LEAH SINGER INTERVIEWS RACHEL OLSEN
When you watch the season six premiere of Shark Tank this week, you’ll undoubtedly be intrigued by the gadgets, pitches, and the banter in the Tank among the Sharks themselves. But what many people watching do not realize is that Shark Tank is a place that many female entrepreneurs (many of whom are mothers) have gone to pitch their business in hopes of securing funding for their business ventures.
Rachel Olsen is the founder of Best Mom Products, a show and podcast where she interviews mom entrepreneurs in their first five years of business and talks to them about what it’s really like working in business. During her work, Rachel interviewed five women who would eventually be featured on and successfully funded on Shark Tank.
What Rachel discovered from talking with these women (and hundreds of others) is that achieving success is hard work. And despite appearing on Shark Tank, none of them made millions overnight. Their stories are real ones, with valuable lessons that women can learn from to become successful entrepreneurs.
Rachel interviewed Tiffany Krumins (Ava the Elephant), Amber Schaub (Rufflebutts), Megan Gage (Hot Tot), Betsy Johnson (SwimZip), and Shelly Ehler (Showno). These individual stories became the basis of her book, Shark Tank MOMpreneurs Take a Bite Out of Publicity: How 5 Inventors Leveraged Media to Build Their Business + How YOU Can, Too.
Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank investor and member of the Tank, said about Rachel’s book, “As a Shark, I’ve been in the tank with these entrepreneurs and I can tell you Rachel gets right to the heart of how they succeeded. Shark Tank MOMpreneurs is a must read for anyone looking to learn the inside secrets of getting on Shark Tank and landing a deal, or getting the publicity that’s essential for any successful business.”
MGM: Why did you decide to write this book?
Rachel: After interviewing 50 mompreneurs, five of which were on Shark Tank (but not at the time), and talking with many others, I started seeing some trends. One comment I would get over and over again was, “If I could only get my product on [this] TV show, I just know my business will take off.”
But, in reality, that is not the case except for a few. A one-time television airing isn’t necessarily going to sell products but it will provide brand awareness. The women I talked to felt like this was the answer so I wanted to take a deeper look at the process and results of going on a major television show like Shark Tank that has 8 million viewers and see how they prepared, what was it about their particular story and presence that made them stand out, and what were the real results years later.
MGM: What lessons did you find the most meaningful after interviewing the moms?
Rachel: The key lesson was that although they all went on for funding and received deals, 80% of them didn’t say to go on the show for the funding. They didn’t not say it either. But when I put all their answers in one chapter together; it was very obvious they weren’t overtly thrilled with the outcome, in that respect.
The other lesson that I learned from interviewing these incredible women prior to the book was that the products they invented are to make families lives’ better, safer and easier. They incorporate their values into their products and it is a true reflection of who they are as mothers that drive them.
MGM: Your book does a great job on teaching women how to articulate their worth and value, and how to pitch that to an investor. Do you think this is something that’s missing for entrepreneurs (especially women)? Why or why not?
Rachel: I don’t think the issue is women not being able to express their worth and value in most cases. Women are passionate about what they are doing and create businesses based on heart and need and that comes across immediately.
Women are pitching men
From my experience, I don’t think women entrepreneurs are as comfortable talking about and asking for money as men are. I listen to a few male entrepreneur podcasts and the men share their financials openly and confidently. The women I interview rarely want to talk about or share how they got investors or how much they spent in any particular area of business. They may tell me off-camera, but I find they are embarrassed of what they perceive as mistakes or spending too much in a certain area. They are hard on themselves and feel that money and financials are very private.
Another aspect to take into consideration is that women are usually pitching men, especially when looking for angel investors or venture capital. I’ve heard stories of men asking the women for coffee or dismissing them because of gender.
MGM: You do a lot of media consulting for entrepreneurs. How does understanding media help a businessperson?
Rachel: My intention for this book is to teach entrepreneurs and anyone looking to get media attention that their story needs to resonate with their audience. It can be the greatest story ever but if you are telling it to the wrong person; it will fall on deaf ears and you won’t get results. The women in this book did an excellent job of tying in passion, authenticity and business knowledge.
