Tipsy Elves Co-Founder Talks Impressive Growth Thanks to ‘Shark Tank’
When you think of successful Shark Tank investments, there’s a good chance Tipsy Elves comes to mind. The cheeky novelty apparel company had no problem catching the attention of Robert Herjavec, who invested $100,000 for 10% stake of the company back in Season 5.
Since that fateful day in the tank, Tipsy Elves has done over $125 million in sales, making it Robert’s most lucrative Shark Tank deal to date. So, just in time for the holiday season, we chatted with co-founder Evan Mendelsohn, who launched the company along with partner Nick Morton just two years before appearing on television, to talk about the company’s impressive growth and what fans can expect to see next.
Tell us about your experience getting on the show.
Evan Mendelsohn: One of the producers actually saw one of our products at a Christmas party so we got an e-mail from them asking if we were interested in potentially appearing on the show. We still had to go through the application process but it was nice that we had some proponents that were helpful in getting our application through the process. Then we had about a month to prepare, memorize our financials, and watch old Shark Tank episodes so we knew what kinds of questions we could be asked.
What was it like pitching in front of the sharks?
It’s definitely nerve-wracking! I think the nerves calmed a little bit after the pitch. Once we got into the Q&A portion, I think we relaxed a bit. It’s pretty surreal because I was a big fan of the show before being on it. So you don’t see the sharks until you’re filming so all of a sudden the doors open just like they do on the show and you see these five faces that are super familiar. So it’s a little bit of a shock when you first see it.
Did you have your sights set on Robert as an investor from the start?
Robert was definitely one of the sharks who we were most interested in. We definitely wanted to find that shark who had a personality that we could jive with and Robert always seemed so friendly and authentic. I think Mark Cuban we were also interested in because of some of his digital experience. And I think there was a little interest in Daymond [John], strictly because of his clothing background. So we kind of went in with those three in mind, but I’d say that Robert was the frontrunner in our mind.
What has changed since Robert joined the Tipsy Elves team?
We have the same core but we’re a very different company than we were back then. Probably most notably is that we’ve expanded a lot. When we appeared on the show, we were only selling Christmas products, even within the Christmas holiday, we only had a couple of product types, like sweaters and onesies. Now, not only has Christmas expanded a ton — so we’re truly a Christmas superstore now in terms of accessories, leggings, dresses, all kinds of products — we’ve also expanded into a year-round company and we offer selections for different holidays throughout the year. We have a St. Patrick’s day collection, a 4th of July patriotic collection, we have a pride LGBTQ collection, we’ve got Halloween costumes, so it’s truly a year-round brand now.
We align ourselves with our company mission statement which is to make sure we’re outfitting people for life’s greatest moments. For us, those moments are events and parties with friends. Robert was really helpful in terms of how to navigate which collections make sense and helping us pin point where we want the brand to be.
And how has this change impacted growth?
When we first came on, we had just done a little under a million in sales and now we as a company have done over $100 million in retail sales, so we’re definitely on a completely different scale now. I think we had one employee when we first came on the show and we have about 30 right now. It’s kind of hard to remember what it was like back then.
So impressive! What has been the best selling season for you?
I think that Christmas is still our number one. Beyond that, all the others are about neck and neck and are all growing equally. We started as a Christmas brand so it still is our leading category, but what we’re seeing is a lot of categories we’ve since expanded to are growing even quicker than our Christmas category, so they’re kind of catching up, even though Christmas is still growing year over year as well.
And it doesn’t hurt to have A-listers wearing items from your line…
It’s been pretty cool! We never expect it. We don’t do any paid placement, we do very minimal gifting. The biggest celebrities who have posted our products have not been gifted or paid, it’s been completely unannounced and unexpected. Most recently, Justin Bieber posted some photos. We sell these really wild suits, and he posted a few of them and said, ‘Which one should I wear for my wedding?’ We’ve also had Miley Cyrus, Michael Phelps, it’s like a really long list and it’s always unexpected. It just pops up.
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What’s next for Tipsy Elves?
We’re working on adding more Bachelor and Bachelorette products, so that’s to come. I think our main focus now as a company is growing the collections we currently have in place already. And I think just always staying relevant, always staying trendy, making sure we’re giving a lot of attention to the design and creativity that goes into our products. It’s kind of more growth in the things we’re already doing. We also have holiday pop-ups, one in L.A., one in San Diego, and one in Chicago, and we’re seeing really good success with these seasonal pop-ups. So I think that’s a growth opportunity for us in the future. Maybe next year we’ll do 10 pop-ups, maybe 25.
Shark Tank, Sundays, 9/8c, ABC