 she was overwhelmed with the growth of business, to the point of “almost having a breakdown.” Corcoran told her and Rick that the problem was that the company was too big for Melissa to be individually designing every product, micromanaging operations.
Melissa said that she had been unwilling to share some of her responsibilities sooner because she believed it would be handing over her business, which would inevitably transform the company for the worse.
Corcoran reframed the idea of hiring a team to share some of Melissa’s burden as “empowering” and helping to grow her vision rather than “handing it over.”
Rick added that Corcoran told them that when they went to build this design team, they needed to focus less on résumés and more on who Melissa connected with. “Just get good people around Melissa and it’ll take care of itself,” Rick said Corcoran told them. “And it’s totally done that.”
Pipsnacks founders Jeff and Jen Martin learned the importance of timing.
Sibling entrepreneurs Jeff and Jen Martin made a $200,000 deal with Corcoran in Season 6, in 2014, for 10% of their New York-based Pipsnacks. Since then, they’ve landed a deal with Whole Foods that got their line of gourmet popcorn into every Whole Foods location in the US, and they’re expecting sales this year to be around $5 million, at a profit.
Jen said that Corcoran taught them the importance on staying focused on where they excel, and told them to “figure out how you can dig deeper in that” rather than expanding beyond their strengths. Jeff added that Corcoran has stressed that there’s a right time for everything, and that they need to be disciplined about how they grow the company.
For example, the Martins said, they added three new flavors of Pipcorn this year because they felt they had sufficiently used their core offering to build brand awareness, and Whole Foods was ready to increase the product’s presence in its stores. Jen and Jeff said they have plenty of ideas always ready to implement, but that releasing a product at the wrong time could be a disaster.
Jeff said Corcoran helped them realize that growth is “cyclical,” and that when they finally feel comfortable with the scope of the business, it’s time to readjust, that, “it’s always coming back to square one where you can see what’s happening everywhere and adjust, and then find out when you should grow again.”
Cousins Maine Lobster cofounder Jim Tselikis learned to be discerning when it comes to opportunities.
Cousins Maine Lobster cofounders — cousins from Maine who moved to California — Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac (who was unable to attend the Yankees game portion of the all-star retreat) made a deal with Corcoran in Season 4, in 2012. They gave her 15% of their two-month old food truck business in exchange for $55,000. Cousins Maine Lobster now has 26 food trucks in 13 states, a restaurant in West Hollywood with up to 10 more on the way, and an online business. Tselikis said they are expecting revenues of just under $20 million, at a profit.
Because the company was so young when Corcoran invested, she has essentially been a business partner from the beginning, Tselikis said. Shortly after closing their deal, she taught them, “Everything that comes your way isn’t a good opportunity,” and it was valuable advice.
Tselikis said that after the episode they appeared in aired, he and Lomac were flooded with offers like delivery fulfillment services, branding, website design, and marketing campaigns. Corcoran was there to tell them that if they started taking on all of these opportunities, they would lose focus and lose money.
Raising Wild founders Kara Haught and Shelly Hyde learned how to prioritize.
Sisters Kara Haught and Shelly Hyde made a deal with Corcoran in Season 8, last year. Corcoran gave them $100,000 to become an equal business partner, with a full 50% equity in their women’s swimwear business Raising Wild. They’ve sold $400,000 of products since their segment aired last October.
Haught and Hyde closed their deal with Corcoran this past January and said that even though they were still figuring out how to match production with demand for their swimsuits, they were already pitching ideas about an entirely new product line. They said that Corcoran explained that while they did have some good ideas, they needed to learn to prioritize.
Corcoran taught them the same technique she uses for her own career:
• Make a list of every business idea in your head.
• Assign each idea a letter grade, from A-F.
• Take all of the As and write them in a new list.
• Assign each of these ideas a new letter grade, thinking carefully about each one.
• Cross out all that don’t get an A.
With this simple process of elimination, Haught and Hyde have been learning to discipline their creative energies and determine what is actually crucial for both the survival and growth of their business.
It’s become shorthand for the conversations they have with Corcoran. “It’s like, ‘Girls, you’ve got great ideas but we’ve got to get back to A,’” Haught said Corcoran will tell them.
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