Ever wonder what it would be like to pitch your product on ABC’s Shark Tank? Ever wonder what it would be like to have one of the Sharks offer you $50,000 for a stake in your business?
Tiffany Krumins doesn’t have to wonder. She pitched her children’s medicine dispenser, AVA the Elephant, on the popular TV show, and since she accepted Barbara Corcoran’s investment offer her business has been growing rapidly. She even landed a major deal recently to place AVA the Elephant in CVS pharmacy stores nationwide, and has brought AVA to Europe as well!
For a unique behind-the-scenes look at Shark Tank, and at someone who is truly living the entrepreneurial dream, read the following StartupNation interview with Tiffany Krumins, an inspiration for all of us:
Question: Can you walk us through your time as a nanny, and how you hit upon the idea of AVA?
In the years spent looking after Gibby, who has Down’s syndrome, I witnessed an everyday struggle that seemed so unnecessary and broke my heart. This little boy, who was so happy and cheerful most of the time, was terrified at the thought or mention of medicine time. The few things Gibby did struggle with were magnified by his disability. Most of the time he had to be restrained for something as simple as children’s Advil; he would spot the dropper and run screaming.
Another difficulty was haircuts, he reacted the same way, kicking and screaming. Determined to eliminate these fears one by one, I planned a “hair cut day” where I cut 4 of Gibby’s “friends” hair (Stuffed animals of course!) BUT not his. This became our daily routine until about a week later when he said “Gibby’s turn, Gibby’s turn!” Without missing a beat I started trimming his hair, one clip at a time, and took turns on his “friends” until his entire head was cut. I had done the impossible, his hair was cut, he wasn’t injured and his parents were thrilled. It may not have been the best haircut, seeing as I had never cut hair before, but it was no longer covering his big beautiful brown eyes!
Two days later he had an ear infection and needed to start taking a prescription. The struggle started all over again. I went home that night and had my “light bulb” moment. It was the distraction combined with friendly animals that allowed his haircut to be a success, so why not the same with medicine? I brainstormed and instantly thought of an Elephant, due to the fact that it squirts water from its trunk and is nurturing.
Then I realized it was in fact the ONLY animal that squirts liquid from its body. How could this be? I searched and searched on the internet, and was shocked to find that although there were other options like pacifiers and bottles for giving medicine, there were none that solved the main issue...FEAR. They also became obsolete after 1 to 1-1/2 years.
I headed to the store and picked up a butterfly-shaped sponge (if cut in half it resembled elephant ears), a medicine dropper and a recordable gift card so I could take the inside out and give my new invention a voice! The real miracle happened the next day when I took my homemade prototype to work, put some milk in it and then EASILY followed with medicine! I knew in that moment I had a hit on my hands!
What was the turning point at which you decided to become an entrepreneur and launch AVA as a product?
Although this idea worked wonders at work with Gibby, I hadn’t considered owning a business and launching a product before creating AVA. Needless to say, it was a bit intimidating. I started researching prototypes, manufacturers, trademarks & patents. I spent about $3,000 on a detailed patent search through a patent attorney. But that was as far as I could go with a nanny’s salary. A few months later I saw a posting on craigslist: “Do you have a great idea, but need funding to make it a reality?”. Of course my answer was YES!
What was your biggest obstacle to launching the business prior to Shark Tank?
Funding is always an issue for new businesses, but I would say the lack of knowledge in this industry was the biggest obstacle. I have now taken a crash course in launching a product and may write a book about what you REALLY have to do to get to the next step. It is such a multifaceted world, the world of retail, in which you never feel like you know it all. I am still learning every day!
What was the smartest thing you did for the business prior to Shark Tank?
A detailed patent search, to make sure I wasn’t infringing on anyone else’s intellectual property and ensuring I could, in fact, patent it myself. We now have one patent on the product and an additional patent pending.
How did you prep for your appearance on the Shark Tank?
My experience was a little different than people pitching now, because I was on the pilot episode. I didn’t have anything to go by. I developed my pitch and created five homemade clay prototypes, one for each Shark.
I practiced my pitch on my husband and parents for weeks. But I made sure they thought of the most difficult questions to throw at me, not critiquing the way I stood, sounded or looked, but the content of my pitch. My husband probably had the best question, “What if my kid hates the product?” At first I thought, that would never happen. But then I realized it could. I went back to how I started with Gibby. All kids have a favorite drink. My suggestion was, and still is, to start them off with their favorite drink when first using AVA. What child wouldn’t like a talking elephant that shoots chocolate milk into their mouth!?! And sure enough, that was [Shark Tank’s] Kevin O’Leary’s question. Oddly enough, that is Barbara’s same advice when she speaks about pitching. To pitch to someone who dislikes you, or in my case, who will ask questions like those who dislike you!
