The Importance of Being Genuine

Recently I was watching Shark Tank reruns when one particular pitch grabbed my attention.
    The entrepreneur’s name was Shelton Wilder and she bore a slight resemblance to sportscaster Erin Andrews. Her product was the Shemie, a modern line of slips that looked somewhat like simple dresses and were versatile enough to be worn on their own. Wilder was seeking $60k for a 20-percent stake in her company.

    Pros and cons about the product aside, what really stood out was how confusing Wilder’s initial pitch was. She was bubbly and enthusiastic in presenting the Shemie, but when asked pointed questions by the Sharks about her sales and company, she couldn’t seem to give a straight answer. Rather she appeared to be leaving information out, talking around something and/or contradicting herself – I honestly couldn’t tell you which. Bottom line: Although I was confused about the specifics, I definitely got the impression Wilder was hiding something. I just didn’t know what.

    Fortunately, the Sharks are much better at sniffing out these types of things than I am, and the truth came out later in the episode. In the past, Wilder had struggled with alcohol (at the time this particular episode aired, she’d been sober for two years and eight months), and during that time there had been another business started by herself and her best friend. The details still aren’t completely clear to me as to what happened, but it appeared that Wilder eventually went bankrupt from partying too much, and she was attempting to bounce back with this new company. She wanted a fresh start because her past company had bad memories associated with it.

    Now, I’m not here to judge as everyone has struggles. In fact, personally, I was intrigued by Wilder’s recovery story and wanted to know more. It hinted at an inner strength and perseverance that I would’ve found attractive as a potential business partner/investor. I found myself wishing she’d just been honest and open from the very beginning. Doing so would’ve helped me connect with her. By trying to hide her story, however, she came across as disingenuous. It immediately created a barrier and I found myself wondering why would anyone want to work with her?

    It’s worth noting that a friend who watched the show with me disagreed; she didn’t feel like this woman’s personal life was any of the Sharks’ business. On one hand, I see where she’s coming from. On the other hand, I completely and respectfully disagree.

    Business is about creating relationships, and relationships thrive on honestly. If this entrepreneur’s past influenced her present story, she should’ve shared it with her potential business partners and customers from the get-go. If it was truly irrelevant, she should’ve been able to pitch her new company without lingering emotions or hints of past turmoil.

     I use this episode as an example not because I know anyone involved or can personally relate but because I think there is a broader business lesson here that applies: Be genuine in all interactions with customers, staff and partners. Don’t try to hide stuff. If you mess up, admit it, apologize and attempt to remedy. This applies to big and little things. Don’t be afraid to share the facts with your customers. Tell your brides and prom girls the true story of how your salon came about. Be honest about any relevant struggles that you’ve had.

    Shark Kevin O’Leary (aka “Mr. Wonderful”) summed it up best in his response to Wilder, who ultimately didn’t end up getting a deal: “(Being honest) might’ve worked better for you because we understand hardship and we understand people getting back up, and in some ways investing in somebody that’s tasted that sting is better than one that never has.”

    In the end, Wilder walked out of the tank deal-less, talking about how grateful she was for the experience and how excited she was to keep moving forward. Shortly after the episode aired, several blogs reported she had started a Kickstarter to fund the Shemie, which ended up earning $32,805 (exceeding her $29k goal). While this was certainly one version of a happy ending I couldn’t help but wonder: How much better might things have turned out for Wilder’s business had she just been genuine from the get-go?

Update: This episode (#407) originally aired in 2012 and according to Wilder’s website,, she’s no longer manufacturing the Shemie. Rather she put that project on hold to pursue a real estate career. She also married the love of her life and had two sons.

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