Oct. 6, 2021

Don’t Be Afraid To Pivot Your Business With Alice’s Table Founder, Alice Lewis

Join Alice Lewis and Seth Silvers on Thursday, October 14th at 8 ET for a live Q&A where the audience (that's you) is asking the questions! This is your chance to interview Alice Lewis and ask your questions about thriving through the pandemic, the future of Alice's Table, and what it's like to be on Shark Tank.

To join us live, download Fireside (https://apple.co/3BjMwFS) and click here (https://bit.ly/2Yt9xb2) to RSVP.


Alice’s Table started out with in-person live event workshops, aiming to teach new skills while having a good time with friends and/or family. But then the pandemic hit, and like so many other businesses, Alice’s Table had to pivot. Now they offer premium curated, live-streamed workshops, mixing top talent with crave-worthy kits to bring you an experience to remember.

In this episode of Small Business Storytellers, Seth and Alice talk about the story of Alice’s Table, the journey to Shark Tank, and the changes the pandemic has brought to her business.

Join Alice Lewis and Seth Silvers on Thursday, October 14th at 8 ET for a live Q&A where the audience (that's you) is asking the questions! This is your chance to interview Alice Lewis and ask your questions about thriving through the pandemic, the future of Alice's Table, and what it's like to be on Shark Tank. 

To join us live, download Fireside (https://apple.co/3BjMwFS) and click here to RSVP. 

To learn more about Alice’s Table check out https://alicestable.com/

Find them on Instagram at @alicestable

This episode was produced by Story On Media & Marketing: https://www.successwithstories.com.

