Pitching a company is a make or break situation. When you are pitching to the Sharks on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” you can bet that most entrepreneurs break, but there are a skilled few who have that special something to land a deal with the hungry and critical billionaire investors. College entrepreneur Kaeya Majmundar has that special something and her company BZbox, an innovative take on the ordinary collapsible cardboard box, is a growing success because of it.
A Chicago native, Kaeya is currently a junior at Emory University where she balances schoolwork and managing her business. She got her start with BZbox through a knack for entrepreneurship and her captivation in the show “Shark Tank.” Studying the tactics of all the entrepreneurs who went on the show plus a first place victory at the 2012 National Elevator Pitch competition, Kaeya put her skills to the test to pitch to the Sharks in an episode that aired last May. In an almost dramatic deal, Kaeya made a deal with Shark Lori Greiner and has since received the resources and support she needs to make her business successful. So how did she do it?
We had the pleasure of catching up with Kaeya over email where she tells us what life has been like since “Shark Tank,” what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in college, and the tactics that helped most when she pitched to the Sharks.
Congrats on your deal with Lori on Shark Tank! Can you update us on what happened to BZbox after you struck a deal?
“I have received at least a thousand messages from interested retailers, manufacturers, and sourcers, to young women and entrepreneurs who found inspiration in my story. The funniest thing is that after my episode aired, I got at least ten manufacturers who were like “I’ll make it for even less than 56 cents!” So, there you have it, Mr. Wonderful.”
On the episode, you made it seem as if your family hadn’t quite supported your dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Can you tell us what that was like and how you dealt with it?
“Almost everyone in my family is a doctor. My dad, especially, is incredibly risk averse and always urged me to aim for a secure and predictable career path. When I told my family I was going to venture out of the “security” of the medical profession, and instead delve into entrepreneurship, aka the most risky profession of all, he didn’t take it well. I got lectured at least twice a week from someone in my family about how the fact that I am an Indian and female will do nothing but hinder my entrepreneurial efforts.”
The world of entrepreneurship is widely known to be dominated by men. Have you faced any discrimination because of your gender?
“I am not resentful of my family’s aversion to my entrepreneurial endeavors because there is some truth to what they were telling me. There are seven females for every ten males starting a business and when you look at race, minorities have an even smaller representation. I’m actually not sure if I have faced any discrimination because I simply choose not to see it. I do notice that I am typically the only minority woman in the room in the pitch competitions, conferences, and meetings I attend. However, I forget that just as quickly as I notice it. At some point you have to trust your gut and go after what you want. I became so genuinely passionate about pursuing my business that I would never have been able to ignore it and quit. When you’re that passionate about something, it would be a crime not to pursue it just because you stick out a little.”
How have you balanced school and entrepreneurship?
“It is very difficult to juggle my business with my education. Sometimes I have to choose one or the other because quizzes and exams have occasionally coincided with tradeshows. However, still being in college is a benefit as well because I can leverage my young age. Investors love meeting young, passionate people who choose to start businesses so early. Not to mention I literally live with some of the smartest and resourceful students, professors, and faculty in the country!”
Switching gears to something more about lifestyle, for you personally, where do you believe relationships fall when in the busy life of an entrepreneur?
“I am a “people person.” As some of my closest friends will tell you, I hate being alone! I constantly need to be around people, engaging in conversations, and bouncing ideas off of each other. Sometimes being an entrepreneur can be a little lonely, especially because I didn’t go into the business with a partner. I always go to competitions and conferences alone whereas most of the other people there always have their partners with them. However, not having that comfort also gives me a great opportunity to get out and meet new people wherever I go. Establishing and maintaining relationships is definitely of high importance to me.”
You’ve studied pitch tactics before you went on Shark Tank. What are some important strategies you stuck to/think that all entrepreneurs should follow?
“I watched every single “Shark Tank” episode during my 2012 summer break and took detailed notes on how to deliver a solid pitch. The most important thing, by far, is to let your character shine through. If they are interested, they will ask you about the numbers, etc. All the Sharks, even Kevin O’Leary, have said that the entrepreneur’s presence and personality are often make it or break it in their decisions to invest or not.”
What would you say is your ultimate goal as an entrepreneur? Is BZbox just a stepping stone to a larger dream project of yours?
“The goal is to build successful businesses, and by that I don’t necessarily mean the most lucrative businesses. I want my businesses to stand for something greater than that. I want to be a role mode and a resource for young entrepreneurs, and especially for women. I want to provide people with jobs and opportunities to fulfill their own goals. The ultimate dream is to one-day sit on that panel of Sharks! The “Shark Tank” experience has been the most rewarding and challenging thing I’ve ever done. I “get” entrepreneurs and the show is everything an entrepreneur could dream of and then some. I want to play a greater role in that some day.”
Lastly, what’s in store for the future of BZbox?
“Stores are in store, hopefully! I am talking to several retailers right now and if all goes well, I think we’ll be on shelves fairly soon.”