Well friends, it’s been a little while… Five years and three months to be exact since I flew across the country 34 weeks pregnant to film Season 4 Episode 417 of ABC’s Shark Tank. And today I am FINALLY doing it! Sharing how I landed on ABC’s Shark Tank, what I pitched, how it went and my full behind-the-scenes experience on the wildly popular show…
I can honestly say that still to this day I am 100% OBSESSED with the show Shark Tank. With the exception of the year following our episode when my post-traumatic stress (ever so slightly kidding) was too intense to handle the sounds and the lights and the voices of the show, we have seen them ALL. Kidding about the serious post traumatic stress but not kidding about not being able to watch it for at least a year! For the very first three seasons, Mark and I sat down together and watched every single episode. We had even watched quite a few episodes of the BBC America show Dragon’s Den prior to Shark Tank as well. As two crazy focused and fearless entrepreneurs, we were both enthralled with the show. I still remember telling Mark literally every other episode half laughing and half serious that I was going to be on that show one day. I wasn’t exactly sure what product I would invent and how in the world I would do it but I dreamed of being on there one of these days.
Fast forward to the Winter of 2010 and I literally had a dream. Mark and I were celebrating our nine year wedding anniversary overnight at the Chateau Elan winery close to our home in Georgia when I quite literally dreamed up my future company, Addison’s Wonderland. Close to a year prior to this dream, our 23 month old daughter Addison had decided that crib life was overrated and swiftly climbed head first over the side of her crib almost landing head first onto the floor. I rushed into her room and decided that day to start designing her big girl room. I put together a queen sized bed we had from our previous home that evening and I starting searching the internet for bedding and curtains and accessories to put together my dream daughter’s room. Yet I found nothing. Absolutely nothing that I loved. As crazy as that sounds, I think I had just envisioned a “future daughter’s room” so much over the last decade of my life as an interior designer that what I had invented in my head just didn’t exist. Over the course of the next several weeks, I switched my searches from bedding to fabric, pulled my sewing machine out of the closet and got to work making her bedding. And her curtains. And her cornice. And everything in between. It was the creative release I had needed so badly since becoming a stay at home mom in December 2007. And I was hooked…
At the time, I had just started a part-time job as a trunk keeper for a new clothing company and was holding numerous trunk shows at our home. As more and more moms caught sight of her room, I quickly realized that my vision of a dreamy girl’s bedroom was something that was quite possibly a vision that lots of other moms may have had for their daughter’s rooms as well. And my entreprenuerial wheels started turning. I still remember the drive home from Chateau Elan that following morning. I reluctantly told Mark that I wanted to start a company. I had no clue how I was going to do it or what money I was going to use to start it but I wanted it and I wanted it bad. The recession had gotten hold of our kitchen/bath company and money was tight. To say the least. I started working more and more selling clothing through trunk shows and slowly started putting money aside while also drawing up and sewing more samples of bedding. I set a date, carted a suitcase full of samples around to different workrooms all over Georgia and eventually launched Addison’s Wonderland in July 2011…
With zero extra money after already pouring our $35k savings into the company, I decided that the “new social media frenzy” was the cheapest and easiest way to start spreading the word. And the images. And somewhat quickly the bedding images started going “mildly viral”. From Facebook to Pinterest, more and more moms started seeing my work and the orders started to roll in. By March 2012, my sales had hit $80k from social media alone and I decided to give it a whirl. I applied for Shark Tank. And I even found my original e-mail “application” to share…
Thirteen days later I heard back! And I cannot even TELL YOU how excited I was after that reply! I found in my e-mail search today where I had forwarded it to Mark that day. It brought back ALL THE FEELS from this process! I honestly never even dreamed they would give me a second thought so from about that point forward, I became an overly excited nervous mess. For the next four months. At some point along the initial Shark Tank interview process, I decided that I wanted a partner. I was two months pregnant, juggling mommy life with our then four year old daughter Addison AND I was running Addison’s Wonderland solo. From customer service to designer to packer and shipper, I was doing it ALL! My best friend Brooke joined me that March and we started down this Shark Tank path together.
Next after this initial reply e-mail was a phone call that I took immediately following an Easter party we had at our home. I remember pacing our master bedroom chatting and becoming so winded from walking too fast that I could barely talk. I truly thought that call would be the last but three more calls followed over the next two weeks. One of which happened while at Home Depot so I stepped outside and once again paced the Home Depot parking lot chatting with another producer. More and more prominent people started scheduling interviews along the casting process and then they asked us to submit an audition tape. You guys better be glad that I love you. I cannot even watch this video. LOL.
Three weeks later on April 11th, after we passed the audition tape round, we were assigned two producers that we worked with over the next three months. Brooke and I had calls with them twice a week every single week those first three months developing our pitch, practicing our pitch and working out all of the details on our company, our finances and everything in between. Oh and did I mention that we were not allowed to tell A SOLE about all of this?!? I remember dipping out early on swim lessons I hosted in our backyard that year to take “secret calls”. We had to remain hush hush for almost AN ENTIRE YEAR until we received our air date.
