I’ve been known to do some pretty unique and spontaneous things in my life. Building Love Is Project is one of them, but a close second was submitting my Shark Tank application seven months ago.
In a normal year as a solo entrepreneur, I juggle all aspects of my business—running around the globe working with artisan groups, designing new products, building out an ethical supply chain, and participating in trade shows. When the pandemic hit, all plans came to a screeching halt. Luckily, I had spent the previous years laying a solid foundation, so it gave me more time to hunker down and focus. Without all the other distractions, my goal was to shore up our processes and systems as well as prep and film for Shark Tank!
And now, I can’t believe it. My Shark Tank episode is going to air this Friday, Jan 15th at 8pm on ABC! (Life Bucket list!)
What you will see is only a mere slice of what went into the process to appear on Shark Tank. We (mostly my mother, Gladys, and I) spent more than 1000 hours to research, prep, apply, and prepare for our face-off with the Sharks.
This opportunity made me and the Love Is Project business stronger. It was an invaluable and rewarding experience—and I’m excited to share a look of how I made it onto the show.
My adventure began when I watched an episode in May 2020 featuring Joe Demin and Rachel Connors from the Yellow Leaf Hammock . I had met them a few years back through a mutual friend, and was thrilled to watch them receive a million dollars in funding from Daniel Lubetsky, founder of Kind Bars. That piqued my interest so I checked out the Shark Tank application online for myself and it wasn’t too lengthy; so I thought why not apply and see what happens…
That’s where things really got moving. As life got busy with the 2020 craziness (I was also in the process of moving), I soon forgot about my submitted application. Life was so hectic, that I actually missed a voicemail from one of the Shark Tank casting associates a few days later!
Thank goodness for follow-ups, as they reached out again by email asking if I was still interested in going to the next round of applications. And then it was off to the races! No joke, clear your calendars! The timing worked out as quarantine kicked in, so I set up shop at my parents’ house to get everything ready.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you don’t have your books in order, don’t bother going on the show! There is so much due diligence. Fortunately, I had many videos and creative content gathered over the years that could be repurposed, and plenty of financials on hand to create the next application piece—the video portion. There was plenty of help and support throughout the process and everyone was so much fun to work with.
Because nothing says LOVE like dragging your 70 year-old tiger mom out of retirement, my mother—Gladys— has helped me immensely with the finances and operations of the business. When the opportunity came up for her to go on the show as my wing-woman, I thought to myself “This could work.” She is such a ham and has been known to go rogue, which could make for interesting TV, but the challenge was to make sure we kept things succinct and on point, so there was much to practice.
My mom, Gladys, and me
I’ve actually never had a TV, so once I found out I’d be on the show, my Mom and I binge watched every Shark Tank episode ever made within three months. It was like watching the Superbowl for us, the excitement, screaming and laughing at the TV. We’ve had our ups and downs in life, and Shark Tank really brought us closer together so I’m thankful to the show for that. We worked nonstop on all of the applications and requirements.
Miraculously, we kept advancing to the next round. When I found out we were chosen to go to Vegas, I was over the moon! As in jumping up and down, happy dance, happy! I couldn’t believe this was happening.
How rare is it to appear on Shark Tank? Approximately 40,000 people apply each year and they only air around 100 per season. Apparently, it’s harder to get on Shark Tank than it is to get into Harvard, according to Inc. magazine .
I felt really good about the potential for all of the Sharks to invest in Love Is Project as we prepped. I mean, who doesn’t love LOVE?! Especially in times like these. Between the pandemic, racial tensions, and natural disasters, we could all use more LOVE. Also, I’m a minority female founder, creating jobs for women artisans around the world. This could be an excellent opportunity to uplift other minority female founders supporting other women. And, I hoped my design background in corporate fashion and extensive global network would be an added plus.
I listened to every podcast, read every article, and watched every YouTube video I could find on the Sharks to learn about them and how they might identify with us and our product.
I learned that Mark Cuban bought an around-the-world American airline ticket after selling his first company (I’m an avid traveler). His dad loved cruises (so do my parents).
Kevin O’Leary has a gifting portfolio around LOVE, weddings and baby registries, he makes wine like my parents, and he’s a wedding officiant, like me. Of all the Sharks, Kevin reminds me most of my mom with his honesty and occasionally wild comments. When Kevin would deliver a scathing quip to an earnest entrepreneur, I would point at my mom and say, “That’s something you would say too!”
Our guest Shark was Alex Rodriguez. I hoped he might connect with us on the jobs we are creating in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Ecuador, since he has investments in Latin America. He even gave a speech about translating LOVE into money .
As I prepped, I was so nervous! I kept practicing my pitch in front of the mirror and I was even dreaming about it. Like many of you, I work in my pajamas now, so I was excited at the prospect of dressing up once in 2020 for the pitch! After watching Shark Tank so intensively, finally meeting them in person and getting to pitch was surreal. Everything went smoothly and was so fun, the whole Shark Tank team did a great job!
