Sara Moylan had a huge problem that other women pay an average of $3,600 to have. The voluptuous, nationally-ranked, fitness competitor and fitness model couldn’t find a bra that held her rack right. So she revolutionized an age-old product and created the patented Shefit Ultimate Sports Bra.
In a mere four years, the 35-year-old scored a deal with FUBU founder Daymond John on Shark Tank. The ABC hit business reality show pushed up sales to nearly $485,000 in the week following her appearance. During her 11-minute Shark Tank segment alone, sales eclipsed that of the entire year prior. Even more incredible, Shefit remains a side gig for her and husband, Bob. They juggle the business along with other full-time jobs and raising four kids.
The zipper-front bra features adjustable one-inch-wide, velcro shoulder straps that can be worn in an X or H shape in the back. The two-inch-wide strap around the ribcage is also adjustable with velcro. The moisture-wicking fabric pulls away sweat. Insert the removable pads on chilly days you’re smuggling raisins. Shefit comes in three colors: black, pink and turquoise. With 10 sizes, it accommodates everyone from “members of the itty-bitty titty committee” to traffic stoppers.
The Moylans started Jenison, Mich.-based Shefit, Inc. in late 2012 and launched a Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2013, raising $20,000 in just 45 days and surpassing their goal. The Shefit Ultimate Sports Bra retails for $58.99 at more than 20 locations and through 15 female sports organizations. Before their late January 2016 Shark Tank appearance, they had booked more than $200,000 in total sales.
They offered the sharks 20% of their company for a $250,000 investment. They valued the company at $1,250,000 based on intellectual property, goodwill, sales projections, and sales to date. They had invested $300,000 of their own money in the business. Daymond John made a deal for $250,000 for 33.3% equity on air. But the actual deal following the taping is much more complicated.
Sara Moylan explains how there’s always room for innovation in an age-old product, the hurdles she overcame to bring the product to market and much more.
Ky Trang Ho: Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you started your business?
Sara Moylan: Prior to starting Shefit, Bob and I both worked as outside sales reps covering multi-million dollar territories for two nationally known corporations. As a matter of fact, because of the flexibility of our positions, we still maintain these full-time jobs while getting Shefit off the ground.
I have always been an athlete — from high school to college and beyond — and have always struggled to find a supportive bra. When I was pregnant with our first of four children, I decided to take matters literally into my own hands and solve my problem. I created the first prototype, and unknowingly created a business. Bob has managed large projects, has a strong background in construction, and years of experience in management and financials.
Abreast of Women’s Bra Problems
Ho: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Moylan: The original idea was a result of trying to solve a very personal problem. I was pregnant with the first of our four children and was struggling to find a bra that fit well, let alone allowed me to set my fit or control the level of support. Years of fighting exercise-related breast, back, and shoulder pain left me feeling frustrated, self-conscious and defeated. I was holding back in workouts when I felt like I had so much more to give.
Prior to this invention, I found myself wearing multiple sports bras at one time; often I wore two bras held taut with rubber bands and construction tape. I developed the bra from scratch. It’s now patented with adjustable technology that only Shefit offers.
After some testing and prototypes, the Shefit sports bra was born. An idea that started as a solution to one woman’s individual problems as proven itself a life-changing piece of athletic equipment for thousands upon thousands of women.
When I created the original Shefit bra, I wasn’t looking to start a company. I was trying to solve a personal problem: finding a bra that fit me perfectly had been impossible. But once I realized my friends and ladies in her family were experiencing the same problem – and she had the solution — she knew she wanted to set out to create a bra that would be a perfect fit for every woman of every size.
The Shefit target market is, honestly, each and every woman, with a focus on women who are fed up with the support that is “just okay,” and women who have become discouraged with available options they’ve determined to be “as good as it gets.” Shefit focuses on women who incorporate activity into their lifestyle and their routine, whether that’s daily, weekly, or less frequently.