Transcript

I'm guessing this might be a little different than what you imagined. And what's it like to kind of look back on that on your journey and kind of have that wasn't expecting to be here moment? Yeah, definitely. certainly wasn't expecting to be here. I think I grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs. So entrepreneurship seemed like something I would get into. At some point, I think growing up, but to have the breadth of experience that I've had, in, you know, my relatively short career still, I feel very fortunate. Welcome to the Small Business storytellers, the show where we dive deep into the stories and secrets of businesses focused on not just making money, but making the world a better place. My name is Seth Silvers. And my passion is helping businesses grow, that are making the world a better place. Every episode, you'll hear from transformational leaders, and business owners as we dive into what has helped them grow, and what has helped them stay true to themselves along the way. Also, every week, we are hosting live conversations with our guests on fireside chat, where we give you the audience the opportunity to ask them your burning questions, so make sure to join us live on fireside chat on your mobile device. Let's dive in. Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Small Business storytellers. On today's episode, we are here with Alice Lewis. And in this conversation, we're going to talk about how to in the pandemic. We're gonna talk about Alice's story. And the amazing story, including being on Shark Tank. But also one thing we're talking about today is really like what is the future of experiences in kind of, hopefully a post COVID world at some point, but how have the last 18 months really transformed how we have experiences with people and so I am lucky to be here with Alice Lewis today, Alice, how are you doing? Good. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Sad. Absolutely. Where are you calling from today? Where are you located? I'm in Boston. Okay, wonderful. And I'm in I'm in Colorado, myself, but I love Boston. Love me some, some lobster rolls. So I wish we had more of those around here. Right. I know. It's Boston summers are pretty good. Yeah, absolutely. Well, Alice, I am looking forward to this. I think it's, it's always fun when you know, I've watched Shark Tank. So it's always fun when we get to dive deeper into the stories because obviously, your clip on Shark Tank like it's so brief, you know, the TV version of it. And so tell me a little bit about like, What got you, let's do like pretty Shark Tank, like when you started your business, and kind of what was the journey kind of leading up to that point? Because that ended up being kind of an inflection point of business. But what happened before then? Yeah, absolutely. So I started Alice's table at the end of 2015. And it was really kind of my dream to help people learn new skills and have a good time. And so I thought, gosh, there's all these retail locations, you know, restaurants, stores, etc, that are dying to draw people to their storefronts, draw people into their locations, if we could use those brick and mortars, as a place to have fun experiences. It's a win win, we would have a good time we teach people new things, and the storefronts would have customers in their doors. And so I started teaching flower arranging workshops, because that's what one does. And in the first eight months, I sold $100,000 of tickets to these flower arranging events across Boston. So you were just going to different flower shops and kind of teaching this he kind of went to a store owner who is probably down in business and said, Hey, I'll do this. I'll do this shot this court course kind of this session in your shop and kind of bring people in, is that kind of how it worked? Yeah, exactly. So I go to restaurants and retailers and say, Hey, do you have an off night that you want foot traffic, like, let's co market this event, you send it out to your people, I'll send it out to mine. And together we'll bring 30 people in, we'll serve some wine, we'll learn some flowers and people will shop or eat and drink along the way. Amazing. What were you doing? You know, were you were you a florist. Like was the thing that you wanted to do? Yeah, it's interesting. So I went actually to art Business School. So I got my MBA as art business, and then moved to Boston because my now husband lived in Boston. And so here I am, and joined a couple of art startups or related tech startups and kind of got into the star Up game, and got really interested in it. And then had this idea I'd always been obsessed with teaching people new skills, like being creative was always easy for me. And I love it. You know, doing flower arranging or baking a cake, or any of those things kind of comes naturally to me. And that doesn't necessarily for other people. And so I thought, let's, let's start a business that's just about having a good time and getting people together, and learning new skills along the way. Very cool. So you sell $100,000 in a couple months, which is incredible. I, when was the moment that you realize like, this is, this is a thing like this is this is my thing, I'm gonna do this. Yeah, so I think, you know, when it started picking up momentum, and I started having incremental sales kind of month over month, and was able to keep the business growing, hire some employees, that's when I really thought, gosh, this is this is worthwhile. And I need to get other people on to the platform to teach these classes, because I can't teach them all myself. So I started, you know, with a PDF deck, that was teaching other people how to do what I did. And, you know, gave them the playbook and took a percentage of sales and started slowly kind of garnering new people to do the same thing. And were these people doing these in person around the country? Okay. All in person. Awesome. And then so when did you appear on Shark Tank in like, what was like, pre business and post business? Like from that moment? Yeah. So we, we actually, so we went to a tech accelerator here in Boston, we went to tech