Local entrepreneurs who forged their relationship on a West Mt. Airy playground will be featured pitching their product and business plan on ABC’s Shark Tank tonight.
Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner are the women behind Piperwai, a cream deodorant made with activated charcoal, essential oils and other natural ingredients.
Presenting to the Sharks was a surreal experience for the duo, who say they were looking for expert guidance to reach a larger retail market, increase production and to develop a stick applicator for the deodorant.
“It still feels like a dream. I’m still pinching myself every day that this is happening,” Jess Edelstein said.
Partners since grade school
Ever since the fourth grade, when they partnered in a lemonade stand during a playdate, the best friends, now in their mid-20s, planned to start a company together.
“We would dream about our million dollar idea,” Edelstein said.
In 2013, she headed to the kitchen to create her own natural deodorant after finding existing products to be either ineffective or irritating to her sensitive skin.
Trial and error experiments followed until Edelstein happened upon activated charcoal while treating an upset stomach. Knowing its use also as a room deodorizer, she figured medical grade could be applied to skin as deodorant.
It worked wonders.
So much so that she convinced a skeptical Ribner to use the product as her one and only deodorant on a month-long volunteer trip to South America.
Ribner says she was so amazed by its effectiveness in the sweltering heat that she wound up sharing the product with other volunteers. Edelstein’s concoction soon had its first fans.
Ribner pressed her childhood pal to sell her creation and once she returned to Philadelphia, the two friends met daily to begin the preliminary set up of their new company.
They chose a name with a personal connection for both. Piper, the name of Edelstein’s family dog and Wai from the Wai Wai tribe of Guyana, where Ribner was when she first tried the deodorant.
PiperWai launched in March 2014, with just $2,000 in seed money from Edelstein’s parents.
For the next 16 months, Edelstein and Ribner handcrafted the deodorant at Greensgrow’s community kitchen in Fishtown, piping it into 300 jars at a time with a pastry bag. They worked in the middle of the night because the rental rate was cheaper, Edelstein said.
Growth came through word of mouth and through distributing samples to beauty bloggers. Conscious Box’s curated subscription service also featured 2,500 samples of the product.
It took only five months for PiperWai to turn a profit. They paid back Edelstein’s parents and reinvested the rest back into the company, but quickly found they weren’t able to keep up with demand.
The pair looked to crowdfunding to take their company to the next level, raising nearly $28,000 on Indiegogo in order to contract with a Conshohocken-based co-packer, and upgrade their logo, website and packaging.
“We were bootstrapping until the last possible moment,” Edelstein said.
They also entered and won a $7,000 award for their pitch in the Columbia University Business School Shark Tank Competition (where Ribner is currently an MBA student). Modeled after the television series, it proved good practice for the real deal.
Today, their deodorant is sold online ($11.99, plus shipping) through PiperWai’s website, as well as through 40 independent retailers. Ribner says they’ve sold an estimated 15,000 jars to date.
While their original target customers were health-conscious millennial women, they began seeing an overwhelming response from cancer patients and survivors, many who had been advised to forgo antiperspirant during radiation treatment.
And though the deodorant is gender-neutral, another surprise was the number of men who like their product, Ribner said.
PiperWai is currently in the tail end of the approval process for a distribution agreement with Whole Foods Market, which should see the deodorant hit its shelves early next year.
The company’s plans to remain focused on their sole product until they can build a larger brand presence, Edelstein said. In the long term, though, they hope to expand their product line.
The results of their Shark Tank appearance is embargoed until broadcast, she and Ribner are hoping for a surge in orders tomorrow.