Lindsey Laurain, founder of ezpz10 lessons ezpz founder Lindsey Laurain learned about life and business from being on Shark Tank
Having spent most of her career working in corporate America, entrepreneurship wasn’t exactly on the table for ezpz founder, Lindsey Laurain. But one evening, as she and her husband were in the midst of another messy dinner with three sons under the age of three, they wondered — exasperated — if there was a better way to approach mealtime.
On a mission to make a child’s placemat that wouldn’t “tip or toss,” Lindsey came up with a suctioned, toxin-free, silicone plate and placemat designed to stay in place and capture crumbs and spills.
Having spent most of her career working in corporate America, entrepreneurship wasn’t exactly on the table for ezpz founder, Lindsey Laurain. But one evening, as she and her husband were in the midst of another messy dinner with three sons under the age of three, they wondered — exasperated — if there was a better way to approach mealtime.
Chris Allen: Well, Lindsey, so glad to have you here. Hopefully, I speak for everyone being so excited to have you here. Former Shark Tank contestant, thriving business owner...
Lindsey Laurain: Thank you.
Chris: And entrepreneur, right? So glad to have you here in the studio.
Lindsey: I’m happy to be here. I appreciate it.
Chris: Yeah, well, tell us about your business, ezpz.
Lindsey: Okay. Well, I’m Lindsay, so I’m the founder of ezpz. ezpz is a woman-owned and woman-run business and we create innovative, safe, high-quality, developmentally-appropriate feeding items for babies’ first food, all the way up to feeding independence. When we were on Shark Tank, we only had our mat-based products, but the brand has evolved over the last, gosh, eight years?
Chris: Oh, well that’s awesome, too. Well, tell us about what it was like to be on Shark Tank, and how long ago was this?
Lindsey: Oh gosh, so we aired on Shark Tank six years ago.
Lindsey: Which is pretty crazy. So we had launched in August of 2014, and we ended up filming Shark Tank a year after launching.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Lindsey: So we had been only really kind of in the market for about a year.
Lindsey: And then...
Chris: And you had some traction.
Lindsey: Yeah, so we had some traction. So do you want me to get right into Shark Tank?
Chris: Yeah! Talk about it, let’s do it!
Lindsey: It was a crazy experience. I mean, do you want me just to talk about just… okay.
Chris: Yeah, tell us what made you apply?
Chris: How’d the idea come? And you’re like, “We should go on Shark Tank.”
Lindsey: Okay. Before I started ezpz, I was just the everyday consumer. I spent my career in corporate America, never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. I was just kind of doing my thing in the business world and ended up having three boys, really messy. Our story is very cliche. My husband one night, we had three boys under the age of three and was like, “There needs to be a better way,” and identified a problem. And I started looking the next day, realized nothing exists. At that time, the suction bowls and plates, nothing really worked and was primary colors, so I really came home from work and was like, “There’s got to be a better way. I’m starting a company and creating a product. If anyone can do it, I can do it.” And my personality is just very all-or-nothing obsessive.
Chris: You attach to things, that’s what I’m learning. You attach to things.
Lindsey: Which is like a benefit and just like a curse.
Chris: Yeah, I get that.
Lindsey: Gosh, I’m a lot. I’m pretty intense.
Chris: That’s good.
Lindsey: So we had the idea and at that point it was kind of like how everyone thought about Shark Tank, right? As a consumer, I thought if you go on Shark Tank, I mean, that’s it. You’ve made it.
Lindsey: That’s the golden ticket. You get on Shark Tank and your life’s changed forever. You don’t even have to work anymore. You’re it, that’s it.
Chris: Yeah. You get capital plus exposure.
Lindsey: Yeah, and just my idea of what the reality of the situation was, was much different. So I think when we started ezpz, we always thought Shark Tank would be great if we needed investment or for exposure. We knew what Shark Tank was.
Lindsey: So we had the idea at that dinner. Six months after that idea is when we launched on Kickstarter, so really fast from concept to “I have an idea. I’m going to do this,” to being on Kickstarter, and then we went to the ABC Kids Expo. It’s a juvenile show in Las Vegas every year. You go meet with retailers and other businesses as a product.
Lindsey: So we actually launched on Kickstarter, went to the ABC Kids Expo Convention, and we were in a section called the Invention Connection. We had a full product there. Our Happy Mat is our flagship product, it’s an all-in-one suction mat. It suctions the table. Very exciting. We were in the Invention Connection and that’s where we actually met the Shark Tank producers or field producers.
Chris: Yeah, they recruited you.
Lindsey: Yes, and so I didn’t even know that was a thing. I mean, it makes sense, right? Shark Tank, they’re going to look for big…
Chris: Yeah. They’re trying to find stories.
