On January 16, veteran entrepreneur Kristina Guerrero, a former Air Force C-130 pilot, 2012 graduate of the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program and 2014 winner of the Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream business plan competition, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank. She sought funding and mentorship for her dog food company TurboPUP. When the show was over, Guerrero walked away with a $100,000 investment from Shark Daymond John, starting a new chapter in her career as a small business owner.
Today Guerrero shares her thoughts on the experience, and looks ahead to what comes next:
In time travel movies, the same advice is always given: “Don’t run into your past self.” At the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Conference (V-WISE) in New Orleans last month, when I watched episode 619 of ABC’s Shark Tank—featuring me in all my TV debut glory—I finally understood why.
Until the night that the episode aired, my Shark Tank experience for TurboPUP had been purely subjective, extremely personal and highly emotional. Before pitching the Sharks, I focused on a singular thought: “Let the best possible outcome happen.” I didn’t want my expectations to stifle the potential for the unimaginable.
My 2002 Air Force Academy ring features the words “inter spem et metum” inscribed on the inside, which means: “Between hope and fear.” When I walked into the Shark Tank, I was teetering between hope and fear. I had one shot to be who I needed to be and ensure the best possible outcome. I meditated and silenced my mind, focused on breathing and staying present in the moment.
I was as prepared as I could be. Thanks to my training through V-WISE and the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC), I knew I could pitch my business. I had used the skills I learned through those programs to create a business plan and pitch TurboPUP during last year’s Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream business plan competition. I had shared my business goals with a panel of judges. Faced with a number of extremely talented veteran entrepreneurs, they believed in my vision and rewarded me with $25,000 to support my business during a time when the future was far from clear. Without that funding, I don’t know if I would have ever made it to Shark Tank.
At the same time, being grilled on national TV was a completely different tale. That is when my military training kicked in. Anyone who has gone through military basic training knows what it is like to be simultaneously pressured and questioned by multiple people. Basic training and my freshman year at the Air Force Academy taught me how to stand still in the chaos, process information, prioritize and execute a plan. In the Shark Tank, I leveraged this training to stay grounded and most importantly, stay in the moment.
There were still moments that were out of my control, like when my PUP Odin jumped onto Robert Herjavec’s lap. I could visualize my hopes being taken to the dry cleaners in the same car as Robert’s expensive suit. But those moments were few and far between.
I felt like I was in a battle, fighting for my company’s future. As Sharks started dropping out after questioning my sales or admitting their desire to avoid pet products, I reclaimed a sense of calm. I had almost accepted defeat when Daymond John, the quietest of the sharks, stepped up, negotiated and finally said, “I’m in.”
I watched the episode in my hotel room at the V-WISE New Orleans conference, knowing that nearly 200 aspiring female veteran entrepreneurs were watching in the ballroom below, cheering for me. This turned my entire experience upside down. Suddenly, my future self ran into my past self. I saw myself through an objective lens after experiencing so many emotions in such an intense moment. I had never been more proud to be a veteran and be able to associate with such an amazing group of women.
Organizations like V-WISE and Nell Merlino’s WVEC teach veterans to stand up and be proud of their experiences. Competitions like Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream help fund aspiring veteran entrepreneurs by propelling their companies forward. These opportunities were critical precursors to Daymond John’s decision to invest in me. I know my military experience was an essential part of why Daymond made the deal; I am humbled by his decision to become my business partner.
I’m not completely sure what is in store for TurboPUP. Like my entire entrepreneurial journey, there have been exhilarating moments and catastrophic ones. There are days when I want to jump for joy, and days when I question my future.
However, I still wake up everyday with the same affirmation: “Let the best possible outcome happen; let my life unfold beyond my wildest expectations; let me be who I need to be.”
All I can say is that after Shark Tank, after V-WISE and WVEC, and after Citi Salutes, I went from being a woman who lives in a town of 1,600 people, to an entrepreneur who attends meetings in the Empire State Building. The affirmations are working.