It’s not every day that a local start-up gets on “Shark Tank” — and wins. But Wombi Rose and John Wise, founders of 3D pop-up card company Lovepop, appeared on the popular reality show last Sunday, and their intricately crafted, personal messages of love ended up melting the heart of no less than Kevin O’Leary, the most ruthless of the sharks, who ended up investing $300,000 in the business.
“It’s been super exciting and crazy the last couple days,” says Rose, 29, who met BFF Wise, 28, ten years ago in shipbuilding (!) school. “It’s just so nice that we don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. You’re just so excited about the deal but you can’t tell anyone about it because it will ruin the show.”
Rose and Wise launched Lovepop in 2014 after reuniting at Harvard Business School. The idea combined their engineering expertise with their love for the ancient Asian art of “sliceform kirigami.”
“It's just a really really fun medium to work in,” says Wise. “And then the other part of it that was just super exciting: when we started showing customers and asking people who they would give cards to, we had all these crazy stories that were really touching and we realized that we were actually doing something where there's a greater underlying human need, and that was very powerful.”
We asked Rose and Wise about their experience negotiating with the Sharks.
How did you get on the show?
Wombi Rose: We applied a year and a half ago. [Shark Tank] came to the Harvard Innovation Lab, which is where we were based at the time, and had kind of an open casting call. We didn't make it the first time, and then we reapplied this year.
John Wise: It was very surprising when we found out that we were going to get the opportunity to pitch to the sharks. At first it was like, “This is so exciting!” And then immediately after you're like, “Oh my God,” and it's nerve-wracking because you are going to go pitch in front of some of the smartest investors in America, and you're also doing it on TV in front of everyone in America.
How did you prepare?
Wise: We knew we wanted to make something special for each of the sharks, just to get their attention in the beginning. So we prepared by making cards for each shark, making them really personal. And it really aligned with our brand because we're all about creating objects that will resonate between you and the person you want to give it to.
What was the experience like?
Rose: The scariest moment was before they open the door, and you’re just standing in the corridor getting ready to pitch and the tension is bubbling up, and you’re thinking, "Are we going to be able to get a word in?" And then when we were getting ready to leave the stage, we didn’t have an offer on the table yet, so that was nerve-wracking. But the most surprising thing was how quickly the whole thing was over.
What was the most beneficial piece of criticism you got?
Rose: Barbara Corcoran didn’t invest in us, because she said we were planning on doing too much too fast and expanding too quickly. And she was right! I wish we had listened to her, but things are OK now.
What’s the response been like since it aired?
Rose: Completely overwhelming. The next day we had thousands of custom orders, and all these conversations going on in social media. It was huge.
What did you learn from the experience
Wise: Prep prep prep. Any time you think you have your pitch down or you think you know the right answer for the future, you should probably take another look at it, because things change really fast, especially in a consumer business like ours. And that flexibility to react to circumstances is really important when you're going in and pitching someone in a high-stakes pitch like that.