Holding Up Despite Major Setbacks
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Moylan: Where to begin? We might have to write a book to cover all of the hardships and lessons learned. With no background in design or manufacturing, we had to lean into mentors and consultants. One of the hardest lessons we had to learn was: when to trust.
We wasted quite a bit of money learning, the hard way, which many people don’t, have the best of intentions. And nobody has anywhere near our level of passion for our project. We have had some amazing mentors helping us along the way. They’ve given us some awesome guidance. But we’ve also listened to some bad advice. Some really bad advice.
We’ve made mistakes with our online decisions: our website, our social presence, all of it. And big mistakes with our manufacturing. We’ve had an agent drop us mid-project because he thought our product was “too difficult.” We received defective products that had to be thrown out. We had delay, after delay, after delay. We’ve picked up each of those pieces and ran. We’ve learned so much and come so very far.
One of the biggest hardships that weigh on us most heavily: family and relationships. The emotional toll placed on relationships have been huge. It is hard enough to be married. But when your spouse is also your business partner, it often means work is a 24/7 endeavor. It’s not easy. Throw four kids into that mix – you guessed it – a recipe for craziness.
As a start-up, we’ve not had the funds to hire the necessary help or build out the team we’d like to have to support us. We’ve had to learn how to do so many things on our own. That has been a hardship all its own. Our family and friends have often been collateral damage in us being stretched so thin.
Honestly, though, the mistakes and hardships have taught us so much more than we would have ever learned without them. We’re learning to accept the hardships as some of the best things to have happened to us. Not that we want to go through them again ever, but nobody can teach you the ropes. You have to make the mistakes. You have to learn. You have to move on. The hardships have made us better at every aspect of what we do.
There have been hardships that have made us want to throw in the towel. Nearly every day there have been these “throw-in-the-towel” hardships. Frequently they’re harder than the previous day’s hardships. But the passion we have burns within us and keeps us going.
For every hardship, we find one small morsel of excitement: the testimonials, the user photos, and the success stories. Those are entrepreneurial gold. Those are our lifeblood. Those are the fire that ignites and won’t let us quit or fail.
Ho: How many hours did you work on your startup per day?
Moylan: I’m convinced ‘work-life balance’ is a myth. Every extra minute is dedicated to the business. Even when our heads hit the pillow, our brains keep churning. If you’re tracking the hours you spend on your startup, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about running a startup. If you’re spending time tracking your time, you may have too much time on your hands.
As crazy as that may sound, I love it. It is all worth it. I cannot wait for the day I can focus more of my time on the stuff that is really my passion, talking to the consumer, promoting the brand, designing, and being creative. I know that day will come when the time is right.
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Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Moylan: Our first prototype was made out of some existing bras, a hot glue gun, and a needle and thread. Once that bra fell apart, I took my defunct Frankenstein bra to a local seamstress and contracted her to sew a custom bra prototype.
From there, I worked with a friend 2.5 hours away, who owned a dance costume company, to develop patterns. I made that commute two or three times a week for over a year. After that year I had exhausted the resources of that pattern maker and hopped on a plane to the Los Angeles garment district to find a new pattern maker, to choose fabric, and to source manufacturing.
On this five-day trip to Los Angeles, I thought I had found each of those necessary partners. After just a few weeks, the newly acquired manufacturing partner decided the project was too technically complex and dropped out of the project. The new pattern maker knew someone in the manufacturing arena, and a new deal was struck.
A partnership began with a manufacturer that we’d never met face-to-face. It quickly became evident that this manufacturer could not meet the demand either. Our orders were coming in, and our product was selling out faster than our factory could produce the product. The L.A.-based manufacturer was too expensive, causing our margins to be too low to afford the necessities to appropriately scale.
This is an area where our Shark has been incredibly helpful. We are constantly evolving finding better solutions to the manufacturing part of our equation.
Busting Out a Shark Tank Deal
Ho: When and where did you first audition and appear on Shark Tank? How long between when you taped the show and when it air? What was that time in between like?
