Media Studies Alumna Shares New Success After Surviving 'Shark Tank'
UVA previously reported on alumna and entrepreneur Desirée Davis Stolar’s (Interdisciplinary-Media Studies '07) November appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” When the show aired, viewers saw Davis, who got her UVA undergraduate degree in 2007, receive a major investment offer for her clothing care start-up, Unshrinkit.
Nearly a month later, things are still going swimmingly for Davis and she has a surprising twist to reveal about her on-air deal.
Davis and her co-founder, Nate Barbera, first developed Unshrinkit in 2014 while attending Harvard Business School together. It’s a liquid solution designed to repair wool clothing that has been shrunk in the washing machine or dryer. The product works by interacting with the proteins in wool, relaxing their bonds and allowing the fibers to straighten out again and remain that way.
Accidentally shrinking prized cashmere sweaters and other wool clothing favorites is a pretty frequent laundry care problem – so much so that Unshrinkit has been in high demand almost since the day it first hit the market. By the time its “Shark Tank” episode aired Nov. 13, the company had already sold more than 8,000 bottles nationwide.
A before-and-after look at a sweater that was shrunk by accident and then treated with Unshrinkit.
Unshrinkit’s success story garnered offers from top “Shark” investors Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John and Mark Cuban. Davis and Barbera eventually settled on a deal with Cuban, accepting a $150,000 investment for a 15 percent stake in their company.
UVA Today caught up with Davis to find out what she and Unshrinkit have been up to since their big win on the show.
Q. What was your first step after accepting Mark Cuban’s $150,000 offer?
A. Our first step after making the deal on set was to walk around Venice Beach in a deliriously happy daze. We were so proud of how we represented ourselves, our families, our schools – wahoowah! – and our hometowns. We were amazed at how well the negotiations unfolded, given we had a relatively firm goal of not giving away more than 18 percent of our company.
However, there never was a first step after receiving the investment because we did not go through with the deal. We later had a thorough and detailed negotiation, but unfortunately we did not come to an agreement.
Q. How involved was Mark Cuban with the company before you parted ways?
A. Mark’s team was involved with our company from the moment we walked away from the set to the day we parted ways. I visited Dallas and had a chance to meet them in person. They really do look after every facet of a company to ensure it is well-positioned to grow quickly. More importantly, they want the businesses to grow in line with the entrepreneur’s vision.
Q. After your first year selling 8,000 bottles and your decision to stay out on your own, what have sales been like this year?
A. We’re on track to blow that first year out of the water. Although our accounting aligns with the calendar year, we technically think of sales in terms of the “sweater season” (September through April). For the 2015-16 season, we’ve been pleased to see sales originate from a much wider base of consumers and wholesalers.
In addition, we’re launching with Bed Bath & Beyond in early 2016! It’s a very exciting time for us.
Q. Did you see a sales spike after “Shark Tank”?
A. Indeed we did. The fascinating thing about the “Shark Tank effect” is rarely just the sales, though.
We sold a lot of bottles in the weeks after the show aired and we are absolutely thrilled with the additional revenues, publicity opportunities and fans that came from such a spike. However, the X-factors were the business partnership opportunities and expansion openings that followed our airing. A lot is still in the works right now, but 2016 is poised to be a definitive year for our company.
Q. What else has changed since shooting the show? More employees, new office, more travel, etc.?
A. One of the things that Mark loved about our company was that we did so much with so little! We leveraged the mail center, loading dock, entrepreneurial lab, our dorm rooms, social media and our professors at Harvard Business School to build and grow Unshrinkit in its first 18 months. Even with additional revenues and funds, we have been incredibly careful with every dollar.
What has changed dramatically since we shot the show is our travel schedule. I was in 14 cities between September and November. The fall season was intensely packed with interviews, pitches, speeches, appearances and meetings. We have cherished every moment of it, but it is important to not forget what landed us there in the first place – focusing on the product and the customers.
Q. Anything new in your product development pipeline?
A. We have received many requests for mainly two things: a product for denim (which would likely work quite well on cotton) and a smaller bottle for those one-off shrunken sweaters. The one-sweater-only bottles are on our to-do list, and while a denim solution is no walk in the park, it’s definitely in our product development pipeline.
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