Having a shark on your team doesn't mean your startup is immune to small-business growing pains.
Just ask Kristina Guerrero, founder of canine meal bar company TurboPup. In January, Guerrero secured a $100,000 investment from Shark Tank's Daymond John. The 2-year-old company had just $17,000 in total sales prior to Shark Tank. Since the episode aired, annual revenue has shot up dramatically and is projected to hit more than $1 million in 2015, but TurboPup faces several challenges preventing it from reaching profitability.
Guerrero, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, also had help shortly after starting from the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps, a three-year business growth initiative that helps veterans grow their small businesses quickly.
So what's holding TurboPup back? Here are three startup lessons Guerrero learned the hard way.
1. Trade shows are a risky proposition. Taking your product to a trade show is a great way to find potential retail partners, but some trade shows are not worth the entry fee.
Guerrero learned this lesson by taking her La Pine, Oregon-based company to large trade shows where the retailers were too big for her company to work with.
"I should have stayed really local and done some trade shows that cost a lot less money," Guerrero says.
2. Mass-production costs can eat up your budget. Moving manufacturing from Guerrero's kitchen to a co-packer involved nine different trials that took more than a year. Why? Guerrero had to get the size, shape and baking process exactly right.
"Going from a kitchen to a co-packer was a daunting process in every way," she says. Each trial required paying a high fee because TurboPup was a new business.
3. Prepare for surprise setbacks. Two months after securing a licensing deal with a large manufacturer of pet products, TurboPup took a financial hit Guerrero could not have anticipated. The worst bird flu outbreak in three decades hit the U.S., doubling the price of egg yolks, one of TurboPup's key ingredients.
"As an entrepreneur there are certain things that you expect to go wrong," Guerrero says. "A devastating bird flu killing a bunch of chickens is not one of them."
Fortunately, serving in the military is excellent training for being an entrepreneur, according to Guerrero.
"I've been shot at in combat," she says. "As a veteran, nothing ever seems hard compared to what we've already been through."