Lindsey: Yes. So people apply to Shark Tank, tons of people just apply, but then the producers are also out scouting and doing that stuff. So we met the producers at the show and followed up after pretty quickly, and that’s how the process for us started with Shark Tank. And then they said, “You should apply.” So, we applied. And then a few months later, we started the application process, so you go through that process. And then eventually we were told — I don’t know how, I can’t even remember the details — that we were going to get on. We had to make a video, actually. We had to make a whole video where my husband was in the video, and he’s just so awkward with that kind of stuff.
Chris: He’s like, “I helped promote the problem or identify the problem.”
Lindsey: I just love outtakes of that kind of stuff, they’re funny! So then, you submit a video, you get on. So then we found out that they were going to tape our episode.
Lindsey: I went to LA and, actually, I just went by myself. Our COO, one of my best friends, was there with me. And then you go, we actually made the set the day before. For us, we had the mats all sticking up.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Lindsey: So we were making that the night before. I don’t know if we glued them on or how we got them to stick to that thing.
Chris: So at the time though, it’s you, a COO, it’s a product, and who else on your team?
Lindsey: We had a photographer.
Lindsey: And our speech language pathologist.
Chris: Okay. So you had an expert, okay.
Lindsey: Yeah, so we had an expert because she actually — I’m on a podcast, so you can’t see, but the mats suction in this unbelievable way. You cannot get them off the table.
Lindsey: And so when we launched, we had three messy boys. We didn’t realize that they would have a huge impact on the special needs community, so if you picture a kiddo with cerebral palsy or a blind kid, or a kiddo with Down’s syndrome, they can hold onto the edge of the mat and independently eat. That was actually a huge thing at the beginning, and people that supported our Kickstarter and got the happy mats early. I mean, the letters I got from parents of, “My kid’s never been able to eat independently and they can eat independently.” “My blind kiddo is now exploring the world.”
Chris: Oh, that’s so good. Yeah.
Lindsey: I have the chills even. So a speech language pathologist reached out on Kickstarter and said, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I duct tape plates and bowls to tables now. You are going to change so many kids’ lives. I need to meet you.”
Chris: So they found you off the Kickstarter, and then you have this small, but mighty team and you show up at Shark Tank. You have a set and you’re ready to pitch.
Lindsey: Yes, and it’s just me there, but behind the scenes, that’s who is on my team. So it was like, yeah, COO, graphic designer, a photographer, and a speech language pathologist, pretty much is the core.
Lesson #1: Perform a risk-benefit analysis to guide decisions
Risk is part of entrepreneurship — being on Shark Tank is no exception
Lindsey: And we haven’t gotten that much bigger over the last six years, which is crazy, but we’re still small. I still consider us a startup. So we’re at the set, we’re building it all, and kind of with Shark Tank, the whole thing is you go to film and it’s constantly like, “Well, you don’t know if you’re even going to get on set.” You’re constantly pitching, and then even when you do your pitch, it’s like, “We don’t know if this is going to air,” so you’re always in just suspense.
Lindsey: You just never know. So we went, built the set, and then the next day you’re holding in a green room kind of all day, waiting to go out, and that was the most stressful part. I thought I was going crazy. And then you go out just how you would picture.
Lindsey: You walk down that aisle. I went out, and it was probably an hour I was out there. I don’t know, the whole time. And then you get off, and they make you meet with a psychologist after. They say good job, or not good job, or whatever, and then you meet with someone and then they’re like, “We don’t know if this is going to air or when this will air. We’ll be in touch.”
Lindsey: So then you kind of just leave and you just go back to your normal life. I had a lot of emotions. I was like, “I don’t know if I even want that to air.” I hated the feeling when I got off the set. But we didn’t take a deal, so nothing changed for me.
Lindsey: I didn’t have a new investor that I was answering to the next day. We just said, “Okay, see you!” Flew back to my family vacation, and that was that. And then two weeks after your episode airs is when they reach out and they say, “Hey, your episode’s going to air in two weeks.” And that’s how.
Chris: That’s how you figured it out.
Lindsey: So that’s how I figured it out.
Chris: All right. The episode aired. You didn’t necessarily get to see how it was going to get cut or anything like that.
Lindsey: No, no.
Chris: So talk to us. Did you have popcorn and you’re sitting down and you’re ready to watch this, and what happens?
Lindsey: Yeah, no, we had a huge party. It was such a fun time in the industry, too. Because Colorado, there were a lot of entrepreneurs, we all kind of were finding each other.
Lindsey: And then we had a warehouse at the time, so we had a huge party with everyone in the industry, and lots of people were there. I was watching alongside everybody else, so I had no idea what the story was. And that’s the risk of Shark Tank, which I did know—
Chris: Or any reality.
