After five years of baking cookies as big as your head, T.Rex Cookie was at a crossroads. With a storefront and kitchen in Eagan and a wholesale business supplying Orchestra Hall, U.S. Bank Stadium, restaurants, and more, the company reached profitability last year, and founder Tina Rexing was pondering her next move.
A food truck? Franchising? A friend, who, like Rexing, had left the relative security of Target Corp. to start a company, suggested Shark Tank—the TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to Mark Cuban and the like (the “sharks”) in hopes of landing an investment deal. In October 2018, Rexing filled out an online application “on a whim,” she says. The phone call came last July: She had made it to the audition round, and then to the show. But after three months of prepping for her on-air opportunity and recording it, Rexing found out her Shark Tank appearance had been cut.
Many business owners talk about the uptick they get from appearing on the show, even if they don’t land a deal, but Rexing’s appearance won’t air—she doesn’t even have a selfie with the sharks to show for it. Nonetheless, Rexing says she has no regrets, and the experience helped crystallize the future of her business.
“Being on Shark Tank is like taking your business as a junk drawer and dumping it on the floor.”
“I went on the show pitching a franchise idea. The feedback I got from the sharks: I’m too small, and they could tell I’m a super hands-on business. They kept saying, ‘You enjoy the control of the company and product.’ It’s true: I sell our dough to restaurants and literally help them bake it. You can’t scale that.”
So Rexing moved away from the franchising idea and decided to expand to a second location at Ridgedale Center. She signed a short-term lease (pre-coronavirus) that opened in early March and bought a cargo van to deliver cookies from her Eagan kitchen. “Ridgedale to me is the beta to see if a centralized kitchen works. If it does, maybe I can do more than two locations.” She’s also working on a plan to sell T.Rex cookie dough in grocery stores.
Rexing is developing a cookie forecasting tool to predict sales at Ridgedale so she can stock the right amount of product. She’s drawing on her past working in analytics and her husband’s expertise as a data scientist. “My prior jobs were always data driven, and that sets me apart as an entrepreneur.”
It might not be as flashy as Shark Tank, but the online fundraising tool Kickstarter worked for T.Rex, which last year hosted a $25,000 drive to pay for a food truck and netted $33,000. “I attribute a lot of my success to people who believe in me enough to give me money to do it,” Rexing says. The T.Rex food truck will be available for hire this spring.
Why a food truck? “It’s good marketing for the brand,” Rexing says. She plans to drive it herself; “No one else wants to do it,” she jokes of her 15-person team. “They want me to be the face of the company again. I got so mired in the day-to-day; the key is to trust my managers” to run daily operations and for her to be the company’s public ambassador. “We have so much more potential with me getting in front of Target, restaurants, and other partners.”
Know that it is an investment of time and money. Rexing says she spent more than $12,000 on lawyer and accountant fees, product, set decorations, and more for her TV appearance, plus the three months she was focused on show prep rather than business operations. For Kickstarter, she hired a videographer, which she says was key to driving consumer engagement. An appearance on Shark Tank is “definitely not free, and you can’t bank on anything, but it might make you look at your company completely differently.”
“The application process forces you to financially look at your company. You need to memorize all those numbers. The sharks do that math in their heads in seconds. Ironically, they didn’t ask me the numbers questions—they wanted to know calorie count.” (It’s 1,100 per cookie.)