By GWEN OREL
Nicki Radzely doesn’t have an MBA.
Business wasn’t her undergraduate major, either.
You’d never know it the way she rattles off “valuations” and “first round” and “equity.”
In college, she studied psychology.
But psychology is sales, she said: “It’s people and society and understanding what makes people tick and why and how and figuring out what people need.”
On ABC’s “Shark Tank” recently, the Montclair mom was poised and pleasant as she fended off criticisms and advice from the panel of sharks considering investing in her company, questioning her $5 million valuation.
She didn’t even blink when Damon John shouted “this sucks!” – possibly because he was sucking on The Pop at the time.
The Pop, from Radzely’s company Doddle & Co., is a pacifier made from silicone, and designed so that when it falls out of a baby’s mouth it pops back into its own self-protective bubble.
This is not an Etsy cottage industry. The Pop is already in Nordstrom. It’s in Pea in the Pod. It sells for $9.99. You can check it out at doddleandco.com.
Several of the sharks made offers: Spanx creator Sara Blakely made the first offer ($250,000 for 15 percent equity) before Lori Greiner jumped in to make it a joint offer at a 20 percent stake.
In the end, Radzely went with an offer from Kevin O’Leary (aka Mr. Wonderful), for a lower percentage of equity, 10 percent, for his $250,000.
In her small office at the top of her Montclair home, Radzely sits at a desk with a window on the street, surrounded by baskets of The Pop.
She was a little nervous about how her time on “Shark Tank” would be edited: she was on for two hours, but knew it would be edited down to just a few minutes. Going on itself was an “intense cocktail of adrenaline,” she said. It’s not a typical pitch meeting, because it’s reality TV, so “it’s a barrage of questions and insults,” she said. “They’re saying really shocking things, to make you jump. But I used my adrenaline to my advantage and became very focused. I tried to turn down the volume in the pitch to not responding. When they were fighting, I let them fight, and observed, and then would respond.”
At a viewing party at Montclair’s Pig & Prince on Sunday, Jan. 21, the crowd cheered when she walked onstage. “It was amazing!” she said. “It was such a big ask! It’s the middle of January, on a Sunday, at 10 o’clock at night! And all I know is parents!”
There were two screens in the restaurant. When she came out, and introduced herself, and The Pop pacifier, the room erupted, she said. And when she was asked, on the TV, “How do you even know it’s a hit?” and Radzely answered, “We’ve got it all lined up,” the whole place cheered, she said, laughing.
BUILDING A BRAND
In her office, Radzely also showed off a new product Doddle & Co. is creating, a teether that looks like the sun or like a cloud. They will be available in May.
Radzely was a pre-med student and loved science, so her current job as chief executive of Doddle & Co. merges the two.
She didn’t invent The Pop: that was Janna Badger, another mom. As she described it, Radzely was a little restless, working from home in sales, after having her second child, Eden (her older son is named Aiden). She wanted to start a company, something in “the baby space,” and had a few ideas.
She called Jared Aller, a friend who was a designer. He helped her prototype it. “I didn’t know what prototyping was at the time,” she said with a laugh. (It’s the process of creating a sample product.) About six months later, he told her: “You know, you’re really starting a business. You don’t have anything to sell yet!”
Radzely had already formed a limited liability corporation, opened a bank account, begun researching the market, and leveraging her contacts.
Aller had a patent on hand for a baby pacifier that he hadn’t done anything with, he said.
He sent her a video of himself holding a baby with a pacifier, “And every time the baby let go, the nipple would pop back into this bubble when it hit the floor. And I thought: ‘Oh, my god, that’s an amazing invention. That is a real true reinvention of the pacifier.’”
Aller connected her to Badger, who was living in Seoul, and about to have a second baby. The two women built up their company via Skype, which was tricky given the time difference: “I would call her at 8 p.m. my time, and probably stay up until 2 a.m. For her it was morning. And so she would have a baby on her lap, or nursing. We would always have babies on us.” After two years of that, they finally met at a trade show in Las Vegas. They documented the meeting with a film of them running down the hall toward each other.
On 2016, after forming an LLC, she went on “The Meredith Vieira Show.” They raised money via Kickstarter. She built up a board, and raised capital with a “friends and family” round.
With all that success, and so much interest from stores already, why go on “Shark Tank”?
For cash. “You always need cash to fund the business and to support a pipeline,” Radzely said. Doddle and Co.’s products need safety testing. Production is specific: only one factory in China was able to make The Pop, which is a bubble inside a bubble inside a circle. “It’s an engineering feat,” Radzely said.
All of the people involved now are moms, all working from home offices, she said. Three are in Montclair; others are in Arkansas and San Diego. Badger moved to Salt Lake City last summer. They’ve sold about 100,000 units in 11 months.
Early on, she had to decide whether it was going to be an Etsy product or a brand. “I’m in my kitchen, and I don’t even know where my pencil is, but I said, ‘I want to do this!’” She talked to neighbors, citing Tracy Breslin as a “star,” who connected her to finance people and female entrepreneurs.
It was Breslin who said, “You’ve got to get a V.C.” “What’s a V.C.?” Radzely asked. A venture capitalist, who would invest in the company.
She began taking meetings, falling on her face, learning something, and taking another meeting. Breslin would say: “Tell it to me like I’m in kindergarten. What does that really mean?”
Radzely worked about 80 hours a week. In the end, she thinks she took over 75 meetings, and got seven investors. It’s a lot of rejection, but “that is the only thing I know how to do well,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not the smartest person in the room, but I’m always the hungriest.” She raised $433,000, based on a valuation of $2.5 million, she said. So when she went on “Shark Tank,” she thought her valuation had doubled.
Staying the course, over hundreds of prototypes, spending her own money, being told no,
is what she’s good at.
And she’s building that brand, which she describes as one that makes parents’ lives easier: “Less time with parents interacting with product, and more with the baby.”
As she explained on “Shark Tank,” before, mom or dad doesn’t have to stop, pick up the pacifier, put it in a bag, get out another one — now, the parent can just pick up the pacifier and keep going.
“We’re saving those seconds.”