What do the late French cooking icon Julia Childs, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb and New York Times food critic Irena Chalmers all have in common? They’re all foodies who are huge fans of Jones Scones — moist, cakey baked treats that come in three mouth-watering flavors: blueberry, cranberry and chocolate chip.
John Frederick Jones, who goes simply by J. Jones, launched Jones Scones in 1998. Before identifying himself as “Scone Slinger #1” at his Aurora, Colo.-based company, he worked as a guardian ad litem (a court-appointed advocate who protects children’s best interest in court cases), lawyer, voiceover artist, singer, and actor. Jones fell in love with scones while living in London. When he moved to Washington D.C. to attend law school, he couldn’t find a decent scone around. So he experimented with recipes, and the rest is history.
Over the years, Jones invested about $50,000 to build of his business and has sold more than 500,000 scones via Whole Foods (WFM), Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers and distributor, United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI). He doesn’t take a salary and still works as a lawyer to fund his passion for making scones.
Jones fed his scones to the Sharks in a May 2013 Shark Tank episode, seeking $100,000 for 25% equity. He had prepared for the appearance while recovering from tumor surgery in the hospital and after being diagnosed with colon cancer only five weeks before the taping. Chemotherapy treatment started three days later.
But none of the Sharks bit. Cyber-security king Robert Herjavec had no appetite for a business with declining sales over the three years prior and a turnaround strategy, dependent on a consultant. FUBU founder Daymond John had no taste for the breakfast treat in general. QVC queen Lori Greiner thought something was wrong given that he’d been in business for so long with such little success. A four-pack of scones cost $9.99, but with paper-thin margins, the business wasn’t very profitable until he started selling them online.
O’Leary Ventures founder Kevin O’Leary disliked that Jones had nothing proprietary other than trademarks on the name “Jones Scones” and a tagline, “Spread the Love.” Jones walked out even before Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban officially said he was out. But thanks to Shark Tank, online orders shot up and rescued it from the brink of failure. Jones believes there would have been no sales or profits this year if it weren’t for the show.
J. Jones shares why he’s so passionate about scones, his regrets in the tank and how Shark reignited the love for his business.
Trying to “Spread the Love” on Shark Tank
Ky Trang Ho: Since you didn’t get a deal, should you have done anything differently?
J. Jones: The scones didn’t wow them. Robert Herjavec even asked why they were dry and God bless Lori for stepping in and putting a little wind in my sails. I will always be grateful to her for that moment. She kept the door from completely closing in my face. The deeper concerns were that I was looking for external guidance for the business rather than guiding my destiny. For a company that had been in existence for so long, I should have been doing much more in sales.
I should have done many things differently with food preparation and planning. I had placed the scones under a heat lamp so that they could be warm. Bad move. Unfortunately, the shooting was delayed. I went back to my dressing room to focus on my presentation, and the scones stayed under the lamp.
The scones that the Sharks received had been sitting under a heat lamp for over an hour and were not good quality. I should have had better answers to address the drop off in sales and should have been prepared for rejection by having a Hail Mary speech if things went wrong. I hadn’t thought about the worst-case scenario.
Ho: If you could do the show over, what would you do differently?
Jones: I would do everything differently. I would be more authentic and down to earth. I would be more myself. My energy was just not there, and that is so important. I would be humble and better prepared to address negative questions. I would have someone with me whose sole responsibility was food prep.
I would use Guy Kawasaki’s 10-point slide presentation. It’s a really great way to show your concept in a straight-forward manner. I would have a do-or-die speech prepared. Lastly, fight, fight, fight until they had to drag me off the set.
I would have asked Mark Cuban if he was out. The guy was out. He had told me he thought I was full of it. But it was really bad form not to ask him anyway.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience?
Jones: You have to meet the Sharks where they are at that moment in the day. These folks sit on a cold movie set for 12 hours a day with a bunch of random people coming in and out throwing ideas at them. They have worries about their own businesses and lives. It is really important to read and connect with them, even if that means stepping away from your presentation.
You have to trust that you know your business, your numbers, and yourself well enough to adjust. Make sure that you have a do-or-die speech prepared. What will you do if they all say no? Think of something to show how committed you are to winning the day.
