Overnight growth is not always a good thing. Without a team and processes, this type of growth can be extremely difficult to manage. Cashflow can also be hard to manage if you aren’t prepared. I’ve known many brands that grew at a steady pace and are still very strong. They took much longer to become “successful” because they grew at a pace that was manageable. The grass may always seem greener on the Shark Tank side of the fence, but this type of mass exposure can be more challenging than most people imagine. I can hear you now, “Oh, it must be TERRIBLE to have worldwide exposure for your brand! Most people would kill for that.” But the reality is, it can kill a business if they aren’t prepared.
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 Tiffany Krumins. Tiffany, an Atlanta native, was awarded $50,000 on the inaugural episode of Shark Tank, which aired on ABC in 2009. Tiffany’s invention was inspired by a sweet-natured boy with Down syndrome who fought like a Sumo wrestler when it came time to take his medicine. As his nanny, Tiffany tried her best to sooth his anxiety, but still had to get the job done. With lightning creativity, she cobbled together fabric, sponges, and a plastic medicine dropper, and breathed life into her creation by imbedding a recordable sound chip from a greeting card. Ava the Elephant is now one of Shark Tank’s most well-known and beloved successes, but Ava’s road to market was anything but smooth. A cancer diagnosis shortly after Tiffany’s Shark Tank windfall set her on a course that ultimately transformed her brand and her mission as an entrepreneur. A respected inventor, iHeartRadio host, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, and mother of three, Tiffany Krumins now leads Mom Genius™ , a mission-driven venture inspired by the positive response she received when sharing her personal story with the world on Shark Tank and her bumpy journey taking Ava the Elephant to market. Launched in August 2018, Mom Genius™ streamlines the entrepreneurial process to help inventors bring products to market, build brand audiences, and convert their ideas into revenue.
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 military family. My Dad was a U.S. Marine. When he left the service, he set out on a mission to figure out, “what’s next?”. Little did he know, he was an entrepreneur at heart and he founded a business that he still runs today. The early years where not easy. We had very little, but we had a lot of love and so much inspiration from watching my parents strive to reach for their dreams.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
I was working as a nanny for a little boy named Gibby. Gibby has Down syndrome and he had an unfounded fear of taking any medications. I knew from past experiences that he did well with distraction techniques using his much loved stuffed animals. Although I’m not a hair dresser, I’d had great success with cutting his hair, by including his trusted stuffed animals. I thought maybe the same technique might work with medicine. I went home and created the first Ava the Elephant from sponges, fabric and the recordable components of a greeting card. I introduced Gibby to his new friend the next day and it worked! I realized shortly after, I may have something here that many kids can benefit from.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting thing that has happened to me is having my story shared all over the world. When I hear from mom’s on the other side of the world who have seen my story on Shark Tank and are inspired to start a business, or who want to distribute my product, I am always inspired and humbled. I still pinch myself when I think about the 4th grade version of me daydreaming through school who now goes back to that same school to speak to children about inventing.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting?
When I first started out, I realized there were a lot of product-based business terms I wasn’t familiar with. When meeting with my first retail store buyer he asked, “Can you ship these FOB?”. Not knowing what that meant, I said, “Absolutely!”, and later Googled what it meant. It means freight on board. Another mistake I made was listening to some of the wrong people. I once paid the fee to cover shipping an entire container by sea, even though my product only took up a small portion of a container.
Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I learned that if I was going to succeed in this industry, I would need to know my stuff OR have a team of people who knew certain aspects. Our business would never survive otherwise.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
I am! It wasn’t until about 7 years into this journey that I realized just how much I had learned. I started by sharing that information via a podcast on iHeartRadio. The show became a huge success due to the fact that the entrepreneurs listening could relate to my real life crash course in product development. I share the good, the bad and the ugly. Taking that mission a step further, I founded Mom Genius. Mom Genius is an early stage incubator for inventors and entrepreneurs. We assist with developing, distributing and selling consumer products.
How do you think that will help people?
My goal is to stop so many people from being taken advantage of. I’ve watched people mortgage their home only to end up with simply a patent or prototype when it was all said and done.
