How do you win over the sharks on Shark Tank with an innovative product idea with a great business model? How do you continue to innovate and create new products after initial success? Desiree Haller, the founder of TheSubSafe.com, answers these questions and many more.
Hear the behind-the-scenes story of a product marketer that got on Shark Tank only a few months after founding their business and, with the odds against them, secured a deal with two of the Sharks. In today’s interview, Desiree discusses how she used this opportunity to put her business into hypergrowth. She shares several strategies that can help any business, regardless of being on Shark Tank or not!
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
You can watch the full interview HERE
For the listeners, check out Desiree’s full line of products at TheSubSafe.com, and get 20% off your purchase by using promo code “harvestgrowth” at checkout.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Visit HarvestGrowth.com to set up a free consultation.
Jon LaClare: Here are the behind the scenes story of a product marketer that got onto Shark Tank only a few months after founding her business, and with the odds against them, secured a deal with two of the Sharks. She discussed how they used this opportunity to put her business into hypergrowth, and also shares several strategies that can help any business, regardless of being on Shark Tank or not. Welcome to another episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, focused on helping consumer-product companies, inventors, and entrepreneurs harvest the growth potential of their product businesses. Today, we're speaking with Desiree Haller, the founder of SubSafe.
You can find it at theSubSafe.com. We'll include the URL in our show notes. If you're driving, go check it out later. First. I'd love to introduce Desiree. Thanks for joining the show. I'd love to hear more about your product.
Desiree Haller: Absolutely, Jon. Thank you so much for having me. We invented the SubSafe, my husband and I. It is essentially a waterproof, crushproof container for your sub sandwich. Our main intention is for it to be used in coolers to keep it from getting soggy and squished, and just keeping it safe.
Jon: Fantastic. It's a great product. One of those where when you go to the website and you see it, you're like, "How did nobody think about this a long time ago?"
Jon: You're solving a great problem. Whether it's in water sports or throwing a sandwich in a backpack for a hike, there's so many uses for it. I know you've got a line of other products you have come out with and are coming out with as well. Great. We'd love to hear about your journey. A couple things that I know from your story that I'd love to share with the audience, and we'll dive in a lot more details. You appeared on Shark Tank, I believe it was 2018, is that right?
Desiree: Yes, that's correct.
Jon: You were just in business, not very long, just a few months before that, which is not that normal. As our audience knows, a lot of Shark Tank businesses have been around for a while, growing. It's a "safer investment" because they're already there, and it's just, "Hey, let's just grow this a little bit more." You are basically at the beginning of your journey, just a few months in. They saw the potential of this product, and you got an investment from-- Who were your two investors?
Desiree: Mark Cuban and Charles Barkley. Charles was a guest Shark that week on Season 10. We were lucky enough to be one of the pitches for him, and he loved it. Mark and Charles are still our partners. They're both amazing.
Jon: Oh, fantastic. Let's talk about the logistics of the deal. I get a lot of questions. Personally, we've had a few of our clients go on Shark Tank [unintelligible 00:02:35] over the years. I'm not sure if we've ever shared the story. What happens afterwards? I know it's always a little bit different, but you make this deal in front of the TV cameras, but you don't get cash as you walk out the door, right? There's a process that goes afterwards. What was your overall high-level process without revealing anything confidential, of course?
Desiree: It's definitely a due-diligence process after the initial deal. In the Tank, it is strictly a handshake. It just means that if everything goes according to plan and everything checks out and we didn't lie about anything and they didn't find out about another competition that we didn't mention or the numbers all aligned, then that's when the deal will take place. For us, we filmed in June, I believe. We didn't air until January, and we didn't finalize our deal until October. About five months it took for the deal to actually come to fruition. Like you mentioned, we were still so much a baby company. We're very green.
We didn't have a lot of bank statements and sales and reports to really go through because we were just so new. It was really just them coming down realizing that, yes, we were patented and certain things had to all fall into place, but luckily they did.
Jon: That's fantastic. Did they stay pretty involved after the deal was set, now it's been several years since then?