What was it like behind-the-scenes at the Shark Tank?
Intense. For me it meant getting ready at 6am only to wait behind 20 others as they went into the “tank” and came out visibly upset or in some cases happy. I finally pitched late at night with the fear that they were tired and burnt out from listening to pitches all day. However, they were all surprisingly kind and more importantly, Barbara invested!
What should viewers of the show understand about what REALLY goes on behind the set, or on the set when not filming?
One thing viewers have to understand is that Shark Tank is as real as “reality TV” gets! These investors really are giving their own money and are making these decisions in a matter of 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the pitch. Yes, they do due diligence after the show, that is only wise on their part. Bottom line, if they make a deal they have full intentions to fulfill their end of the deal after the filming is done.
Myth= the “Sharks” see the inventions/companies prior to the show. Truth= They have no idea what is coming next, it is similar to an angel investors meeting where people pitch in rounds, the difference is the camera’s.
Myth= Some “Sharks” make very little investments, while others do them all. Truth= Although you don’t see it, many of the sharks make deals that just don’t make it to air. These are still business deals and are still followed through on. So for every pitch you see on the show, there were probably 5 people who pitched who didn’t make it through editing.
Myth= The investors are not involved after the show films. Truth= I can’t speak for all of the “Sharks” but Barbara has been amazing to work with from day one. She is involved when she needs to be and steps back when needed.
Myth= Don’t submit your idea if you don’t have a patent, because the producers will steal your idea! Truth= I am a prime example of this not being true. When I pitched on the show I didn’t yet have a patent filed. I HAD however searched to make sure it didn’t exist, as did the Shark Tank team, because they can’t have me going on the show and pitching an already patented idea. Of course my patent was filed a week after working out my deal, but my idea was safe through months of casting. The reality is, the last thing “Producers” or “ABC” want to do is produce a product. It’s not their business and it’s not as easy as some make it sound. For even one product it is a full-blown, full-time business, not something they need or want on their plate.
What advice do you have for StartupNation entrepreneurs interested in being selected for Shark Tank?
I would send a video with your submission. Make it interesting and show them you not only have a great idea, but that your pitch will be fun for TV, because that is what matters to them.
What advice do you have for StartupNation entrepreneurs to be successful with their own businesses?
Make sure you know what you are getting into before you begin this long and difficult road. You must have a passion for your product. To succeed you will have to couple passion with a lot of hard work. Most people assume when owning a business you get to “choose your hours.” It is more like 24 hours a day! There is no going home after work and forgetting about the stress of work. The stress is constant. This is not to say success won’t come and all of that will change, but be prepared to spend at least two years working long hours.
What's the greatest advice that Barbara Corcoran has provided for the business?
Wow, that is a hard one; she has given me so much advice over the past year! Don’t be afraid to ask. For a lower price, for a better deal, for whatever it is that is going to keep your company in business. Even with funding you have to be extremely careful where you spend every penny, so make sure you are getting the best deal on everything.
What's the future of AVA the Elephant?
AVA will eventually be a line of products to help parents and caregivers. I don’t want to create more stuff, but actual products that assist with the struggles parents face.
What are your greatest future opportunities?
After attending a recent trade show, NACDS, we had such a huge response from buyers, we will without a doubt be in most well-known retail stores nationwide before the end of the year! As well as our recent launch in Europe and future Mexico & Canadian distribution deals.
On a personal note, can you share how you found the strength to fight cancer, and win, while also driving the success of your business?
My strong faith in God was what really brought me though the toughest days/weeks/months. There were so many times when I just cried and said, “I can’t do this, it is too much at one time.” Being strong for me meant having those days, but then picking myself up the next day, looking for inspiration and continuing to move forward!
That inspiration always came to me in the form of little smiling faces. I wanted more than anything to see children smile, not cry. I knew that if I could push through I would be able to deliver boxes of AVAs to children at the hospital I volunteered at, and hopefully worldwide one day!
That dream actually came true for me this week. I visited a very special place, Dream Street Camp in Ojai, CA. Dream Street is a place where no child sits on the sidelines. It is a camp for children with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. I was able to donate AVAs to the children and spend a weekend laughing and experiencing life with them. It was great to share the common ground with them, and let them know they were not alone in their struggle. The time spent at Dream Street made the past year and half worth it. THEY are my heroes, and I pray AVA is a huge success so I can help them year after year!
The biggest struggle I have had was facing my own mortality and knowing that the last thing I wanted to do with what could be my “last days” was business tasks 24 hours a day. This is what I mean by passion. When considering whether to start a business, you have to ask yourself if you will be able to push through and still have a passion for your business if you are faced with cancer or another life changing moment.
BONUS: Listen to a complementary podcast interview of Tiffany Krumins here!