Tereson Dupuy, the creator and owner of FuzziBunz, made a big splash in the Shark Tank when she appeared. Even though she didn’t get a deal with one of the Sharks, the experience was positive. I had a nice chat with Tereson and she shared some insights about herself, her business, and her Shark Tank experience.
“ABC was great to me,” she said, “I am very grateful to ABC and the Sharks.” Tereson Dupuy never thought she’d be on Shark Tank or in this position 12 years ago when she started FuzziBunz. At that time she was a working mom with small children working in at the Rape Crisis Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. This is where she got her business training. “When I started there they were disorganized. I set up the office and organized everything and ran it like a business. I realized I enjoyed that aspect of [my work] and I knew I wanted to be self-employed someday. When I started experimenting with FuzziBunz, I took it from diaper rash to fleece linings to prototype in a couple of months.”
Tereson learned most of her sewing skills, which helped with product development, while taking home economics classes in college. She has a degree in Child and Family Studies from the University Louisiana at Lafayette.
As for the Shark Tank, I speculated that Tereson Dupuy was contacted by the show in my preview article last week. Tereson explained how she came on the show. “Companies that make cloth diapers applied to be on the Shark Tank, and while the producers were doing their due diligence, they came across FuzziBunz and contacted me.” Tereson reviewed the idea and decided to go for it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tereson Dupuy selling FuzziBunz online
Like many entrepreneurs who appear on the Shark Tank, funded or not, FuzziBunz experienced a huge spike in web traffic as Tereson Dupuy pitched to the Sharks. “We spiked at 1480 visitors at once, then the site crashed briefly, but it came back up,” she said. Most of FuzziBunz sales come from the internet. A reader alerted me to a site similar to the FuzziBunz site called Fuzzibunzstore.com. After all the talk about patent infringement on the show, I was concerned, but Tereson cleared that up. “FuzziBunzstore.com is owned by a woman who was stocking FuzziBunz in her boutique. We made an arrangement early on in the company’s life to allow her to use FuzziBunz on her website branding, as long as she only sold FuzziBunz products. I thought she knew marketing, so we made an arrangement. She orders from us and stocks and ships the product herself.”
FuzziBunz also sells on “big box online retailers” like Target and Amazon. Both businesses purchase and stock product and handle all the fulfillment themselves. As for more traditional “big box” retailers, Tereson said “we’re just waiting on the insurance folks before we’ll be in Bye Bye Baby stores. I am not sure we’re quite ready for the Walmarts and Targets of the world to carry FuzziBunz.” Another benefit of appearing on Shark Tank is the offers that come in after the show airs. Tereson Dupuy is no exception. “We have emails coming in from distributors all over. We’re sorting through everything now,” she said. The most interesting solicitation is from a distributor that deals with Walgreens nationwide. “That’s one we’re considering.”
Tereson is excited about a new feature rolling out on her website called “Build Your Bunz.” She explained, “it’s basically a web applet where you can customize your FuzziBunz with initials, different designs, snaps, and cloth colors.” You can also put a number for a favorite sports star, if that’s your thing, but she said they aren’t licensing right now.
Tereson Dupuy on Patents, Licensing and the China Problem
A significant portion of Ms. Dupuy’s segment in the Shark Tank focused on the ongoing “conversation” about patents that’s been happening since Mark Cuban joined the panel. One of the first questions out of the Sharks’ mouths during nearly every segment is “do you have a patent?” Tereson Dupuy has patents for FuzziBunz, but hasn’t been diligent about enforcing them. “Our patent attorney is great at filing and the paperwork side of things,” she explains, “but he’s been timid about litigating. I think he’s afraid of litigation.” Kevin O’Leary’s offer to sue competitors “into the stone age” appealed to Tereson, at least initially. “At first his suggestion sounded good, but ultimately, I don’t think we would have seen eye to eye. My ethics supercede my want for profits.” She is more inclined to side with Mark Cuban and out compete the knock offs, but, she explains, “it’s hard to out compete with marketing dollars alone. How do I promote against being knocked off?”