Lindsey: —Is you lose the narrative of your story.
Chris: Yes, you do.
Lindsey: And I didn’t think about any of this. I mean, I thought about losing the narrative, but not, “How am I going to look on TV?” I don’t know how I didn’t think of that, or “What are people going to say?” I just didn’t, because I don’t really care usually what people say, unless it’s all over Twitter and mean stuff. So I was—
Chris: I’m so sorry. I’m so looking forward to this story.
Lindsey: It had aired on the East Coast. We were in Colorado and I started getting tweets and a few emails, and the only thing I could see was, “Did this girl forget her pants? Her dress is so short.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God.” My dress was short, and looking back, it was a swing dress and I didn’t realize. But those were the comments, and I’m like, “Oh great!”
Chris: So you’re getting picked apart on that. Okay.
Lindsey: Yeah, a little bit, and I’m watching the episode. I’m not thinking it’s that bad. I’m like, “Okay, this isn’t terrible. I’m not that bad.” It ends. I kind of think it’s funny. I’m like, “Oh, my dress was too short.” That’s funny, kind of. And then I got up the next day, actually, after the party and just got on Twitter and our Facebook, and people...
Chris: So ezpz’s Twitter and Facebook.
Lindsey: Yes, or anything. I mean, it was just the meanest stuff of, “You look like a man.” “You’re so greedy.” Mean stuff, I was like, “Can someone just say something nice like ‘You’re hot’ or something, please?” So I cried. I felt very bad for myself all weekend. I wasn’t expecting it. I was kind of mad at the producers. I was like, “No one gave me a warning and you cut it bad!”
Chris: Did you feel like you were made out to be a little bit of a villain?
Lindsey: Yeah, like greedy. My filming was intense, and it was all about money and financials.
Lindsey: I thought it would be more about, “Everyone’s going to be excited and you can lift tables and they’re going to love this story!” And I had just come off a trade show from Germany and we were the hit of the show, so I also...
Chris: Yeah, you had a lot of attention at that show.
Lindsey: I had a lot, and I had a lot of confidence, like my swagger. I look back, even if I filmed today, I don’t know if I’d have that same swagger. I was like, “What was I thinking?” But awesome, because I think when we went on Shark Tank, we had done maybe a million in sales that year.
Lindsey: So it was our first year out of the gate. I mean, I was excited, so of course. But now, looking back...
Chris: And then they look at contracts and there’s all the stuff for the future valuation.
Lindsey: Yes, and so we can talk a little bit about the valuation, but to be doing $1 million a year and ask for $20 million, that’s a stretch, but I had that kind of confidence and thought we were just the best thing that’s ever happened. And so I went in with that confidence and we didn’t do a deal, and then kind of got the backlash of the mean folks on the internet and spent some time crying that weekend and feeling bad for myself. There was a tweet, and I cannot say it on this show because there’s too many swear words, but someone had called me some dumb, and they spelled dumb D-U-M-N. I was like, “And I’m done with reading any comments. I’m done giving any sort of attention to this.” Such a negative energy space, too.
Lindsey: I’d never been bullied in my life, so I didn’t really know how that felt and it feels terrible. I have a totally different understanding for even just famous people who are in the spotlight. Everyone is human.
Chris: It’s waves. Yeah.
Lindsey: People are mean, and I’m just not. I mean, I’m not the nicest person in the world, but I’m also not just cruel.
Chris: Yeah. It seems easy for some people to just throw pot shots like that because they don’t know who the person is, and they have just some opinion as a fan. And it’s like...
Lindsey: Yeah, you don’t know the whole story.
Chris: It takes a toll on people.
Chris: Especially reality shows.
The true cost and benefit of presenting a product on Shark Tank
Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. But then after that weekend, we went out and nothing had changed for us. We didn’t do a deal, so really it’s business as usual, I always say. And when you air on Shark Tank, you wake up the next day and you’re still filling boxes and it’s not like your life changes that much.
Lindsey: I mean, it was a great thing for us, but...
Chris: Yeah. What do you think was maybe the cost? Let’s just talk about the cost of doing Shark Tank, and would you have done it again with that cost?
Lindsey: Yes, I would’ve done it again. Absolutely. I guess before I went on Shark Tank, again, I had that perception. I thought we were going to sell $1 million the next day. We aired and I thought we would be in front of so many eyes, our sales would skyrocket. We had a small bump in sales. It was not crazy. And then, you don’t really know the true benefit of Shark Tank, and I don’t think you ever will. But for us, the true benefit was being at a trade show six months, a year later, or even five years later, and people coming up and being like, “I know this from somewhere!” And I’m like, “Oh, we were on Shark Tank.” I kind of minimize it because of my emotional response.