Desiree: Yes. I can pick up the phone or shoot an email to Mark or Charles at any point in time. They're both extraordinary partners. I honestly don't have anything bad to say about either one of them. They've been so helpful and just so willing. Neither one of them needs SubSafe to pay their bills. I think that's pretty obvious, but their genuine concern and just willingness to help and want us to do the best that we possibly can, it's amazing.
Jon: That's great. Why do you think the show chose for you to be on and the investors chose to invest in your business at such an early stage when that's not the norm on Shark Tank? What do you think helped you to stand out at that early stage?
Desiree: I think it's a little bit of what you already mentioned where people see our product, and they slap their forehead. They're like, "How does this not exist? How did Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or one of these big huge corporations that are already doing food storage not think to do it for a sub sandwich and only for a square sandwich?" I think it was a little bit of that. I think our product is silly. People usually chuckle at first like, "Oh, that's what it's for?" I think that they saw great potential, the producers, but I also think that they knew that we would be fun and silly and make good TV.
Jon: That's good. I'm really excited to try one out this summer. In Colorado where our business is, where I live, we have something called 14ers. There are 14,000-foot mountains. There's 54 of them across the State of Colorado, and we try to hike a couple a year, whatever, the easy ones. I'm not a technical climber by any means. You get to the top and the food's horrible. You're happy to be there. You open up a squished peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I would never even think to bring a sub because it would get ruined on the hike up or whatever.
I'm excited to show off to my friends and family when I get to the top this summer and really show the delicious sub sandwich I can have up there. It's really cool. How would you say, when you had this investment come in, obviously, and this involvement from the Sharks, but there's a lot of ancillary benefits also that come from being on Shark Tank, just from the PR, et cetera. Did you see an immediate growth in your company after you first aired on Shark Tank?
Desiree: Oh, yes. The exposure alone just catapults your business into a new direction. We filled orders all day, all night for weeks on end. Just the exposure alone, it's not just from the direct-to-consumer sales. It is also all of the mom-and-pop sub shops that saw us and wanted to now carry us from a retail standpoint but back and beyond. All of the exposure that came as a result of the airing went far beyond the initial website sales and continues to, because it's not just a one-time deal. We rerun every couple months. The lead generation is just ongoing, which is incredible. We all joke, all of us Shark Tankers, that it's just the gift that keeps on giving always. So grateful for that.
Jon: That's fantastic. A lot of times people think about the PR benefit of it, which is great, getting that exposure. So many PR opportunities are one-offs. You air on the Today Show, it's awesome. You're going to get those orders coming into your business. After a month or a couple of months or whatever the amount of time is, it starts to whittle away and goes to nothing. It's not repetitive. That's one of the benefits, I think, of Shark Tank, is the fact that they do have reruns. Also, a bigger benefit, I think, is when you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you quickly. Getting into retail, for example.
You created your own path to return sales to long-term revenues, not just from a one-off sale, but keep that benefit of that awareness going for a long time.
Jon: What has happened since to your business? Fast-forwarding, now it's been several years, and you continue to grow. What else has worked from a marketing perspective to really drive your growth?
Desiree: One of the main things that we have just constantly evolved is creating new functions and uses for the existing containers, making interchangeable pieces to add more function, and really remarketing. We have the best customers. I always say this. We never have returns. People are just so good to us on social media and so appreciative of our product. They give them as gifts. We have the best, best customers, but we created a really high-quality product that we intended to last. We intended it not to be something that you have to buy every summer or that's falling apart and cracking and discoloring. We really wanted to maintain the integrity of our product.