Media, like every other aspect of business, needs to be ongoing
I hope entrepreneurs will treat media like every other aspect of their business … something that needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time placement. There is a huge misconception that one media placement is going to change the trajectory of their business. Creating brand awareness through the media is an on-going process with multiple customer touch-points, not just one.
MGM: Given your experience, interviews and background, how should mompreneurs pursue funding – venture capitalists, angel investors, crowd funding, Shark Tank?
Rachel: It all depends on the type of product they are selling. Two types of common products are consumer product goods (CPG) and technology. If it’s a consumer product good (CPG), a physical product to sell; then I think crowdfunding is an excellent way because it allows you to sell the product before you manufacture it. Manufacturing is usually the biggest expense so it takes away a lot of the risk because you can assess the interest and commitment of potential customers.
Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors
Venture capitalists and many angel investors focus on high growth that have massive opportunity because they are looking for the “big” win and most consumer product goods companies aren’t going to end up in that category. However, if you are working on a tech product or app, then going to angel investors first and trying to raise a seed round makes sense. A seed round is usually $500k-$1million.
MGM: Will you share one or two tips for mompreneurs pursuing funding?
Rachel: Create a business plan and know your numbers, how much money you are asking for, how you will spend it and why. Look into grants like the Huggies Mom Inspired $15k grant, or the Chase $250k small business grant.
Read more about Rachel and Shark Tank Mompreneurs Take a Bite Out of Publicity on the Best Mom Products website.
Attorneys are humans too and you need business plans that reflect your talents and strengths. Most law schools failed to mention that getting an office and business cards won’t necessarily get you clients. As it turns out the lobby is not where clients come from – you have to actually do stuff to get them. But what stuff? How much of this stuff do you need to do? I’m going to tell you how much of what stuff you need to do to build a book of business, because building a book of business puts you in charge of your practice and your future.
It’s time to de-stress and reconnect! Join Ann marie Houghtailing, MGM founder, for an evening of libations and rejuvenation at Hotel Palomar Se Spa.
Let your body unwind as you enjoy mini spa treatments, appetizers and a glass of wine (or two) in a beautiful and tranquil setting while networking with some amazing women.
Cost: $15 per person includes one alcoholic beverage.
MICHELLE BAKER INTERVIEWS MS. TIFFANY BLUEMLE
After learning about Rosie’s Girls from their feature on the Today Show this summer, I reached out to Tiffany Bluemle for this interview. Upon first hearing about the program, I knew we had more than just the iconic symbol of Rosie the Riveter in common. Here, she shares with us her vision and commitment to effectively influencing the financial and professional choices women make by starting with educating girls.
Thank you, Tiffany, for taking the time for this insightful and encouraging interview. Your work is truly a game-changer.
MGM: Please tell us about Rosie’s Girls as well as Vermont Works for Women.
TIFFANY: Vermont Works for Women works to ensure that the lives of Vermont’s women and girls are shaped by aspiration and aptitude, and not by tradition or stereotypes, and that their skills and capacities are developed expansively – towards the goal of long-term economic independence.
Rosie’s Girls is one of our core programs. It’s a three-week summer camp for middle school girls that engages participants in three sets of activities that in combination arm girls with a strong and expanded sense of who they are and what they can do with both talent and ambition.
MGM: What gave you the idea to start Rosie’s Girls?
TIFFANY: I was a teacher in an all-girls middle school in Manhattan. I’d witness students change dramatically from 6th to tenth grade. Where they’d regularly challenged me at 11, at sixteen they would apologize before speaking. What had happened to their voices? Their confidence? Their intellectual courage?
A colleague who was asking the same questions attended a week-long carpentry course for women and returned with a new sense of individual power and competence. Her experience, and a colloquium we attended led by Mary Pipher (author of Reviving Ophelia) inspired a thought: could power tools help nurture confidence in girls at a time when it is most likely to flag?