On April 30th 2013, we were named official SEMI-FINALISTS and both signed a 48 page participant agreement. They also stated at that time that “if you are selected to be a cast member you will need to be available for up to five consecutive days sometime between June 27th through July 20th.” That is about the point where everything started to get real. And scary. Really really scary. LOL.
On May 20th we received final approval on our opening pitch after tweaking and re-working it for months!
(H)- Brittany Hayes
(B)- Brooke Bryant
(H): Good afternoon, we are the Georgia Peaches behind the next multi-million dollar brand, Addison’s Wonderland. My name is Brittany.
(B): and My name is Brooke Bryant.
(H): We are asking for a $90,000 investment for a 20% stake in our company
(B): AW is the most unique, versatile and exquisite line of children’s bedding you will find. Our designs are unlike anything else on the market today. We combine stunning fabrics, textures and details for a vintage chic look.
(H): When my little girl Addison climbed out of her crib we realized she was ready for her first bed. So my search for her big girl room began. I searched online and catalogs and was underwhelmed with the limited options, bland colors, lack of detail, and most of the selection just looked cheap. So I decided to get out my sketchbook and create my idea of the ultimate room for my little princess. Using my extensive design background and love for fabric and color, I got to work creating pillows, window treatments and bedding for her. Addison immediately fell in love with her room and so did everyone who saw it. I realized that I might have something that could be extremely successful and got to work creating my vision. After months of hard work, AW was born. (pass out products) And here is just a sample of the fun that Addison’s Wonderland has to offer. PUT IN DETAILS OF WHICH PRODUCT YOU WILL GIVE TO EACH SHARK
(passing out products ended up being edited out of the final tape)
(B): We have been friends for a long time, and I have always believed in her creativity and designs. So when she approached me about joining her in AW, there was nothing to consider. I gave up my teaching career and haven’t looked back!
One of the most surprising things we have found is that our products have been purchased for not only toddler rooms, but they have also been equally popular with teens and adults. Another major selling point is the fact that our products are mix and match. Here is an example of a unique combination we have made using three different collections.
(H): We are ready to make Addison’s Wonderland into a brand name that everyone will want to have for their child. That’s why we need the sharks!
(B): So which of you wants to team up with these motivated, hardworking Southern Gals and create the next designer home decor empire?
Once the pitch was complete, I started working on our set design. I chatted several times with their Art Department to determine what would fit and what would aesthetically work best for television. We also sent over a logo design to a local Kinko’s out in California for a huge board to be produced for our set as well. Oh and mind you that during ALL of this time, you are still not guaranteed that you will film or even air on Shark Tank! You are still in the “audition stages” until you are literally standing in front of the Sharks. One more question I am asked quite often… we had to pay for ALL of the materials, product, shipping and freight charges.
On May 30, 2012 we finally received word that the show would be making travel arrangements for us to film. At this point you are told that you will fly out and pre-pitch to producers FIRST who will then decide if you will pitch to the Sharks. Also at this time, I had to choose a phone a friend who also signed their life away in a participant agreement. I of course chose my hubby Mark. A month and a half later the day finally came. I was 34 weeks pregnant and literally two weeks away from not being able to fly when we received the call. They gave us three days notice and we packed our bags to make the 4.5 hour flight out to LA. They paid for mine and Brooke’s travel while we covered the travel expenses for our hubbies to join.
The first full day out in Culver City, CA (the home of Sony Picture Studios), Brooke and I pre-pitched to producers. There are no words at all EVER to describe the nervous anxiety. We stood in the same building where The Wizard of Oz was filmed many decades ago giving our pitch to a table full of intimidating important people. Our producers watched on and told us that we would find out the following day if we had “made it” and would actually get the chance to pitch to the sharks and film the show. I SOOO wish I could go back and have fully enjoyed that next day. Mark, Brooke, her hubby Dan and I had the entire next day to peruse California for all of our first times but the nerves were intense. We took our rental car up the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu and literally almost ran out of gas in the desolate “mountains” off the coast of Malibu. With no phone service. And with my pregnant self needing to go to the bathroom SOOO bad! It was a day I will never ever forget.
That afternoon we got the call. We would pitch to the sharks and film the show the following day. The day I had dreamed of for years and years and years. We woke up the next day and sat in the lobby of our hotel pacing and practicing to our hubbies over and over and over again. Here is a picture from that morning…
Around noon we were driven to the set to get the craziness started. Although we saw numerous other companies waiting to also pitch, we were told not to speak with anyone. We arrived on set and went straight to hair and make-up. Although we were told to do our own prior to arriving on set, they touched us up a tad and made us feel all special and famous ;-). From there we waited in our dressing room until we were called to take a look at our set. Our producers told us that we were to enter the set, not look at or make eye contact with the Sharks who would be in their seats chatting on their phones, and approve our product set-up. That is officially the point where my nerves hit an all-time high. We were actually there, and the Sharks were actually there in real life and we were on the actual set of Shark Tank. It was as intense as it was exciting. A surreal experience that still to this day doesn’t even seem real.
