How Simple Sugars Survived the ‘Shark Tank’
Shark Tank Appearance: March 29, 2013
Investor: Mark Cuban
Deal: $100,000 for 33 percent of the company
Results: Sweet! Sales of Simple Sugars Scrubs increased from $44,000 in seven years to $6 million since the Shark Tank appearance.
It takes a bold 22-year-old to oppose Mark Cuban on business strategy. And Lani Lazzari, president, CEO and founder of Simple Sugars, a line of facial and body scrubs, is—in her gracious and respectful way—unflinching.
In late March 2013, Lazzari appeared on ABC’s business reality show Shark Tank and snagged Cuban as her mentor. A few months later Target proposed a major Shark Tank promotion for Simple Sugars, complete with prominent endcap displays. Cuban thought it was a great opportunity. Lazzari didn’t.
“Obviously Target is a huge retailer,” says Lazzari, speaking from her company offices in Pittsburgh. “It would have been a lot of volume, but they wanted much lower prices than I was comfortable with. We’re a high-end prestige brand and need to be very careful about not undervaluing ourselves. The Target deal, which was very short-term, would have put us in a difficult position going forward when we approached other retailers.” Cuban, as he has continued to do, told Lazzari he’d defer to her.
“We ended up not doing the deal,” she says, “and it was a very good decision.”
Lazzari may have been one of the younger entrepreneurs to appear on Shark Tank, but she had years of startup experience. She invented her breakthrough product when she was 11 years old after her mother insisted she and her brothers make the Christmas presents they would give to others. Since infancy Lazzari had suffered from periodic eczema breakouts. Drugstore products often left her with a rash, so she created a chemical-free alternative that would be soothing to sensitive skin like hers. Using ingredients purchased at a local supermarket, she concocted a body scrub from sugar, vanilla and almond oil. Her friends and family loved the gifts, and soon she was getting so many requests for the scrubs that she turned her hobby into a business.
With her mother’s blessing (and a $50,000 charge to her credit card), Lazzari took off her junior year of high school to study independently while focusing full time on Simple Sugars. Her growing e-commerce company caught the attention of a Shark Tank producer, and Lazzari was invited to apply to appear on the show. After several rounds of auditions, she found herself—18 years old and three months out of high school—asking the Sharks for $100,000 for 10 percent of her company.
Several of the coaches felt that her scrubs weren’t innovative enough to find traction in the brutally competitive skincare space. As Shark Tank venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary quipped, “It’s so simple to make that even an 11-year-old could do it… and apparently has.”
Cuban, however, whose son is one of the 30 million Americans with eczema, saw a huge potential market. He and Lazzari struck a deal: $100,000 for a third of the company. “It’s cool to have a billionaire as your mentor,” Lazzari says.
In its first seven years, Simple Sugars notched a total of $55,000 in sales. The company sold four times that amount in the first 24 hours after Shark Tank aired. Six weeks later, sales passed the $1 million mark. At the end of 2015, Simple Sugars had sold $6 million worth of scrubs in scents such as lavender, hazelnut, pink grapefruit and coffee; the company grosses about $200,000 to $300,000 in an average month.
Lazzari, who decided to forgo college to run Simple Sugars and still lives at home with her mom and brothers, says Cuban has been vital in helping her manage this astounding growth. While it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges of running a small business, Lazzari says her mentor “keeps me focused on the big picture, and that’s been really valuable.”
Lately, for example, Lazzari and Cuban have been evaluating offers to sell Simple Sugars on TV shopping networks. With her exuberance and passion, Lazzari is a natural for the medium. But Cuban advises that instead of looking at potential sales volume, she consider profit margins. “Our profit margins are bigger with online sales,” she says.
Lazzari’s long-term goal is to grow Simple Sugars—which has expanded to around 20 employees, including her mom, the vice president—into a $30 million company.
Cuban is a softie when it comes to his young protégé. “Lani is obsessed with Simple Sugars,” he says. “She is on a mission to profitably make the world smoother, and I’m proud to be her partner.”
This article appears in the February 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.