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?
I submitted for the PILOT episode of Shark Tank. I had no idea who the “sharks” were & the show didn’t even have a name at that time. I only knew that there were 5 high-profile investors and I had one chance to pitch my little idea to them. The casting process is lengthy. From our first conversation to filming was probably 4 months. I was thrilled to get the call to fly out to California to appear on the show, but in all honesty, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
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 knew I had a valuable TOOL for children. I never claimed to be a savvy business person, I was honest about who I was and what I had to offer. I believe that really helped me stay calm — being 100% authentically me. I also didn’t have a lot to lose. So many companies that pitch now are doing so having made large investments in their company. I had 5 clay elephants and a patent search invested at the time of filming.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
All of the sharks were very kind to me. All of the male sharks decided to pass and Barbara Corcoran decided to take a gamble on me and invest in Ava the Elephant. I am very happy with the outcome. The show changed the entire course of my life and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Overnight growth is not always a good thing. Without a team and processes, this type of growth can be extremely difficult to manage. Cashflow can also be hard to manage if you aren’t prepared. I’ve known many brands that grew at a steady pace and are still very strong. They took much longer to become “successful” because they grew at a pace that was manageable. The grass may always seem greener on the Shark Tank side of the fence, but this type of mass exposure can be more challenging than most people imagine. I can hear you now, “Oh, it must be TERRIBLE to have worldwide exposure for your brand! Most people would kill for that.” But the reality is, it can kill a business if they aren’t prepared.
- Retail buyers are people too. When I first started out, I envisioned retail buyers as “gatekeepers” who held my fate in their hands. If only I could convince them that my product would change lives, I’d make millions. In reality, retail buyers are typically overworked employees who are looking at the bottom line above all else, as they have a boss to satisfy. You shouldn’t be approaching store buyers until you product is retail ready. So much information is going to be requested of you right off of the bat. When a product is still a prototype or concept, you won’t have this info and you are just going to waste their time and potentially the chance to work with them when you are ready. Examples of items retail buyers are going to ask for: Wholesale cost. Case pack quantity, weight and measurements. Liability insurance.
- Your intellectual property is only as good as the money you have to protect it. Contrary to popular belief, your patent/trademark is worthless, unless you have the funds to protect it in court. This is not to say you shouldn’t file IP, it’s just about setting realistic expectations as to what those pieces of paper mean. They aren’t protection, they are acknowledgment. The only thing that protects IP is your ability to defend it in court.
- It’s worth it to hire a 3PL company. I waited far too long to hire a 3PL company. The amount of time and energy spent shipping your own product can be spent growing the business. Rather than pack boxes and count inventory, you can focus on selling more product.
- Don’t rush into trade shows. The purpose of trade shows is typically meeting with retail buyers. If you pay the money to have a booth at a trade show before you are ready to ship product, you have wasted your money. I would suggest visiting trade shows as a guest in order to see how they are set up so you have a better idea what to expect. Larger brands spend thousands of dollars on beautifully built booths and as a startup you may waste the investment if you aren’t ready to compete visually.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Come back to your “why” often. Revisit why you started your business and WHAT you wanted to do with your success. Maybe you’ve hit a level of success, but haven’t taken the time to celebrate or GIVE in the way you initially envisioned. Do it. It will light a few fire to dream bigger and work harder.
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 ask more people to get to know at least one person with special needs. And if they have children, I encourage them to have their kids do the same. This community of people has more to give the world, but they often aren’t given the opportunity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.” — Eckhart Tolle
My Mother was the strongest person I’ve ever known. She was dealt a very difficult hand almost every step of the way. However, she always strived to be better. She continued to learn and grow, in spite of the pain she endured. She NEVER played the victim, although she technically was one as a child. Through my struggles, I have followed her lead and example. If you are considering being an entrepreneur, the #1 thing you will need is FIGHT. Victims and quitters never win at the entrepreneurial game.
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 :-).
I would like to meet Chip Gaines in person. I feel he has a wealth of entrepreneurial knowledge.