Chris: You’re like, “It was traumatic.”
Lindsey: But people love Shark Tank. Consumers love Shark Tank, it’s in their brain. It’s like the subconscious of knowing where they’ve seen it. So, if they go into a Buy Buy Baby or Target, I can’t quantify that.`
Chris: Yeah, there’s a brand recall. They’re like, “Oh, I’ve heard of this before.”
Lesson #2: Not seeing an immediate impact doesn’t mean the leap wasn’t worthwhile
Lindsey: Yes, or “I’ve seen this” or “I don’t know where I’ve seen it” — so that is very impactful. Even this morning, I woke up and we got a PR, a press hit, of the 20 best Shark Tank products, kitchen products. So all BuzzFeed articles still, to this day, are “Shark Tank products.” And so, the cost of my ego being bruised for 48 hours, I think was well worth it, but I didn’t want it to be the main focus of ezpz because I’m like, “We’re so much more than Shark Tank.”
Chris: Well, what made you go in with that valuation? Was it sort of like, “Hey, I know that the housing market is X. I’ve got this confidence.” You know how if some sellers try and sell their houses, they’ll just put this amazing price on there. They’re like, “This is perfect,” and it was like, “It’s never going to happen.” What made you pick the $20 million?
Lindsey: Yes. Great question. So at that time, our revenue was so much smaller, so I had a financial mentor. He is a phenomenal guy and he was an older gentleman. He helped me, at the beginning, really try to create the right valuation. We went through it so much, and at this time, again, we’re playing with smaller numbers, right? I think our net revenue was maybe over $100,000. If you’re trying to multiply off of that...
Lindsey: You’re like, “Oh, a million dollars,” not realistic. We had a whole chart, and it was like, “Net present value and discounted rate, and if you do this and that,” so where you could justify a $20 million valuation.
Chris: Got it.
Lindsey: And this is kind of a funny story. There was this grid, right, and it literally is present value, discount rates, and at the bottom corner was $100 million. I saw it on the grid. It turns out there was an error on the spreadsheet. No joke. I go out though...
Lindsey: This was the one, probably, regret of the thing. I’m like, “We’re asking for $1 million dollars, five percent.” And I said, “I wanted to do five times that amount,” to get to $100 million because they were like, “Oh, $20 million! That’s so much!” And I was like, “I wanted to do five times that!” And it kind of set the thing, they’re like, “You’re crazy.”
Chris: It’s a tone-setting moment.
Lindsey: That I did.
Chris: Because there’s a language that investors have, right?
Chris: And there are patterns and sequences, and there’s a way that’s like, “I’m willing to put this money in because of these factors.”
Chris: And those standards matter when evaluating companies.
Lindsey: Yes, absolutely. At that time, too, I didn’t understand it as much. A lot of it was memorized, too, of net present value. Now, if we went on Shark Tank today, it would be much easier. “Here’s our EBIDA, here’s our revenue.”
Chris: Yes. “Here’s the multiple we’re going for and here’s what we’re asking for.”
Lindsey: Yes, because we have a high net revenue, so it’s very easy now to get $20 million.
Lesson #3: Use intuition to determine how certain business decisions could impact company culture
Lindsey: Back then, you’re stretching numbers, and we were a brand and we had patents, and they bought it. I mean, I got two offers.
Lindsey: So it wasn’t that outrageous.
Chris: Yeah, you got over the moment.
Chris: And you got a couple offers and then did you take them? No.
Chris: Why did you decline in the moment? In the moment, on the spot.
Lindsey: Yeah, I didn’t go in with, “I’m dying to get a deal” or “I want to do this.” At that time, we didn’t necessarily need money, so we’re still self-funded. We had launched on Kickstarter, so we got $72,000 on Kickstarter. Enough to do our first production run, but we were just putting our loan money in and then just re-investing. I mean, we had done $1 million, and our team was small, so we had money. Money wasn’t necessarily the issue then. I mean, we’ve had money issues post-Shark Tank, much more significantly. I went on Shark Tank for the licensing. I didn’t know anything about licensing, and Mr. Wonderful, licensing.
Lindsey: I knew there could be an opportunity within the pet space for our self-sealing technology and making pet bowls, and Lori was into pets. So I was like, “Maybe she’ll want to do pets.”
Chris: Yeah. You’re like, “There’s a path.”
Lindsey: Yeah. There’s something that we could do, there’s a business opportunity here. So when I went on and we got the two offers, honestly, it just was not the right fit. From a culture standpoint, our team is small but we are like family. We talked a little bit about the team, but the team now is my two best friends from middle school and elementary school growing up. We’ve known each other for 25, 30 years. And so whenever you take an investment, and we still haven’t taken investment, but I’m assuming for those listening who have taken investment, it changes the culture of the company. I mean, money—
Chris: You got to answer to somebody.
