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Why this Shark Tank contestant says her $40,000 deal was all thanks to a “sexist” comment from Steve Baxter

Dominic Powell /

Shark Tank

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A cushion-selling entrepreneur has emerged victorious from a fiery episode of Shark Tank last night, scoring a $40,000 deal and putting “scary Steve Baxter” in his place at the same time.

Tanya Wood, founder of designer outdoor cushion company Sunburst Outdoor Living, appeared in the tank last night seeking a $40,000 investment for 20% of her company, which would value it at $200,000.

Wood’s company has been running for over four years, after starting out as a small market stall that quickly evolved into a thriving business. The business has turned over more than $2.6 million dollars during its four years of operation and sold over 130,000 cushions.

These figures impressed the sharks, along with Wood’s vision to turn Sunburst into a global brand, but Baxter was left unimpressed with the product, declaring multiple times he “doesn’t really like cushions”.

Speaking to SmartCompany about last night’s episode, Wood says the experience of going on Shark Tank was like “getting married and giving birth at the same time”, as she’d never pitched in a business scenario before.

“Before the process you get to do some trial pitches, but I’ve never done anything like this. You get a bit of a false sense of security because you build a relationship with the producers and then bam, you’re in the tank,” says Wood.

“Everything I prepared for didn’t seem to get asked, so I was really thrown, but it was still an awesome experience.”

Wood’s trepidation began to show after proudly declaring the “figures speak for themselves”, and then quickly finding herself in hot water after the sharks began to drill down on the year-by-year breakdown of her revenue figures.

Despite turning over nearly $800,000 in her first year of trade and over $1 million in her second, the company’s revenue then decreased to $500,000, and then $344,000.

“So in your first couple of years, you did your best revenue?” Baxter said.

“Yeah I did, and there’s a reason,” said Wood. “I burnt out”.

Baxter’s “sexist” question

Running the entire business herself, while also caring for a two-year-old child, led to some issues for Wood, who was facing exhaustion and stress. But Baxter and the other sharks began to question why Wood hadn’t taken particular aspects of the business’ management into her own hands, such as marketing. This led to Baxter making a controversial and “sexist” comment.

“You’ve got to not take no for an answer and get in there. It’s unfortunate, but females tend to do that way,” Baxter said.

“Why do you think there’s a female pay gap?”

This sparked negative reactions across the panel of sharks, with Glen Richards rebuking Baxter and saying the pay gap exists due to “a whole bunch of sexist pigs like you”.

Wood also fired back at Baxter, saying “you’re wrong, Steve”, and followed up with an impassioned speech about her business, saying: “I am not timid, I am just very scared”.

“This has been my life, my breath, my passion, my dreams for four years, and I’m here now. I will be on the phone for ten hours a day, if that’s what it takes, because I’m going to make this happen with or without you guys,” she said.

In the end, Wood’s last-minute bout of passion won over shark Naomi Simson, who offered a $40,000 investment for 30% of Wood’s business.

“I’ve done the hard part”

The deal is still in due diligence, and Wood says Simson wanted to wait until after the show airs to kickstart the development of Sunburst. But one thing that is certain is Wood’s belief that she wouldn’t have gotten any deal at all if it wasn’t for Baxter.

“His comment threw me at the time, and I was kind of just standing there thinking, ‘I wasn’t expecting this’. But then Glen said something along the lines of ‘give it to him’, and that’s when I stood my ground,” she says.

“In hindsight, I appreciate why he did it, because if he didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have gotten a deal. He was testing me, and I appreciate what he did.”

Wood is still focused on international expansion for Sunburst, with plans in the works to ramp up the company’s marketing and distributions post Shark Tank. But as a word of advice to other business owners, she says it’s important to keep in mind that success doesn’t happen overnight.

“I never started a business intentionally, I was just doing it at the local market and it evolved, and I saw an opportunity and chased it. Since then it’s affected every aspect of my life,” she says.

“I’ve sacrificed so much, and I think that people need to realise there’s no quick way of having a successful business. I know Shark Tank will push me into a totally different space, but I’ve done the hard part up until now.”

NOW READ: The ultimate guide for getting your business on Shark Tank

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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