Joe Demin and Rachel Connors of Yellow Leaf Hammocks: “Don’t Interrupt Each Other!”

When a Shark says something negative about your business, that is probably something that a million viewers at home are also thinking to themselves. Instead of responding defensively, dig into the question. Asking a clarifying question gives you a chance to mold your response to their specific concern and show that you’ve thought through the […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

When a Shark says something negative about your business, that is probably something that a million viewers at home are also thinking to themselves. Instead of responding defensively, dig into the question. Asking a clarifying question gives you a chance to mold your response to their specific concern and show that you’ve thought through the challenges. You should be the first one to spot any Weaknesses or Threats for your company, so if you can’t answer their concerns, that’s valuable feedback to learn from.


As a part of our series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On Shark Tank’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Connors & Joe Demin.

Rachel Connors and Joe Demin (husband and wife) are the co-founders of Yellow Leaf Hammocks, a social enterprise dedicated to defeating global poverty through sustainable artisan job creation. The power couple first appeared on Shark Tank in 2020 where they secured a $1M investment from Guest Shark, Daniel Lubetzky. Since the airing, Joe and Rachel appeared yet again on Shark Tank in April 2021 for an update episode showcasing their tremendous success.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?

Joe Demin (J): I am a first-generation immigrant from the former Soviet Union. After moving to the U.S., I quickly started showing my entrepreneurial streak- by the time I was 6, I had my own local business moving neighbors’ cans on Trash Day.

Rachel Connors (R): We moved around a lot, so I was exposed to diverse viewpoints as a kid. From a really young age, I was always riled up by injustice. I think my parents were convinced I was going to become a human rights lawyer before I was out of diapers.

Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?

J: Yellow Leaf was born out of a “vacation inspiration” when I was traveling in Thailand and discovered an incredible hammock on a remote island. I’d been shopping for a hammock for a while and I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the existing hammocks I’d seen. I was also feeling the contrast of how amazing it feels to be on vacation compared with the grind of day-to-day office life. I wanted to bring that “vacation feeling” into everyday life and I was looking for a career with more meaning, so it was kind of a convergence of all this inspiration into one galvanizing moment. I ended up taking a cab ride 600 miles out into the jungle to meet with the women who made these hammocks and talk about how we could translate those skills into a business that would transform their lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

J: A few years ago, I was contacted by a representative from Richard Branson’s new cruise line, Virgin Voyages. They said, “we love your hammocks, we love your social mission, we want to be in business with you.” And I was thrilled, thinking this was the smoothest sale ever. Then they told me that they wanted us to make them a fireproof hammock. At first, I laughed because I thought it was a joke but then I realized that they were very serious. Over the next couple of years, I did a deep dive into maritime regulations, took several sourcing trips through Asia, tried lighting many, many hammocks on fire and finally succeeded! Now there is a fireproof Yellow Leaf Hammock in every single cabin on all Virgin’s cruise ships.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

J: We have a company saying that’s super important to us, “find the booth.” It was born from when we first started exhibiting at trade shows. Trade shows are a huge expense for a young business and there are a lot of mistakes you can make when you’re starting out. We’d spent a ton of money on a new booth and we were super diligent about filling out all the shipment paperwork correctly. The booth got delivered to the show site and then just disappeared. None of the staff knew where it had gone. It wasn’t our fault, but nobody was tripping over themselves to fix the problem. We spent two insane days running all over the convention center looking for the booth and finally found it with just a few hours to spare.

To us, “find the booth” is really just the determination to see everything to the finish line. In the end, success isn’t just a matter of taking the right actions. It’s a matter of following through on the deliverables. As an entrepreneur, you can’t just complete your task and then sit back and wait — you have to push things forward every step of the way.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

J: Our most exciting project right now is The Hammock Throne. It’s our free-standing hammock chair that’s designed to bring weightless relaxation into your living room, office or deck. Our vision is to make it possible to relax anywhere, anytime… without needing those two perfectly spaced trees. To that end, The Hammock Throne is our first foray into a new category of Relaxation Furniture. We learned a lot from making the transition into furniture manufacturing and this is just the beginning of a whole suite of products that will make physical relaxation more accessible in every situation.

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?

R: We were in an unusual position because some scouts from Shark Tank initially reached out to us. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse — it was two weeks before our wedding when we had 65 friends & family joining us for a nonstop weeklong adventure in Croatia. The initial application is a 40+ page document that each founder has to separately fill out! Luckily, they let us come back around and apply the next time around. I think as you go through the process and really bare your soul and film a lot of pitch videos, you learn to have a measured excitement about getting to the next step in the process. At every interaction, the producers remind you that you can be cut any moment — even the night before you film.

I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?

R: We walked in with the confidence that we have a really, really good business. Our numbers were solid (and we knew the numbers backward and forward!). We were thriving and we didn’t need investment in order to survive, but we wanted one in order to speed up our growth.

