"I Was Rejected on 'Shark Tank' — and I'm Better Off Because of It"
By Christina Tapper
She calls herself a mixologist, but you won't find Melissa Butler crafting signature cocktails behind the bar. Instead, Butler serves up bright and bold colors for the perfect pout as the creator and owner of the Lip Bar, a paraben-free, vegan lipstick company. From Amaretto Sour (cool camel) to Kamikaze (a Tiffany & Co. teal), the brand, which started in 2012 and has a celebrity fan in Jordin Sparks, will make any pucker pop.
The Lip Bar's success — the business raked in $107,000 during its first two years — landed Butler on the popular entrepreneurial reality show, "Shark Tank." The Sharks, however, wouldn't bite. One even snubbed the brand when he said, "I can see a massive market share in the clown market," and called Butler and her creative director "colorful cockroaches" before they walked away without a deal.
The experience didn't halt the Lip Bar's growth. Soon after the episode aired in February, the Lip Bar had a spike in sales and an increase in traffic on the company's website. Butler then hit the road when she launched the Lip Bar mobile — a truck outfitted with Lip Bar cosmetics, touring across the country to give customers a one-on-one retail experience and to increase the brand's reach.
Butler didn't get a deal, but she learned a few things about redemption after rejection. As Elizabeth Taylor once said, "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together." In the spirit of the Dame, Butler did just that. Here are her top tips for moving from rejection to re-invention.
1. Tighten your message.
"Being on the show made me realize we were sending too many messages. We had the whole natural and vegan theme and the bar theme. The Sharks noticed that it was too much. You can only get one sticky message out there. The reason why the Lip Bar exists is to empower women through self-expressive cosmetics that are responsibly made. Our message kind of got lost in promoting our wide range of colors and the bar theme. The "Shark Tank" experience made me hone in on our messaging a lot more. We're doing a lot of new branding initiatives. Right now we are revamping our entire website and focusing on empowerment. The whole idea is that all women are beautiful and they don’t have to settle for less."
2. Not everyone will understand your vision (and that's OK).
"I started the Lip Bar because I was extremely frustrated with how beauty is one-dimensional and how beauty brands reaffirm that there is a certain standard of beauty. The Sharks didn’t agree with my vision. They didn't think my brand would be able to grow because the market is saturated. They are a group of people I have to prove wrong. There are still women out here who think that they aren't good enough or think they have to change their entire face in order to be considered beautiful. I want to fight that. Not everyone is going to get your vision and that’s OK. When you start a business, it's very easy to get caught up in numbers and validation from others. The key is to always remember why you started."
3. Your work is not your worth.
"When you work on a business like this, it becomes a part of you. It's very important to remember the Lip Bar is the Lip Bar and Melissa is Melissa. So when someone is being critical of the Lip Bar, it may seem as though they are being critical of me. I think it's important to understand your work is not worth. You have to separate the two. That's a big takeaway from an experience like this. Remember you are a person. You don't know everything. There will be criticism about your business, but you don't suck!"
4. Own the moment.
"When we found out that our episode was going to air, my heart dropped. I remembered thinking, 'Oh my God, it was terrible! Will being on the show ruin us? Am I going to look like a babbling idiot?' I was legitimately nervous and didn't watch the show when it aired. After the third day, I watched it. It was a stab to my ego to share that moment with the world, but I learned it could be good for the brand. So we started promoting the video all over social media and we did a reaction video and put it on our website. Owning the moment allowed us to take the momentum and build on it. The experience connected us to customers. People say, 'Oh wait, I know that girl. I know her story. I want to support her journey.' That's one of the benefits of the Sharks being so harsh. With the Lip Bar truck and our tour, so many people have told me how brave I was to go on the show."
5. You can bounce back — stronger than ever.
"Of course it would have been nice to get a deal. It would have been nice to work with an investor with so many connections. We didn't get a deal, but we did get a lot of exposure that helped us grow. [The night our episode aired] our website got 30,000 hits. It brought us new customers too — we received 500 orders in one night. Retailers like Nasty Gal and Frends Beauty picked us up. 'Shark Tank' was not a defeat. It was actually the ultimate win."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Butler