Lindsey: Yeah. You got to answer to someone. Everything shifts, and that’s a big thing to take on.
Chris: It’s an intentional choice.
Lindsey: And so it was easy from a sense of, “I don’t want our company culture to change. This is going to shift everything and it’s just not the right fit.”
Chris: Wow. If you go into it, you know you’re like, “Hey, I’m pitching in order to get cash,” and then you’re like, “I don’t really want the cash.” What was kind of the in-the-moment why you said, “You know what, I’m not going to do the deal.” Did you think that you were not going to take a deal to begin with? Or did you feel like because of the way that the tone, and the first impression, and then some of those things happened, did you feel like it set sort of a bad tone in you, the way that they were reacting to you and that’s why you said no? Why did you sort of say no to the cash?
Lindsey: Absolutely, it was a bad kind of, I think, tone, or I felt like I was bickering the whole time with them, and so it didn’t feel good. There wasn’t that feel good, right? “This doesn’t feel good.” You know, Barbara, she was actually one of the people that made an offer, but she had made a comment, too. She was like, “You know what one of your issues is? You’re not a self-doubter.” So she was like, “I doubted my way,” I can’t remember how she said it. I just thought to myself, “I don’t know how I am not a self-doubter, but that’s how I’ve been so successful.” I just don’t doubt myself, I believe in what I’m doing, and I go. I’m not saying—
Chris: You have a lot of certainty in what you’re doing.
Lindsey: Yeah, and I believe in it, and that’s how I’ve gotten this far. So to be giving advice, almost like, “You should start doubting yourself and question,” I’m like, “Yeah, that doesn’t work with me.”
Lindsey: It’s just not who I am, and that might be great advice for some people. They probably thought I had a way bigger ego with the five times feeling. But again, I was like, “That’s not the advice I want to take from another woman.”
Chris: That’s super good.
Lindsey: It just, again, wasn’t the right fit. And then yeah, I said no and walked off, and I was glad I didn’t cry on the episode, really.
Chris: Yeah, cheers to you on that. We were talking about just taking investment, period. I like how you got bootstrapped with Kickstarter, that’s a really good way to do that. What advice would you say for people looking, because there’s two sorts of places that you considered funding the company, right, that we’re talking about. There’s probably a lot more and we should probably talk about that too, but the Kickstarter or the bootstrapping thing, what advice would you give to people that’s like, “Here’s why you should do Kickstarter and here’s how you should. Here’s the main couple of things that you need to know about doing Kickstarter.”
Lindsey: Kickstarter’s great because it’s a way to get your product out there in the way you want it. You can make a video and all your assets and stuff. It’s very organic from a community standpoint and culture. That was really big when we started; we had a really awesome community, and we still have a great community, but my kids were so young so I was in it. I’m out of it a little bit now, we have 12 and 10 year olds, but I was in it with these moms and we’re all talking about messy eaters and these women were awesome.
Chris: Extreme empathy with them.
Lindsey: Yeah. They were our Kickstarters. They believed in us, in this community of 1,500 people, and then that, and then they’re sharing with their friends. I mean, we had so much organic growth at the beginning, all grassroots. People sharing and telling, and we did not have a huge marketing budget. We still don’t spend. These past few years we’ve started to spend more on digital advertising.
Lindsey: But at that time, I mean, it was pennies, we weren’t even doing anything, so Kickstarter was great for us to get that initial funding. I was so strategic the whole time [because] if you go on Kickstarter, we need to be ready to ship and execute because if you look at the Kickstarters that failed or if they have not done well, they don’t end up shipping the product.
Lindsey: All of these things that I’m like, “We can’t screw it up. We need to know we can execute and do it fast.”
Lindsey: We went on and we had a great campaign. We got funded, and then we sent out the product really soon after. I think our campaign ended in August and we had sent their product by Christmas that year, so a few months after.
Lindsey: Yeah, but it’s a lot of work. You have to ask people. I hate asking people for money and stuff. I hate asking for stuff. But you have to ask your friends and your family and that kind of stuff, which just...
Chris: Promoting ourselves is something that a lot of people will struggle with, and entrepreneurs have to do that.
Chris: That’s a part of your commitment, that’s why you really should pick something that’s worth promoting because then it’s not necessarily about promoting yourself. It’s about asking about something that you’re passionate about, that you’re like, “This thing matters.”
Chris: That’s really good. So have you taken investment?
Lindsey: No, so we’re still self-funded.
Chris: So what made you pick the “I’m not going the investor route,” and how have you sort of continued to bootstrap and re-invest?