Over a couple of years and after a move to Vermont, the idea turned into a proposal to the Vermont Women’s Fund – and in 2000 we piloted our first camp.
MEETING WOMEN WHERE THEY ARE.
MGM: How are you seeing women turning their professional, personal, and financial lives around with the tools they learn through VT Works for Women?
TIFFANY: There are hundreds of stories we could tell about women whose lives have changed in part through their work with VWW. Some of the changes are dramatic: women who have never been employed who find permanent jobs and stay in them; women who start their own businesses and are so successful that they now hire our trainees; young women who are the first in their family to go to college.
Some of the successes we witness are less obvious but no less dramatic: a mother whose efforts allow her to regain custody of a child; an inmate with a long prison record who celebrates her fifth year of sobriety and freedom; a woman who leaves an abusive relationship for good.
The path to success in work and economic security is rarely a straight-line trajectory; more often it is filled with twists and turns, negotiated in small steps. Our job is to meet women where they are, help them discern possibility when they may see only closed doors, and offer tools that can make their journey easier.
MGM: With Rosie’s Girls now 15 years old, what are you hearing back from participants in the program re: their confidence entering the workforce?
TIFFANY: A colleague in Ohio who ran Rosie’s Girls for years, overheard a young woman on the subway talking excitedly about a summer experience that she said changed the way she felt as a girl and about her prospects as a young woman. At some point, it became clear that the young woman was talking about Rosie’s Girls.
Reflecting on the conversation in an email to me, Kelly summed up what makes the program such a powerful experience. “Those of us who have had the opportunity to work with the Rosie’s Girls program know in our hearts…that the program is about opening the door for girls to see themselves as all that they are and are capable of being. It’s about introducing them to opportunities and challenges and self-awareness. It’s about saying to them, ‘You are strong. You are capable.’”
IMPARTING THE IDEA THAT GIRLS CAN BE MORE AND DO MORE.
The point of Rosie’s Girls isn’t to turn out carpenters or engineers – but to impart the idea that girls can be those things, and more. How do we know we’re achieving this end? We collect evaluations administered to campers and their parents and stories we hear in the years that follow.
Surveys collected from Rosie’s Girls sites are clear in showing that the program increases career awareness, self-confidence, and broadens an interest in exploring a full range of fields. Parents regularly make a point to tell us how former campers are doing, and how they continue to talk about their Rosie’s Girls experience as formative.
Graduates come back, again and again, to serve as Counselors-in-Training and later as Counselors Two of the CIT’s working at one of the camps this summer enrolled as students at the area technical center in construction trades and IT. A Rosie’s Girl fell in love with flying at camp, and is now within hours of getting her pilot’s license.
A GALLUP STUDY ON THE VALUE OF MENTORS AND HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE.
Tom Friedman recently published a column about the importance of mentors and hands-on experience, citing a new Gallup study of those factors critical to success and engagement at work (September 10, 2014). The jury is in, the evidence is clear: if girls are to achieve their full economic potential, they must meet women in the field, handle the tools of the trade, and be encouraged by someone who believes in them. The ideas that inform the Rosie’s Girls model simply reflect common sense.
MGM: Please tell us about the Enough Said study.
TIFFANY: In 2013, Vermont Works for Women (VWW) published an in-depth report on what young Vermont women say about how well-equipped they feel for the challenges of school, work, career, and economic independence as adults.
ENOUGH SAID — Young Women Talk about School, Work, and Becoming Adults: Why We Should Listen and What We Can Do is the result of in-depth interviews, surveys, and conversations with more than 210 young women and girls, ages 15–25, from 28 Vermont communities, and how the concerns they raised are reflected in national research.
Young women told us:
A VERMONT STATEWIDE TASK FORCE.
Concern about the report’s conclusions prompted the formation of a statewide Task Force on Young Women and the Vermont Economy, which articulated a vision and a set of recommendations to Governor Peter Shumlin and the legislature in December 2013. The Task Force determined that by 2024:
CHANGING THE STORY.