Now, we have to keep selling to our customers, because otherwise, we have a fairly inexpensive product with decent margins, but how do you keep your customer for a lifetime? We've come out with five new pieces in addition to the original three pieces, which are-- SubSafe comes with three pieces. You can either do a 6-inch or a 12-inch container. Now, we have drinking lids. We have ways to screw together the caps so that you have snack size containers and two six inches at a time, we have a strap with a carabiner clip and bottle opener. We just constantly-- we have SubSafe Squared now, which is for-- It is round, which it's part of our humor, but it's round, but it's for square sandwiches. We've developed a wine product. I have something else coming next month that I can't wait to debut. We're just continuing to give our customers new innovative ways to protect their food, to spend an entire day outdoors and let it be the last of their worries of whether or not their food is going to be soggy and squished and waterlogged by the time they come back.
That's been the main marketing strategy. Whereas some entrepreneurs might have dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into marketing, we have reinvested into growing out our product line. It doesn't mean that we don't do other marketing strategies and social media spend and all of that. For me, it was really important to not just be a one and done. Our slogan is 'We are a cooler lifestyle', and that's what I want us to be. When you purchase your YETI or your Arctic or your Eco or whatever brand cooler you purchase, I want to be the next stop because the two go hand in hand. That's what we've been up to.
Jon: Love that. I want to write that down, 'the cooler lifestyle'. What a great tagline. Love these double-meaning tag lines that you get right away and really speaks to your brand. All great news. Everything's been fantastic for business. It doesn't sound like any mistakes have ever happened, but I'm sure they do. With every entrepreneur's journey, there are mistakes that come along the ways. Have you had any that, if you could rewind and redo, something you would've done differently along the way?
Desiree: One of the biggest lessons that was learned the hard way by myself is just keeping up with the inventory. That was tough for me, because we either had way too much or we didn't have enough. That was a big learning curve. How do you predict? You're growing at an astronomical rate and if you buy too much, your cash flow is hurting. Then, if you don't buy enough, then you're not able to fill POs and you're missing out on revenue that way.
It was tough and I don't know that it'll ever be perfect for any company because things are always changing so much. That was a big one. Shipping really hurt us in the past 12 months. Ocean freight has been-- ours alone has gone up seven times what we initially would pay before all of this, before COVID. When you're talking about paying $30,000 more than you used to for 15,000 SubSafes, it really hits your bottom line really hard but that's unavoidable. That's not so much a mistake. It's just navigating unprecedented times.
We also had a product that, the SubSafe Squared, the one for square sandwiches where the O-ring wasn't quite thick enough in about 20% of one product run and they were leaking, which is my absolute worst nightmare. It's what my nightmares are actually made of, that I'm opening an email and someone tells me that their food was soggy. It happened a few times and we had to make it right. We did that and we sent gift cards and we replaced the product.
You get a run of 20,000 units of something and you select 100 maybe to test, but there's just no way to test every single product. Other than that, we've had really, really good relationship with our manufacturers and we haven't had any-- it was just that one hiccup. The entrepreneurial life is not for the faint of heart by any-- it is constantly something else. Just not even a month ago, I had a large order going to the a Publix warehouse in Georgia and the freight company completely lost our shipment. They have absolutely no explanation for where it went.
They don't have-- just completely gone. It never showed up to Publix and that caused a great deal of stress. Then, the next day I found out we were being aired on Good Morning America again. We received tons of exposure that more than compensated for mistake. It's a rollercoaster and you can't ever get too down on yourself or your company or your employees or anything, because the next day it's going to be completely different. It's a wild ride [chuckles].
Jon: That's for sure. Let's rewind a little bit. You talked about a lot there that was really beneficial, but one is the inventory and that's a thing that there's a lot of questions, problems, concerns for any product marketer along the way to adjust for that. As you mentioned, the problem is when you have a spike in volume, your inventories go way down. Then, you plan for the next one, get high level inventories and the volume isn't there and you're stuck with it for a little while.
There's that constant fight or battle between too much demand or too much inventory and go back and forth. Are there any learnings that have been helpful for you to-- it's never perfect. It's always a challenge, I know, but what's helped you along the way to start to manage that better?
