Maria Curcio, the CEO of Buggy Beds, appeared on the season premiere of Shark Tank along with her business partner Veronica Periongo. The women entrepreneurs made Shark Tank history when all five sharks partnered to invest in their business, an early detection system for bed bugs. I caught up with Maria last week and we spoke for about an hour; she is one tough woman! In fact, she could be a Shark herself!
Maria's toughness comes from being born and raised in Brooklyn. There is just something about that city that breeds a certain street-wise sensibility and take no prisoners attitude that is a great asset for a business person. Maria, while very personable and giving while we spoke, struck me as someone you would not want to cross. In fact, throughout her business career, many people have told her she should appear on Shark Tank– not necessarily as an entrepreneur, but as a Shark! She has even been called “Mrs. Wonderful” on many occasions.
The Sharks recognized her business savvy right away and, although much of this was edited out, gave her a level of respect not usually doled out to entrepreneurs by the Sharks. “Daymond was giving me a hard time,” she explained, “he was saying ‘what are you doing here?' They knew we were the ‘real deal' – Robert mentioned it on the broadcast, but it was repeated several times. The conversation was very realistic.” The BuggyBeds segment taped in July and Maria said they were taping for “about an hour. When we got down into explaining the business, I had to kick off my heels. Wearing heels while standing is not my thing, so most of our pitch, I was without my shoes.”
SharkTank Approached BuggyBeds First
“We didn't audition for the show,” Maria said, “the producers approached us. At first we said ‘no,' but when they asked us a second time, we decided to appear. We felt the Sharks could add value as far as tapping into their distribution networks. We want BuggyBeds to be a world-wide brand.” The deal made on the show is moving forward, “Daymond‘s team has taken the lead, but all the Sharks have been great,” she added.
While BuggyBeds was a vibrant business prior to their appearance, the accelerated distribution the Sharks bring through their various networks is fueling more rapid growth. Of course the appearance has skyrocketed consumer sales, “We've had four label printers running for six days straight and we can't keep up with the order volume.” Retail is where BuggyBeds wants the Shark's help. As of last March, they were in a little over 60 Home Depot stores with moderate growth planned; BuggyBeds is now more rapidly climbing to over 350 stores. The same goes for their deal with Burlington Coat Factory; they started in 75 stores and will soon be in ALL of them. BuggyBeds also appears on both Home Depot and Burlington Coat Factories websites.
Institutional business is also a big part of BuggyBeds' expansion plans. “We sell cases of 144 traps to hotels and property management companies and we are adding distributors in other countries to handle our orders.” Maria goes on to say “we have over 45 international patents, I am not sure of the exact number. I have people to worry about those things, I am focused on growing our distribution.”
Maria's business background is in consulting in the hospitality industry, “sort of like a ‘real' Restaurant Impossible.” Her professional background is in computer security. Maria, who has a Master's Degree in Computer Science, worked in early intrusion and early detection for the government in computer network security. Her computer knowledge helped the BuggyBeds website stay “up” on show night. “We anticipated a spike in web traffic and we were prepared,” she said. While BuggyBeds is indeed a “better mousetrap,” for bed bugs, she knew the company needed a vital website and strong back-end support for both the consumer and B2B sides of the business, or else the world would NOT be able to beat a path to her door.
How a smart and versatile woman came to the bed bug business is an interesting story. Maria said, “I was in a very bad car accident. I was in the hospital for a long time and it ultimately took me four years to recover. While I was recovering, my son (who is also part of the BuggyBeds business) was looking for an apartment in New York City. The landlord wanted him to sign a rider on the lease certifying that there were no bed bugs in the apartment. How could he do that? There was no way to tell.” Maria's background (and mindset) in early detection of computer intrusions got her thinking. “Bed bugs are a world-wide epidemic, but there was no early detection system or product anywhere.”
Maria's entrepreneurial wheels began to spin, from her bed, while recovering from her accident. “I started tinkering, from my bed,” she beamed. ” Other so-called early detection systems are closed systems; you can't see the bed bugs. BuggyBeds is a visible system that is non-toxic. I thought if we could create a lifestyle brand to help ease people's fears about infestations, we would have something. Maria came across her winning formula and had the “VOILA moment.” Now BuggyBeds has become that lifestyle brand she was seeking to create.
BuggyBeds has received some criticism, but it is because people have many misconceptions about bed bug infestations. “Bed bugs have always been with us,” she explains, “but old, chemical dependent treatments aren't what people want. BuggyBeds is not the ‘be all and end all,' it's an early detection tool that is effective in helping to manage infestations. If we can detect the presence early, we can control and minimize infestations.” She reiterated that BuggyBeds is not a total solution. “People say the trap doesn't work, and it may not detect an infestation immediately. Think about a mousetrap, it is only effective if it catches a mouse; but what if it takes more than a day? Maybe that mouse just ate and won't be enticed. Bed bugs are the same way, they take 5-7 days to digest a meal, so if they have just eaten, they might not enter the trap right away.” Despite any criticism leveled at BuggyBeds, there are enough people who know they work. “It's a matter of educating the public,” Maria states, “we have become kind of a bed bug hotline!”
Women Entrepreneurs Making it in the USA
The Shark Tank can change many people's lives, but Maria credits her own attitude as a big part of her success: “I was in rehab for four years after my accident. I really learned to manage pain and developing BuggyBeds helped me do that. A lot of people in that situation can carry a lot of bitterness, but I was able to turn a negative into a positive. BuggyBeds would not have been created if I didn't have my accident. It helped me re-align my life.”
The support for Maria and Veronica has been overwhelming since their segment aired. “We have received a lot of email and I would say 80% has been supportive of the fact that we are women and entrepreneurs. Many of our new followers on Facebook are women and the comments we are getting are great. Women are glad to see that we can run a company. There has also been a lot of support for keeping our manufacturing in the USA.”
The funniest thing to happen to Maria since the show aired is she received a marriage proposal via email! “This guy wrote me and said all the women in his life so far have made him poor; he wanted a woman who can make him rich! He said I could grow to love him and he wanted to fly to New jersey to meet me. I politely declined, but sent him some BuggyBeds!”
As for the Shark Tank show, Maria is a big fan and has watched every single one. One of her favorites is Chef Big Shake and his Shrimp Burgers. “I would have funded him,” she said, “he worked hard to build a product and he deserves a lot of credit, particularly due to the area of the country he's from and what they've been through.” The only Shark Tank product she has actually purchased is Talbott Teas. She'd also like to see Lori and Barbara on at the same time. “Just add another chair, the Shark Tank shouldn't be gender biased!”
Maria Curcio and Veronica Periongo could be the next woman superstar entrepreneurs to emerge from the Shark Tank and I would not be surprised if BuggyBeds becomes one of the most successful businesses ever to appear on the show. We here at the SharkTankBlog will surely be watching BuggyBeds closely and we wish them the best of luck.
***I did another interview with Maria in December, 2012. Read it here.****