Don’t pitch your product, tell your story instead. Stories help us relate to each other easily. My CitiKitty story of dealing with a messy litter box in 500 sq feet is very relatable to over 38 Million U.S. households with cats. Each one of these homes has a litter box they want to get rid of. It was easy to help the viewers of Shark Tank see I had a solution for the litter box because my story and pain point was one they could relate to.
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons, I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Serial Entrepreneur Rebecca Rescate. Rebecca creates consumer goods that are in the hands of over one million people around the world and have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, multiple episodes of ABC’s Shark Tank, Good Morning America and more. Her entrepreneurial career began 14 years ago when she invented CitiKitty, a toilet training kit for cats. Since 2005 she created and co-founded several companies including HoodiePillow, Top·Down Planner and Luvsy.
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?
I grew up in a small Pennsylvania town and spent all of my summers on the New Jersey shore. I was an avid athlete and a recruited college swimmer at Northeastern University where I studied Graphic Design and Business.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
My first aha moment was during the time I was toilet training my cat Samantha. I was determined to get rid of the litter box so we could happily co-exist in my tiny New York City apartment. From the moment she perched on the toilet to do her ‘business’ I knew I was only one of many people who would want to ditch their litter box. With the inspiration for helping others, CitiKitty was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have had the good fortune of having more than one product go viral and it’s a thrilling experience like no other! The web traffic goes crazy, the phone doesn’t stop ringing and sales go so high you have to rush production for more inventory.
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?
My business began humbly. Looking back I laugh thinking that I assembled and shipped thousands of orders from a 500 sq foot apartment. To get each order out the door I had to walk the shipments down five stories and over 3 blocks to the post office (this was before the days of USPS pick-up). I could only carry 10 shipments at a time which owered over my head. I looked like an overloaded pizza delivery person. You can only laugh about your business beginnings when the challenges are behind you.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My newest project is Luvsy (www.luvsy.com), printed crib sheets that make a scene. My passion is to create a fun yet practical items that bring joy to people. Luvsy’s printed crib sheets do just that. In addition to making nap time a photo-worthy moment, Luvsy also promotes safe sleeping habits for parents by encouraging on the back sleeping and sleeping their baby in a crib free of objects.
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?
My journey to Shark Tank is a little different than most. I was contacted by a producer of the show who became interested in CitiKitty and thought the show would be a great place for me to seek investment and tell American’s about CitiKitty. After my appearance on the show for CitiKitty, I was reconnected with a producer before bringing my next brand on the show HoodiePillow with my fellow co-founder. I feel fortunate that the producers saw the same potential in CitiKitty and HoodiePillow that I did.
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?
I had confidence in my business, my numbers, and my product. In addition, I practiced answering every possible question you could think of over and over. When you are sure about all the details of your business you can relax and have fun when filming!
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch? Were you pleased with the outcome?
I got deals on both my show appearances. With each brand, I walked away with not only confidence in my products but also great advice and feedback from all of the sharks.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t pitch your product, tell your story instead. Stories help us relate to each other easily. My CitiKitty story of dealing with a messy litter box in 500 sq feet is very relatable to over 38 Million U.S. households with cats. Each one of these homes has a litter box they want to get rid of. It was easy to help the viewers of Shark Tank see I had a solution for the litter box because my story and pain point was one they could relate to.
2. Embrace the humorous side of your business. Every product and business has a funny side and if you take yourself too seriously it can turn others off. When my business partner and I pitched HoodiePillow on Shark Tank we understood the product would get some laughs, we embraced them and turned them into opportunities to highlight the virtues of the product.
3. Be authentic. It’s easy to catch people who are exaggerating their importance or success because quickly the numbers don’t add up. On both my Shark Tank experiences I let my numbers speak for themselves instead of being braggadocious which resulted in two deals and multiple offers for each brand.
4. When you don’t know an answer say so. There is no harm in not knowing an answer to a question as long as you express your willingness to get the answer. This not only builds others confidence in you, but it also lets the conversation move on to things you are knowledgeable about. On more than one occasion while filming Shark Tank I didn’t know the answer to a question but these details became insignificant because there was so much I was well equipped to speak about.
5. Have fun. We naturally want to surround ourselves with people who enjoy what they do. I was contacted by numerous people after each of my Shark Tank appearance with more opportunities because they wanted to work with someone who enjoyed what they did for a living. Happiness not only helps you live longer, but it also helps you enjoy the journey.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would advise leaders to offer flexible work schedules for their employees, especially working parents. As long as your team meets the responsibilities for their role let go of antiquated Monday-Friday schedule you think it must happen on. Your team will value flexibility more than think.
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. 🙂
I would like to inspire our nation’s schools to implement screening for dyslexia by age six. I have experienced how the lack of awareness around this learning need can dismantle and break a child’s self-confidence and ability to learn. Affecting 1 in 5 children, dyslexia is the most common learning challenge in our country yet public schools do not screen or provide core curriculum to teach dyslexic’s the way their brains work and thrive. Most dyslexics will go undiagnosed in their lifetime, increasing their likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, dropping out of high school or turning to crime. Dyslexics are creative out-of-the-box thinkers making up 40% of our nation’s entrepreneurs. Instead of leaving them behind in school with a curriculum that does not teach to their needs we need to help our nation’s brightest children and this all begins with the diagnosis of Dyslexia.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love; it will not lead you astray.” — Rumi
I have allowed myself to be drawn to begin new projects even when old ones are not finished. The ability to move on to new things has led me to my greatest successes and balanced out my portfolio of projects turning me into a well-rounded business owner. Passion leads to progress!
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 🙂
Easy answer — Sir Richard Branson. Not only is he an inspiring entrepreneur and spirit but he has worked tirelessly to raise awareness for dyslexia, a cause dear to me. I hope to one day work with his team to raise awareness for dyslexia in the United States and around the world.