After a 4am wake-up call from an idea, Shelly Ehler shares her journey on how she never gave up and carried her invention from a prototype to a feature on The Today Show and Shark Tank.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.
I grew up in Orange County, California. I went to the University of Arizona and studied to be a schoolteacher. I married my high school sweetheart shortly thereafter and we have two sons who are now 12 and 9 years old.
I invented a product called ShowNo Towels, which are the perfect bath towel that kids can use to dry off on their own. It is a cover-up that keeps them warm and protected from the sun and it is a changing towel that kids can put on and change their clothes underneath in privacy. It is also the perfect beach towel, because it can lay flat on the sand.
SHARE WITH US YOUR JOURNEY THAT LED YOU TO YOUR INVENTION.
I got the idea when I was at the pool with my sons. When it was time to leave and they wanted to change into their dry clothes, my older son asked me to wrap a towel around him so that he could change in privacy. When I was holding his towel, my younger son started to get impatient because he wanted me to hold his towel.
As my younger son started to have a melt down, this situation got me thinking that there should be something that I could throw over both of them and they could change on their own without me having to hold anybody’s towel.
I always think of different ways for kids to be more independent, as well as ways to make my life easier. As I thought a little more about it, nothing really came to mind. So, I slept on it that night until 4 in the morning when I just shot out of bed.
I literally sat right up and thought, “why not just put a slit in the towel and make it like a poncho that would cover their front and back?” It was such a simple idea. So, I jumped on Google and searched for something like that. The only thing I found were little hooded towels for babies and nothing for kids after the age of 4 years. When kids are that young, they still don’t really know how to manipulate a towel to dry themselves off and wrap it around themselves.
Once I saw there was nothing available, I thought about it and immediately started to work on my idea. I got a towel and cut a hole in it. When I put it over me, I thought, “Oh my gosh… I think this can work!”
I couldn’t wait for my kids to wake up that morning. I already had my first prototype done by the time they were out of bed. I put it around both of them and told them to change their clothes. They thought I was crazy, but they did it anyway. And it worked!
When we went to the pool that day, I had at least 5 people come up to me and asked what my boys were wearing and where I got it from. From that moment, I knew that I was on to something. It was such a simple idea and when I looked around the pool, I saw that every kid needed it. All the kids were covering themselves with a towel or changing in public. I saw a need for this type of towel.
And that’s really how it all started.
WOW! YOU DIDN’T WASTE TIME!
I didn’t waste time with the idea, but then I sat on it for months and months, because I didn’t know what to do next. I felt the typical fear and didn’t really move forward because of the same reasons why so many people don’t start with their ideas. I just kept listening to the voice in my head that said it was going to be too hard; you won’t know how to do this; you don’t have any money.
However, when it finally came down to it, my heart just kept whispering louder and louder to me and it wouldn’t go away. Finally, I heard this voice in my heart say, ”Anything is possible and your “how” will appear when you take that leap of faith and go for it!” So, I just went for it and things started showing up exactly when I needed them to make this product a reality.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR PRODUCT FEATURED ON TV SHOWS AND TO THE BIG MARKETS?
The first big step was getting on the Today Show. I got that by sending the Today Show some towels.
I think so many times people think that it’s too hard or they’re not important enough. But you will never know until you try. You’re going to get so many “no’s” as an entrepreneur. Sometimes you’ll send a dozen of emails each day and hear back from no one, but you have to keep sending them. It’s just the risk you take.
One of my goals on my list was to be on the Today Show. Every morning I would light a candle and just close my eyes and call for it in my mind. I envisioned it happening. Within a few months, my towel was on the Today Show.
I strongly believe that your intuition will guide you. So many times people will dismiss that small, little voice in their head, but I don’t. I listen to that voice. It is what guides me now. When I hear that little voice telling me to send the towel to someone, I follow in faith and do it. A lot of times it works out.
HOW DID YOU MAKE IT ON SHARK TANK?
We aired on the Today Show in the beginning of June 2011. It was funny because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we were going to blow in sales and I was going to be swamped. I was the only person here making the towels and I only had 20 in stock. I was worried my website would crash and I was in panic.
When it aired, none of that happened. I sold about 20 towels that day. I remembered just feeling like such a failure. I had this huge opportunity and I turned it into just 20 towels in sales. It didn’t look like I thought it would be. I was really disappointed and upset.
I told everyone in the world that we were going to be on the Today Show. And now everyone was calling and emailing me and asking how it went after the show. I felt so unsuccessful.
But I got quiet and kept on asking WHY. Then I heard in my mind, “Look. Your product was viewed today by millions of people. Are you going to say… Is that all or will you say thank you? One of those thoughts will lead to a door where anything is possible and one of them will close it.” I gave myself 5 minutes to be mad. I set my timer and I cried. Then when I was done, I chose to be grateful for it.