Lesson #4: The path to success is almost never linear
With attention split between growth and protection of business, founder relies on bootstrapping to survive unexpected financial costs
Lindsey: Look, I came from corporate America. I wanted a company where we were all friends and family. It felt like that. We don’t have a vacation policy. I mean, we just are all responsible adults that love working together and love what we do, and so I always knew I wanted that culture and it was really important. If that’s the company I’m creating, I want everyone to love what they’re doing. Not saying you can’t get an investor and still love what you’re doing.
Lindsey: But it just changes the whole dynamic. So we did not need money, we were bootstrapping our way fine, kind of continuing on, and that was easy. Then, we got into litigation and legal issues, which we were spending a lot of money on. So at a time in our company, this is now, gosh... So from a revenue perspective, I’ll back up. We did like $140,000 our first year, so the Kickstarter year. Then, we did $1.7 million the next year, so that year we were on [Shark Tank]. And then, we went to $7 million our third year, right? So this kind of skyrockets, right?
Lindsey: When we’re doing $7 million, now we have cash, right, so I’m not even thinking about outside investors. Those were like the glory days. Oh, that was so fun! We had just money coming in, and then our litigation started and we had no money. We started spending.
Chris: The attention that the team had, split from growth in the business to having to pay attention for survival.
Lindsey: Yes, and start protecting everything you’ve built. I went into complete protective mode and kind of shifted my role of being the innovator and the visionary and the rah-rah, to “I need to protect what we’ve built,” so we have a lot of intellectual property and patents, which I can talk a little bit about. I hired a full-time lawyer, so we had general counsel for, he’s not with us anymore, two or three years. We had an enforcement team, so we have online people taking down counterfeit listings and copy listings, and then we’ve got just our regular legal team that was doing litigation. But spending all that money, now we’re spending, at that point, about $1 million a year in legal fees.
Lindsey: We started not having money, which now was not fun. Our sales were kind of flat, actually, for a while, and we had a competitor come in and we got in a litigation. They got their mats into Walmart and Target, so they were taking market share from us too and we’re spending all our money litigating. I’ve always wanted to sell a company, and so we’ve had so many discussions, too, with investors, from selling. Not necessarily an investment, but coming in to acquire us.
Chris: Yeah, like a private equity type of situation.
Lindsey: Yeah, and strategic folks, so a bigger baby company.
Lindsey: Lots of interest from that standpoint, but then I started looking because I was like, “We’re going to need money just from inventory. We’re doing a lot of volume.” And so, we started looking for more money then, and that was a hard time because no one wanted to give us money, and no one wanted to give us money because we were in a litigation.
Lesson #5: Going back to basics can help propel brand forward
Total survival mode: Figuring out how to get unstuck
Lindsey: It was bad. I was ready to give away the company. This is probably in ’17 and ’18, and just maxing out all of our credit cards. I mean, if my husband only knew, because we’ve started, right? We didn’t have any debt, and I was probably $1 million in debt at one point. Just on any loan I could borrow or try to get money, I was doing. So I got...
Chris: Total survival mode.
Lindsey: Total survival mode, meeting with investors, always the same story. It was this terrible story. We’re in this litigation, we have no money, and then they’re like, “Well, we don’t want to lend to you because you’re in a litigation,” so I just felt bad for myself. And then slowly through that time, protecting the brand, getting out counterfeits, we started innovating again, so then our utensils and our cups, and we really evolved as a brand. We started as mats, then we evolved from less mess to developmentally appropriate, and just realizing how lack of product innovation there even is in the baby space, too.
Lindsey: So how can we be different from all the other competitors? So back to having Dawn on our team, a speech language pathologist. Very specific, she develops all of our products now, but there’s so much intent to all of our products. So we started innovating with the tiny spoon and tiny cup and went back to first foods, and the products did really, really well. Our revenue started coming back and litigation expenses started decreasing as we kind of got closer to our trial, and our revenue. Now, we got out of all that so now we’re back, too. Business is great! And we don’t need funding. Our next move will probably be... We always wanted to get acquired, or that’s always been my goal.
Chris: Yeah. Well, the thing that I think is interesting, just correlating what’s typical on Shark Tank and then the evolution thing... One of the things that I think is really interesting about Shark Tank, and you and I talked a little bit about this even before the episode, but this idea that what you see is companies that are starting and they have one product.
Chris: What have been some of your observations as you followed some of those products?
Lindsey: Well, I think one, it’s a little disheartening how many smaller companies I’ve seen starting around the same time that have just kind of failed and…
Lindsey: Not gone anywhere. Whether it’s a one-product teether, or whatever the product is. I’m not even saying it’s easy to make that first product because it’s not even easy to make the first product, but people can make the first product.
Lindsey: And you get that buzz and that excitement and...
Chris: There’s a lot of energy at the beginning.
