When Josh and Diana Harbour stepped on to the Shark Tank carpet more than three years ago, they didn’t know they were about to transport their already successful online business Red Dress Boutique into stratospheric territory. At the time of the summer, 2014, taping, Red Dress was on track to make $12 million in annual revenue. They did it by selling not only clothing and accessories, but complete outfits promoted through a popular Instagram feed and social media posts.
Although both Robert Herjavec and Mark Cuban bit on the pitch, agreeing to invest a combined $1.2 million in the company — twice the $600,000 the Harbours were seeking — only Cuban went on to partner with the Harbours. Popular updates were featured on the Shark Tank spinoff series Beyond the Tank as the Red Dress Boutique owners overcame the challenges — technical and otherwise — of growing and sustaining an online-only company. Out of the Shark Tank spotlight, Red Dress has quietly continued to grow, even opening a brick-and-mortar offshot called Fringe in Athens, Georgia.
But in a new blog post, Diana Harbour admits the Shark Tank pitch wasn’t easy for her — but the reason is perhaps a bit different than that of other entrepreneurs who have nerves while speaking to investors. Writing about her son’s recent diagnosis with Asperger’s, which has brought challenges into her life as a parent, she offered a deeply personal revelation in an attempt to support other working parents.
“Reality check: I have Asperger’s too, so if you have ever met me in person and I didn’t say anything or was super-awkward, now you know why. I’m awkward around people and cannot carry a conversation. Even saying hello or answering a phone call is stress-inducing and painful. Talk to me about work or my child though, and I’ll talk both your ears off. ‘Shark Tank’ was torture until the two minutes of my pre-rehearsed intro was over and then I couldn’t shut up about Red Dress Boutique…an hour and a half of diarrhea of the mouth. But it worked.”
Any Shark Tank fans who may need a reminder of the Harbours’ original pitch need only look at this old preview clip uploaded by ET in advance of the show. The couple clearly knew their business and was passionate about its philosophy of making life easier for busy women. They not only impressed the sharks, but likely many home viewers as well.
Dallas Observer reported last week that Red Dress Boutique is Mark Cuban’s fifth most expensive Shark Tank investment to date, going by the episodes that have aired. The raw numbers show that Cuban has forked over a wide range of dollar amounts on Shark Tank, since he has invested a total of $19.9 million over 85 companies. His largest on-air investment so far was $2 million for a 20 percent stake in Ten Thirty One Productions, an event entertainment company that puts on experiential attractions like the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride.
As for Harbour, she finished her blog post by saying she’s fought hard to remain herself in the face of public pressure to fit a certain image or meet an alleged standard of perfection. She reminded others it’s OK to just be who you are.
“I have spent the better part of 3 years trying to be what I thought I needed to be. PR companies told me I needed to be this or that. Be an expert in your field…be the entrepreneur power mom…be someone other than who you are.
“I am none of those things. I started a business doing what I love. It got big.
“I can get caught up in the perceived perfection of bloggers and other moms. And I have to reality-check myself every day.
“[A]t the end of the day, we are all doing the best we can.”
Shark Tank is moving to a new night. The first episode of Season 9 will air Sunday, October 1, on ABC.
[Featured image by Brad Barket/Getty Images]