As the Founder and CEO of FRENDS, the jewelry-inspired designer electronic accessories brand, I believe that it is often the most difficult challenges that end up powerfully strengthening our business and enabling us to be more efficient entrepreneurs. I recently appeared on an episode of Shark Tank to pitch the latest FRENDS Audio Jewelry innovation, and the word "brutal" perfectly captures my experience. I completely botched the pitch, and the Shark Tank team reacted accordingly. Mark Cuban said that it would "come down to a million-dollar bet" on our Audio Jewelry, and he was simply "not convinced" in terms of this product. I not only walked away without an investment, but also with a sense of a seriously missed opportunity to convey the philosophy and passion behind FRENDS (to create the unexpected, while redefining the relationship between personal style and premium sound). Since the taping over a year ago, my team and I took Mark's advice and did not make a singular bet on our new product for last year's holiday season. Instead, we turned our attention inward to strengthen the brand with a number of creative initiatives that have actually yielded tremendous success for FRENDS over the past year.
Here are my top three entrepreneurial lessons I learned from swimming with the Sharks.
1. Four No's are still a yes... in the making.
As the Shark Tank team told me they were not going to invest, it made me realize that I really wasn't prepared - both for their interrogation, as well as to fully represent my brand - and it showed. I knew we had a viable product that had been performing well in the market, and was the pioneer in the Women's Headphone category, but my pitch did not do it for them. It's one of the hardest things to get used to, yet eventually I believe you have to learn to love hearing "No." It's a call for refinement. It makes you pause and refocus. The "No's" teach us so much more than hearing "Yes." Although their probing questions were fair, my answers unfortunately exposed some real flaws that I knew deep down needed to be addressed. Specifically, since the show taped a year ago, we've cut our operating expenses by 65%. By implementing smarter spending, it allowed us to not only strengthen our current positioning, but also forced us to leverage technology and create processes to fill in for the lack of actual man power (we're only a team of 6). On the show, the brutal answer I was forced to reveal of exactly how much money we spent was a wake up to getting real with what is working and what just isn't working and to adjust accordingly. Now that we have our finances and operations more fine-tuned, we are poised to keep pitching for the final "Yes." Every "No" has prepared us for today.
2. Don't give up just because people don't see what you see.
I believe that true innovation is seeing what everyone has already seen, yet producing something that nobody has thought of before. This holds true for our upcoming FRENDS Audio Jewelry collection that we alluded to on the show, which is truly going to redefine what women expect from their audio devices, while allowing them to further express their personal style. Since its less-than-stellar reception from the Sharks, we have created 4 different versions of the audio jewelry model. We ended up killing them all, and inevitably went back to the drawing board to finally create a collection that we are proud to present this coming holiday season. As an innovator and entrepreneur, it's up to us to strive to create the impossible for those who can't see it ... until they can. In my opinion, I think that it is essential to fully commit to the process of innovation, as being an innovator also means testing your own perceptions and conventions when it comes to the evolution of a product. Never give up, never settle, and keep charging for your dreams if you believe in it.
3. Trust your gut.
It's amazing how your gut usually knows what's best, well before your mind will accept it. I truly believe that as an entrepreneur, your instincts are imperative. I love advice, yet it is our job to take the pieces that apply, and evaluate them in conjunction with our instincts. It is exponentially easier to filter advice and opportunities if you know the core values of your brand and how you want to present them. After my experience with the taping, I knew I needed to become a stronger CEO and run the business differently. One of the best decisions I made was to enlist the help of a business coach, who helps me identify what my strengths are while also illuminating which areas I should find great people to help with instead. And as a result, my instincts have allowed me to build an incredible team that I fully trust to do their daily best, and to be able to let go of things that do not enrich the brand. As with so many challenges that have come my way since starting FRENDS, the show was another brutal experience that I'm grateful for, as the lessons I learned have been pivotal. It allowed me, as a CEO, to build the greatest team centered upon the shared culture and beliefs of FRENDS, and has inspired me to seed them with ideas and support our journey of bringing beautiful ideas to life.