stars. And I love telling this story that I had never considered Shark Tank, I had never kind of thought it was a thing that we would do. And another founder said to me, have you ever considered text? Or have you ever considered Shark Tank during during the TechStars? mentor madness, they have this one month period where you meet with basically, really smart people, like seven meetings a day for a month, and just get, like completely overwhelmed and all the advice you could ever want, like condensed into a month, right? And one of them asked me, have you done Shark Tank? And I said, No, like, we're a real company. That's not, you know, yeah. That's for those other people. And he said to me, so you don't believe in free advertising? That's like, oh, man, I gotta take that one back to my desk with me. I've said that I've wanted to say that same thing to people that I've invited to be on the podcast, right? They're like, I'm too busy. And I always want to email them back and be like, so you don't like free advertising, but I usually don't. And I say something respectful. And they say Have a nice day. Yeah, but he said it, you know, full on, it's good. So that night, I went to my computer, and I just filled out like the application online for Shark Tank, and I kind of thought nothing of it. But I was like, well, at least I could have the stamp of approval that I believe in free advertising. Right. And got the call, you know, a few months later and cool. Yeah, so that. Yeah. So you go on the tank, you get an investment? Did that? I mean, what kind of what did that do to your business as far as like that advertising push, but also, also, I'm curious, like, just like, Did you feel like you really got a partner? And like, did it kind of take your business to the next level on any other in any other areas of business? Other than just, you got a big spike in sales from being on national television? Yeah, well, we for sure got a big spike in sales we had about trying to remember, I think we had about 50 business owners, when we aired on Shark Tank. And right after Shark Tank, we had about 300 business owners. So it was a really big, our best acquisition tool to date. For sure. Did you I did you send that person who encouraged you to do that? Did you send them a bottle of wine or something? I definitely should I need to I still haven't done that. But I should. Yeah, what about I like other areas other than just sales like in that kind of year two after that bit, you know, kind of becoming like a national brand. What were some of the areas in your business that started to transform? Yeah, so I think, you know, it got us to a larger scale really quickly, which allowed us to do so much more right hire more team members kind of think about the future build. And so time was one of the most important thing is that it allows us to capture. But more importantly kind of, for me as an entrepreneur, is it introduced me to Mark Cuban. And he's just been an incredible mentor to me for the past, you know, four years, and I really I say this to him all the time. And maybe he believes me, but it's really true that I think, you know, his guidance and just kind of consistency of advice. We wouldn't be where we are today without it. Amazing. Yeah, he's, I just got I actually just met him for the first time last week. Oh, nice. Yeah. And the big podcasting conference that we were at? Yeah. And yeah, super, I mean, amazing how genuine and like, genuinely, like, wants to help whoever he's talking with, like, really wants to go deep in that insight. And imagine as business owner, that would be hugely valuable. So what did like let's kind of fast forward to, you know, early 2020, you know, one, two weeks to slow the spread, kind of kind of where everybody's like, Okay, we got to like, you know, things are going to be locked down for a little while, hopefully, once the coronavirus pandemic kind of began, whatever that means. When were you starting to realize like this might have a really big impact on my business? Yeah. So we were, we were really heavily focused on a partnership deal that we were closing, we were closing a partnership with one 800 flowers kind of right before the pandemic hit. So we were really focused excited about the opportunity of kind of solving our supply chain woes. The floral business is a very complicated supply chain system. And when you have a distributed workforce supply chain becomes all important. And one 800 flowers is just a great company to work with. And so we were focused on that we actually close the partnership, the day that the basketball teams walked off the court. And I was sitting at dinner, you know, with the CEO, and the chairman, and they're like, glad we just signed a deal for in person events company. Did all of you were you all like processing that you all were like, Oh, great, what's gonna happen? Yeah, we're all sitting at the table. Like this was supposed to be our big celebrate Tori, like, here we go, you know, in person events, we're gonna scale we're excited. Like, let's go get them. And so we had gone, my team and I had gone to New York for this kind of celebratory dinner and meetings, and we're all just sitting at dinner, like, should we be at dinner? Like, I don't know if I should shake your hand like, What? What are we doing in New York? Like? So got back to Boston? And you know, I had a real kind of moment of reckoning, right? The first thing we did was just say, I think we have to cancel all of our events like full stop and tell our business owners that which really affects their livelihood. So that you're caught, like, with your business owners? How is it structured to where like, if I was one of your business owners, then and I'm planning my events? You know, is that my call? Or is that alysus? tables call? Like, how, what was the separation there? between you and your business owners? And who made those decisions? It's a great question. So initially, when things were, you know, all of this happened relatively quickly, as you know, and but initially, we were taking the stance of like your business your way, you know, you guys have to decide what's right