Jess Edelstein, who grew up on the main line and now calls South Philadelphia home, had a problem. She wanted a natural solution to underarm sweat and nothing on the market was cutting it. So like any good future-entrepreneur she developed a product herself and the rest is history.
PiperWai is an all natural, vegan, creme deodorant made with activated charcoal that is safe for people with skin sensitivities. After testing it on herself Jess sought the opinion of her longtime friend and now business partner, Sarah Ribner, “She was so skeptical it would work that when it exceeded her expectations for a natural deodorant she convinced me this was the “million dollar idea” we’d been dreaming about launching together since our lemonade stand when we were 9 years old. She was more than right!” Says Jess.
As it turns out Sarah was much more than right, the two friends launched their business and eventually found themselves on the set of the popular ABC show, Shark Tank. We sat down with Jess to get all the details on her amazing experience on the show and to find out how things are going with her business today.
P.H.: How long had you been in business before shark tank?
J.E.: We officially launched the company in March 2014 and had been planning to since late 2013. By the time our episode aired on December 11, 2015 (aka the day our lives changed forever) we’d been working on PiperWai for about two years.
P.H.: What was the process of getting on Shark Tank like?
J.E.: The application process was a full time job for us last summer. We were assigned a team of producers who helped us prepare, but every step of the way we were reminded that nothing was guaranteed. It wasn’t guaranteed we’d get to the next step in the process; then it wasn’t guaranteed we’d get a plane ticket to LA; then once we were in LA it wasn’t guaranteed we’d get in front of the Sharks; and finally once we were in front of the Sharks it wasn’t guaranteed we would get an air date whether or not we made a deal. It was a giant leap of faith to essentially put all of our expectations for the company on pause for 6 months not knowing what could happen to us. And we couldn’t tell anybody until an air date was announced, which was probably the most difficult part!
P.H.: What can you tell us about the day you shot the episode? Were you able to talk to the sharks in between takes?
J.E.: So, first of all there are no “between takes” because it’s all shot in one take. It’s very real and there are no do-overs. I tripped over my two left feet walking into the tank and they left that in the final cut. We were in front of the Sharks for about 35 minutes and they cut it down for TV but what you see is exactly what happened. The show works very hard to make sure the Sharks don’t know anything about your company until they see your set display. That authenticity is part of what makes the show so great, in my opinion.
P.H.: Was there a certain shark or sharks you were hoping would give you a deal?
J.E.: We figured the men wouldn’t get it (they didn’t) and we assumed either Lori or Barbara would be interested (they were) and we would have been happy with either one. But once we were in there we felt a very strong connection with Barbara and we each had a gut feeling that Lori wasn’t the right fit for us. I countered to her first because I knew she would say no so I could focus on Barbara. It worked out perfectly.
P.H.: What was going through your mind when Barbara made her offer?
J.E.: At first I started to get nervous we would walk out of there without a deal – we knew we weren’t willing to give up more than 25% and she didn’t seem to budge. But Sarah pressed even further and got her to agree. I was so proud of Sarah in that moment. As soon as we walked off set I couldn’t stop crying happy tears every time I opened my mouth to speak. My best friend and I did an extraordinary thing. I was so proud of us and what we built.
P.H.: How has working with Barbara Corcoran been?
J.E.: She has an incredible amount of energy and she’s just so much fun to be around. She took us on her All Star Retreat to Cabo in February and it was the best trip of my life. I had to keep pinching myself that I was on this intimate family vacation with Barbara Corcoran. Every time we talk to her I realize there is so much we can learn from her and the way she does business. It’s going to be a great partnership.
P.H.: Tell us about your business post shark tank.
J.E.: Before our Shark Tank episode aired, we had $130,000 in sales. We’re at about $4 Million now, just 8 months later. We hired two full time employees, a second copacker to keep up with production, and have a bunch of contracted vendors for various tasks. We’re working on scaling production even further and developing a stick applicator version that works as well as what’s in the jar. I’m completely amazed how passionate our customers are about our product, especially now that more people know it exists.
P.H.: You kept your business in the Philadelphia area, any reason for that?
J.E.: We started off as a Philadelphia business and we plan on staying one at least for the time being, but Sarah lives in New York City now and so does one of our employees, so we have a satellite office there at a WeWork office space. Our other employee and I just moved in to the new WeWork in Northern Liberties.
P.H.: What advice do you have for other budding entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area?
J.E.: I feel like it takes a special kind of crazy for somebody to ditch that stable paycheck lifestyle and start their own business, but that’s the type of person you need to surround yourself with when you’re launching a venture. There are so many new resources for young entrepreneurs in this city. Network, make new, like-minded friends, and surround yourself with success and positive energy. Being your own boss is probably the hardest job in the world, but it’s also the most gratifying. Don’t be afraid to take that leap!
For more information on PiperWai visit their website.