Snarky Tea Before Shark Tank
Snarky Tea founder Jenni-Lyn Williams is not your typical entrepreneur, in fact, the entire idea behind the Snarky Tea business is all about destroying our expectations of tea. Jenni-Lyn worked at Lincoln Financial Group in Radnor, Pennsylvania, before deciding to return to school to get an MBA at the Villanova School of business.
In October 2016, Jenni-Lyn launched her business, after her doctor told her drinking seven cups of coffee a day wasn’t normal. Jenni-Lyn had a young child at home, and in her own words, she was ‘F**king tired’. The following day she went to get some tea at her local coffee shop, and after attempting to choose between conventionally-named teas, such as ‘Lemon Whisper’ and ‘Hibiscus Dream’, she asked if there any teas called ‘Wake The F**k Up’, and just like that the idea behind Snarky Tea was born.
Jenni-Lyn developed a range of teas that all had specific benefits, but they also had quite a few strategically placed asterisks in the labeling. ‘Wake The F**K Up’ was full of caffeine, designed to increase energy levels and boost mental alertness, while ‘Get Yout Sh*t Together’, and ‘Namaste Motherf**ker’ contained green tea, which has been shown in scientific studies to activate detoxification enzymes and boost the metabolism to aid weight loss. For the other end of the day, Jenni-Lyn also created ‘Calm The F**k Down’, containing Rooibos, which is rich in antioxidants, and Get Your A** in Bed’, containing traditionally used relaxation-inducing ingredients such as chamomile and lemon-grass.
So it’s clear that Jenni-Lyn was determined to take the cutesy, pastel loving image of tea, and market her products in a way that had never been tried before, at least in the World of tea. Sales began to pick up in early 2017, and she was expecting her second child when she sent an e-mail to Shark Tank producers in April that year. Jenni-Lyn didn’t really expect ABC, which is owned by Disney, to ever consider Snarky Tea for the Shark Tank, due to the nature of her marketing strategy, but surprisingly she was accepted for the show. In June that year, she appeared in the Shark Tank, ready to change the Shark’s expectations of tea-selling, moms-to-be, forever.
Snarky Tea On Shark Tank
When Jenni-Lyn appeared in the Shark Tank, heavily pregnant at the time, she was offering a 25% stake in the Snarky Tea company, in exchange for a $150,000 investment. She began her pitch by explaining that her high-quality whole-leaf tea sachets were designed for all sorts of situations, whether it was ‘Get Your A** in Bed’, to get you ready and relaxed for a good nights sleep, or whether you needed the added energy that the detoxifying ‘Fierce B*tch’ could give you, to tackle a ‘Crazy-long to-do-list’.
The Sharks quickly got the idea, although they looked half-shocked, and half-amused, by the risky naming of the Snarky Tea products, Jenni-Lyn rounded off the pitch with an invitation to join her ‘In the Snark Tank’, and disappeared for a moment to fetch some samples. She reappeared a moment later, wearing a pink jacket emblazoned with ‘Mrs. Wonderful’ on the back, and proceeded to hand out specially selected samples for each of the sharks.
Kevin O’Leary received ‘Calm The F**k Down’, which reduced hypertension and assisted with relaxation, but he didn’t take more than a sip before he was asking if all the Snarky Tea products were designed for women. Jenni-Lyn confirmed they were marketed towards women primarily, but Kevin didn’t seem relaxed about that, remarking that Jenni-Lyn was leaving 50% of the market untouched.
Jenni-Lyn explained that women in business were often expected to act in a certain manner, and she didn’t think she was alone in struggling to meet those expectations. Tea was a product that came with a lot of expectations too, so she had chosen to break tea away from it’s gentle and dainty image, and offer a better representation of what tea really was, ‘A bad-ass beverage’. Kevin seemed to understand her sentiments but was still unhappy that Snarky Tea was being pitched to only half the market, even if it was intentional. Bethenny Frankel remarked that women were usually the purchasers of tea in the household, but Mark Cuban didn’t agree. ‘I buy it all the time actually’ he pointed out, and Robert Herjavec asserted that he did too.
Mark Cuban wanted to be clear. Jenni-Lyn wasn’t selling tea, she was selling attitude, but Jenni-Lyn replied that she was selling both. Robert Herjavec just wanted to know where she was selling the tea. Jenni-Lyn explained that currently, she was achieving 85% of her sales through the Snarky Tea website, with the other 15% of sales through wholesale deals, with about forty brick-and-mortar stores selling her products, mainly boutiques and gift shops.
Guest shark Bethenny thought the message was a little confused. Tea was seen as a relaxing product, but the snarky marketing was an entirely different angle. She thought that Jenni-Lyn would risk alienating large retailers such as Walmart with such a mixed message. But after Robert asked what sales had been achieved so far, Jenni-Lyn revealed that in the last eight months fairly impressive sales of $190,000 had been achieved, even without a deal with a major retailer for Snarky Tea.
Kevin O’Leary wanted to know what the customer acquisition costs were, and Jenni-Lyn revealed they were $11 per customer. Bethenny inquired what price Snarky Tea retailed for, and Jenni-Lyn told her a box of 15 sachets would cost $12.99, which Bethenny thought was expensive. Mark Cuban asked what it cost to make one box, and Jenni-Lyn replied that each one cost $4.34 to produce. Mark thought the cost price was high too, but Kevin thought all of the numbers were wrong. ‘You’re not making any money’, Mr. Wonderful observed, calculating that the acquisition costs added to the cost price was more than the product sold for.
