Lani Lazzari has been making skincare scrubs since she was 11 years old. She’s grown up running her company, Simple Sugars, and at the experienced age of 21, she’s not content to sit at $3 million in sales.
“The goal is to turn Simple Sugars into a $30 million company within the next five years,” says Lazzari, the company’s president and CEO.
It was her appearance on “Shark Tank” in March 2013 that put Simple Sugars on the map, and to date she’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs to appear on the show.
Lazzari — and Mark Cuban’s investment — turned the company from three employees and about 40 retail locations to 25 employees and more than 1,000 national locations.
A creative approach to funding
Lazzari made all-natural skincare scrubs for sensitive skin as a hobby until her junior year of high school. That’s when she got serious about turning Simple Sugars into a legitimate business.
It was after a national public relations tour in 2012 that she caught the attention of a “Shark Tank” producer who reached out and asked her if she’d thought about appearing on the show.
“And at that point, I really hadn’t. I’d seen it maybe a couple of times in passing, but I wasn’t really a fan of the show,” she says. “But I started doing some research and realized it was a great opportunity, so I said, ‘Why not?’ and sent in an application and never really expected to hear anything back from them.”
She had just turned 18 and was finally able to put the company in her own name, but like many small businesses struggling with cash flow, Lazzari needed funding to grow.
“Since the business was in my name when I went to the bank and asked for a loan they basically laughed in my face,” she says.
“I needed to be able to get a little bit creative and find an alternative way to fund the business because, up until that point, it had been financed entirely on my mom’s credit card, and she was pretty much tapped out at that point,” Lazzari says.
‘We blew all of the projections way out of the water’
After making it through the application process, Lazzari’s episode was filmed in September 2012.
“Shark Tank” is very much like you’d expect from watching it, she says. The pitch is longer — hers was almost two hours — than you see on TV, but the only help producers provided was with rehearsing the introduction.
The show, however, films more people than it needs, so you don’t know whether your episode will air.
“That was the most stressful part of the whole thing,” Lazzari says. “It wasn’t actually going and doing the pitch; it was just waiting to hear — waiting for them to get in touch with you and tell you if your episode was going to be on TV.”
With the due diligence process behind her, she got her funding from Mark Cuban at the beginning of March, and then found out in the middle of the month that it would air in two weeks.
“Mark and his team couldn’t really help us that much until the episode actually aired because no one was allowed to know that we were partnered up yet,” Lazzari says.
She was told to expect to sell $20,000 to $30,000 worth of product on the night the show aired, which was an entire year’s worth of online sales. So, Lazzari moved Simple Sugars into a larger fulfillment center and the employees worked to stock up.
“And then the show aired, and before I was even done pitching we already had done that $30,000. And within an hour, we’d done $150,000 and within four hours we’d done $200,000 and then through that weekend we did $600,000,” Lazzari says. “And then we hit $1 million within six weeks. Basically, we blew all of the projections way out of the water.”
The company got 10,000 emails in two days, and the orders just kept coming. Lazzari says they didn’t have customer service staff so it took four to six weeks to fill orders.
“I worked from 7 a.m. until 3 a.m. every single day for six weeks straight,” Lazzari says. “I literally didn’t go outside while it was light out for two months after the show aired.”
Learning on the fly
Most “Shark Tank” businesses have a spike that almost entirely drops off again, but it was different for Simple Sugars.
Lazzari says the company is built around repeat customers, and making sure people become lifetime customers is something she’s always focused on.
Instead of bottoming out, Simple Sugars leveled off with its online orders before starting to build again. Even today, keeping up with demand is the biggest challenge.
As for Lazzari herself, she was in a completely different position when it came to management.
“I was doing a lot of the day-to-day stuff myself prior to the show,” she says. “I handled all of our customer service before the show, and then obviously one person can’t answer 10,000 emails by themselves so I had to hire a whole customer service department.”
Lazzari went from managing two employees who worked a total of 20 hours a week to managing 25 people within three days.
“I was learning stuff as fast as I possibly could because it was happening so quickly, and that was really the only choice I had,” she says.
For example, about six weeks after the original episode aired, Lazzari found out a company calling itself Simply Sugar was pretending to be her company.
She also had help from Cuban and his team for infrastructure and process changes like adding an inventory system.
Whether you are on a TV show or something small in the day-to-day, Lazzari says she’s discovered there are always going to be problems.
“I think the most important thing is to realize that you just have to start working and you’ll get it done,” she says. “But you can’t start stressing out about all the things that are going wrong or all the things that you’re not going to be able to do.”
When something seems impossible, worrying and stressing about it is actually the most unproductive thing you can do, Lazzari says. It just puts your further away from your goal.
Apart from the competition
Today, Lazzari uses her story to set Simple Sugars apart from its competitors in the cosmetics and personal care industry, and the company continues to get a boost when the episode re-airs or “Shark Tank” provides an update.
She also markets the products in a unique way, which helps the business continue to grow.
Most scrubs are positioned as something you’d use as an add-on to your skincare routine, Lazzari says, but Simple Sugars positions its products as the entire skincare routine — cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize in one step.
“That’s something that would be very, very hard for one of our competitors to copy,” she says. “Most of our competitors are a skincare line that have a cleanser and a scrub and a lotion and a toner, and all of these steps, so they wouldn’t want to try to take our marketing message because it would then also detract from their brand.”
And in order to meet the continued demand, Simple Sugars just moved to a new location — going from 1,700 square feet to 10,000.
“I think it’s even more exciting to me now, post “Shark Tank,” than it was before,” Lazzari says. “It’s been, without a doubt, the craziest, most stressful thing I’ve ever had to go through in my entire life. It’s also been the most fun thing I’ve ever done and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done, so it’s really been an amazing experience.”