Changing the story that young women tell us in ten years will require concerted, consistent, and coordinated action – across sectors. Much of what needs to change is embedded in our culture and assumptions: the language that we use; the questions that we ask young women (or don’t); the women we celebrate as role models.
We have issued a call to action to partners in higher education and business, the nonprofit sector and schools, parents and young people themselves to see this work as a collective responsibility. Addressing the economic well-being of women is not just a women’s issue. It is a critical issue for families, communities, and for the very vitality of our economy.
Focusing on women and girls doesn’t imply that their needs are more important than those of men and boys, but that they are in some ways different – and that these unique needs should inform the direction and substance of public policy and program investments we make going forward.
THE COST OF SUCCESS.
MGM: What do you see is the connection between self-advocacy and being willing to try something new?
TIFFANY: Girls who come to camp often tell us how often they elect to hang back in small group projects at school, believing it easier to allow boys to take over than to assert their interest or skill. To many girls, the greatest risk lies, not in possible failure, but in the cost of success – at which point she may be called bossy, a show-off, or teacher’s pet.
Rosie’s Girls challenges campers to try new things in spite of discomfort. The more experience girls have in doing that, the more likely they are to embrace subsequent challenges – like participating fully in a science lab, asking a question that might seem silly, or running for student body president. The tools we use in Rosie’s Girls activities– chop saws, backhoes, and welding torches – are vehicles for building confidence, strengthening voice, and opening eyes.
EVEN WITH INCREMENTAL SHIFTS IN INCOME.
MGM: How do you see earning potential boosting, diminishing or neutralizing self-worth?
TIFFANY: I think that there is tremendous satisfaction in being able to take care of oneself – to be able to cook a decent meal, fix a leaky faucet, travel alone, or pay one’s bills. When you are able to support yourself, you have the power to make deliberate choices – about the people with whom you hang out, where you spend time, the goals you set. We see a remarkable shift in the women with whom we work with even with incremental shifts in income; they see enough change to stay the course.
MGM: What do most of your adult women clients say they wish they had access to as girls growing up? As adults now?
TIFFANY: Across the board, women tell us they wish they’d been able to go to Rosie’s Girls. Indeed, it’s why many of them enroll their daughters in the program. It’s what fueled interest on social media platforms after Rosie’s Girls was featured on the Today Show in July.
What specifically do they wish they’d enjoyed?
I think it is the exposure – to so many fields and tools, to cool female role models, and to an all-girls’ environment in which they could truly be themselves.
MGM: How many cities around the country offer a Rosie’s Girls program? How can a community bring Rosie’s Girls to their community?
TIFFANY: Fifteen summers since its founding, Rosie’s Girls has engaged more than 2,500 girls in 20 locations throughout the U.S., including California, Ohio, South Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Our website has a page dedicated to replication to provide information to anyone interested in bringing the program to their community.
The page can be found at http://vtworksforwomen.org/rosiesreplication/
ABOUT TIFFANY BLUEMLE
Tiffany Bluemle, Executive Director, Vermont Works for Women
Tiffany Bluemle has spent her entire professional career in the field of education – first as a history teacher and high school administrator in New York City, as director of development for New York City Outward Bound, and as Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women where she has been since 1997. Vermont Works for Women provides women and girls with opportunities to explore, pursue, and excel in work that leads to economic independence.
Tiffany received a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a B.A. from Princeton. She is a former member of Princeton’s Board of Trustees and is very proud to have been appointed to the board of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. She lives in Burlington with her partner and two sons, whose feet have grown far too large for their mudroom.
Pricing for professional service providers and entrepreneurs can be an expensive puzzle. You can bleed money giving away your time with the promise of future business and feel overwhelmed about when and how to elegantly raise your rates with current and new clients. Being able to set a meaningful fee structure, make quality decisions about how and where to spend your time, and learning to be more confident around asking for your worth is critical to your growth and sustainability.