This was my first time pitching directly to investors. I self-funded my company and have never done public speaking in this capacity. Way to try it out for the first time on national TV!? Definitely nerve-racking and there is only one take. What if I fudge or stutter? I had invested in a public speaking coach beforehand which was really helpful in structuring ideas, building my confidence and finding my voice.
It was also very different to actually participate in the filming of a show after watching so many episodes. Everything went by so quickly, and there's so much more than what viewers get to see in an episode!
Since I found out our episode was going to air, I’ve revved up all our engines, messaged all of the artisan groups we work with to ramp up capacity immediately for the show. We were ready for Valentine’s Day (our biggest season), but not the Shark Tank effect plus Valentine’s Day! Looking at how other best Shark Tank products performed after their episodes, the exposure alone on Shark Tank will be able to help the artisans we work with earn more money to support their families which makes me so happy!
So how did we do??? I hope you’ll watch Shark Tank with me on Jan 15th at 8 pm on ABC and find out!
A little background on me if you’re just learning about Love Is Project:
As a kid, I always had creative entrepreneurial ideas and adventures up my sleeve. Growing up, I knew that one day I would have my own business and wanted to make an impact.
I almost died when I was born and had multiple birth defects. I was able to overcome them through surgeries and therapy during my childhood. Things turned out ok because of my loving family and good doctors. But I experienced bullying as a kid in the states because of this and because of my race, which has made me more empathetic toward others.
As a first generation Chinese-American , I am so lucky and blessed to be born in the USA. My parents and grandparents sacrificed a lot and instilled a strong work ethic and purpose in me. Both of my grandmothers were not able to attend school in China. My paternal grandmother was illiterate and my maternal grandmother self taught herself to read. I'm grateful for my education and opportunities to be able to help other mothers further their kids' educations. Love truly is empowerment. While growing up abroad in Hong Kong as a child, I used to see beggars sitting on the streets at my eye level and pray for every one of them. I didn’t like to see anyone suffering. I would be squandering my privilege if I didn’t use it to give back and pay it forward.
I graduated with a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design 20 years ago. I spent 12 years working in corporate fashion in NYC as a Concept Designer-Trend Forecaster for American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch.
In 2008, I took a three month sabbatical from my job to volunteer in Rwanda, connecting creatives to causes, raising awareness and funds for nonprofits. While there, I realized that charity alone is not sustainable and that true empowerment is when people have jobs and can lift themselves up. I noticed disenfranchised artisans in markets and realized that I could help. They knew how to create, they just needed help selecting the right products and getting them to the correct markets.
I left the corporate world for good in May of 2012 and moved to Kenya. There I worked with the Maasai tribe to create the Original Red LOVE Bracelet. The idea was to create a product that was scalable and marketable in order to create more jobs. Soon after, I took the first bracelet around the world with me and asked people in 50 countries what LOVE meant to them while documenting it on Instagram. I pitched the concept to my former employer and launched it in all their stores a few months later. With that success, I used my own savings and retirement funds and created Love Is Project as a standalone brand in 2017.
And now, Love Is Project creates jobs for over 2000 female artisans in ten countries, supporting families, paying for school fees and investing in additional income generating projects. We give agency to our artisans we partner with to empower themselves.
Each handmade bracelet is inspired by the culture and the craftsmanship of each country. Our supporters spread the message of LOVE with their definitions of LOVE and inspiring LOVE stories.
Love Is Project believes in giving back. When times get tough, LOVE shows up. The air date of our Shark Tank appearance is an auspicious one for us as it is the episode right before Martin Luther King day. These words from this great man are especially meaningful for me:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." - MLK
I also have a dream…to create a life and career of purpose and help improve the lives of people around the world through the power of LOVE. I’ve learned and grown so much since launching Love Is Project. And I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to give back.
As the pandemic intensified last spring, we were able to launch a new LOVE GROWS program to combat the escalating food crisis. Inspired by the Victory Gardens during the world wars, we funded over 38 community food gardens and programs in Kenya, Bali & Bhutan. We started mask making in Bali and India, donated sewing machines, masks and food in India, funded animal agriculture projects in Kenya and a waste recycling income generating project in Java, Indonesia.
In addition, we’ve donated to organizations such as: National Breast Cancer Foundation, It Gets Better, Convoy of Hope, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Lewa Conservation in Kenya, Green School Bali, and more.
I’m really proud of all the work and achievements we’ve accomplished. I’m so appreciative of all the artisans we work with and everyone who has helped us out. It is really a dream to do what you’re passionate about while making a difference in the lives of others.
LOVE is here to stay!
Full post here on Medium.
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