From Last Place DECA Project to Pitching on Shark Tank
Have you and your DECA partner ever daydreamed about taking your entrepreneurship competitive event project and turning it into a real business, with real potential to make millions of dollars and land you a coveted spot on the hit ABC show, Shark Tank?
Well that’s exactly what happened to Aaron Dalley and Brighton Jones…sort of.
Aaron and Brighton’s journey began in Orem, Utah, where they both attended Mountain View High School and eventually joined their school’s DECA chapter. While they both claim to have had an entrepreneurial spirit within themselves since the beginning, they did admit that it was their DECA experience that truly opened their eyes to this career path.
“I think the entrepreneurial spirit was always there,” Aaron said, “but having that spirit and knowing what to do with it are two different things, and that’s one of the things that DECA helped shape and form.”
“DECA played a huge part in my life and shaped what I wanted to do,” Brighton also shared. “I’ve always been entrepreneurially-driven and started my first business when I was five, but what I noticed is that DECA gave me a formal approach to entrepreneurship and what it means to want to go into business for yourself.”
Both Aaron and Brighton also give much of their entrepreneurial credit to their chapter advisor, Karsten Walker. “[Karsten] nurtured that entrepreneurial spirit in us…he brought in guest speakers and exposed us to DECA competitions and events, and he really helped light a fire under me personally,” Aaron explained.
And while their entrepreneurial spirit was burning bright, their DECA competitive event accolades were not. The two laughed as they recalled that when they traveled to Los Angeles for their Shark Tank filming, they realized the last time they had been to the L.A. area together was when they competed in DECA’s International Career Development Conference in the early 2000’s and placed last in their event – but more on that later.
After graduation, Brighton began pursuing a college degree while also running a successful business on his own. Aaron took some time to embark on a religious mission, and when he returned, he enrolled in college while also working as graphic designer.
While catching up over lunch one day, Brighton shared a story of how he almost lost a finger in a rock climbing accident when his wedding ring got caught during a fall. Aaron shared that he too had his own wedding ring woes, and had already lost multiple rings. The two realized that they couldn’t be the only ones looking for an alternative to a traditional wedding ring.
And so Enso Rings was born.
“After that meeting we realized that we had identified a need in the marketplace,” Aaron said. “We realized we needed to get into this and test the market, so we got scrappy and used the resources we had. We put up a website and started exploring materials and designs for our rings, and started a Kickstarter campaign. That’s when things really took off.”
Thanks to Kickstarter, the guys reached 122% of their initial fundraising goal. That funding helped springboard Enso and allowed the duo to expand their product catalogue. They already had a strong product in their silicone rings for men, but thanks to this extra funding, they were also able to dive into a stackable collection of silicone rings for females, as well as their Elements Collection, which is a collection of silicone rings that still had the desired “elements” of the traditional metal wedding band.
In January of 2016, Enso Rings was doing $13,000 in business a month. However, very quickly the team saw their sales jump to $13,000 a day, and that’s when Aaron and Brighton realized that this was something to get serious about.
“We both had full-time gigs [when Enso Rings was started] and [Enso] was a side project,” Aaron explained. “Time was a big obstacle…giving [Enso] the time and attention it deserved was a tricky balance until it became obvious that this needed our full-time attention. Until that point, we were trying to maintain family life, full-time jobs and launch this business on the side.”
Aaron and Brighton point out that this is an important lesson for aspiring entrepreneurship, especially DECA members, to realize. “You don’t have to risk it all [to be successful],” they shared. “We didn’t give up our full-time jobs until we realized it was totally necessary.”
Manufacturing was another hurdle the team realized they would have to overcome too. “It’s fun looking back at [the manufacturing process] now, but it’s an uphill battle when you’re the pioneer in a new category and there isn’t a playbook to copy.” Brighton explained. “That’s really been the greatest challenge – coming up with a ring that the marketplace can adopt that not only looks cool, but is functional too.”
Despite the obstacles Aaron and Brighton have faced in figuring out how to make Enso work, the rewards far outweigh the challenges, and not just the monetary ones either.
“We would have never been able to anticipate the life changing experiences we created just by making this piece of jewelry,” Aaron shared. “We have over 10,000 reviews on our site, some from people saying they would have lost or injured a finger if it hadn’t been for their Enso ring. It’s a privilege to be a part of that.”
Brighton shared that they were also surprised at how universal their rings have become in application. “We had a certain segment in mind when we started out, focusing on those with active lifestyles, but very quickly we started seeing the universal applications and the potential really started to sink in.” Enso is now seeing its customers range from firefighters and plumbers, to those with metal allergies, arthritis and even pregnant woman. Their stackable collection also touched on a fashion aspect, with the options to select different colors to represent family members or creating matching bands with your best friends.
Despite their growing success and popularity, Brighton knew that Enso was destined for more. This drove his determination to get their business on the popular TV show, Shark Tank. After having auditioned for Shark Tank before and getting turned away, Brighton stayed persistent by reaching out to producers and sending in more videos.
After receiving so many no’s, Brighton finally connected with a senior producer who got it. His secret weapon – sales.
“They might be saying no, but once you talk about the amount of sales you’re moving through your warehouse, you get them to listen,” Brighton said. Although they couldn’t share everything about their Shark Tank experience, they did say that a cool aspect of the show was how well it maintains the authenticity of being a reality TV show.
“You don’t meet any [of the sharks] before, and they don’t know anything about you. The first time you meet them is when those doors swing open, and you have no idea how they’ll respond to your pitch.” Brighton shared. “It’s one of those surreal moments – because I’ve watched the show so many times – and halfway through our taping I sort of realized, ‘Whoa, I’m on Shark Tank.’”
Obviously the exposure on Shark Tank opened doors for this duo, but they admitted that one of the nice things was they were already doing pretty good business before their TV debut. “It was sort of like pouring gasoline on the fire,” Aaron explained. “We had a successful business model and the [Shark Tank] deal just helped accelerate our timeline, and open doors to potential partners, wholesalers and retailers.”
Looking back over their careers, both Brighton and Aaron have discovered some true advice they believe can help current DECA members dreaming of their own entrepreneurial success.
“Don’t be afraid to dream big,” Brighton said. “When it’s something that’s important to you, don’t be afraid to give it everything you’ve got.”
Brighton also advised aspiring entrepreneurs to, “Start with your relationship with customers. No one can take away your relationship with your customers.”
Aaron’s advice followed a different, more personal path. “Learn as much as you can from other people, but at the end of the day you have to know yourself and be yourself. Don’t try and replicate what others have done. Take the learning opportunities and nuggets of wisdom, but at the end of the day you have to be yourself and follow your own path.”
Looking back, perhaps Aaron and Brighton’s failure at ICDC was foreshadowing the success they would have years later in the same city. This notion truly captures the philosophy that the duo applies to their own lives, as well as their business.
“Keep casting nets, because you never know what the tide will bring in tomorrow,” Aaron said. “We both tried many different ventures before. Enso was just the right time, right place. The concept was long overdue and the people needed it.”
“We always think, ‘What if we didn’t do this one?’” Brighton shared. “What if we didn’t make this a priority…we wouldn’t be here a year and a half later.”
It’s certainly clear from Brighton and Aaron’s story that all the failures, obstacles and no’s in life are there for
a reason. You never know where your journey will take you, or how the people in your life now will reappear. The true entrepreneurs are the ones with the ability to always believe in the unknown and the courage to say yes when opportunity presents itself.
It just goes to show that you never know how one unsuccessful DECA project could get you all the way to Shark Tank one day.