Lindsey: Yes, and just from where you’re standing, and so I think that’s what happens. You go on Shark Tank, and there’s a lot of products on Shark Tank. They’re not brands necessarily. It’s to catch spills on the oil or the kitchen or the scrub, whatever it is. I think the hardest part is proving that you’re just not a one-product company.
Lindsey: And that was a big thing for us. We were mats, so we had our mats and our suction mats and stuff. But to prove that we’re more than just mats, right, you have to prove that you’re a brand and evolve, and so you have to grow your product line, you have to grow your branding and your messaging and what you stand for. I see a lot of people don’t do that.
Chris: Yeah. One of my favorite product books is Crossing the Chasm, and that’s one of the things that I think is really, really important about if you’re going to design a company, you need to pick a beachhead.
Chris: And it’s like Normandy, they picked a beachhead and then they work their way in the adjacent space and started taking over from that beachhead. And I think that that’s really played out well in Crossing the Chasm because these companies have to come up to a certain growth point, and then there is a chasm to cross every single time. You have to figure out how to cross that chasm and in my mind, innovation is a way to do that, right? Sometimes, crossing the chasm requires cash.
Chris: Sometimes crossing the chasm requires innovation and reinvention, but if you think about what your company’s had to do, right, you started off with the single product and then you built a beachhead off that single product and you have found what’s really differentiated you, which is the speech pathologist.
Chris: Right? And you’ve been able to develop adjacent products and you’ve been able to build a brand.
Chris: Right? And I think that’s one of the things that’s one of the most difficult things for entrepreneurs to face.
Lesson #6: Staying true to company values is important (even when competitors don’t play fairly)
Lindsey: Absolutely, and I think along those lines a lot of people look externally, so when you’re building a product, you want to see what your competitor’s doing and what’s everyone doing. And not like everyone copies, but you’re constantly looking externally, and for us, it’s always been internal. What are we trying to build? What are our values? It’s important to know what’s out there, but you can be obsessed… with my obsessive personality, right? When you start seeing what other people are doing versus what do we want to build? What are we focused on? Staying true to those values.
Lesson #7: Lean in to being comfortable and confident in your decisions
Lindsey: And it’s hard at the beginning to be able to say no. “This doesn’t align with our values.” I mean, there are so many opportunities that came up at the beginning, especially, too, where you have to be comfortable and confident, like, “This is our mission. These are our values. This is what we do, and this is what sets us apart,” and kind of have almost that confidence to do that and to believe enough in what you’re doing and do it for the value of the company, not necessarily because, “Oh, your competitors are doing it.” So I think that’s helped us too is we really kind of focused on what we want to do and what we want to have for every stage of feeding. I mean, in this, we want to eventually get to other categories, but to have developmentally appropriate products.
Chris: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think one of the things that has been really cool to listen to, and a theme that shows up, is you encounter a roadblock or a barrier and your resourcefulness finds a way.
Chris: What are some other things, as it relates to maybe distribution or access to product, or even what you faced during COVID and how you had to pivot, or how you accelerate, what are some of the roadblocks that you’ve encountered and how have you overcome those?
Shifting your mindset is powerful and may be the key to navigating the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship
Lindsey: Yeah. My dad always said, and he actually just passed away, which is sad, that life is peaks and valleys, right? I kind of adopted that because they’re just riding the waves. There’s a lot of ups and downs in entrepreneurship in life, and it’s hard sometimes not to almost feel bad for yourself if you’re going through something, and I talked about that time in ’17, ’18 when it sucked. We had no money, and I kind of shifted my perspective to not necessarily being a... victim is not the right word, but this is our journey. This is where we’re at in our journey and this is supposed to be happening. This is life and business, but this is all happening for a reason. I don’t feel bad. This is what it is, so let’s, let’s make the best of it, right?
Lesson #8: Living (and working) in the moment keeps you present and grounded
Lindsey: So whether it’s with our litigation, or whatever, of just being like, “This is where we’re at” and being okay with where we are at. I am always looking for the next thing and it’s hard not to, right? Like, “Oh, when I sell the business, I’ll buy that,” or “When we get on Shark Tank, we’ll do that,” versus living in the moment. This is the only reality right now, and what are we going to do today? So that’s been a shift for me, but it is also the healthiest shift to be and be like, “Everything’s going to work itself out and I’m going to make it work itself out. I will make sure it’s okay, because I’m going to make sure it’s okay.”
Chris: That’s really powerful because I think that’s a personal power moment. That battle that you just talked about where it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Chris: Because you’re like, “This is our journey,” and it’s not about those destinations of “When this happens, we can do this” or “I’ll be happy when” or...
Chris: "We will be satisfied” or “We can breathe when.”
