Tod Wilson is the owner of Mr. Tod's Pie Factory, a wholesale and retail bakery with locations in Somerset and Englewood, N.J. He's also the first person ever to win "Shark Tank," and his life and business have both changed considerably in the more than four years since.
The path that led to his appearance was not an easy one. He was reduced to living out of his car at one particularly low point. But the sharks--the tycoons who decide whether or not to invest in each business--found his story compelling, and offered him a deal.
It may surprise some to learn that he ultimately decided not to take the $460,000 that he was offered, as he didn't want to give up a 50 percent stake in his business. But he said in an interview with CNBC.com that it hasn't really mattered.
"You get on these kinds of networks and it's an open door," Wilson said. "My pies have been on 'Rachael Ray;' Jet magazine had me in their holiday gift guide. ... I was there in 2009, and every day I still get phone calls about it. People say, 'I remember you on "Shark Tank"--it was inspirational. Can you come speak at our school?' Nobody knew it would be so big."
The exposure generated by his appearance on "Shark Tank" was enough to keep the company afloat. Mr. Tod's is now on the verge of entering its 13th year, and "on the whole, the business has grown tremendously," Wilson said.
What advice would Wilson give fledgling entrepreneurs? It would primarily be the counsel he wishes he had received when he was starting out.
"You'll always need more than you budget, so if you think you need $50,000, ask for $100,000," he said. "It never works out like you say it's going to, so be aggressive in how much you ask for and be conservative in your projections."
Another bit of tried-and-true advice bears repeating to any rookie entrepreneur.
"You have to have persistence to weather the storm," Wilson said. "That's par for the course if you want to be a great one, like Ray Kroc or Howard Schultz. If you don't have that kind of mentality, it's not the kind of thing to sign up for."