“I have helped negotiate hundreds of thousands of dollars in fee increases, salary negotiations, and client opportunities. Entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to losing money when it comes to pricing because we are in fact selling ourselves. Our own issues around setting and holding a price, discounting our worth and giving away our time devalues our service. My goal is not to merely help you understand your pricing but to get clarity around why you might not be earning your worth.” Ann marie Houghtailing
Let’s get one thing straight – divorce doesn’t ruin a kid’s life. I’m tired of hearing variations of “Oh, he’s been really angry since the divorce” or “She’s all messed up ever since her parents got that divorce”. No, the divorce didn’t do that. The parents did.
That being said, as a casualty in a rather vicious divorce (vicious to the point of me never seeing or speaking to one parent again), I like to think of myself as a divorce success story. I am not emotionally inept, deep-seeded with daddy issues, or protesting against the institution of marriage.
My parents’ divorce came at an interesting time – three years after the nationwide economic crash, two years after they declared bankruptcy, and one year after I started college. By the start of my sophomore year, my college fund had been drained during the bankruptcy, and the divorce left me with a single (extremely hard working) mother. I had a tough decision to make for the remaining years of undergrad: take out student loans and rack up the debt early or figure out another way. I am a fan of not being in debt and staying in the green so I decided to figure out another way.
This is how I figured it out.
Plan ahead…. especially if you know its coming.
Granted, I was lucky in that my parents taught me the importance of saving from an early age. A portion (small, but still a portion) of all the money I made from babysitting, waitressing, house sitting, etc. that I dabbled in in high school left me with a small savings account. When my parents filed for bankruptcy and the word divorce started to get thrown around the house, I took it as a sign of the calm before the storm.
I started putting a massive chunk of any money I acquired into my savings (sorry, that Kate Spade bag would not be making its way into my closet this year). This served as a small base to buy me some time while I figured out how I was going to pay for the rest of my tuition and living expenses.
Research available outside help.
First, there are hundreds of scholarships set up either by school, gender, field of study, or a variety of other things that are just looking to give away money. These scholarships range from a couple hundred dollars to a several thousands of dollars. If you are in college or about to send someone off to college and they have not looked into available scholarships, you are doing yourself a disservice.
I applied to every single scholarship that I was eligible for. A few hundred dollars here and there, a couple scholarships with heftier money attached, and before I knew it I had enough to pay for an entire semester of tuition.
Secondly, apply for financial aid. It is a lengthy and often confusing process, but believe me, it is worth it. This is a great option for all single parents, low-income families, or students who are claimed as dependents. The government wants to help. Take it.
My mother and I applied for financial aid, and I got enough to cover my entire junior year…and then some.
It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
I am fortunate to have a very loving extended family. They are happy to help in any way they can. They were fully aware of the saga that was my parents’ bankruptcy and divorce so they understood my predicament. When Christmas or birthdays came around, instead of wrapping up a package that may or may not contain a gift I’d like or use, I simply asked for gift cards. Target gift cards are like magic in college. Visa gift cards also work like a charm. They would occasionally send cards in the mail too (“Happy first day of Autumn…here’s a gift card to Harris Teeter so you can make pumpkin bread!). It is amazing how a little bit of help or extra money here and there can add up and help cut down on living expenses.
Work your A$$ off.
The bottom line is that if you want something bad enough, you will work hard for it. I wanted to go to school and get out debt free, so I worked my A$$ off to make sure that happened. While the help of scholarships, financial aid, and family helped, I refused to rely on that as my sole means of support. I love working with children, and needed a job that could be flexible around my class schedule but still not cut down too much on hours. Therefore, nannying was a perfect job for me.
I ended up working upwards of 35 hours a week (on top of 21 credit hours at school) to bring home the bacon. I would go to class until mid-afternoon and then babysit into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes I would be babysitting before classes started, on the weekends, overnight, basically whatever I could get. Instead of going on a raging spring break or traveling abroad all summer, I stayed at UNC to work, save money, and take some extra summer classes and cut down on my yearly load. It may seem like that was a sacrifice, but it did not feel like it because I was ultimately getting closer to making it through college with a degree, and debt free.
So there it is, ladies. A “divorce success” story. A “college success” story. My story. These formative years as an undergrad taught me the importance of working hard towards a goal. I ultimately learned that if I wanted something bad enough, I wasn’t going to stop until I got it.