Chris: Those kinds of mindsets are things that can be destructive.
Chris: Right? That’s a really good point of view of yours to say, “This is the journey."
Chris: Right? And to be excited about what’s possible along the way.
Lindsey: Yeah, and I just can’t say loving [but enjoying] — loving, maybe, but I use love and hate pretty loosely, but really...
Chris: I use extreme language, too.
Lindsey: But enjoying the people you work with, I don’t think I realize the importance of that, but we went to trial for two weeks, right? And I was on trial, it’s not fun. I was on the hot seat of being the worst person alive pretty much, but I love our legal team, I had the best time at trial because they’re like my best friends, and we work and we love what we do and you’re dealing with not fun work, but if you love the people, then it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. That has also been a critical thing is relationships are everything, making memories. That’s all we have, it’s so powerful. It’s what I live for now, is those moments, but it’s really, really critical. I can never go back into a world where I don’t enjoy everyone I’m working with.
Chris: That’s huge. I think you have to believe something and if you find other people that believe something super similar, you can get through a lot together.
Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris: It’s pretty powerful.
Chris: That’s good. Well, I have some rapid fire questions for you.
Chris: All right, you ready for these?
Lindsey: I’m a little nervous, yeah!
Chris: All right. Are you a regular viewer of Shark Tank?
Lindsey: No, I’m sorry. I love the producer. I do love the producer, but no, I can’t watch the show.
Chris: Too dramatic. Who’s your favorite shark?
Lindsey: I would say Mark Cuban.
Lindsey: Gosh, he was the nicest, it seemed. Yeah, he was the nicest.
Chris: He seems like a nice guy.
Chris: Respectful. Who’s been influential in your life?
Lindsey: I think my husband is a really nice, just good person that I want to be more like. He’s really nice. He’s just a nice person.
Chris: That’s awesome. I love that. If you could only use one social media channel for your business, what would it be?
Lindsey: Instagram, but social media is... I mean, what is going on with society and social media?
Chris: There’s some tough stuff going on.
Lindsey: Oh, and our kids. No, I’m getting on a tangent. Instagram is great for the business. I love Instagram, but I also am terrified at what our kiddos are going to do.
Chris: I am in the same boat.
Chris: So like me, you have a family of skiers?
Chris: Yeah, so what’s your favorite mountain?
Lindsey: Vail, Beaver Creek…we skied Copper last weekend, or two weeks ago.
Chris: Favorite mountain, yeah.
Lindsey: Copper is?
Chris: I’m a Copper guy.
Lindsey: I just loved it!
Chris: Yeah. It’s a big mountain, a lot of bowls.
Chris: A lot of stuff for the family.
Lesson #9: Take joy in other people’s happiness
Chris: Yeah, same. Same. Let me ask it this way. What is the best piece of advice somebody’s ever given you?
Lindsey: "Take joy in other people’s happiness.”
Chris: Oh, that’s good.
Lindsey: Yeah. Actually, I got it a long time ago and someone had got promoted or something and he had said, “Be excited for these.” That’s just so true. Other people’s successes, it doesn’t impact you. I love seeing people succeed. I love seeing people happy. I love that, and so I think it’s just a good thing to take joy in other people’s successes.
Chris: That’s so good. I heard somebody say that a little bit of a different way and it’s really resonated with me as well. It’s like, “Rejoice in somebody else’s win, and you’ll find yourself participating in the blessing.”
Lindsey: Yeah, so true.
Chris: It’s an amazing thing. You really do sort of identify with people, and things change for you when you’re like, “I am genuinely happy for that person doing it.” That’s so good.
Lindsey: And just positive energy. I mean, there is just something about just being positive. I mean, I really do believe in energy fields and all of that, but I try to be… I’m not perfect, though, at all, but I try to lift people up.
Chris: That’s awesome. If you could give one piece of advice to an entrepreneur considering applying for a spot on Shark Tank, what would it be?
Lesson #10: Believe in what you’re doing
Lindsey: If you believe in what you’re doing, go for it. Absolutely. Just believe in it and put all your energy into it.
What’s next for ezpz
Chris: I love that. Well, it was awesome to spend time with you. I have one last question. What’s next for ezpz?
Lindsey: We’re just going to keep innovating, so I would say keep creating innovative products and doing what we do. I love telling the story, so thank you for this opportunity. I really do, and I would love to eventually make some sort of documentary or film or something because there are so many crazy stories.
Chris: So many good stories.
Lindsey: Yeah, but it’s been a wild, fun, amazing journey.
Chris: Well, we got to stay in touch because I want to watch that documentary.
Chris: I think it’ll be super good. Well Lindsey, thanks for spending time with me.
Lindsey: Thank you!
Lindsey: Oh my gosh, this was awesome.