Moylan: Initial auditions were completed over the phone, private YouTube videos, and video-chats. That whole process took months and months to complete. When we finally got invited to film our pitch, the filming was done in Los Angeles and was completed three or four months before the episode aired.
The time between filming and airing was quite stressful. Even though we were invited to participate in the live pitch process, there is no guarantee that, just because you filmed your segment, it will ever air. You have to wait on producers and editors and all of the logistics that go into making each of their episodes.
Does an episode have a theme? Do you fit that theme? Was the pitch exciting? Can the pitch be edited down to the minutes available in a particular episode? We couldn’t rest. We had to keep going. We had to operate under the assumption that we may never air.
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance? What made it a success?
Moylan: We prepped and practiced and tried different pitch angles and different word choices. We watched previous episodes. We picked apart what worked and pondered what didn’t work. We became Shark Tank pitch aficionados. We also worked closely with our production team from Shark Tank via phone calls, emails, video calls to ensure we knew exactly what we thought would work best.
Additionally, we worked closely with some excellent mentors who stepped into the role of faux-Shark and asked us the hard questions — and the off the wall questions — all in the attempt to be as fully prepared as possible.
A Chest Full of Shark Tank Surprises
Ho: What about being in the Tank surprised you the most?
The whole process was amazing, crazy, stressful. It was exciting. In the world of sales, it was the ultimate sales call. Regardless of how much preparation happens before the pitch taping — and we had done a ton — the second you step onto the tank’s carpet everything starts to go sideways.
You start by delivering your pitch. The pitch is the only surefire thing you can count on in the tank. Once you’re done with the pitch, the questions start coming. And they don’t stop. Each shark fires off a question as soon as they think of it, regardless of if you’re done with the previous answer or not.
You have to think fast. You have to adapt. You have to go with the flow and keep moving. Several times answers would get cut off, and conversations would twist and turn, and you had to steer things back to the point you were trying to make.
The segment got edited down to nine or 10 minutes. But the taping lasted well over an hour. Rapid fire questions. Intense battling. One shark’s comment or question influencing another.
It was an emotional rollercoaster. On the one hand, there was the extreme high of getting a deal. On the other, it was emotionally draining to be in the middle of all that intensity.
Honestly, one of the biggest surprises was the emotional letdown. Feeling like we may have missed an important point, questioning if we skipped something important or didn’t comprehensively explain a concept, or that the edit would leave out something that would have spoken to the viewing audience.
We had just been given our one shot. The doubt and fear and self-criticism weren’t something we had properly prepared for. Sure we got a deal, but when the show aired, how would America see it? What would the viewer think?
In the end, though, we did get a deal. And not just any deal, we landed the shark we wanted. Daymond was our main target. We couldn’t be happier with the results of the episode. We made a great deal with the best partner for us.
Ho: If you could do the show over, what would you do differently?
Moylan: Honestly, given the opportunity, we’re not sure we would change much. We did make a great deal with the shark we feel is the best partner for us. Maybe we could have been more relaxed or enjoyed everything “at the moment” a bit more. Maybe we could have included a few pitch-points we felt we omitted.
But in the end, we’ve been very happy with the partnership and the way America responded. Wow! We have been blown away by the response from the viewing public. Overwhelming messages of support and solidarity and orders. Of course, so many orders.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Moylan: It seems like some viewers have this idea that the shark is on par with a magician, or maybe that the show gives you a crystal ball. We prepared as much as we possibly could have and we still ended up selling out of our pre-produced product. Our manufacturing team has been working non-stop to try to meet the new demand. But we had no idea there would be this level of response and orders from the viewers.
It is a quintessential problem to have — too many orders. We appreciate that so many of our customers have been so very patient with the process. We love our customers. They teach us so much about our product. It’s inspiring.
That, and the fact you don’t walk out with those promised investment dollars. It’s not like Ed McMahon. There’s no giant check handed over in the studio. You also don’t get the new shark partner’s time. The sharks are busy people.