When we walked into the room, we related to the sharks on a personal level. We knew that we could be making one of them a lot of money as a result of our potential partnership, but we also knew that this was the beginning of a long-term relationship and we wanted to start it on the right foot. Many people think that investors hold all the power in a negotiation, but our mentors taught us that a talented entrepreneur is just as hard for investors to find.

So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?

R: We accepted a $1M deal from the greatest Guest Shark ever, Daniel Lubetzky (founder of KIND Snacks). In the moment we were nervous to give him 25% of our company in return, but it was truly the best outcome we could ever have hoped for. We knew walking into the Tank that Daniel was a partner we wanted to be in business with. He shares our belief that businesses should strive to improve the world we live in. He also respects our long-term vision for growth. He has been an incredible partner at every turn, opening up doors, making introductions, giving excellent advice and keeping us well-stocked with KIND bars!

What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Don’t Interrupt Each Other!

Trust your partner and take turns talking. This isn’t just good manners — interruptions and mixed information send bad signals to the Sharks. Being prepared for a pitch means that you know who will tackle which topic. (And you can always set up a secret signal like a hand squeeze for when you absolutely have to jump in!)

Control the Conversation

On the other hand, the Sharks WILL interrupt everything you say! On TV they don’t show how incredibly fast the questions come, but you have to make a constant judgment call of whether you want to finish your explanation or switch to answer a new question. Use the frenzy of conversation to your advantage so you’re always pivoting to talk about the parts of your story YOU want to showcase.

Treat Criticism as an Opportunity

When a Shark says something negative about your business, that is probably something that a million viewers at home are also thinking to themselves. Instead of responding defensively, dig into the question. Asking a clarifying question gives you a chance to mold your response to their specific concern and show that you’ve thought through the challenges. You should be the first one to spot any Weaknesses or Threats for your company, so if you can’t answer their concerns, that’s valuable feedback to learn from.

Know Your Numbers

Profitability is the only path to financial sustainability. The Sharks don’t relentlessly quiz entrepreneurs on their numbers because they’re mean bullies — they are trying to make sure that you fundamentally understand your business and know how to scale it profitably. If you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t know your answers the Shark’s most commonly asked questions, stop and take some time to figure out that information.

Have fun!

This is the biggest lesson of all. Truly successful entrepreneurs enjoy the process of creation, even when it feels hard. Happy people remember to celebrate milestones along the way. Going on Shark Tank is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but as an entrepreneur, there are so many chances to celebrate small successes. Don’t let them pass you by! At Shark Tank, we had a bottle of champagne in our trailer that we were going to pop whether we got a deal or fell flat on our faces!

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?

R: The ethos of Thrive Global is one we share because we know that people truly do need to recharge. You can’t go 100 miles per hour forever. A lot of us ignore doctors’ warnings that stress damages our body, but if you think about how stress actually works, stress is a physical signal to your body that it should shut down all non-essential processes and save energy for fight/flight. Stress shuts down your body’s ability to regenerate and repair. So when you’re stressed, you’re literally just falling apart. Your brain gets fuzzier, your body starts to ache, you lose the ability to perform, and none of these are things that you can just “power through.” You literally NEED to relax on a regular basis in order to be your most effective, creative, powerful, brilliant self.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

J: Creating more empathy in the world and empowering people to take action.

We want to change the lens through which the global rich relate to the global poor. It can feel overwhelming to realize that over a billion people worldwide are still living in extreme poverty. A billion people is a lot of people! And some really smart people with very deep pockets have tried and failed to solve this problem so far.

But if you can step back and relate to people on an individual level, it becomes a lot less daunting. Our theory of change is that the fastest way to bring a family out of poverty is to create a good job for a mom. At Yellow Leaf, we employ over 250 women who in turn support over 2,000 family members in their communities. That means that if 500,000 people started businesses the same size as ours to employ women in developing economies, we could permanently end global poverty. In America, 4.5 million kids graduate from college every year — why couldn’t 500,000 of them become successful social entrepreneurs? People from every level of education start 600,000 businesses each year in America alone! This is within the realm of possibility!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

R: Arianna actually has a great quote where she says “Fearlessness is a muscle.” I feel like that one resonates for me so deeply. Being an entrepreneur means constantly putting yourself out there in vulnerable or uncomfortable situations. I can’t count the number of times that I have just had to take a deep breath and dive into something awkward but it really does get a little easier each time.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

J: We moved to LA recently, so we’re looking for new friends. If LeBron wants to hang out (in an extra-tall hammock), have him call us!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Joe Altieri: “Lessons from the Tank”

    by Ben Ari
    Community//

    Entrepreneurship Lessons On Rejection With Connor LaRocque

    by Jourdain Bell
    Community//

    Anthony Franco: “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”

    by Ben Ari
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.