I never heard of soap nuts before EcoNuts was scheduled to appear on Shark Tank. I wanted to find out more about soap nuts, so I gave Mona Weiss, who co-founded EcoNuts with her fiance' Scott Shields, a call to get the skinny on organic soap. They were still slammed with orders after appearing in episode 406, but Mona took some time to talk about her history, the origins of soap nuts, green business, and the young couple's wedding plans.
Mona Weiss Background
Mona went to Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. The college is well-known for letting students design their own major. Mona was a design major in animation with a focus on animal anatomy; she minored in herpetology. It was her studies in herpetology that brought her to the Costa Rican rain forests as a student; further fueling her love for all things natural, but she had other career goals in mind when she graduated.
“I studied the movement of animals,” she explained, “because I thought I wanted to be an animator. But I HATED it. Video animation is an awful lot of moving points around on a graph. It was very tedious work.”
She got seriously involved with EcoNuts as the company “social media ninja” after a car accident had her laid up for a while. “When we were in start-up, all our web traffic was coming from social media. We had a pretty broad presence.”
Mona and Scott in the Shark Tank
Mona is a native New Yorker who appeared on Sesame Street as a child. “I was a regular from 1988-1991,” she said. Her New York roots flared up in the Shark Tank when she was portrayed as having several fiery exchanges with the Sharks, but she claims her fiance', Scott, “has a much bigger personality than was shown. He talked a lot during our pitch but they didn't show any of it.” Mona took some flak for being so feisty in the Shark Tank, but I chalked it up to her New York roots. Folks from the Northeast have a tad more attitude than most, and Mona is no exception!
“We were doing a lot of joking around with the sharks,” she said, “the whole thing with ‘you better be working 16 hours a day' was a running gag with the sharks. It kept coming up. They made it look like I offended Robert, but we were really joking around. It was the same thing with Barbara and the Facebook fan thing, we were joking with each other. It was a lot different from what they showed on TV.”
Mona made some business related Shark Tank connections too. “I have known about FuzziBunz for a while. Baby stores are a significant part of our business; we're in over 200 baby stores. I've known of Tereson for a while and when I saw her on Shark Tank, I gave her a call.”
The Econuts crew, which consists of Scott and Mona and 5 other employees, has been swamped filling orders since their episode aired. “The website went through the roof. We hired a company to make sure it wouldn't go down, but someone forgot to flip a switch or something, so we crashed for about a half an hour during the show. We have been fulfilling orders pretty much non stop since.”
Mona claims to be a big fan of the Shark Tank. “I love the show. I DVR it and watch it all the time.” She's a fan of the Nardo's Natural guys and Steve Gadlin, the Cat Drawing Guy. “My favorite entrepreneur was Send A Ball. I just loved them, I even wrote to them anonymously. I thought they were adorable and similarly quirky to me.”
Sustainable Business Practices and Organic Soap Nuts
The one regret she has is the couple didn't talk much about their other products. “Our liquid laundry detergent and our cleaning products are really great. They're made from an extract from the soap nuts. The packaging is really cool too, it's all aluminum, which is much more easily recycled than plastic. With plastic detergent bottles, there are only so many that get recycled. One they are done making port-a-potties out of recycled plastic, there isn't much to do with it. Aluminum can be recycled over and over.”
I asked Mona why an organic soap, made from soap nuts, would be less expensive than brand name detergents. “Usually, organic products cost more, because everyone in the supply chain from the source on up needs to be certified. That's where a lot of the extra expense comes in. We harvest our soap nuts from wild trees in the Himalayas. They have the highest concentration of soap in their nuts. Since it's growing wild, it's as organic as it gets. They harvest them once a year and we really don't foresee a shortage.” Different varieties of the species of trees and shrubs that produce soap nuts can be found on every continent too, so EcoNuts has a virtually unlimited supply.
To wash your clothes with EcoNuts, you literally throw whole soap nuts into the washing machine. “A lot of people wonder how you can leave the soap nuts in the wash through the whole cycle. In the rinse cycle, they act as a natural fabric softener.”
Wedding Bells in the Shark Tank
A lot was made of Mona and Scott's pending wedding plans. “We have been getting emails from people saying ‘why didn't you get married on TV?' Really? Scott and I want our families at our wedding. We are thinking of inviting Kevin O'Leary so he can marry us.” Hmmmm “Reverend Wonderful” does have a nice ring to it……
Scott and Mona do plan to get married, but currently the business is the love of both of their lives. “We just don't have the time right now. We need to be at a point where we feel comfortable leaving everything for five or six days. We very much want to get married, we're just swamped with the business.”
The entire time I spoke to Mona, Scott was working in the background. When I asked Mona if she had a parting “inspirational quote” for Shark Tank Blog readers, she said “I'm too tired to be inspirational!” Scott came to the rescue, summing up EcoNuts' business philosophy: “EcoNuts is thinking about your planet so you don't have to!”
I had one other question for Mona, but it had nothing to do with soap nuts. Check her answer on the Hot Dog Truck.