Desiree: It's difficult to do when you're a new company. There's really no way around that. Now that we have a few years under our belt, I can look at the prior years and I can make projections, and based on actual data what we sold and for this retailer and breaking it down and I have a little bit more data to work with, but in the beginning it's all about faith [laughs]. That's it. Trusting your gut and doing what you can with the cash flow that you have and growing at a speed that your inventory situation allows. Ultimately, when you receive as much exposure as you do being on Shark Tank, you could do a lot more than what we even did. It's all about having faith in the beginning. That's it.
Jon: For sure. One thing I would add is just realizing as an inventor or entrepreneur that you're never really alone or don't have to be. It feels so lonely sometimes, especially in the beginning, but there are so many people out there that have been down this path further than us in our businesses wherever we're at in our journey. Oftentimes they're very willing to talk with us. I would give advice to the audience, if you are starting out or early stages and have inventory questions or any other question, to reach out to your network and find other people that have been further down that path.
I'm sure, Desiree, you've been a great resource to people along the way. Now that you're further along-- In the early days, I just counsel everyone to find your connected mentor. Somebody could be local to you or someone you gel with that you find on LinkedIn or whatever it might be, but people are willing to give back, especially in the entrepreneurial world, because we've been down that path.
We know the trials you go through and struggles and sometimes it just takes that second set of eyes to look. Again, whether it's inventory or it could be almost anything else. Desiree, are there any resources that you've found really helpful for you in your journey and in your business, a book, a podcast or whatever it might be that's been helpful that you might recommend others?
Desiree: I do listen to a lot of podcasts. That's big for me. I have a variety of different ones that I listen to. One of the main things that-- just going back to what you were just saying about finding someone who's further in the journey than you. We have this secret Facebook group for Shark Tank entrepreneurs. It's just a safe space where we can all bounce ideas off each other and connect and just share what's working, what's not. Then, whatever we need to do.
That has been one of the most amazing. Of course, I have Mark, of course I have Charles and their teams and all of their employees, but speaking to someone who's in it right there with you at the same time, and I'm a big believer in business karma. Giving back to the people who are a little bit behind where we're at, grabbing a little bit from the people who are further advanced and it all just equals out, so we're all helping each other. That's been a huge positive in my journey.
Jon: That's great. We'll post your login to that secret group in our show notes. Just kidding.
Desiree: They would kill me.
Jon: People would love that, I'm sure. Just teasing. Is there anything I didn't ask that you think could be helpful for our audience?
Desiree: I just always tell people, if you have an idea, if you have something that you're passionate about that you know doesn't exist, just go for it. Don't sit on it. I firmly believe that even just meeting people at trade shows after we launched, I had a couple people tell me, "I had this idea. I thought of this five years ago. I never did anything with it." It like punches you in the gut, because you want to just be like, "Oh, come here. Let me take you under my umbrella." You feel for them that they could be doing what you're doing right now. I've just also heard that over and over again. "I have this idea," and then-- not necessarily our idea, but any idea, "and I didn't do anything with it, and two months later, somebody else or a big corporation is doing it." Just do it, just go for it. If you need help, there's so many resources on the internet now. There are so many YouTube videos. Shark Tank is obviously an incredible resource for just learning about all of the processes and everything from engineering and patenting to manufacturing and hitting the market.
Jon: I couldn't agree more. That's great advice. It sometimes just takes that step. It's not comfortable for everybody, but success doesn't come from comfort. It's just taking that step forward and finding your own path to success, whatever that might be. That's great advice. I do want to tell the audience, make sure you visit their website. Desiree's website is thesubsafe.com. Again, it'll be in our show notes. You can go back and look at it later if you're driving. There's a discount code on their website, harvestgrowth, all one word. With that, you'll get a 20% discount off your purchase on the website.
I encourage our audiences, at least check out the website, see the product, see all the great work they've done. You'll see some photos from Shark Tank and some more of the backstory, but of course, a lot more about the product as well. Well, Desiress, it's been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate the time you've taken to meet with us today. For the listeners, please go to thesubsafe.com to learn more, and be sure to check out Harvest Growth podcast to see other episodes we've recorded.
If you like this episode and want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business, please subscribe to our show and leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play.
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