The next day, I got a phone call from the operators of the largest water parks in the country, who kept on saying no to me after numerous emails and calls. They saw my towel on the Today Show and wanted to establish me as a vendor in their parks.
This is where I got my big aha moment. The results of being on the show can look so different. It can look so many different ways! Just because it didn’t turn out the way I expected it to be, doesn’t mean it was a failure.
On Facebook, I posted to all my friends to share with everyone that I was on the Today Show and to share the link. One of my good friends posted the link and it reached someone who did casting for Shark Tank.
I was invited to an open casting call the following week. Prior to this, everyone was telling me to get on the show, but I had no interest in being on Shark Tank. It gave me anxiety. I didn’t want to be on a national TV show and look like a loser. I had to really think about it.
However, one thing I learned is when something continually shows up in your life, it’s really the universe sending you a message. So, even though I was terrified, I said yes to being on Shark Tank.
It worked out better than I could have imagined. I heard within a week that they were casting me. I started working with the producers immediately and within 3 weeks I was pitching to “the sharks.”
HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEING ON SHARK TANK?
It was crazy! The 3 weeks preparing for the show were the most nerve wracking of my life. I have never been that nervous. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was sick to my stomach.
When the day arrived, as terrified as I was, the minute I walked in there, I felt peace. I can only attribute it to the fact that I just told myself that I’m letting go and I’m just going to let it work out the way it’s supposed to be. I just asked God to work through me, to speak for me and just to take over, which is exactly what happened. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I spoke every sentence beautifully. I didn’t stumble a word. I answered every single question clearly and I was precise. I got my point across.
I left there with a better deal than what I was asking for, which happens very rarely on the show. I was the first entrepreneur on the show that was given a check on the spot.
To me, that was just divine. It all worked out in such an incredible way. I felt so blessed. And I was in shock for several days. I couldn’t believe that it all happened.
Not only that, but I was seen by the largest towel manufacturer in the country who licenses towels. They approached me, because they wanted to take on ShowNo Towels and design them with licensed characters, such as Dora, Spiderman, Spongebob, etc. So, this spring we should be in Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond and other big stores.
WHAT TOP ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH A MOM WHO HAS AN IDEA AND WANTS TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
You have to find that still quiet voice. Get quiet, find silence and connect with that small, small voice inside of you. We don’t easily hear it, because our world is too loud. The TV is always on. We’re on our devices, the internet and all the social media channels. It’s all too noisy.
Find a quiet space and learn to listen and connect to your voice. It’s that voice that will guide you every step of the way towards your divine destiny. It’s not something I think. It’s something I know to be true, because it has guided me all along. And when I’m lost, I just quiet myself and I find it again. And almost instantly people start showing up to help you along your path.
Follow that voice in faith. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you don’t have a dime or if everyone else thinks you’re crazy. Who cares! You put one foot in front of the next. Don’t try to figure it all out. It will overwhelm you and bog you down. Just figure out today. Pick one step to do today.
It’s not all going to happen overnight. I think a big mistake that people make is they don’t realize the challenge that goes into something like this. And that it does not happen overnight. It takes time and patience. If you don’t have the strength, the faith and the patience, you will get burned out very quickly.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU LEARNED AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my journey is that when you follow in faith, it’s all going to work out. You have to believe it will all work out the way it’s supposed to.
Just because things don’t appear the way you think it’s supposed to doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make is that we feel disappointed when things don’t go the way we think they’re supposed to go.
But what you don’t realize is when you keep following in faith you’ll see how it all unfolds. You’ll see how all the twists and turns and the closed doors actually work to your advantage. But if you stop, like so many people do, they just get discouraged over the closed doors and think it’s never going to happen.
The truth is when a dream has taken root within you; it will always manifest the way it’s supposed to if you continue to follow it in faith. So, my biggest advice is to not get discouraged when things don’t look like they’re supposed to. That’s when you must keep going.
Say thank you for the things that happen the way you want and also to the things that don’t happen the way you want, because you’re being protected. The best thing you can do every single day is to say thank you.
WHAT DOES BALANCE MEAN TO YOU?
It’s not always easy for me to stay balanced a lot of times.
The things that keep me happy, at peace and feeling balanced is 10 minutes of meditation in the morning. This makes a huge difference for me. It’s the way I focus my day.
I also get some form of exercise each day. If I don’t make it to the gym, I just take my dog for a walk. I just get out in the fresh air and get some form of exercise, which always helps me get out all of my nervous energy, get centered and ground myself.