After fluffing some pillows and adjusting a couple of things, we exited the set and waited off to the side for word that cameras would start rolling. And once they start rolling, you get ONE CHANCE to film your pitch. There are no re-takes, no second chances and zero room for mistakes. The moment that came next was probably my most prominent memory from that day. We were called over to stand in front of the automatic doors at the end of the “Shark Tank runway” and the super loud intercom starts going “Fifteen… Fourteen… Thirteen…” and at “One” the doors swung open.
We walked the “cat walk” with cameras rolling at every corner and entered the Shark Tank. We stood on our “X’s” for the longest 60 seconds on Earth while cameras zoomed across our faces before starting our pitch. The lights were bright and hot and the moment was INTENSE! Once we got going it became a little easier and thank GOD we remembered all of our lines. Although they edited it down to eight minutes, we were actually in the tank for 50 total minutes. Here’s the link to our actual episode too!
Although I think in the back of my mind I knew that my company was probably a bit high-end for a deal, you of course always have hope. The comments and questions from the Sharks almost all centered around price point and the fact that my products were not easily mass produceable. Which I knew. I do regret not doing a crib set-up because that was a much lower price point but all in all I still think the end result would’ve probably been the same. Robert and Lori were not my faves (for reasons more than what was shown on tv), Kevin and Damon were so-so and then Mark Cuban was soooo nice. We ended up chatting with him the longest and although it wasn’t really shown this way on tv, he seemed soooo close to making us an offer. We probably chatted with him a total of 20 minutes. Although we left the tank without a deal, I have zero true regrets on auditioning and pitching my company to the Sharks. All in all the feedback was positive and the experience was truly once in a lifetime. I always say that after pitching to the Sharks, every other situation on Earth becomes a lot less intimidating.
Overall I would say that Shark Tank really is the real deal. The audition process is super long and intense and they really do research your company and your company’s sales and finances a TON! My mom, who is an accountant, had to help us submit so many detailed statements along the way. You do not talk to the Sharks AT ALL before the taping and like I said before, there are no re-takes! You get one shot to make an impression and to sell yourself and your company. One thing I did not like was that you don’t even get to see the Sharks after the taping. I think you maybe do if you get a deal but we were unable to even get a picture with them! Which is a bummer after doing so much to appear on the show.
On January 24th 2013, we finally received word of an air date… February 22nd, 2013. It was only at this point that we were FINALLY able to even start sharing on social media that we had pitched and filmed the show. During the airing, AW social media numbers started to soar and my website crashed. There were hundreds of thousands of page views within minutes and although I had tried SO HARD to get it all situated in the months prior, our server just could not withstand the traffic. Which is another small regret I have. I truly do think if we could have withstood the traffic, sales would have gone much higher.
Within the first several weeks of airing, sales were great and inquiries from other investors started pouring in. It was during this time that I was hit with a bombshell in our marriage and what would quickly become the hardest time in my life. My focus went from Addison’s Wonderland to my family and my heart quickly slipped from my company. I could say all day long that I wish that all of the difficulties had never happened, which of course I do, but I also think it was all in God’s timing. Owning a countertop fabrication company, renovating homes, having two children AND taking Addison’s Wonderland to the next level would have just been too much given what I was now facing. So I chose to let my dreams go. I chose to walk away. As unfair as it seemed at the time and kind of honestly to this day. And although I know we could have figured out a way to make it all work, I truly have peace in knowing that it was not meant to be.
Addison’s Wonderland gave me the courage, the confidence and the platform to get my career going and for that I am forever thankful. Sometimes God’s path for our lives is vastly different than our own and although it has taken me quite some time to truly realize that, I am grateful for the way that my experience on Shark Tank played out.
Addison’s Wonderland became my blog in September 2014 after several months of feeling rather lost and confused. Although sales hit over $500k and I was literally days away from securing an investor, I “dissolved” my bedding company in July 2014. Not the easiest of decisions but I decided to choose my marriage. By that Fall, we were knee deep in renovating our new home but I was still in need of a creative career outlet. Mark and I had moved homes to start over and were on a new path and I finally felt refreshed enough, brave enough and inspired enough to start sharing our home on social media. The rest is “history”. You guys complimented and encouraged me to the point that I started a blog. There aren’t enough “thank you’s” in the world for the incredible support from those of you who have followed me since those late bedding and early blog days. This quote right here quickly became my motto and something I will forever live by…
For me, blogging really started just as simple as that. Encouragement, love and support from all of you when I needed it most. And a platform for me to try and eventually return that encouragement, love and support back to all of you. I always tell Mark that my blog healed me. It was the biggest blessing in my life at that time in my life. I now share all of my struggles and successes and failures in hopes of inspiring other women like me to get out and give it a try. Who cares if you fly or you fail. Sometimes the worst life situations and the biggest failures lead to the best paths. I cannot imagine a bigger place to “fail” than on national television but it has made me the person that I am today and for that I am forever thankful.
XOXO, Brittany Hayes