Lori Greiner had probably been the most suitable shark for Jenni-Lyn to partner with, considering her QVC connections, but she had said little so far, and when she did speak, it was only to become the first shark to drop out. She told Jenni-Lyn that she didn’t believe the ‘Gimmicky’ branding was sustainable in the long run, and although she admired Jenni-Lyn for being ‘Clever and smart’, she was out. Robert Herjavec was also failing to see any real future for Snarky Tea. Although he specialized in niche products, he thought the unusual marketing was just a little too ‘Edgy’, and some niches were too small to succeed. Robert didn’t share the vision, and with that, he joined Lori in dropping out.
Mark Cuban had other concerns. He told Jenni-Lyn that anyone involved in online retailing was in direct competition with Amazon. ‘I’m on Amazon too’ Jenni-Lyn told him, but that wasn’t Mark’s point, ‘It doesn’t matter’ he replied. Mark explained that Amazon was not only involved with distributing products, but they had begun creating their own branded items too. Although he admitted to liking the marketing perspective behind Snarky Tea, Amazon had the ability to create their own version of any product, and promote it on the platform vigorously, pushing all competing products to a lower visibility. Mark believed that Amazon would eventually ‘Crush’ Snarky Tea, and with that, he was out too.
Kevin O’Leary offered the first glimmer of interest from any of the sharks. He told Jenni-Lyn that under his wedding platform, he had a lot of customers for whom Snarky Tea would make a perfect gift item. Not only that, but he would be able to dramatically reduce customer acquisition costs with his huge and established customer base, thereby finally turning Snarky Tea into a profitable business. Kevin had a plan for the business and he had an offer for Jenni-Lyn, but it was going to cost her. Kevin would supply the $150,000 investment and access to his millions of gift-buying customers, but it was going to cost Jenni-Lyn half of the Snarky Tea business.
Bethenny Frankel had a second offer for Jenni-Lyn, but it wasn’t an improvement. She told the snarky entrepreneur that she too was snarky, and not only that, she had a distribution network in place for consumables. Bethenny believed that by toning down the message, and co-branding Snarky Tea with Skinnygirl, the line could be far more successful, as the products themselves were good. Bethenny believed the snarky marketing was taking attention away from the overall quality of the tea itself, however, she could help with a more gentle approach to the market, but it was still going to cost Jenni-Lyn half of the business.
After a moments thought, Jenni-Lyn asked Bethenny and Kevin if they would consider joining forces on the deal. Bethenny admitted she liked Kevin’s wedding business, and he too agreed that a partnership would be acceptable. Jenni-Lyn told him that she had to at least try to make a counter-offer, and suggested a 42% share for Bethenny and Kevin, but she was bargaining from a weak position, and Kevin knew it. Jenni-Lyn then suggested a 49% stake for the two sharks, but a quick ‘No’ was Kevin’s only response.
Mark Cuban was out of the negotiations, but still getting involved. ‘Never give up 50%’ he urged Jenni-Lyn, but Kevin O’Leary replied ‘Are you in or out?’. It was time for Jenni-Lyn to make a decision, and Bethenny helped her make it. ‘You’ve got to trust your partners if you’re going to go into business together’ she told the entrepreneur, and that was all that was really needed. ‘Ok, you’ve got a deal’ Jenni-Lyn announced, and with that Mr. Wonderful and Bethenny shook on it with their new partner.
Snarky Tea Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update
Since October 2017, when the Snarky Tea segment on Shark Tank first aired, there has been no news about the proposed deal between Jenni-Lyn, and her new shark partners. I asked Jenni-Lyn for any updates on the company Facebook page but didn’t get a reply in the short time available, and I didn’t like to ask twice, considering how snarky Jenni-Lyn can be. While I was there, however, I did notice that Snarky Tea is certainly proving to be popular with customers, in fact, everything points to a well-run operation with excellent customer service.
Snarky tea has received almost 200 reviews on Facebook, and over 90% of them are 5 out of 5 stars. The excellent taste and quality of the tea was a common and recurring theme of most of the reviews, and customers seem to really love it. I managed to find the lowest review, a 2-star review dating from back in September 2017 and noticed that it came with no explanation for the low rating. Snarky Tea had noticed it too, and instantly reached out to offer assistance with whatever issues had caused it, but the response they received suggested that whatever the problem was, it wasn’t big enough to bother explaining. My overwhelming impression was that not only is Snarky Tea well-received by customers but that the customer service on offer is top-notch too.
The snarky marketing doesn’t seem to have been toned down as Bethenny suggested it might be either. In December 2017 the company announced on the company Twitter page a limited edition mug, with the logo ‘IT’S Motherf**king TEA TIME’. But that item, unlike all the tea labels, was uncensored, and I’ve included the asterisks on that one. The snarky, in-your-face style of marketing does seem to be a big draw for customers, particularly women, and Jenni-Lyn’s intuition that customers would want to display their attitude out in the open as a badge of pride, assisted by their possession of the expletive-laden products, appears to be working well, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Several new promotions to increase sales have been introduced since the Shark Tank appearance. In June 2018 the company launched a subscription service for repeat customers, which appears to be most of them, and in early July, Snarky Tea launched a pilot program for women to become independent reps for the company, selling Snarky Tea to friends and family from the comfort of their own homes.
The Snarky Tea website reveals that Snarky Tea products have been featured in Vogue twice since the Shark Tank appearance, and Jenni-Lyn has been a featured entrepreneur in other publications too. Recently, DietSpotlight.com gave a comprehensive review of the ingredients in, and benefits of, the entire range of Snarky Tea products. Although they considered the drinks to be nothing ‘Beyond the ordinary’, they did have an overall positive impression of the taste, and health benefits of, the Snarky Tea product line.