In the time since college-aged entrepreneurs Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh appeared on Shark Tank back in 2012, they have been sued, dropped out of school, and had their handshake deal with Barbara Corcoran fall through. They have also turned their fledgling business selling healthy peanut butter into a thriving enterprise, expecting $7 million in sales this year. That’s a tremendous increase from the $14,000 in sales they had when they taped their Shark Tank appearance in 2011.
At the time, they were called Wild Squirrel Nut Butter, but as Forbes reported, became Wild Friends in 2013 after Squirrel Brand took legal action against them. They also never saw the investment from Corcoran, but Tillotson told Forbes that turned out to be a good thing.
“On their end, they decided not to invest, and we were glad because we were not ready.”
Despite their modest sales at the time, the women had entered the tank asking $50,000 for 10 percent. Corcoran ultimately offered $50,000 for 40 percent, an amount to which she held fast. As The Inquisitr has previously reported, Corcoran has made general statements about the various reasons why some Shark Tank deals fall apart. After the cameras go dark, all on-air deals are subject to lengthy due diligence.
The women were not business majors when they started their company. Tillotson focused on Spanish and journalism and Welsh on environmental studies. They started mixing up their tasty peanut butter concoctions and selling them on the side. After the attention they got from Shark Tank they realized they had to choose between the business and school and chose the business.
Tillotson is now 23 and Welsh 25. Tillotson’s father is their chief sales person. A former sales person for Honest Tea, he joined his daughter’s company when Honest Tea was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2011. Father and daughter have a daily check-in to make sure they are on the same page with regard to company issues.
Since the deal with Corcoran fell apart, the women went to Kickstarter to raise funds, which they used to produce more product and sell it in their home state of Oregon. Wild Friends is now in Whole Foods and Kroger. They’ve also gotten a substantial venture capital investment: $1.4 million through CircleUp. That includes $100,000 from John Foraker, president of Annie’s, the noted natural foods brand.
In an interview with About Face magazine, Welsh described how the college athletes came up with their first peanut butter recipe when they ran out of the store-bought variety. They opted to head to the kitchen instead of venture out to the grocery store in the rain.
“We had a Cuisinart food processor and a bag of peanuts and we blended up our first batch of plain peanut butter. We decided we weren’t happy with just the plain, so we started throwing in all these ingredients that we had already been eating with peanut butter, like honey, pretzels, chocolate, and cinnamon.”
They continued to make the product because people enjoyed it. In order to land their first retail account, they brought hand-labeled mason jars of homemade peanut butter to the CEO of New Seasons. The CEO was so impressed she made a commitment to sell the product in all 12 of her stores.
The women told About Face their business’ inception and success was “serendipitous,” as Welsh had just gotten the mixer as a Christmas gift. The ingredients to make the product tasty — trail mix — was always on hand in their home. It was also fortunate that they introduced their peanut butter at a time when natural foods had just begun exploding in the marketplace.
A new season of Shark Tank starts in September on ABC. Barbara Corcoran is set to be back among the cast.
[Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images]