for you. And then as state regulations and county regulations, and all of that started getting extraordinarily complicated. The liability for us, honestly just got so big, that there's no way we can watch every location of every event. And so we mandated shutdown at that point, and how like, how long did you think that would be for like, I've talked to several people where we've joked about their like, the National like two weeks to slow the spread. Yeah. What were you thinking as far as timeline goes? Yeah, I know, it's hard to remember because I think we were thinking like a month we shut down events. And then we kept having so our business owners used to schedule events out, they'd schedule a whole season out. So at first we kind of canceled a month of events, and then we're like, oh, we've got to cancel the next month of your events. And, you know, then we finally at one point, we're just like, we're canceling the year. We're sorry. But you know, there's We can't wait any longer. And so, yeah, but tough decision. Also, we have a wide demographic of business owners across, you know, we're in 46 states across the country. So really broad demographics, some of whom their states were kind of open, right? And so difficult conversations for sure. Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine how difficult that would be, especially when you have several 100 business owners that, you know, for a few years, you've been empowering to be able to, you know, kind of achieve some level of freedom in their lives. And then, you know, having to kind of shut that down. You made a pretty big pivot. And so I'm curious, like, when did you start realizing like, Okay, another path might be the right path? And how did you come to that decision process of realizing like, okay, we're gonna kind of, you know, not quite start from square one, like, you're the same company, and still, you know, the same core values, but what it looks like now is very different than what it looked like, then. Very different. Yeah. So, honestly, it started with our business owners at heart. Right. And it started with the fact that we had these 500 women across the country who just lost their livelihood, and how are we going to give them something that they can do? And so it took some, you know, it took a couple weeks for me to wrap my head around, like, what are the possibilities? You know, I went out and bought paper crafts that a paper store? And I'm like, I don't know, should we be like sending paper, right, like, and as a business owner, we inherently like to solve problems, right? And so I'm like, I'll do anything, I've got to solve this problem. What is it gonna take? And I, you know, ultimately went to our new partners at one 800 flowers and said, You guys are the best in the business, the largest shipping bouquets to people's doors. What, you know, what can we do? Can you ship bouquets, and we'll do virtual experiences and wrap, wrap our events that way? And they said, we'll give it a shot. Let's try it. And I said to them, you know, look, I think we might sell 400 of these. And at least it'll keep help us keep the lights on until COVID is over. And we're over a year later into that, obviously, and we've sold over 60,000 kits. So my 400 estimate was a little low. That's somebody like buying, they buy a kit. So you send me flowers, and then I'm in a virtual experience with other people kind of learning what to do with those flowers. Exactly. So the fastest growing part of our business is our b2b business. So companies that are distributed, that are looking for employee engagement, but also looking for ways to entertain clients are sending kits to people's doors and joining a zoom together to interact, learn a new skill and have some fun. Yeah, it's funny the first time that I remember hearing about one of these type of experiences, I want to say it was Father's Day. Yep, I think it was Father's Day around. So it's Father's Day in May, or June, whatever spring of 2020. And one of my friends for Father's Day they did a, it was like a virtual cooking class. And they did it with their family members. So all like there was like five of their family members all around the country that did it. And they all went and bought like the ingredients. And then it was facilitated by this, like Greek fresh, or this Greek chef in Greece. And it just sounded like the coolest thing ever. And I remember when I heard that. I think there's these key moments, where new ideas that we've just never thought of kind of hit us were like, Oh my gosh, I've never even thought of events like that. I've never even thought of that. But that sounds incredible. That would be so fun to do. And and since then, you know, I've certainly heard of more ideas and more concepts similar to it. And so at some point, you kind of had to make the decision to not go back. But to like, keep moving forward on this path. What was that like? And when when did you feel comfortable kind of saying this is this is the path. It's definitely been an evolution, right. To say that it hasn't been as is just wrong. So I think it It took some time, but the economics of the industry percent of the virtual experiences just make a lot more sense for us. And so once that started to happen, and once that became clear, then it started to have us thinking that staying virtual was the was the path forward now, you know, we're kind of coming out of COVID times knock on wood. And so we're learning again, right? I mean, I think we're a classic business that is very impacted by the COVID restrictions, and now the opening up and so we have to be nimble, and we have to just kind of see what the future holds and see what customer behavior is like over the next few months, two years. Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, looking over the next few years is going to be interesting to see what everybody looks like. But also, you know, what does, what do experiences look like? I think the way that we engage with people virtually is going to look drastically different five years from now than it did five years ago, you started incorporating more experiences, and I know you're even working on some that are not public yet. And so what other ways are you working to kind of bring some of these really unique, amazing virtual experiences to the market other than just flowers? Yep. So we've launched with Harry and David, so we do share cuter, reboard workshops as well now. And we've also launched our wine product. So we do wine tastings, virtual experiences, which are really fun. And on the kind of tech side, we're working on bringing live shopping into the mix. So as you have a live experience, you can also buy the apron, or the Clippers, or oh my gosh, that charcuterie board is awesome. I need that. So we're kind of weaving in shopping into that virtual experience. And what's been the response from you know, your 500 business owners? What have How is this been for them? Because it obviously changed very much how they do business and and are they still a part of this? Or are people just buying it direct from Alice's table? without, you know, we kind of with better margins seemingly like how have you navigated that? Yeah, so we have some business owners who have stayed engaged, and who have leaned into the virtual experience. And we have others who have said, Thanks, but no things like I like in person interaction, I want in person, and I don't want to be on a screen. I think also something that's very much impacted our business and the number of business owners that we have today is what's happened to moms over the last, you know, year and a half, right? The vast majority of our business owners were stay at home moms who launched a business for themselves. And, as you know, has been well documented in the media stay at home moms got the biggest job increase they've ever gotten kind of through the pandemic, with homeschooling, and you know, remote learning, whatever you want to call it. And so it's been really difficult to get them to be able to work, right? Because they have so much on their plate. So we've kind of needed to navigate that new normal that moms are facing. Yeah, yeah, I can imagine. And, yeah, we've my wife and I, we don't have kids. And we've had so many conversations where we've just realized this last year and a half was dramatically more difficult for people that have kids than people that don't. And it was just like, we don't really understand. So yeah, I can I can imagine that that is a huge factor in things. Did you expect your you know, when you're graduating with a degree in art, art business? Did you imagine yourself, you know, having a team of 12 having a multimillion dollar business being a CEO, and I am guessing this might be a little different than what you imagined and what's it like to kind of look back on that on your journey and kind of have that wasn't expecting to be here moment? Yeah, definitely. certainly wasn't expecting to be here. I think. I grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs. So entrepreneurship seemed like something I would get into. At some point, I think growing up but to have the breadth of experience that I've had, in you know, my relatively short career still, I feel very fortunate and and Honestly very fortunate just to have kind of compacted the roller coaster into a few years and learned what it feels like as you, you know, kind of hit product market fit and what a lack of product market fit feels like. And, yeah, you know what it feels like to close around the funding and what it feels like to be, you know, broke as hell and like what we're going to do about that. So I think I feel fortunate that just by this point in my career, I've, I've experienced all those things and gotten to learn how to navigate them as a leader in an organization. And leading, you know, a community of hundreds of people that work with me, has been just an incredibly valuable thing for my career going forward. Yeah, yeah. It's amazing to look back on the journey. I'm curious, you know, kind of some quick answers of what are some of the best decisions you've made on your business journey? best decisions I've made? Oh, well, Shark Tank was a really good decision. So I think that that's a good one. But I think, you know, the best decisions are around hiring smart people. When you surround yourself by really smart people, the business accelerates. And I've learned that lesson over and over again. And what about some of the hardest decisions? They're hard decisions all the time. You know, I think hard decisions come when there's hard times for the company, we've seen hard times for the company. And, you know, you've got to let people go find ways to cost cut. Those are really difficult times and lead to difficult decisions. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's interesting that a lot of I mean, kind of both of your answers have like some of the best things, some of the hardest things has to do with people. I think some of the decisions that will take our businesses to another level, and some that will be the hardest ones have to do with people. And that seems to be pretty true. Across the board. I'm curious, Alice, what do you see as like the future of kind of experiences in virtual experiences? Like what do you what do you think the next few years will look like, in this space that you and others are kind of carving out? Yeah, so I'm really optimistic about the virtual experiences space, I think that right now we're seeing it's a little bit of a pendulum, I think everyone went to virtual experiences during the pandemic. And now we're seeing this summer kind of everyone go back out and say, Oh, my gosh, I'm, you know, visiting every place I've never visited in the past year. But then I think we're going to kind of normalize to somewhere where virtual experiences are part of the consideration set for what you're going to do on a Friday night. And part of the considera eration set for corporate entertaining. And so I think that shift is going to happen over the next few years. But I think we're already starting to see see the beginnings of it. Yeah, I love that you're focusing on the b2b side, because even for me thinking, like, as a business, and even with the clients, that we're