Launching your own business is a bit like being thrown to the sharks. Just ask Maria Nicola, creator of the clever 10-Way Necklace and former contestant on the Channel Ten hit TV show Shark Tank. The plucky business woman chats to Profile about her remarkable journey since appearing on the show and shares her top tips on what it takes to stay ahead of the competition.
Maria Nicola recalls that defining moment when, after months of preparation and a gruelling selection process, she was picked from thousands of applicants to appear on live television and given the opportunity to pitch her product to a panel of potential investors (sharks), hoping for a deal that would take her business to the next level.
“It was amazing,” says Maria. “The arm of Channel Ten who look after the show are phenomenal. They give you all the help you could possibly need so you don’t look like a deer in the headlights; they make suggestions for your pitch and you even see a psychologist to prepare you for negative feedback, so you are able to handle it.
“It’s also very authentic. When you go out there and pitch your product, you have never met them before – they don’t know what you are about to show them. There is no take two, it’s just go!
“Leading up to that moment I was incredibly nervous but as soon as I walked down the corridor I felt like I was home. I had visualised it 1000 times and I was ready.”
But like most great business ideas, success didn’t happen overnight for Maria. In fact, she has been designing and hand-making jewellery for more than 20 years.
“It all started when I was a young bride of 22,” she says. “I was looking for jewellery for my bridal party but found everything so expensive, so I decided to make my own and discovered I thoroughly enjoyed it in the process.
“From there I started making wedding tiaras and doing bridal shows and it became a seven-year-long business, which I really loved.”
After taking time out of the industry to raise their two young children, Maria and her then husband opened a giftware store in Manly, Sydney where they traded successfully for 14 years before their marriage ended.
“It was a great business and we had wonderful customers and great memories, however unfortunately the marriage came to an end and I didn’t know what to do with all the jewellery we had in the store, so I started a jewellery party business called bubbles and bling.
“My friends and family really helped me through the tough times by introducing me to their network of friends, who all supported me by having parties, and that business continued for four years before I came up with the idea for my 10-Way Necklace – it came to me in a dream actually!”
Maria’s ingenious design includes different lengths of crystals that can be mixed and matched in more than 10 different ways by connecting magnets that appear to be part of the design. There are also stylish accessories available as add on’s such as tassels or Swarovski crystals, to add even more styling options.
I was looking for jewellery for my bridal party but found everything so expensive, so I decided to make my own and discovered I thoroughly enjoyed it in the process.”
“The actual idea of the magnets being used as clasps wasn’t new but I knew if I just tweaked it, it would work,” says Maria.
“All of a sudden that 20 years of jewellery experience came to fruition, every supplier and rep that I had worked with and the key people I knew all came into play and it was a natural progression from there.”
When the opportunity to appear on Shark Tank presented itself last year, Maria jumped in boots and all, and like everything else she approaches, the determined businesswoman gave it 110 per cent, landing herself a deal of $75,000 for a 40 percent share in her business.
Despite the fact the deal with investor Naomi Simson didn’t eventuate, Maria says the exposure she gained from appearing on the show elevated her online business to a whole new level.
“For many different reasons many of the deals don’t actually happen,” says Maria.
“In the end, Naomi and I agreed it was too hefty an amount of my business to hand over to then be able to buy her out. At first I was disappointed because I thought I had finally found a partner in crime, which is what a lot of entrepreneurs wish for but unbeknown to me, if you make an online deal, you are guaranteed air time and that is priceless.”
Not only that, but as Maria discovered afterwards, surviving the Shark Tank process alone was no mean feat.
“The culling process is intense,” says Maria. “It starts with 2000 applicants Australia wide, but only a few hundred of those got to pitch their idea, then it came down to 60 who actually got to film and only 40 made it to television.
“The show is viewed by 880,000 people Australia wide and that, in my opinion, is the gold in all this, because whether you gain a partner or not, your business will never be the same again. So just go for it, don’t worry about the deal, forget the partner side of things; you can decide all that later. Just get on television.”
Having been through the process herself, the self-made business woman has some great advice to offer up-and-coming entrepreneurs on what it takes to stay ahead of the game.
“You must have staying power and you must have a belief in yourself,” she says.
“You will have the odd moment where you might ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this, when is this going to take off?’ and you are going to have some down days, but that’s ok.
“You also have to be open to advice. I am a big believer in constructive criticism but only from people I respect. If they are willing to give you their time, openly ask for criticism, especially when you are learning the ropes.”
With no sign of slowing down anytime soon, in true entrepreneurial style, Maria plans to take her product internationally and is constantly conjuring up new designs to add to her range.
You must have staying power and you must have a belief in yourself.”
“At the moment it’s only being sold Australia wide. Once we perfect Australia and we have a great model that’s working well, we will move to other countries,” she says.
“I would also love to add to the range and add more accessories.”
For someone who has swam with the sharks and survived, the rest is sure to be a breeze! Watch this space.