Can plush dinosaurs and penguins capture the interest (and dollars) of the sharks?
On this Friday’s episode of “Shark Tank,” Apex couple Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang will pitch their multimillion-dollar crochet business, called The Woobles, on the popular ABC show.
The Woobles gives novice crocheters the tools and know-how to weave an assortment of plump, cozy creatures like Felix the Fox, Jojo the Bunny, and the best-seller Pierre the Penguin.
Tiu and Zhang launched the company in July 2020, and over the next two years sold more than $5 million in kits and accessories. They intend to use any investments they secure from the judges, known as the sharks, to hire more staff, including software developers, to build out their online digital experience.
The wife and husband, both 33, met as undergrads at Duke University. They came up with the idea for The Woobles after experiencing what they described as career disappointments. Zhang spent seven ultimately unfulfilling years as a trader on Wall Street while Tiu left a managerial position at Google.
It was in the art of amigurumi, the weaving of small yarn creatures, where Tiu discovered a renewed sense of accomplishment.
“That confidence boost that I got from learning how to crochet is what inspired The Woobles,” she said. “And that’s why we say it’s not actually about crochet with The Woobles, it’s about confidence.”
The company sells six core animals alongside a rotation of limited edition kits. Each individual kit, which generally costs $30, includes customized yarn, a crochet hook, a pair of beaded eyes, and access to a step-by-step online tutorial.
Tiu, who specialized in education technology at Google, said the tutorials are designed to enhance completion rates. Most videos are kept under five minutes and follow a design practice called progressive disclosure, which means they “only show you what you need to know when you need to know it,” Tiu explained. “Otherwise, it can get pretty overwhelming.”
How the Woobles landed on Shark Tank
Early this year, a “Shark Tank” producer reached out to Tiu and Zhang about being on the show. Zhang recalled the producer had learned about the couple’s crochet business in a magazine feature. The two didn’t initially jump at the opportunity.
“We originally were hesitant because we don’t have TV-type personalities,” Zhang said. “We thought you had to be charismatic or create a lot of drama, but I think at the end of the day, what they cared about was having a good story.”
Other Triangle-area businesses have had success on “Shark Tank” in recent years. Last fall, a Morrisville entrepreneur garnered multiple offers for Incredible Eats, his startup that makes edible cutlery. Other local businesses that secured deals include RewardStock, Wine & Design, a dog food company called Zookies Cookies, and the throwable-microphone maker Qball.
Tiu and Zhang are bracing for a significant uptick in orders after their episode airs. Roughly 3.6 million people watched the “Shark Tank” season premiere last Friday.
The episode will air Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.
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This story was originally published September 27, 2022 9:42 AM.