There is some merit to the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. This is the same mindset that I am in as I embark on the next chapter of my career… going to law school. I have planned ahead and started my nest egg. I have researched the financial aid that is available depending on which school I go to. I have faith my family will support me in any way they can. And I can guarantee you that I will work my A$$ off whenever I get there.
It does not matter if you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person. Nor does it matter if you rescue kittens or are the one to chase them up a tree. The plain and simple truth is emergencies happen no matter who you are, and with them comes debt.
EVEN WITH HEALTH INSURANCE…
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I chose to travel several states away for treatment at a research hospital. Being a single mother with no familial support, I told myself I had to have excellent treatment to help secure a good recovery.
I understood that my insurance would not cover everything because I was going out of state. However, what I did not consider is the fact that research hospitals are more expensive. I did not know that. I did not even wonder. Chalk it up to the fact that I was in full-blown panic/survival mode and was more concerned about the logistics of who was going to take care of my son and my elderly grandmother. And quite honestly, having never been in this situation before, there were just some questions I did not know or think to ask.
Instead, I thought of other things. I priced out hotels, airfare, and taxicabs. I arranged babysitters and pet sitters. I had talks with an attorney about who would take care of my grandmother if something were to happen to me. I had talks with my ex about our son, playing out various “what if” scenarios driven by real concerns but also fueled by the horror stories and spiritual “analyses” of well-meaning acquaintances and strangers alike about why I – or anyone, for that matter – got cancer.
I was scared out of my mind. I reached out to my friends for help in ways I had never dared before. They supported me in very practical, grounded ways by providing places for me to recover, rides to doctors appointments, donating hotel points, food upon my return, and words of encouragement and stories of brilliant recovery.
In all of my preparation, I never once asked how much the surgery and subsequent treatments were going to cost. So when the bills continued to roll in several months later, I was floored. I knew that cancer treatment would be expensive…I just did not know how expensive.
HINDSIGHT IS 20/20
Thankfully, I did have savings. I was able to pay-off some of the bills as they came in. But then I couldn’t. I called my credit card company to set up a payment plan. As the bills continued to roll in, I called the hospital, and set up payments with them as well. Had I thought about this ahead of time, I would have made arrangements with them from the start. Needless to say, it would have saved me thousands of dollars in interest. Hindsight is 20/20.
The residual financial and psychological impacts far outweigh the physical impacts of my surgery and treatment. $65,000 dollars later, I can tell you the more you know upfront, the better prepared you will be to effectively manage these expenses.
Though the list below might not prevent medical debt from happening for you, it can help you manage it.
***The first two assume the emergency is one you have time to prepare for, ie. scheduled cancer procedures. In the event of car accidents and other abrupt emergencies, etc., have the number of your emergency contact in your wallet so when they are contacted, they can make these inquiries on your behalf***
TEN STEPS THAT WILL HELP YOU BE BETTER PREPARED
1) Ask up front how much the treatment will cost AND ask for a breakdown of the costs for each procedure
2) Discuss payment plans with the accounting department
3) Discuss payment plans with credit card companies. Consider prepayment.
4) Talk to your insurance companies about coverage
5) If you have life insurance, discuss withdrawal options with them
6) Talk with the IRS or your tax consultant about medical deductions, i.e. if your medical debt exceeds 7.55 of your adjusted grow income, you are eligible to claim that remaining amount of debt as an itemized deduction on your federal income tax return. (A list of allowable medical and dental expense deductions is available from the IRS.)
7) Prepare a Will, a Power of Attorney document and medical imperative so that someone can mediate on your behalf while you are unable (this includes lining up payment plans)
8) Have a conversation with your insurance company about payment options where there are out of pocket expenses.
9) If you have a supportive family, strategize with family members how payments will be made. This serves to familiarize everyone with what to discuss and how to have these hard conversations when someone’s life is on the line.
10) Depending upon your income level, some cities have Indigent funds. Check with local governments to learn more.