We didn’t walk out of the tank hand-in-hand with Daymond. Or give him the keys to our office. He doesn’t even have a desk in our office. He has been a great partner, a great partner. But he’s not wearing a cape. He’s not planning to swoop in and take over or “fix” something. The episode didn’t end with a buttoned-up plotline.
That’s the other thing: it’s real. It’s all real. There’s no pausing to do another take or try again. The writers don’t build in plot points or end the episode with a happy ending or a cliffhanger. As a matter of fact, there are no writers. There’s no script. You get one shot at it, and you have to make it count. Sure, they edit. Lots of post-production edits are needed to get the 60 or 90 minutes down to the on-air 10 minutes. But, for the most part, it is truly reality television.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience? What are the secrets of a successful audition and appearance?
Moylan: If I could share one thing, it would be simple: once you feel you’ve prepared enough, go back and prepare some more. Lack of preparation seemed to be the blood in the water for the sharks. Preparation gives you confidence — the confidence that there will not be one single question that could be thrown at you that you don’t have an answer for.
Also, be enthusiastic. This could be your one shot to introduce your product or your company not only to the sharks, but also the millions of people watching at home. Help the viewer get excited by being excited yourself.
Doubling Up With Daymond John
Ho: What are the next steps in working with the Sharks after getting a deal?
Moylan: After we walked off set and did the exit interviews, we spoke with Daymond’s team nearly immediately. They were ready to start the process of finalizing things; they were ready to jump in and start partnering with us to work through some of the issues we identified in our pitch.
Soon after, we began working with his manufacturing sourcing team. They have been amazing in helping us finalize our run of product that was already in production at the time of taping. All of us, including Daymond, have had one single focus: get bras produced while increasing manufacturing capacity to meet the new demand.
We’ll continue to work on increasing capacity and improving our manufacturing. That’s not something that happens. It’s a lot of work. Plus, we’re working on designing the next Shefit product and sourcing the components needed to get it in production.
Ho: What kinds of distribution deals/sales channels did you score after being on Shark Tank?
Moylan: Because of the high level of orders we received from the episode’s viewers, we’ve put some of that on hold while we work on our manufacturing. We’re still prioritizing our customer orders before attempting to grow the sales and distribution channels.
Suffice it to say, we’ve gotten several requests and will be working with Daymond and his team to explore each of them.
Massive Growth Strategy
Ho: What are you doing now to move your business forward and expand?
We see four key growth channels:
• E-Commerce: Growing this with a very strategic digital strategy.
• Wholesale: This is our collegiate and post-surgical sector.
• Retail: Brick-and-mortar partners, including running/fitness, maternity, and gyms.
• Licensing: This was not a focus on securing the partnership with Daymond. His relationships and licensing expertise create this fourth channel for us.
Ho: What are your goals for your business over the next year and five years?
Moylan: In one to five years, we’ll continue to expand in the four growth channels outlined above, with the focus on becoming the leading sports bra brand in the marketplace. We’ll continue to listen to the consumer and provide her with support, confidence, and power. And we’ll continue to be relevant to any female of any size, shape, age, or athletic level.
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy? How do you acquire new customers and what are your customer acquisition costs?
Moylan: We’re constantly evaluating this strategy. We’ve just begun exploring some of this with our shark partner team. We’re sure this will continue to evolve over the next few months.
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Moylan: Honestly, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I love the Business Rockstars channel. I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Daymond John here, right. Ha! I have read every book by each of the Sharks.
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Moylan: Our team has been exploring productivity tools. Since airing, we’ve added a few members to our team. Keeping us all connected and productive, especially while Bob and I travel and work “day jobs,” has been a challenge. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the Trello app. And we couldn’t go a day without sharing documents over Google Drive.
Ho: Is there anything else I should have asked?
Moylan: It has been a great experience. We’ve learned so much and grown so much as a company. Honestly, even the preparation steps of finalizing our business plan, outlining our marketing strategy and updating our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis have proved to be invaluable exercises.