Ultimately, Tereson Dupuy doesn’t want to be known as a woman intent on putting other small businesses out of business. “We’ve been knocked off since about a year after I started FuzziBunz. Small companies kept knocking us off because we weren’t suing them. We’ve been strengthening our patents within the patent office as the industry grew before we pursue legal action; there is going to be a rude awakening for some companies. I don’t want to shut people down if they’re an otherwise reputable company; we’ll be sending out letters that basically say ‘do you want to do a license deal with us or do you want us to sue?’” She acknowledges the whole patent situation is “way out of hand” and she wishes she had at least sent letters to the companies knocking FuzziBunz off years ago. “They could have been deterred.” Much like the solicitations from distributors, IP lawyers have flooded her email box with offers of representation, so it looks like FuzziBunz will begin to enforce their patents soon.
Dupuy’s patents are the more forceful Utility patents for one size diapers. These protections don’t necessarily extend to the Chinese factories that are knocking her off. “Having cheap cloth knock off diapers selling on Alibaba and EBay hurts the whole industry. There’s not much we can do about a Chinese factory making knock off versions [of FuzziBunz], but we can stop those knock offs from selling in the USA. We need to protect our patents and products so the ‘big guys’ like Walmart don’t start selling them and undercut our pricing. The patent process is so difficult for the ‘little guys,’ but we need to protect ourselves, we need to be consistent.” It’s safe to say that Tereson Dupuy is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore!
Tereson Dupuy and woman entrepreneurs on The Shark Tank
“As I said before, the whole experience was great. I really appreciate what being on Shark Tank has done. I felt the edit was fair,” she said, “I’m happy with how it played out.” I asked about why woman entrepreneurs are so successful and popular with female viewers on the Shark Tank. “I think women like the drama, but I think it’s smart women who enjoy Shark Tank. There’s a mix of business and drama. It’s reality TV, but it’s not bubbly junk like The Bachelor. Like me, I think a lot of women admire Barbara Corcoran. I thought it was big kudos to me when Barbara said ‘you remind me of myself.’ I really aspire to be more like her.”
Tereson’s not just providing lip service here either, she has a website, TeresonDupuy.com, where she wants to educate women about entrepreneurship. “I want to teach them the process, so they don’t make the same mistakes. I want to educate, advocate, and inspire.” Who would have thought a simple case of diaper rash would lead to such lofty ideals?
What’s next for Tereson Dupuy?
In addition to her women’s entrepreneurial advocacy website, Tereson has plans to extend her business. Mark Cuban quipped to Kevin O’Leary as they were looking at the FuzziBunz, “how does it compare to the one you’re wearing?” While this may have seemed like a crude little joke, adult diapers are where FuzziBunz is headed next. She’s developing a line of “discreet” adult cloth diapers. She told me she hopes to have more time for product development because “people keep asking me to invent more products.” She’s also planning on rolling out a direct sales program called “Mother of Invention.” This is not a Frank Zappa band reunion, it’s going to be a home party program featuring “mom invented products.” It will be kind of like a Tupperware party, but for products like hers, “without all the network marketing and paperwork.”
Shark Tank Entrepreneurs
Now that Tereson Dupuy can count herself as a Shark Tank alumnus, I asked her about other Shark Tank entrepreneurs she’s enjoyed in the past. “I think the Copa DiVino guy (James Martin) was ballsy for going in twice. I connected emotionally because I was screaming at the TV! I don’t think he was serious about the offers and he could have been a lot bigger if he went with the sharks. I also liked Tiffany from Ava the Elephant, she was so down to earth. The other one was another business that didn’t get a deal, and I didn’t realize they were on Shark Tank. My son went to a Games to Go party and I kept thinking ‘this is such a great idea.’ Then I found out they were on the show!” Incidentally, Games to Go is next week’s follow-up segment.
As we were wrapping up our conversation, I asked Tereson “the Question.” You’ll have to check out her answer on The Hot Dog Truck.
When I asked if she had any parting words of advice for other entrepreneurs out there, she said, “hard times come and go. Move through them and LEARN.”