Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang met as undergraduates at Duke University when they were in the same chemistry class. (Justine likes to joke that “we had chemistry—literally!”) They both went on to work in high-powered jobs in New York City. Justine was a User Experience Designer at Google. Adrian spent seven years as a Wall Street trader.
But their highly successful business venture, The Woobles, grew out of something low-powered and simple. Justine likes trying new things, particularly making things with her hands, and wanted to made a handmade gift for a friend. She decided to crochet a “plushie.” Justine didn’t know how to crochet, but figured “how hard could it be?”
Well, she found out. It was HARD! She spent weeks piecing together YouTube videos and studying crochet blogs. As she began to gain skill in crocheting, Justine experienced the joy and excitement of learning something new. She realized that her work as a user experience designer at Google would be useful in creating user-friendly kits and tutorials for people who wanted to learn to crochet. The small, stuffed yarn creatures designed by them are based on the Japanese art form called Amigururmi.
Justine and Adrian began to experiment with various materials and created instruction videos. In June of 2019, Justine participated in a FAD (Fashion, Art, Design) mini-market show in Brooklyn. In 2020, the couple founded their company, The Woobles, with a $200 investment.
Justine and Adrian promoted their new enterprise through a national Google Ads campaign and set up a website and Facebook page. The business grew quickly. Within a year they had 10,000 followers on Facebook and now have over 20,000. According to an article by Brian Gordon in The News & Observer on 9/27/22, within two years, the company has sold $5 million worth of kits and accessories.
Woobles sells six basic animal kits with frequent special, limited-edition designs. Each kit includes yarn, crochet hook, beaded eyes and access to step-by-step online tutorial specific to each animal. Kits are designed for either novice or intermediate crochet ability.
Justine and Adrian believe that their kits are effective and popular because they spend a lot of time and effort in improving the learning process. She says their company is about much more than learning to crochet. It’s about showing people they have it in them to learn something new. When people are successful in learning something new, no matter what the task is, people gain confidence in themselves and the sky is the limit.
The Woobles in the Shark Tank
The Woobles’ pitch on Shark Tank involved a request for a $250,000 investment in exchange for a 5% stake in their learn-to-crochet business. The negotiations were intense and dynamic. Kevin O’Leary initially offered $250,000 for 10% equity. Barbara Corcoran then proposed $300,000 for 10%, followed by Lori Greiner matching that offer. Corcoran then increased her offer to $350,000 for 10%, which Greiner countered with $300,000 for 8%. Corcoran’s final offer was $350,000 for 5%. The founders, Justine and Adrian, suggested combining Sharks, leading to Corcoran partnering with Mark Cuban. Greiner teamed up with Robert Herjavec, offering $450,000 for 6%. Ultimately, Cuban and Greiner formed a new team, closing the deal at $450,000 for 6%, valuing the company at $7.5 million.
|$250,000 for 5% equity
|Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec
|$450,000 for 6% equity (Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner)
|Bidding war with multiple counteroffers and strategic team formations among Sharks
The Woobles After Shark Tank
After their appearance on Shark Tank, The Woobles experienced significant growth and development. The company, which started in 2020, has taught crochet to over 100,000 consumers and sold 150,000 crochet kits. Their business strategy includes launching a new crochet kit every month, and their products are available on multiple platforms, including Amazon, Real Canadian Superstores, and Etsy, alongside their website.
Post Shark Tank, the company witnessed a surge in orders, with Justine, one of the founders, sharing that they received an unprecedented number of orders within 24 hours of the episode airing. This led to the entire family getting involved in shipping the orders. As of September 30, 2022, The Woobles’ sales reached $3.1 million, with expectations to hit $7 million.
The company has expanded internationally and was selected to be featured in Real Canadian Superstores, making their products more accessible in Canada. Justine also launched a new book on Amazon in October 2022 titled “Crochet Amigurumi for Every Occasion”. The Woobles products, including books and crochet kits, are available in over 60 retail and online stores across the United States, as well as in various stores in Canada, such as The Match Factory, Great Lakes Yarn and Creations, STASH Needle Art Lounge, and Real Canadian Superstores.
As of the latest updates, The Woobles continue to grow in popularity, with over 100,000 customers and more than 96,000 followers on Instagram. The product’s rapid takeoff and appeal to a wide range of ages who are interested in learning to crochet have contributed to its ongoing trend and success.