I recently went from being Lisa Binderow, yoga teacher turned entrepreneur and mom-to-be, to contestant and survivor of ABC’s Shark Tank. Barbara Corcoran made me an offer for 40 percent of my business. However, after negotiating back and forth, I politely declined and walked away from the deal.
Some might say that I’m crazy to pass on what could have been an amazing opportunity to work with an incredible mentor, not to mention someone who I deeply respect and admire. But, under those hot lights and with the cameras rolling, I had a moment of clarity -- I didn't start nicepipes to make a million dollars. I didn't start a business looking to reach some inflated valuation only to sell to a VC and have a pingpong table in a fancy lofted office. I started nicepipes because I had an idea for a product that solved a problem. I thought others in the workout community might have this problem too and I wanted to offer them a solution. So, I designed nicepipes -- performance fabric leg and arm warmers, made from the same amazing material as yoga pants. They are sweat wicking, offer mild compression to enhance performance, four-way stretch for a personalized fit, do not slip down and they are UV 50+ SPF. Unlike the old acrylic knit warmers of the past, you can wear your pipes before, during and after any workout.
In the weeks leading up to the taping, I thought long and hard about who I wanted to make a deal with to seal my future. Lori Greiner and Barbara Corcoran were definitely at the top of my list. For me, it was all about finding a mentor. I don't have a business background, and a Shark represented a guiding light for an entrepreneur who often feels she has fallen overboard.
However on that day, at the Sony Lot in the Shark Tank studio, my reaction to Corcoran’s offer was one I did not expect. I realized that if I said “yes” to this deal my life would take a turn that I could never come back from. Yes, it would bring me amazing opportunities. Yes, nicepipes would benefit from Barbara’s knowledge and contacts. The force that is “the Tank” would carry me and nicepipes into a new realm of success. But what would happen to my life?
The startup lifestyle is certainly trending -- just walk into any WeWork and you can feel the electricity of the email marketing strategies and brand voice brainstorming sessions. If you are an entrepreneur, I don't have to tell you that as glamorous as starting a business looks on social media it is more sleepless nights, stressful decisions and blinding fear than partying at networking events with fellow founders. Mistakes are made and, if we are lucky, we learn from them the first time.
For the past two years I have been all nicepipes, all the time, and it just didn’t feel right to give up 40 percent of everything I have built. I realized in that moment how proud I was, and still am, of my slow and steady progress. It got me thinking -- what happened to building a small and respectable business? Where is the #momandpopshop? My father-in-law started a dentistry practice from scratch. He built a thriving business, lives a great life, supports his family and sent three kids through college. Where is his hash tag?
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When I pitched to the Sharks, what I saw in front of me were five successful, smart and connected people whom I very much admired and who would definitely take nicepipes to the next level. But a message louder than that dominated my mind, and it was from a place of emotional intelligence. In that moment, I realized staying connected to the hugely powerful Shark Tank force was not the right move for me.
My practice as a yoga teacher and student is, and has always been, finding balance. Working with Corcoran would be an amazing experience. She is inspiring and her accomplishments, both personally and professionally, are incredible. I was standing on the precipice of startup greatness and looking down on a endless free fall. I paused and asked myself, “What is success to me?” This question and the subsequent answer was something I never came across in all my intensive preparation for the show. Success was showing up and doing my best. Success is staying authentic to myself and my goals.
Putting myself under that level of national scrutiny was the most vulnerable I have even been. I walked through those doors, past the fish tanks, and stood tall as I got through my pitch. I went head-to-head with Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban, and when I left the lot that day I knew something had changed in me. Gone was the girl I knew from my 20s who didn’t believe in herself and rarely felt proud. I was braver, stronger, and I felt worthy.
Today, my accomplishments feel big because they are mine. My most proud moments are when someone tries on a pair of warmers that I designed and falls in love with nicepipes. My professional triumph during the taping was seeing how much the Sharks loved the pipes. Lori and Mark kept the arm warmers on the whole time, and everyone was incredibly complimentary of the fabric and design. That’s not to say that our daily sales stats aren’t important to me, because they are, but they are not what I value most and definitely not what make me feel successful.
My experience made me realize that there is a meaningful challenge, for all of us, to look a little deeper than usual, past our Google docs and analytics, and ask, “What makes you feel proud and valuable?” For you, it could be dollars in the bank, and that’s great. For me, my success is not being fearless but daring to stare fear in the face and say, “Sorry, no deal.”
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