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Seven lessons from the Clearwater entrepreneur who got backing from ‘Shark Tank’

Margie Manning

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Sara Margulis (right), CEO, Honeyfund, talks with Dawna Stone, author and business owner, at the Synapse Summit.

Plenty of talented workers and a much lower cost of living were among the reasons Sara and Josh Margulis moved Honeyfund, their crowdfunded wedding registry service, from Silicon Valley to Clearwater.

The company, which won $400,000 in financial backing in 2014 from Kevin O’Leary, one of the sharks on ABC TV’s Shark Tank,  is poised for growth in 2019, two years after the move, said CEO Sara Margulis. Along the way, she learned a lot about growing the business.

“We learned these lessons the hard way,” she said, speaking from the mainstage at the Synapse Summit in Tampa Wednesday. “I’ll give them to you for free today.”

Here are the seven tips she shared.

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune. In the early 2000s, Margulis, who worked in marketing, and her husband Josh, a software engineer, were in San Francisco with good jobs, but they envisioned a life of personal and financial freedom. Which is why they choose entrepreneurship.

“We dove into self-education, what we needed to be entrepreneurs,” she said.

The couple took classes that helped them learn how to save and invest and paid off their debt.

But they were also planning a wedding, and that’s not cheap, she said.

Patience. They started building Honeyfund nearly a decade before the Shark Tank appearance.

As they planned for their wedding, they thought about a honeymoon in Fiji, not realizing how expensive it would be. Existing honeymoon registries were a relatively new concept in 2005 and charged hefty fees. So Josh Margulis called on his software engineering skill to build the first iteration of the Honeyfund website.

Minimum viable product.  The initial website was built just to serve the couple’s own needs, Margulis said. They raised $5,000 from their friends and family, and that was the lightbulb moment.

Build, measure, learn. Wedding guests raved about the concept and other couples asked the Murgulis’ to build a similar site for them. That’s when they realized it could be a business. They built a landing page in order to get in front of people, and launched Honeyfund in 2006, signing up about 100 couples a month.

The Honeyfund site had been live for three years when they did their first pivot, establishing a premium page, charging for listings instead of relying on advertising. “That’s how we became financially free,” Margulis said

Luck is a real thing. A crew member at Shark Tank used the site and referred the company to the casting director, which is how they won the deal from O’Leary. In an interview last year, O’Leary called Honeyfund “one of the most successful Shark Tank deals.”

A great product sells itself.  “When you take money from a venture capitalist, from a shark no less, that comes with pressure,” Margulis said. Josh Margulis had a mentor who lived in the Tampa Bay area and talked about the attributes of the growing tech ecosystem. They made the move in July 2017.

Since then, the Honeyfund team has grown to 14 people, including three newly hired full-time tech employees.

The company rebuilt its website in 2018, and also struck a partnership with Target.

“In 2019, we’re now set to grow,” Margulis said.

Her final bit of advice: Successful people do the hard things that others don’t do.

She challenged the Synapse audience to ask for advice from a potential funder or talk to potential customers about an idea.

 

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