managing their shows and different things. I mean, they're all over the country. And if it's a it's always, you know, okay, what can we do for them, like whether they just hit, you know, one of my clients just hit a year of, like, a year of weekly broadcast episodes, and, you know, another's hitting like 100 episodes and all these things that like, there's there's just benchmarks and milestones, whether it's with clients or, or even with team members. And you always want to do something more than just like, here's a $10 Starbucks card. So I can see why that b2b why that b2b space is valuable for you. How are you seeing people? What are some of like the stories or unique ways that you're seeing people engage with your virtual experiences or, or gift them like what are you what are you here? What are the stories that are making you excited to do what you're doing? Yeah, so for me, it's the personal moments, right? The b2b is great. And it's it's a really good moneymaker. And, you know, I think we're actually helping a lot of customers achieve their sales goals, their employee engagement goals, all of that. But I love the stories of like, you know, my bachelorette party got canceled for the third time. And finally, we did it with Alice's table and it was so much better than I expected, right? It's it's those moments where you actually get to personally engage and make someone's day. That's really nice. Yeah, I think that's amazing. And what's on the horizon for the next, you know, next 12 months that you're looking forward to with Alice's table? Yeah, so we're certainly looking forward to launching a new platform. So we're building out a way to engage our customers, not just on zoom, but allow them to come to a hosted platform where they can shop our experiences as well. So looking forward to building that out. Well, Alice, this has been wonderful, and it's so fun to hear your story. But also just to be encouraged that it's okay to change plans. It's okay to pivot. And it's probably a good thing to pivot. And I think that your, your story reflects that so much of really wanting what's best for the customers wanting what's best, the best, what's the best possible experience for people and for the last year that has not been going indoors? In? So it's amazing that you've figured out a way to do that? What's the best way for people to find what you're doing to get in touch with Alice's table? And what are like, what are the what are the offerings that you currently have that are exciting that you'd like to talk about? Wow. So you can certainly check out our website, Alice's table comm You can also find us on Instagram at Alice's table. I'm super excited that we just launched our fall, and holiday collections. So we have some amazing workshops coming up, we can help you make your Thanksgiving table arrangement to pumpkin vases and lots of wreath making workshops, which our busiest time of the year. And then also really excited about our new culinary offerings that are available to everyone. So this fall, we're doing a cheese tasting that includes Carmel apples. And I don't know about you, but I'm obsessed with Carmel apples in the fall. And so pairing cheese with that is just the way to go. That's awesome. And are these experiences that would be best like, hey, like, are these? A you know, we have some friends and we're all going to do this virtually in the same room? Or is this something where, you know, I should invite a couple people over and we do this thing together? Like what's the ideal way to kind of consume some of these experiences? Yep. So the flower arranging is certainly like an individual consumable. So each person makes an arrangement. We have lots of people that invite a group of girlfriends over, you know, 10 people and they all do it together, they stream the event to their TV and all have fun drink wine, do it together. The culinary experiences, the charcuterie board is enough for four to six people. So we encourage people to get an order one get together with the crew tastes along with us enjoy and build a beautiful board. Awesome. That sounds like so much fun. And we are definitely going to have to have to do that here soon. So, Alice, this has been wonderful, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. And I encourage all of our listeners on the business side, learn from Alice and be okay with making adjustments and changes and keep the interest of your customers at the forefront and also for everybody listening. Go to Alice's table calm and in tested out trade out. So Alice, thank you so much for your time. Thanks. That's really appreciate it. Yeah, absolutely. Have a good one. Thank you so much for listening to this small business storytellers. If you've wanted to start a podcast and have been wondering if you can use podcasting to grow your business, but don't know where to start. I'd love to talk head to success with stories comm slash podcast to learn exactly how to launch grow and profit from podcast for your business. Again, that is success stories.com slash podcast. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this episode, share it with someone you know who would also like it. If you want to be a guest on the podcast or know someone who would be a great guest on the show. Let me know. Thank you and we will see you next time on the small business storytellers. 

Alice Lewis Profile Photo

Alice Lewis

CEO, Alice's Table

Alice’s Table is a proud female founder-led company based in the tech hub of Boston. Since 2015 we’ve hosted unique events that unlock creativity. In 2020, we pivoted our lifestyle business to fully digital, and highly curated live streaming experiences to spark joy in people’s homes. Today we stream creativity to millions in kitchens and conference rooms across the country. We’re passionate makers, always delivering innovative and premium experiences to our guests. We have been featured on Shark Tank, The Today Show, Forbes, and Vanity Fair. With investors including Techstars and Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban and Sara Blakely, we’re scaling our experiences and leading the way to shoppertainment.