Alumna offers tales from her experience inside the Shark Tank

March 11, 2015
By Bill Krueger

As you may have seen by now, Sharon Bui had a successful appearance on Friday night’s episode of Shark Tank, the hit reality show on ABC that gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their company to potential investors.

Several of the so-called “sharks” were clamoring for a piece of Frill, a sorority apparel company that Bui and a friend started while they were still in college. Bui graduated from NC State’s College of Textiles in 2013. In the end, two of the sharks, Kevin O’Leary and Barbara Corcoran, went in together to invest in Frill.

“It’s just crazy,” Bui said when we caught up with her this week. “The fact that I came out of it with sharks fighting for us — I went in there with no hope.”

But it didn’t happen quite as seamlessly as it appeared on television.

buiBui says the show was taped last June, so she’s been sitting on the good news for months. She was allowed to share the news with her family and a few friends, but otherwise had to keep mum about her success. “Oh, my God, it’s been so hard to keep the secret,” she says.

But even though Bui and her partner, Kate Steadman, shook hands on the deal with O’Leary and Corcoran on the show, the actual deal wasn’t done until they finished with the due diligence and signed the necessary contracts in late November.

“On screen, you get a deal and it’s real exciting,” Bui says. “But there’s a lot of anxiety until you close. Until you close, you can’t get advice from them.”

Once the deal was done, the hard work began. Frill had started to branch out into bridal wear, but O’Leary and Corcoran quickly advised against it, even going so far as telling Bui and Steadman to cancel their plans to pitch their product at a major bridal show.

“They really want us to focus on what we’re good at,” Bui says. “They know the bridal market is very saturated.”

Bui and Steadman went ahead and did the bridal show — Frill is still their company, after all — but say they soon saw the wisdom of the sharks’ advice. Bui likened it to initially resisting the advice of a parent, only to realize later on that they were right all along. Frill still has some bridal wear for sale, but is no longer pushing to expand in that area.

“We’re going to focus on sorority wear,” Bui says. “We want to become the one-stop sorority shop.”

Frill benefited from the so-called Shark Tank bump, with the company getting a lot of inquiries about its products in the first few days after the show aired. But Bui says she and her partner have a lot of hard work ahead of them to take their company to the next level.

“I’m really excited about the future,” she says. “It’s kind of surreal. I’m still trying to take it all in.”

There is one thing Bui wishes had gone differently during her appearance on Shark Tank. While Bui and Steadman got about 10 minutes of airtime on the show, the taping actually lasted about 45 minutes. Left on the cutting room floor was a conversation that Bui had with one of the sharks, Robert Herjavec, about where she went to college.

“I did the wolf sign, but it didn’t make the show,” Bui says. “I was so excited to tell him because I love the Pack.”

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