Ho: What was the best advice you received from the Sharks?
Jones: When I aired, Kevin O’Leary tweeted something like “Who cares about scones?” While it pissed me off at the time, I thought it was a valid question. As I pondered that question, it dawned on me that coffee and tea consumers love scones and I should be partnering with online coffee and tea retailers. I don’t think that I would have had that thought without that tweet. It changed the entire course of my business.
A Belly Full of Business Wisdom
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching your product?
Jones: When I started, I had no baker, manufacturer or distributor. I knew nothing about distribution and delivered the scones myself. I would load up my 1994 Jeep Wrangler, pick up the scones from Colorado Springs, and deliver the scones from Colorado Springs all the way up to Boulder, Colo. The very first night I was scheduled to do deliveries, I parked my Jeep downtown, and it got towed.
The inexperience of being the only entrepreneur in my family and circle of friends led to a lot of mistakes and a long learning curve. A lot of times, it was just plain lonely. I don’t dwell too much on the negative because there were so much good and magic that happened along the way.
My goal has always been to have the freedom to do the things that bring me joy. Having my head handed to me on Shark Tank made me get back to the core principles that made me want to start selling scones in the first place. I wanted the freedom to pursue my music. I wanted to prove that you didn’t have to be a wage slave in some law firm. Showing people that freedom is possible is one of my dreams.
I wanted to feed people my scones because it makes them smile and makes me happy. I had lost sight of all of those things by the time I got to Shark Tank. All the love was gone. I don’t think Jones Scones would have been around very long. I’m beyond grateful to have rediscovered the love I have for my little bundles of goodness and the joy in the hard work of getting them into the world.
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Jones: by Stephen F. Hall is an amazing resource if you are going into the food business and is a must read for food entrepreneurs. I’m a fan of by Stephen Covey. I believe in the concepts so much that I worked for the company. This approach can literally change your life and show you how to operationalize your dreams.
If you haven’t listened to, or read, Tony Robbins’ or , you are doing it wrong. Nothing will get you moving like this man. If he works for billionaires, he can work for you. To become more efficient, read by Tim Ferriss .
Lastly, don’t forget the classics: by Dale Carnegie and by Napoleon Hill. Many of the business ideas that you read now are recycled versions of what was written in these books years ago.
Ho: What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made in business and how can others learn from it?
Jones: My first investor wanted me to contact a friend of his who had already built a natural food company. I was in my late 20s, young and egotistical, with illusions of the intrepid entrepreneur forging his way into the world on his own. I passed up the opportunity to learn from somebody who had already traveled the path I was about to stumble down.
I often think of how my life would be different if I had learned to ask questions and acknowledged how much I did not know. Stay humble and learn from others. Read as much as you can. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Ho: What motivates you to continue to pursue your business in the face of obstacles and lack of profits?
Jones: As I answer these questions, I’m looking at a hand-signed note from Julia Child that says my scones are great. I know I make a great scone and I’ve seen the smiles on people’s faces as they eat my scones. There is a reason I trademarked the phrase “Spread the Love.”
When I feed people Jones Scones, I am spreading the love in my little way. It’s an amazing feeling. I also want to quiet the voices in my head that tell me that I suck. I want to wake up and be able to say “I did it, I built a successful business and fulfilled a promise to myself to achieve freedom.” People believed in me. I want to justify their faith.
Ho: Is there anything else I should have asked?
Jones: I wish I’d closed with the following on the set: I learned I have cancer five weeks ago. I had a tumor removed and prepared to be here from a hospital bed. I’m here a week early because production schedules change. Look, I know I’m woefully unprepared.
Unfortunately, your scones were dry because they sat under a heat lamp for an extra hour. It’s a hot mess up here. But I’m here dammit. I didn’t let cancer stop me even when I knew this would be a rough go. I’m here. I won’t quit on my company, and I won’t quit on you. Give me a shot.
To Daymond John: Your laughing at me was the worst part of my Shark Tank experience. I walked away because I was ashamed and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by begging. I didn’t become a lawyer, a black belt, a cancer survivor, or save my marriage by quitting. So, I’ll stay at it. I hope our paths cross again.