Tara Williams ’09 is truly a mother of invention.
Last May, the Finance grad pitched her fledgling business, Dreamland Baby, on the ABC reality show Shark Tank. Her product — a weighted blanket designed for infants to safely wear — was inspired by her youngest child’s struggle to sleep through the night. While tens of thousands try for a spot on the Emmy-winning series, fewer than 1% ever land an investment offer from its celebrity capitalists.
I applied to Shark Tank in March 2019, and was invited that July to their fall filming. I was assigned two assistant producers and a design team, who worked with me all summer on my business plan, pitch and set. I spent at least 20 hours a week getting ready. I bought my nursery props at Target for about $1,000, and had them shipped to the television studio. Outside of my introduction, everything you see is completely candid.
In September 2019, my husband, Rob, and I spent three days in L.A. On day one, all the groups were excitedly talking about their valuations and products. We met with the show’s legal team for hours to learn what we could and could not disclose. On day two, we confirmed our props and did our final pitch to the producers. On the third day, we pitched to the sharks! Some groups never got called, which was heartbreaking. They tell you upfront: There are no guarantees, even at that late stage.
On air you see about 10 minutes of my pitch, but I was actually in front of the sharks almost 90 minutes. Surprisingly, I felt really confident. This was the most prepared I had been for anything in my life! Lori [Greiner] and I had a great dialogue, and we negotiated a deal of $100,000 for 22.5% equity. She was the shark I really wanted, so it felt like I’d won the lottery.
Even after making the deal, I didn’t know if my pitch would air. The season started in January, but by March 2020 we still hadn’t been on. I was beginning to lose hope. I knew that being seen by millions of viewers could change everything for my young business. When we got the May air date, it was a scramble to make sure our website could handle the traffic, that we’d have sufficient customer service and enough inventory. That night we sold almost as much as we had in the entire month prior.
What starts as a “gentleman’s handshake” during the negotiation process is subject to due diligence after the show. Unfortunately, the deal with Lori did not go through. She and her team were very gracious with their time and advice, and I have nothing but amazing things to say about them. Month-over-month sales were seven times higher right after we aired and have continued to grow by 20% per month ever since.
From the early days of the company, my four kids helped pack orders, prayed at bedtime that I would do well on the show, and even helped pick my TV outfit at the mall. I’m so grateful to have shared this once-in-a-lifetime experience with them and my husband.