Food

Vegan Bakery Cinnaholic Wins Big on Shark Tank

Cinnaholic founders Florian and Shannon Michelle Radke share their journey to landing a spot—and getting funded—on the wildly popular TV program.

In tonight's episode of ABC's hit reality program, Shark Tank, history was made. Two Northern California entrepreneurs—who also happen to be husband and wife—convinced big-name investors to finance their vegan business, the beloved Berkeley-based Cinnaholic bakery. The $200,000 infusion of capital will help the business-savvy Florian and Shannon Michelle take their company to the next level, ensuring fresh vegan cinnamon rolls will be delivered anywhere, anytime with just the stroke of a few computer keys. If you have never tried a Cinnaholic cinnamon bun (I dream of their warm vanilla-frosted buns with fresh strawberries and chocolate chip cookie dough), that will soon change. The sharks on Shark Tank made sure of that tonight. I sat down with Florian this week to learn all about the couple's journey to landing a coveted spot on the popular television show.

Colleen Holland: How did you guys get on Shark Tank?
Florian Radke: Shannon and I saw the show while we were at the gym. I actually made her get off the treadmill and said we should get on this show. She just smiled and said “make it happen.” So I did. After all, Shark Tank is a TV show that wants to share interesting stories. So we took some time and wrote the script for our pitch video. The narrative wasn’t just about our business, but also about our background, our love story, our brand, and our passion to make the world a better place, one vegan cinnamon roll at a time.

CH: What did you do to prepare for being on the show?
FR: We watched hours of episodes on iTunes and read up on all the insider blogs on companies that had a successful pitch. After a while, you recognize patterns and figure out what the secret is to making a good impression on the show. Not every company is the same, but one of the best tips is to know your numbers inside out. What are your sales, cost of goods sold, your bottom line, your biggest expenses, etc. While taking a deep dive into the DNA of our business, we not only prepared for the show but learned a lot about how we can optimize things.

CH: What was it like actually being on Shark Tank?
FR: Waiting in the trailer at Sony Pictures Studios to go into the “tank” was a crazy experience. It was a scalding hot day in Los Angeles when we taped, yet we felt cold shivers running down our spines the closer we got to going on. But once the cameras are on, it takes just a couple seconds to accept the fact that this is it, and you can’t back out anymore. So you ignore the cameras and just give everything you have.

CH: Which judges seemed most excited about the Cinnaholic concept?
FR: When we had the Sharks try our product, we didn’t tell them they were vegan. It wasn’t until later in the pitch that we said there was a little secret about our rolls (Mark Cuban guessed cocaine, so I guess he found our rolls addictive!). All of the Sharks want to make a lot of money very quickly, so it wasn’t a big surprise that they would be more interested in the online business than taking the time and energy to build out more storefronts. After all, the online store is more scalable, and we’ve since found a franchising partner that is helping us to build locations nationwide.

CH: What advice would you give other vegan businesses hoping to be on the program?
FR: You should have a story to tell. It’s television and people want to be able to emotionally connect with you. If they end up loving or hating you, that’s up to you, but you should be able to evoke emotion. Make sure to show that in your pitch video, and, again, know your numbers!

CH: You and Shannon are obviously running a successful vegan business—congratulations! What advice do you have for those wanting to launch or grow a vegan business?
FR: I am full of advice! Here are 10 things to keep in my mind when starting a vegan business:

1. Make a business plan. You need to have a game plan when launching a business, so search the web for business plans written by other people, find a CPA to review your plan, and show your well-tuned plan to potential investors.

2. Test your product. Sample your product with people that don't feel obligated to be nice to you, and ask friends to bring your product into their offices and not tell anyone it's vegan.

3. Outsource. Don't try to do everything yourself; outsource things like bookkeeping and payroll so you can fully focus on building your product and brand.

4. Create a brand. Before you launch your business, you should have everything in place that your brand needs including a logo, mission statement, and corporate identity.

5. Work with professionals. Whether it’s accounting help or design assistance, work with a team of professionals who specialize in these areas. 

6. Use social media. Start using social media before you launch so you can build buzz and excitement for your business. Remember, people want to hear your story, so don’t be shy!

7. Know your market. If you're starting a retail business, take the time to hang out and study the demographics of the neighborhood you’re interested in.

8. You need cash. Since most businesses don’t become profitable during the first year, make sure you have enough cash to support yourself for at least 12 months.

9. Make a life plan. Staring your own business will keep you occupied for at least one year doing 14-hour days. Make sure you have a support system in place to handle the stress and time restrictions.

10. Have an exit plan. Make a three-, five-, and seven- year plan for your business that will help guide all business decisions. In the end, you should work on your business, not in your business to help it reach its potential.

CH: Have any inside Shark Tank scoop to share with VegNews' readers?
FR: Your readers will be happy to hear that the sharks swimming in the tank are not real, but rather just video walls. So no poor captive sharks were harmed in the making of Shark Tank.

VegNews' Colleen Holland is a regular at the Berkeley-based vegan bakery. For more vegan food journeys, follow Colleen on Facebook here!

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